Kansas City, Missouri, 14 January 1933.
Dartmouth College, 1951; attended Institute of Fine Arts, San Francisco,
Married 1) Jane Collum, 1957 (divorced, 1987), five children; 2) Marilyn
Jull, 1989, one child.
Performed as boy soprano on live radio and recordings, 1937–46;
dropped out of college, ran small theatre in Central City, Colorado, began
making films, 1952; studies with Edgar Varese, New York, 1954; shot film
for Joseph Cornell, 1955; worked for Raymond Rohauer in Los Angeles, 1956;
made TV commercials and industrial films, 1956–64; moved to Denver,
1957; began lecturing on film, from 1960; completed major works
The Art of Vision
Dog Star Man
, 1964; lectured in film history and aesthetics, Colorado University,
1969; taught at School of the Art Institute, Chicago, from 1970; began
working in super-8mm, 1976; teacher at Colorado, from 1981.
James Ryan Morris Award, 1979; Telluride Film Festival Medallion, 1981;
Maya Deren Award for Independent Film and Video Artists, 1986; MacDowell
Film-Makers' Cooperative, 175 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10016,
c/o Film Studies, Hunter 102, Campus Box 316, University of Colorado,
Boulder, CO 80309, U.S.A.
Unglassed Windows Cast a Terrible Reflection ; The Boy and the Sea
Desistfilm ; The Extraordinary Child ; The Way to Shadow Garden
In Between ; Reflections on Black ; The Wonder Ring (with Joseph Cornell); "Tower House" (photographed for Joseph Cornell under working titles "Bolts of Melody" and "Portrait of Julie," finally became Cornell's Centuries of June ); Untitled Film of Geoffrey Holder's Wedding (collaboration with Larry Jordan)
Zone Moment ; Flesh of Morning ; Nightcats
Daybreak and Whiteye ; Loving ; Martin Missil Quarterly Reports (commercial work)
Anticipation of the Night ; "Opening" for G.E. Television Theatre (commercial work)
Wedlock House: An Intercourse ; Window Water Baby Moving ; Cat's Cradle ; Sirius Remembered ; Untitled Film on Pittsburgh (commercial work)
Thigh Line Lyre Triangular ; Films by Stan Brakhage: An Avant-Garde Home Movie ; The Colorado Legend and the Ballad of the Colorado Ute (commercial work)
Blue Moses ; Silent Sound Sense Stars Subotnick and Sender ; Mr. Tomkins Inside Himself (commercial work)
Film on Mt. Rushmore, photographed for Charles Nauman's Part II film on Korczak Ziolkowski; film on Chief Sitting Bull
Oh Life—A Woe Story—The A Test News ; "Meat Jewel" (incorporated into Dog Star Man: Part II ); Mothlight
Dog Star Man (in prelude and four parts dated as follows: Prelude, 1962; Part I, 1963; Part II, 1964; Part III, 1964; Part IV, 1964)
The Art of Vision (derived from Dog Star Man ); Three Films (includes Blue White ; Blood's Tone ; Vein ); Fire of Waters ; Pasht ; Two: Creeley/McClure (also incorporated in Fifteen Song Traits ); Black Vision
Lovemaking ; The Horseman, The Woman and The Moth
Songs (dated as follows: Songs 1 to 8 , 1964; Songs 9 to 14 , 1965; 15 Song Traits , 1965; Songs 16 to 22 , 1965; 23rd Psalm Branch: Part I , 1966, and Part II and Coda , 1967; Songs 24 and 25 , 1967; Song 26 , 1968; My Mountain Song 27 , 1968; Song 27 (Part II) Rivers , 1969; Songs 28 and 29 , 1969; American 30's Song , 1969; Window Suite of Children's Songs , 1969)
Scenes from under Childhood (dated as follows: Section No. 1 , 1967; Section No. 2 , 1969; Section No. 3 , 1969; Section No. 4 , 1970); The Weir-Falcon Saga ; The Machine of Eden ; The Animals of Eden and After
The Pittsburgh Documents ( Eyes ; Deus Ex ; The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes ; Foxfire Childwatch ; Angels' Door ; Western History ; The Trip to Door ; The Peaceable Kingdom
Eye Myth (begun in 1968 as sketch for The Horseman, The Woman and The Moth ) (16mm version); Sexual Meditations (titled and dated as follows: Sexual Meditation No. 1 : Motel , 1970; Sexual Meditation: Room with View , 1971; Sexual Meditation: Faun's Room Yale , 1972; Sexual Meditation: Office Suite , 1972; Sexual Meditation: Open Field , 1972; Sexual Meditation: Hotel , 1972); The Process ; The Riddle of Lumen ; The Shores of Phos: A Fable ; The Presence ; The Wold Shadow
Gift ; Sincerity ; The Women
Skein ; Aquarien ; Hymn to Her ; Star Garden ; Flight ; Dominion ; he was born, he suffered, he died ; Clancy ; The Text of Light ; The Stars Are Beautiful ; Sol
Sincerity II ; Short Films: 1975 (divided into Parts I-X)
Gadflies ; Sketches ; Airs ; Window ; Trio ; Desert ; Rembrandt, Etc. and Jane ; Short Films: 1976 ; Tragoedia ; Highs ; The Dream, NYC, The Return, The Flower ; Absence
Soldiers and Other Cosmic Objects ; The Governor ; The Domain of the Moment
Sincerity III ; Nightmare Series ; Duplicity ; Duplicity II ; Purity and After ; Centre ; Bird ; Thot Fal'n ; Burial Path ; Sluice
Sincerity IV ; Sincerity V ; Duplicity III ; Salome ; Other ; Made Manifest ; Aftermath ; Murder Psalm
Eye Myth (original 35mm version); Roman Numeral Series (dated and titled as follows: I and II , 1979; III, IV, V, VI, VII , 1980; VIII and IX , 1981); Nodes ; RR ; The Garden of Earthly Delights ; Hell Spit Flexion
Arabics (dated and titled as follows: 1, 2 and 3 , 1980; 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0 + 10, 11, 12, 13 , 1981; 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 , 1982); Unconscious London Strata
Egyptian Series ; Tortured Dust
Jane ; Caswallan Trilogy ( The Aerodyne ; Dance Shadows by Danielle Helander ; Fireloop ); The Loop ; Nightmusic ; Confession
FaustFilm: An Opera ; Loud Visual Noises ; The Dante Quartet ; Kindering
Faust's Other: An Idyll ; Faust 3: Candida Albacore ; Matins ; I . . . Dreaming ; Marilyn's Window ; Rage Net
Faust 4 ; Visions in Meditation No. 1 ; Babylon Series
Babylon Series No. 2 ; City Streaming ; The Thatch of Night ; Glaze of Cathexis ; Visions in Meditation No. 2 ; Passage Through: A Ritual ; Vision of the Fire Tree
Delicacies of Molten Horror Synapse ; Christ Mass Sex Dance ; Agnus Dei Kinder Synapse ; A Child's Garden and the Serious Sea
Crack Gloss Eulogy ; Interpolations I-V ; For Marilyn ; Boulder Blues and Pearls and
Blossom Gift Favor ; Autumnal ; The Harrowing ; Tryst Haunt ; Three Homerics ; Stellar ; Study in Color and Black and White ; Ephemeral Solidity
Elementary Phrases (in collaboration with Phil Solomon); Black Ice ; First Hymn to the Night-Novalis ; Naughts ; Chartres Series ; Paranoia Corridor ; In Consideration of Pompeii ; The Mammals of Victoria ; I Take These Truths ; We Hold These
Trilogy (comprises I Take These Truths ; We Hold These ; both 1994, and I. . . . ; 1995)
Cannot Exist ; Cannot Not Exist ; Earthen Aerie ; Spring Cycle ; I. . . .
. . . Reel Fine
Note: Beginning 1978, many films first issued in 8mm or Super-8mm reissued in 16mm.
Nuptiae (Broughton) (ph)
Cannibal! The Musical (ro as George Noon's Father)
Brakhage (as himself)
Keepers of the Frame (as himself)
Metaphors on Vision , New York, 1963.
A Motion Picture Giving and Taking Book , West Newbury, Massachusetts, 1971.
The Brakhage Lectures , Chicago, 1972.
Stan Brakhage, Ed Emshwiller , edited by Rochelle Reed, Washington, D.C., 1973.
Seen , San Francisco, 1975.
Film Biographies , Berkeley, California, 1977.
Brakhage Scrapbook: Collected Writings 1964–1980 , edited by Robert A. Haller, New York, 1982.
I . . . Sleeping (Being a Dream Journal and Parenthetical Explication) , New York, 1989.
Film at Wit's End—Eight Avant-Garde Filmmakers , New York, 1989.
Composite Nature: A Conversation with Stan Brakhage , with Philip Taafe, Blumarts, 1998.
"The Silent Sound Sense," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1960.
"Province-and-Providential Letters," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1962.
"Excerpts from Letters," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1962.
"Sound and Cinema" (exchange of letters with James Tenney and Gregory Markopoulos), in Film Culture (New York), no. 29, 1963.
"Metaphors on Vision," in Film Culture (New York), no. 30, 1963.
Interview with P. Adams Sitney, in Film Culture (New York), Fall 1963.
"Letter to Gregory Markopoulos," in Film Culture (New York), Winter 1963/64.
"Letter from Brakhage: On Splicing," in Film Culture (New York), Winter 1964/65.
"Letter to Yves Kovacs," in Yale Literary Magazine (New Haven), March 1965.
"Stan Brakhage Letters," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1966.
"A Moving Picture Giving and Taking Book," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1966.
"On Dance and Film," in Dance Perspectives , Summer 1967.
"Letter to Jonas Mekas, September 1967," in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), December 1967.
"Transcription of Some Remarks. . . ," in Take One (Montreal), September/October 1970.
"In Defense of the Amateur Filmmaker," in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), Summer 1971.
"Stan and Jane Brakhage Talking," with Hollis Frampton, in Artforum (New York), January 1973.
"On Filming Light," with Forrest Williams, in The Structurist (Saskatoon), no. 13/14, 1973–74.
Various writings, in Film Culture (New York), nos. 67–69, 1979.
"The Swiftly Perceived Blur," in Rolling Stock (Boulder, Colorado), Summer 1980.
"Stan Brakhage's Last Interview," by Marilynne Mason, in Northern Lights: Studies in Creativity , edited by Stanley Scott, Presque Isle, Maine, 1983.
"Brakhage at the Ninth Telluride," in Rolling Stock , no. 4, 1983.
"Brakhage Pans Telluride Gold," in Rolling Stock , no. 6, 1983.
"Telluride Zinc," in Rolling Stock , no. 8, 1984.
"Telluride Takes," in Rolling Stock , no. 11, 1986.
"Brakhage Observes Telluride the Thirteenth," in Rolling Stock , no. 12, 1986.
"Stan Brakhage at the Millennium, November 4, 1977," in Millennium Film Journal , Fall/Winter 1986/87.
"James Tenney," in Perspectives on New Music , vol. 25, 1987.
"Some Words on the North," in American Book Review , May/June 1988.
"Time . . . on dit," series of seventeen articles in Musicworks: The Canadian Journal of Sound Exploration , vols. 45, 47–50, 52–63, Winter 1990-Fall 1995.
"Stan Brakhage Reviews the Fifteenth Telluride Film Festival," in Rolling Stock (Boulder, Colorado), Winter 1989.
"Gertrude Stein: Meditative Literature and Film," in Millennium Film Journal , Summer 1991.
"Screen Test," an interview with Jerry White, in Emergency House , Spring 1992.
"Manifesto," in Cinematheque , Spring 1993.
"All That Is Is Light: Brakhage at Sixty," an interview with Suranjan Ganguly, in Sight and Sound (London), October 1993.
"Stan Brakhage—The Sixtieth Birthday Interview," by Suranjan Ganguly, in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1994.
"Stan Brakhage on Marie Menken," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1994.
"Letter to Amos Vogel from Stan Brakhage," in Wide Angle (Baltimore), vol. 19, no. 2, 1997.
Clark, Dan, Brakhage , New York, 1966.
Richie, Donald, Stan Brakhage—A Retrospective , New York, 1970.
Mekas, Jonas, Movie Journal, The Rise of a New American Cinema, 1959–1971 , New York, 1972.
Camper, Fred, Stan Brakhage , Los Angeles, 1976.
Hanhardt, John, and others, A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema , New York, 1976.
Nesthus, Marie, Stan Brakhage , Minneapolis/St. Paul, 1979.
Sitney, P. Adams, Visionary Film , New York, 1979.
Camper, Fred, By Brakhage: Three Decades of Personal Cinema (catalogue), New York, 1981.
Barrett, Gerald R., and Wendy Brabner, Stan Brakhage: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1983.
McBride, Joseph, editor, Filmmakers on Filmmakers 2 , Los Angeles, 1983.
Keller, Marjorie, The Untutored Eye: Childhood in the Films of Cocteau, Cornell and Brakhage , Cranbury, New Jersey, 1986.
Elder, R. Bruce, The Body in Film , Toronto, Ontario, 1989.
James, David, E., Allegories of Cinema: American Film in the Sixties , Princeton, New Jersey, 1989.
Mellencamp, Patricia, Indiscretions: Avant-Garde Film Video and Feminism , Bloomington, Indiana, 1990.
Sitney, P. Adams, Modernist Montage: The Obscurity of Vision in Cinema and Literature , New York, 1990.
Wees, William, Light Moving in Time: Studies in the Visual Aesthetics of Avant-Garde Film , Berkeley, 1992.
MacDonald, Scott, Film: Motion Studies , London, 1993.
Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction , New York, 1993.
Peterson, James, Dreams of Chaos, Visions of Order: Understanding the American Avant-Garde Cinema , Detroit, 1994.
Elder, R. Bruce, The Films of Stan Brakhage in the American Tradition of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein & Charles Olsen , Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1999.
Tyler, Parker, "Stan Brakhage," in Film Culture (New York), no. 18, 1958.
"Brakhage Issue" of Filmwise , no. 1, 1961.
Callenbach, Ernest, "Films of Stan Brakhage," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1961.
Sitney, P. Adams, " Anticipation of the Night and Prelude ," in Film Culture (New York), no. 26, 1962.
Brakhage, Jane, "The Birth Film," in Film Culture (New York), Winter 1963/64.
Hill, Jerome, "Brakhage and Rilke," in Film Culture (New York), no. 37, 1965.
Hill, Jerome, and Guy Davenport, "Two Essays on Brakhage and His Songs," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1966.
Kroll, K. "Up from the Underground," in Newsweek (New York), 13 February 1967.
Camper, Fred, " The Art of Vision , a Film by Stan Brakhage," and " 23rd Psalm Branch (Song XXIII) , a Film by Stan Brakhage," in Film Culture (New York), Autumn 1967.
Camper, Fred, " My Mtn. Song 27 ," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1969.
Creeley, Robert, "Mehr Light. . . ," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1969.
Sitney, P. Adams, "Avant Garde Film," in Afterimage (Rochester), Autumn 1970.
Hill, Jerome, "Brakhage's Eyes," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1971.
Camper, Fred, " Sexual Meditation No.1: Motel , a Film by Stan Brakhage," and P. Adams Sitney, "The Idea of Morphology," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1972.
"Brakhage Issue" of Artforum (New York), January 1973.
Levoff, Daniel, "Brakhage's The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes ," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1973.
Barr, William, "Brakhage: Artistic Development in Two Childbirth Films," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1976.
Kelman, Ken, "Animal Cinema," in Film Culture (New York), nos. 63–64, 1977.
Nesthus, Marie, "The Influence of Olivier Messiaen on the Visual Art of Stan Brakhage in Scenes from under Childhood , Part I," in Film Culture (New York), nos. 63–64, 1977.
Sitney, P. Adams, "Autobiography in Avant-Garde Film," in Millenium (New York), Winter 1977/78.
Cohen, Phoebe, "Brakhage's Sincerity III ," in Millenium Film Journal (New York), nos. 4–5, 1979.
Jenkins, Bruce, and Noel Carroll, " Text of Light ," in Film Culture (New York), nos. 67–69, 1979.
Sharrett, Christopher, "Brakhage's Dreamscape," in Millenium Film Journal (New York), Spring 1980.
Cohen, Phoebe, "Brakhage's I, II, III ," in Millenium Film Journal (New York), nos. 7–9, 1980/81.
Hoberman, J., "Duplicitously Ours: Brakhage in New York," in Village Voice (New York), 8 April 1981.
James, D., "The Filmmaker as Romantic Poet: Brakhage and Olson," in Film Quarterly (Los Angeles), Spring 1982.
Sharrett, Christopher, "Brakhage's Scrapbook," in Millenium (New York), Fall/Winter 1984/85.
"Brakhage Sections" of Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February and March 1986.
Sharrett, Christopher, "Brakhage's dreamscape," in Millenium (New York), Spring 1986.
Wees, William C., "Words and Images in Stan Brakhage's 23rd Psalm Branch," in Cinema Journal (Champaigne, Illinois), Winter 1988.
Camper, Fred, "Stan Brakhage's New Vision," in Chicago Reader , 27 January 1989.
Dargis, M., "The Old Garde Advances," in Village Voice , 12 March 1991.
Grimes, W., "A Film Maker in the Avant Garde for Forty Years," in New York Times , 6 February 1993.
Hoberman, J., "A Blast from the Past: Stan Brakhage's A Child's Garden and the Serious Sea ," in The Village Voice , 9 February 1993.
Camper, Fred, "A Musical Way of Seeing," in Chicago Reader , 16 April 1993.
Arthur, Paul, "Qualities of Light: Stan Brakhage and the Continuing Pursuit of Vision," in Film Comment , September/October 1995.
Annett, William, "Fire on the Mountain," in Independent Film and Video Monthly , July 1995.
Elder, Bruce, "On Brakhage," in Stan Brakhage: A Retrospective 1977–1995 , Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1995.
* * *
Stan Brakhage was the last and youngest of the great generation of American avant-garde filmmakers who came to cinema during and soon after the Second World War. Between 1952 and 1995 he has made approximately 250 films, some shorter than a minute long and one more than four hours. Naturally, in this immense oeuvre the short films predominate; the majority fall between ten and forty minutes. Until 1964 he completed one or two films a year; the four of 1959 were an exception and signals of a major breakthrough in his art; since then the norm has been closer to five annually. Even Andy Warhol's astonishing fecundity dwarfs in comparison when we consider that his work was largely finished when he photographed a film—for he never edited and rarely even had to assemble or order reels—and that his most intense productivity was limited to a five-year period (1963–1968).
The sheer enormity of Brakhage's filmography encourages some sort of division into periods to facilitate discussion. The first six years—from Interim (1952) to Anticipation of the Night (1958), his first major work—can be considered Brakhage's apprenticeship to his art. These initial works were predominately psychodramas: often fantasies of suicide motored by sexual frustration and adolescent despair. He employed a version of the bodily camera movement Marie Menken perfected before he ever knew her work; but it was a commission from Joseph Cornell to film New York's Third Avenue E1 before it was torn down that inspired his recognition of the rhythmic and structural potential of vehicular motion ( The Wonder Ring , 1955).
His marriage to Jane Collom at the end of 1957 coincided with a surge of invention and increased authority from the four films of 1959 ( Wedlock House: An Intercourse , Window Water Baby Moving , Cat's Cradle , and Sirius Remembered )—in which he explored the possibilities of the cinematic crisis-lyric, which he had largely invented himself—to Dog Star Man (1961–64) and its four-and-one-half-hour exfoliation, The Art of Vision (1965). He abandoned what he had called "drama," a complex term that included the use of actors and staged fantasies, to concentrate on sights he encountered in his routine daily life. Eros and death (but no longer suicide) continued to be his central themes, along with a new preoccupation with childbirth—he filmed the arrival of the three children Jane bore during that period. Animal life (and death) too became the focus of several films, inspired by Jane, a passionate naturalist. During this time of fervor and enthusiasm he completed and published his most important theoretical volume, Metaphors on Vision (1964).
Brakhage, the most Emersonian of American filmmakers, struggled to make a virtue of his self-trust and of his dire economic poverty in the next phase of his career (1964–1970). When the theft of his 16mm equipment, from a car in New York City, curtailed the flood of highly original short lyrical films in 1964, he turned to inexpensive 8mm filmmaking and a series of thirty Songs (1964–69), until his elaborate editing and printing drove him yet again into serious debt. One solution to these costs was painting on film: The Horseman, the Woman, and the Moth (1968). By the end of the 1960s his severe poverty was slightly eased by minuscule production grants and exhausting lecture tours. To the abiding subjects of birth, sex, death, and animals he added a vigorous exploration of cinematic portraiture and an increasing attention to landscapes. He was living with his wife and now five children in a very small cabin, purchased by his in-laws, high in the Colorado Rockies, when he initiated a large-scale autobiography in 16mm, of which the four-part Scenes from under Childhood and the three-part The Weir-Falcon Saga were completed by 1970. His project, tentatively called The Book of the Film , was to have been, he half-humorously predicted, a twenty-four-hour-long film. Initially he conceived the autobiography as generalized and emblematic: his observations of his young children would provide the visual materials for an allegory of the growth of his mind, as well as stimulate his buried memories.
In the first half of the 1970s oppositional pressures drove his work in two apparently opposite directions: his films became more reflective and subtle on the one hand, and more anxious to make contact with the world. Similarly, in his writings he attempted to reimagine the lives and reevaluate the achievements of the great filmmakers of the past, justifying his liberal elaboration of facts with the analogy of Gertrude Stein's biographical fantasias. With the help of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh he made three films he thought of as "documentaries," very personal views of a day in a police patrol car, another in a hospital operating theatre, and the most startling, a day at the morgue ( eves, deux ex, The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes , 1971). A series of Sexual Meditations (1970–72) pictured his erotic fantasies when he slept in motels on lecture tours; in making these too he had indirect institutional help: students in the colleges he visited willingly served a nude models. During the same years he made his first personal autobiography: Sincerity (reel one, 1973) uses childhood photographs, the environs of Dartmouth College (which he attended for a semester before quitting to make films), and filmed snippets of the making of his first film. He also created a number of "tone poems" which embodied his emerging theory of "moving visual thinking," the cinematic mimesis of elusive cognitive acts.
The harsh irony of this period, from 1970 to 1974, culminating in the completion of his long abstract film, The Text of Light —wholly composed of luscious splays of light passing through a crystal ashtray, it was the paradigm of his inward turn at the time—was that institutional support transformed but did not alleviate substantially his marginal economy. He was asked by the Art Institute of Chicago to give courses every spring semester: they paid his travel expenses and a rather high salary for the eight trips—every other week—he made from Colorado. But it added up to less than a poorly paid full-time teaching position. A sputtering trickle of grants and the distribution of his films through the filmmakers cooperatives in New York and San Francisco helped sustain his impressive productivity only with dramatically increasing debts to film laboratories.
The autobiographical series Sincerity I-V (1973–1980) and Duplicity I-III (1978–1980) dominate his work of the late 1970s. Brakhage had insisted on the aesthetic purity and visual intensification of silence since 1956, experimenting with sound tracks merely four times until a change of stance in the late 1980s. In an extreme and problematic extension of his confidence in the truth of vision, by making The Governor (1977), an hour-long silent scrutiny of Colorado Governor Richard Lamm at work and at home, he tried to apply the experience of his Pittsburgh films to "a study of light and power" as an optical examination of politics, personally observed.
Most of his energetic output of films in the 1980s refracted the prolonged crisis culminating in the end of the marriage in which he had been so invested as an artist and polemicist. The key documents representing aspects of that agony would be Tortured Dust (1984), a four-part film of sexual tensions surrounding life at home with his two teenage sons; Confession (1986), depicting a love affair near the end of his marriage (1987); and the Faust series (1987–1989), four autonomous sound films reinterpreting the legend that obsessed Brakhage throughout his career. He had begun the 1980s with two related series of silent "abstract" films—modulations of color and light without identifiable imagery— The Roman Numeral Series (1979–1981), nine films "which explore the possibilities of making equivalents of 'moving visual thinking,' that pre-language, pre-'picture' realm of the mind which provides the physical grounds for image making (imagination), thus the very substance of the birth of imagery"; and The Arabic Numeral Series (1980–1982), nineteen "abstract" films "formed by the intrinsic grammar of the most inner (perhaps pre-natal) structure of thought itself."
The most recent phase of Brakhage's filmmaking spans from 1989, the year he married Marilyn Jull and published Film at Wit's End , until 1995. In this 1989 book, his most lucid and coherent since Metaphors on Vision , Brakhage offered his analysis of the sensibilities of eight of his contemporaries in the avant-garde cinema. The filmmaker's often repeated tendency to elaborate on an isolated experiment or an idea from an earlier moment of his career, producing much later an extended series of films, makes demarcation of periods frustratingly unclear. Such is the unexpected production of eleven films with sound tracks out of the total of thirty films he made between 1987 and 1992. Although seven of his first twelve films (1952–1957) had sound tracks, only four ( Blue Moses , Fire of Waters , Scenes from under Childhood: Section No. 1 , and The Stars Are Beautiful ) of the some 200 films of the intervening years were not silent. Similarly, painting on film has been one of Brakhage's privileged strategies since 1961, but it did not assume a dominant place in his filmography until the 1980s. Not only does he call upon earlier options from his filmmaking for further exploration, but he measures and questions his development and its modes of consistency by returning to previously fecund themes, locations, and image associations. So the periods tentatively outlined here are traced within a palimpsest of filmic revisions.
—P. Adams Sitney