So to wrap up my coverage of the Criterion films of 1965, I'm left with this short (3 minute, 14 second) fragment of a longer series that Stan Brakhage put together sometime during the course of that year. Back in 2011, almost exactly three years ago to this day, as a matter of fact, I came up with this solution for how to integrate the films contained in by Brakhage, Volumes 1 and 2 into the chronological sequence of this blog. Since the films don't typically have a release date listed on IMDb, and come in all varieties of duration, from just a few seconds to several hours, I figured I would just summarize whatever he released during a given year as my final entry for that sequence. That works better for some years than it does for 1965, as we only get this brief sample of his output that year, Two: Creeley/McClure, one section of a 15 part, 31 minute work called Song Traits. For reasons that the Criterion package liner notes never bother to explain, the rest of the series was not included, so if we're really curious about what "happens" in the rest of that sequence, we have some hard work to do to gain access to a print. (Yes, I have searched all the usual sites and can't find a trace of any of the other Song Traits bits.)
But for the record, I did find this breakdown of the other stuff he produced that year, other than the Songs, which was a longer running series that he began in 1964 and concluded in 1969 (roughly coinciding with the peak productive years of those other noteworthy creators of songs, The Beatles):
- Three Films (Blue/White, Blood's Tone and Vein)
- Fire of Waters
- Two: Creeley/McClure
- Black Vision
So apparently there is a solid precedent for viewing the film I'm about to examine as a singular piece unto itself.
Here it is:
In order to gain a fuller appreciation for the film, it's indisputably helpful to know at least a bit about who Robert Creeley (died 2005) and Michael McClure (still alive) were, in 1965. Both men had established a solid reputation within the beat poetry scene of that era as accomplished writers with multiple books published by leading alternative/independent presses, and they went on to even greater achievements over the course of their respective careers. They each had their champions within progressive literary academia and were well regarded as worthy contributors to the emerging American counter-culture. Both of them had settled into the San Francisco Bay Area by the mid-60s, and even though Brakhage was living in Colorado at that time, it seems likely that they traveled in the same circles. I have no idea if the footage in that clip was shot in Brakhage's home or if he was passing through Northern California when he sat them both down for their respective portraits. Or maybe it was filmed somewhere entirely different. It's quite likely that some answers to this and other questions can be found in this e-book collection of correspondence between Brakhage and McClure titled The Flame is Ours but I haven't taken the time to sift through the archive.
The film divides neatly into two halves, the first featuring Creeley, the second McClure. Creeley's presentation is the more contemplative and sensibly coherent of the pair, mostly consisting of him sitting somewhat pensively, his back to a wall, underneath a bookshelf, drawing on a cigarette, hands folded, smiling and rubbing his brow. Multiple exposures, inverted negative images and a more casual pace with the editing (in comparison with the frenetic madness of the McClure section) give the impression that Creeley is the more relaxed and thoughtful of the two. Beginning with a wider angle encompassing most of the room, Brakhage points his camera at Creeley's head, then his hands, then his feet, then his crotch, then his upper torso. He flips the sequence around a few times, softening up the focus and subtly bringing attention to Creeley's face, which happens to be missing its left eye (which he lost in a childhood accident when he was just four years old.) Creeley's wound is never brought directly onto the screen, but he runs his hand over the left side of his head several times.
After that, Brakhage scratches a horizontal scar into several frames of black leader, and we're sent off on a wildly hyperactive but brief journey into the space inhabited by Michael McClure. The editing here is insane and intense - most of the shots are of only one frame's duration before Brakhage cuts to something else. Some of those frames are quite enigmatic: a lion's head, and the bare-chested image of a long-haired man in what seems to me like an arms crossed wrestling pose. Most of them are face and head shots of McClure, but often in very soft focus, darkly opaque and elusive. A slow-speed crawl through this part of the film in particular reveals small tantalizing mysteries and sparks a genuine intrigue as to exactly how Brakhage created some of these visual effects working with such cheap 8mm equipment.
Whereas Creeley seems to have something wryly ponderous on his mind, McClure's attitude and expression is slightly more wary and diffident. His gaze (though greatly obscured by the heavy sepia tones of the treated film) penetrates the lens for a few moments before he catches himself and covers up his eyes with his fingers, tilting his head back to regather his thoughts. After stabilizing that sense of distance between himself and the camera, McClure resumes his calculated, confident repose, even turning his back to the audience for a moment as the room brightens up considerably and we're moved in for an extreme close-up. Having been duly lionized by the obvious admiration of the filmmaker, Two: Creeley/McClure flashes out to a bright white conclusion before the infamous scrawl of Brakhage brings the segment to its close.
Next: The Naked Prey