Mothlight (Stan Brakhage, 1963, USA)

Mothlight brought Stan Brakhage into the pantheon of American experimental filmmakers. Along with Warhol, Anger, and a few others, his name is identifiable. Brakhage himself had a fascinating career, initially working with several artists in the San Francisco Arts scene in the 1950s. He fell into poverty in the late 60s, eventually making industrial shorts to support himself and his film. Only in the 1960s did Brakhage begin to see recognition, aided by the support of Jonas Mekas and others. Along with Dog Star ManMothlight is perhaps the most famous film that Brakhage directed. It is surprising considering the film runs only 3 minutes in length. 

Mothlight is notable for being made without the use of a camera. Brakhage assembled pieces of insects, including moths, flowers, grass, and various other detritus, and pressed them onto the 16mm camera. The materials had to be thin enough to allow the passage of light. The film was inspired by Brakhage seeing several moths burning to death in a candle. The imagery on display is hard to characterize, as the images pass across our view so quickly that it is hard to make sense of them. There is of course a psychedelic quality, aided by the physical nature of the items appearing onscreen.

So what is the film actually about? Is it about the lifespan of the moth? Certainly, the film's style has been emulated as part of various attempts at "subliminal messaging" in film, most notably in the credit sequence of David Fincher's film Se7en, which mimics the film's pasting of objects onto the film itself. Mothlight is the kind of film that will be called meaningless by some, but as far as experimental short films go, it is much more pleasurable and aesthetically engaging than most. Recommended for cinephiles and fans of experimental film.



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