PRINT January 1973

“Western History” and “The Riddle of Lumen”

LIST OF SHOTS/SHOT GROUPS of the opening of Western History:

1. Several very brief shots of men playing basketball, seen in motion, and often at the midsection. In these and the subsequent basketball images throughout the film, the shots usually begin and end in a motion, and few if any faces are usually visible.

2. Brief shot of a statue.

3. Brief additional shot of players, the end of which goes red.

4. Section of solid white, 5 seconds long, which is a good deal longer than the shots in 1–3.

5. Another long shot: the ceiling with lights on it arranged in circular patterns.

6. Two brief shots of the players.

7. Shots of a tiny light moving on a dark frame. The shot is long but the motion is violent and seems to resemble formally the chaotic motions of the players in 1, 3, and 6.

8. Several brief shots of players.

9. A long static shot of the floor, a very deep red color, which is 5 seconds long, the same length as the solid white in 4. The reflections of the players as they move are faintly visible in the floor.

10. A shorter static shot of the floor, more of a brown color now, with the reflections of the players more visible.

11. Several short shots of the players.

12. Another static shot of the floor, this time blue colored, and long, around 6 seconds, with reflections of the players.

13. A shot of a player’s midsection, in motion; he jumps at the end of it and we cut to

14. A series of static images of landscape and sky, perhaps some or all from a mountain or a plane, taken from far away, giving a sense of huge space, but at the same time without great detail, and having an overall bluish hue. Many are seen superimposed on each other. Each is held for a relatively long time.

The images of the basketball game continue to recur throughout the film, and they continue to be of two types: images of players, often their midsections, seen in rapid motion, and usually in images of brief duration; static images of the floor with the reflections of the players usually visible, their legs sometimes seen as well in the top of the frame. The film also contains many other kinds of images. The most common among these might be called the “western history” images: shots of paintings of figures who may be historical, and statues of people. Other material, such as people in a store and night lights, is included, but only briefly. Toward the end there is a long section of images of a city at twilight seen from afar. The film then returns to the gym and ends with a series of images of the floor, the last showing the several colors on the floor arranged in a definite pattern.

The images of the players with which the film opens, and which continue to recur throughout, have several important qualities. They usually begin and end in the middle of a motion or action. They also frequently show only the middle portion of the player. Thus a typical shot might begin with a player’s hips or torso in a rapid motion thrusting or twisting diagonally, and end a half second later in the midst of the same motion. When several of these images are cut together, into a group, they are often images of different subjects and with different kinds of motion. Brakhage cuts from one image which begins and ends in midstream, to another image which begins and ends in a slightly different kind of motion. The opening images of the film (section 1 in our list), for instance, propel the viewer directly into the action with a series of motions rapidly juxtaposed. One feels the game as (and this is the title of a still more recent Brakhage film) a kind of continuous “process” of which we can only hope to see bits and pieces. These images also locate us in a unique kind of present. The inability to see many faces, the fragmentation of the human form, the fragmentation of natural motions, all work to prevent us from bringing many associations or preconceptions concerning the human form or even the nature of basketball to these images. They strip away every possible reading of the image based on any experience external to that image, and present themselves simply as forms in motion. The cutting of several of these images together, suggesting variety even among such brief and fragmented images, begins to build a kind of continuity of that variety, so that the game begins to take on a life of its own, but a life very much wedded to the images of fragments of bodies in motion, and one which is therefore separate from real experience.

Another kind of image in the film seems evocative, however. These are the “history” images, the statues and paintings. Juxtaposed with the basketball shots, they have far less motion, and present their objects whole. We can to some extent bring our associations to these objects, and the statues and paintings, which seem to be of important people, begin to suggest a past full of associations, a history which might give meaning to the word in the title. One might then interpret the basketball images as representing a present free of such associations, and conceive a central theme of the film as the juxtaposition of these opposites.

This interpretation is interesting insofar as it can account thematically for many of the film’s images and because of the way in which formal elements of those images themselves also work against it. First of all, the images of pictures and statues are not all static. In one image of a painting, for instance, the camera moves across it in a semicircular motion, as if to animate it. A light can be seen reflected in the glass covering the painting. Both of these factors qualify the connotative aspect of the object and begin to reshape it into motion and light, kinetic qualities shared by the images of the players. In another image of a painting, this effect is intensified by the fact that the entire room containing the painting is reflected in the glass. This produces an abstraction in the painting almost as a superimposition would, by placing another image on it. Many images of the statues are seen in either zoom shots or just coming into focus; both are motions which tend to deny the statues object fixity. And the first “history” image, the statue in shot 2 of our scene list, is seen in juxtaposition with a whole series of brief images of the players. The shot of the statue is similarly brief, so that it does not allow the viewer time to see it as static or to locate it; it is seen instead in terms of the motion in the shots that surround it.

Just as the “history” images, which one might have expected to be static, often look animated, so certain gym images look static. These are the images of the floor, in which the players are viewed only through their reflections on the floor, or through their moving legs occasionally visible at the top of the frame.

These two elements, the basketball and “history” images, which thematically should suggest opposite treatments, and often receive them, appear to be moving toward each other. This motion is made more complex by the inclusion of other kinds of images in the film which do not fit thematically into either category—night lights, people in a store. But these images can be classified in a more purely visual way, in terms of the moving and the static, or the deep and the flat. These categorizations, stripped of their thematic associations between motion and the present, or static as the past, might seem relevant to the opening images of the film as listed at the outset. Whole groups of brief moving images are juxtaposed with longer-held, more flat, and relatively static ones. With this in mind, we might rewrite our opening description as follows:

1–3. Moving
4. Static (solid white), 5 seconds
5–8. Moving
9. Static floor, 5 seconds
10. Static floor (shorter)
11. Moving
12. Static floor, about 6 seconds
13. Moving
14. Many static landscape images

Several interesting things are now apparent. The first is the similarity in length between 4, 9, and 12. Surrounded both by shorter images and images which may be long but are broken up by the movement within the frame, these long static shots occupy similar positions in the scheme of the film. We can infer a relationship between the first static image—solid white—and the subsequent ones, by virtue of their position in the edited structure. This specific device is actually only one example of a whole category of formal devices which Brakhage uses, to which I shall be referring as “substitutions.” Here, a pattern of short moving images is followed by a long static one; when subsequent moving images are followed .by another static one, the edited form seems to have repeated itself, and so the substitution of a static floor with only slight motion for a solid white image suggests a parallel between the two. It is based on the purely visual qualities of the two images being related; both have a static quality. This might be described more exactly as image substitution into an edited structure. Brakhage also works, and more commonly, with various kinds of object substitution and motion substitution. Object substitution juxtaposes two apparently disparate objects and relates them via a common shape, often placing the commonly shaped portions of both objects in similar positions in the frame, and then cutting between them. In Western History, object substitution can be seen in a cut from a basketball to a statue’s head. The similar shape (and similar positions of the two shapes in the frame) overrides the differences between the objects by relating their common visual qualities; it also removes both from a space in which associations with their natural qualities as real objects can be made; they both become shape. Thematically, this device works to further fuse the “present” and the “history” in this film. Other examples are the cut from a painted head to a real woman’s head in similar positions in the frame and the cut from circularly arranged lights in the ceiling (white bulbs on a black background) to the same lights seen reflected in the floor, in a similar position in the frame. Motion substitution connects two objects or frames not via a common shape within each but via a similar kind of motion, either common motion within each object or a common motion provided by the camera. The opening of Western History provides one example, the cut from 6 to 7. Here the complex motions within the player’s torso in the previous image seem to be echoed by the tiny light, moving about with equal complexity.

It is at this point essential to consider the nature of abstraction in Brakhage’s work. His very first films presented a space of a relatively realistic sort. He then moved from a rendering of space in terms of subjective psychological states (Desistfilm) to a more abstract poetry of visual surfaces and textures in films like Flesh of Morning and The Wonder Ring. As he moved further away from narrative, long films began to demand visual organizing devices to sustain and to structure themselves. An analogy can be found in the development from atonal to 12 tone music in the music of Schoenberg and Webern early in this century. When they first rejected tonality, their pieces were very short; often a vocal text was used which helped hold the longer pieces together. It was only after developing new organizing methods, based on the tone row, that they were able to write longer, purely instrumental pieces. Similarly, Brakhage’s first long, fully abstract film, Anticipation of the Night, still has vestiges or overtones of narrative, implying that the entire film is the subjective journey of one character. Its structure is sustained by the extensive use of light and motion substitutions which nevertheless can be seen as having roots in a representational space. Common qualities of light and motion may produce a simplicity both of image and of ordering system; they leave the way open for a relatively straightforward identification of technique with “real” feelings. For example, the “violence” of Anticipation of the Night is expressed through the violence of its camera movements, a kind of identification which results from the expressive qualities we tend to attribute to formal elements which recur rhythmically in a structure.

What we begin to see in Western History is the confounding of not only simple thematic identifications but of the formal techniques that previously helped to bind objects into a common poetry of color and light. The editing substitution in images 4 and 9 that began this discussion is similarly confounded by the images that follow, preventing a viewing of the film in terms of the juxtapositions of depth and flatness. The most striking instance of this occurs in the 14th section of our shot list. After a series of flat images which appear to be acting as substitutions for the earlier ones in the edited rhythm, Brakhage produces a whole series of images that attain, because of the cuts between them, their superimpositions on each other, and the uniqueness of their space and color with respect to the images which preceded, life (and light) entirely their own, almost as if they are thereby placed in a separate film.

This effect of separation from the rest of the film is quite unusual for Brakhage. It recurs, however, in a much longer sequence at the end of the film, images of the sky and a city at twilight. First, the players’ bodies appear out of focus so that shape and motion are hardly distinguishable, as if this process and the space of it were dissolving. Two images of clouds taken from a plane are seen, appearing huge and with a sense of depth unlike previous image of the film. There is a cut to a long pan across the red horizon at dusk, followed by cuts between pans like this and distant, chaotically moving city lights. Then there is a static image of the city and sky together seen in stop frame. The image assumes a rapid jittering quality not unlike the chaotic lights, but the image both in its staticism and in its combining of sky and city lights—very rare in this whole sequence—seems to occur in a completely different space. Then a whole series of zooms in and out of the lights of distant buildings gives a feeling for both the shape of those buildings and the vast space between them and the camera.

This section is not without possible thematic relations to the rest of the film. Yet their associations are multivalent, generating a form which finally asserts the completeness, the independence, the purity of the individual image over any kinds of abstracting techniques or substitutions; this can be seen finally in the stop-frame (time-compressing) image of the city and sky together, combining them into one image which nonetheless exists apart from the surrounding images.


Anticipation of the Night brought to perfection many of the unifying techniques which Brakhage was to continue to use for years and which, in his recent films, he has begun to supersede. The film also presents certain ideas of light, as does Brakhage’s most recent and most abstract work, The Riddle of Lumen. A comparison of the two films should yield some insight into the ways in which his use of abstractive techniques has matured in the 14-year interval between their making.

Anticipation of the Night is a film about light; its images describe many different kinds of light. The opening image is of a man’s shadow being cast by the light shining through a doorway. Sunlight on a wall as it passes through water flickers. Sunlight is seen on a lawn, as it is reflected off a spray of water, as it produces a rainbow. Images are taken at twilight and at dusk. We see night street lights, store lights, and the lights of an amusement park. The film ends with the reflection of a hanging man cast by the sunlight on a wall.

This abstract material is ordered in a number of ways. The ordering methods do give the film a story, suggesting that the images represent a kind of subjectivity; they also intensify, through various kinds of juxtapositions, description of light offered by the film. The repeated image of the shadow man suggests a story and a subjectivity; we are seeing the images as he sees them; the qualities of the images mirror the progression of his mind as he journeys from day to night to dawn.

The film unifies its disparate images through the use of many continuous sequences. Shots taken from a moving car are intercut with each other, united both by the similarity of the motions and of the subject. The images of the grass leading to the birth of the baby represent a continuous sequence although intercut with many night images providing a context. And the key central sequence in the amusement park builds up a kind of continuity rare even in other Brakhage films.

A deeper kind of unity and motion is given to the film through the use of a series of more formal unifying techniques. There are some instances of object substitutions, which usually emphasize not so much the constancy of shape but the notion that each object actually represents another kind of light. One instance is the cutting between several rectangular areas of light which are similarly shaped—doors or windows. There are also cuts between different moving patterns of sunlight (probably sunlight filtered through water) on a wall. These are relatively simple kinds of substitutions because of the similarity between the objects, but they have the effect of emphasizing the continuity of light across the cuts between images. This is effected in a more complex way by the many motion substitutions in the film, which give the overall work much of its flow and unity. Many of these substitutions work quite strongly to deny the individual image its own space or independence. Unlike the motion substitution in Western History, from the player to the night lights, based largely on motion within the frame, the substitutions in Anticipation of the Night are based mostly on the repetition of similar camera movements over different static subjects. The entire subject is given a continuous kinetic quality by the movement which carries across the cut to a similar movement on a different subject, such as the cut from the camera moving in on the baby on the lawn to lights seen passing from a car; the speeds of the motion seem similar. A more exact duplication of speeds occurs in the many cuttings between lateral pans in which two pans of the same speed across different subjects are intercut. Here is a case of one speed, one motion, uniting disparate kinds of light. An example is a _cut between a pan across night lights to a pan along the grass lit by sunlight, which compromises the independence of the intercut images by placing the cut where the camera on the grass is passing a dark area. The cut is from night to an area almost as dark; only the continuation of the pan reveals daylight. Here it is the motion rather than the cut which binds the two forms of light together.

As with the object substitution, Brakhage also cuts between similar motions on similar subjects. The images taken from a moving car at dusk, or the next morning looking at the trees, form sequences united in part by motions common to the separate images. There is a cut between several doors closing from right to left; the many images of the rainbow cut between have similar types of camera movement.

These latter two instances connect with other motions in the film and suggest the order of the entire film as analogous to the ordering of individual images by substitution. The moving doors connect with an image in other sections of the film of the man’s shadow in the light cast through a doorway; the motions of the man and the door are shown through the shadows the light casts on the floor. The camera movements on the rainbow involve abrupt stopping of the movement within the individual images which is almost exactly duplicated in the images of a white light and templelike structure later in the film.

These do not have the effect of true substitutions since the connections made are separated by many intervening images. The connection between the doors opening and the shadow of the doorway is conceptual. Still, these are connections made between similar motions. Repeated viewing reveals the many types of motion in the film actually fall into certain discrete categories: the rapid and chaotic movement of lights at the beginning; the slow moving door motions; the stopping motion just described; the steady movement of objects seen from a passing car; and several others. What is interesting is that these motions recur and recur throughout the film, often being used on different subjects, just like the door moving and stopping motions are. The rapid lights at the beginning can be seen in some of the amusement park frames. An image of a bird flapping its wings is intercut with more static images; the bird, however, keeps returning. A key to the film lies in these recurring patterns of motion. In the amusement park scenes, we cut from the complex circular patterns of children moving on rides, with the lights swishing by in the background in a kind of panning motion, to simpler images of stores seen from a car. The night lights of the store windows move by in the same horizontal way that the night lights move in back of the children, but less rapidly; a connection is made between part of one frame and all of another, while at the same time two essentially different types of motion (circular and lateral) are repeatedly juxtaposed.

Crucial is the continual repetition of such juxtapositions and substitutions. These begin to overlay the film with a kind of narrative continuity; a working out of the consequences of different kinds of motion which might be identified (via the emblematic image of the shadow man) with different subjective states. Finally in Anticipation of the Night these states are conjoined, but not by an envisioning of each state within other individual images as in Western History, but rather through the sense of continuous motion that overrides the integrity of the individual image to produce a violent, subjective, linear sense of journey or flow through the entire film. It is a film about light as seen in terms of the subjective motion of the film.

The Riddle of Lumen, also about light, has formal differences. The different kinds of light in this film are seen more simply for themselves, existing in their own spaces as though their individual natures are the film’s subject—and not, as in Anticipation of the Night, as pieces which have their fullest meaning only as parts of a larger structure. These differences become apparent when one looks at the apparent repetition within The Riddle of Lumen of various kinds of substitutions, key devices in Anticipation of the Night. Whereas in Anticipation of the Night the close visual connections made by these substitutions override the space of the individual images, in The Riddle of Lumen these connections begin to part, separating the images and placing each in its own context.

One obvious instance of object substitution in The Riddle of Lumen is in the replacement of a blue circular shape which is seen on a dark image by a group of white streaks on a black field arranged in a circular pattern simulating the bluish shape. This is a common kind of substitution in Brakhage, from shape to a drawn abstraction of that shape, and can be found in some of the Songs.

A group of three object substitutions which moves away from clear and simple perceptual effects begins with a window in the center of the frame on whose edges are a blue grainlike or painted field in constant motion, much like very grainy film. Brakhage then cuts to two rectangular areas of light: the first is in a position very similar to that of the window—a kind of perceptual substitution—but the second is at right angles to the first, and within it the shadow of a person, engaged in a kind of sweeping motion, is visible. This dual structure of the image diverts our attention from the initial perceptual effect to the complexity of the whole frame. The next cut is to a stairway illuminated by light in the left background of the frame. The light seems cast on the stairway much as the light in which the sweeping shadow was visible is cast—but this connection between kinds of cast—light is more conceptual than perceptual, and thus unites the image less directly in perception. There is a kind of shape substitution working in that there is a slight resemblance between the shape of the lighted stairway and the rectangular areas of light in the earlier image. But while the rectangular areas were clearly defined by their borders, the stairway is a far more complex object.

The progression at work in these three images moves away from perceptual connections which unite the images in the mind’s eye toward connections which are more abstract, made somewhat outside the space in which the images are perceived, and thus leave the images with a kind of separateness and purity of their own, as we move from a connection based on simple juxtaposition of rectangles made more complex by an additional area of light to a connection which is really something made by the mind rather than the eye. Interestingly, these three images also become more complex in themselves—less describably in terms of definite shapes—as this progression proceeds.

This sense of abstraction is not, however, restricted to sequences having increasing complexity of image. There is a kind of light and surface substitution, a substitution of one kind of light or surface for a similar one, in which the images become simpler. A shot of colored blankets and then a shot of a huge forest are made into a surface by the similarity in the trees and by the blurring effects of the air between the lens and the forest. Brakhage then cuts to a solid blue sky with a tiny white jet trail streaking across it. This juxtaposition, by appearing to remove complexities from the images and leading them into a solid surface of color, actually works to point up the wholeness of the image s, and the way in which each of them—as they lead into a solid blue sky—are simply pure light.

Here is still another difference between The Riddle of Lumen and Anticipation of the Night. If Anticipation of the Night is about light, it organizes its light largely according to the patterns of light which move within the frame. Camera movements abstract the light by reducing it to moving light within the frame, so that as an abstract ordering of light Anticipation of the Night does not distinguish between camera movement and movement of objects within the frame—although it might make such distinctions in terms of its “narrative.” The Riddle of Lumen, on the other hand, works with the light of entire frames. There is much less of a sense of the frames showing light within them, and then proceeding to order the light contained therein, so that images acquire an identity separate from the light. This separation in Anticipation of the Night makes possible the identification of additional and more specifically narrative functions for the frames. In The Riddle of Lumen there is complete identification of each frame with light. Thus, when a frame appears to contain an area of light, Brakhage seems compelled to negate the separation between image and light that might ensue by proceeding to cut to frames in which the light is more even and complex in its distribution.

Motion substitution also occurs in the film and works differently from that of Anticipation of the Night. An example analogous to our first in stance of object substitution, the two circular shapes separated by an intervening image, is the juxtaposition of a shot of a pointing hand moving evenly with a shot in which the camera seems to continue the motion of the pointing finger. These two shots are also separated, in this in stance by a static image, so that a perceptual connection becomes a conceptual one. A more complex in stance begins with a shot of two hanging vertical metal lampcords (or perhaps one co rd and its mirror reflection). There is a cut from this static image with two vertical lines lo a shot with the camera moving vertically up ward over a vertical surface—shape becoming motion—and another cut to a shot of a round light reflected in silver metal. The camera seems to be moving horizontally Over the surface, but this motion is much less clear because the reflected light moves with us, and is only visible via the moving scratches on the surface. Finally there is a cut to a dark image in which a semicircular area of a nature image moves vertically into the frame until it fills it. One could claim a substitution between vertical motions across the intervening horizontal image, or a substitution of the semicircular image shape for the small round circle of light. The latter is too great a size variation to be made perceptually, however, and the former is separated by a dissimilar movement which hardly seems to be moving. Both of these substitutions seem more based on our ideas about what is in the frame; this leads us into a kind of substitution which is much more apparent in this film than in Brakhage’s earlier work: the conceptual substitution, one based entirely on the similar “ideas” connected with the images juxtaposed or with the nature of their subject matter rather than with any similarity of shape, light, or motion.

This is not to say that the images in a conceptual substitution may not exhibit similar shapes. A purely conceptual one does, however, begin to work against perceptual connections. An example of a sequence combining object and conceptual substitution is the juxtaposition of three cylindrical shapes. The first is a black-and-white image of what appears to be a garbage pail sunk into the ground, placed in the center of the frame. The next is of a pail in color, but now in the corner of the frame. The last is of another cylindrical shape on another edge of the frame. One of these latter two cylindrical shapes has an additional pail on top of it. Perceptual substitutions of objects generally depend on the object substituted occupying the same position in the frame: positional similarity makes the visual connection. The changing position s, and especially the presence of two shapes of different sizes in one of the image s, prevent a clear visual connection. We feel rather that we are watching various forms of a certain kind of shape connected by our mental identification of them.

Two other juxtapositions provide purer examples of connections which are only conceptual. One is a cut from a full frame static shot of leaves to a shot of grass or small brush. The similarity of detail and color might normally make this a visual connection, but the second shot is seen in a repeating zoom. This radical change in the function of the camera from one image to the next breaks the two images apart perceptually; any connection we would want to make would be based only on the subject matter of the images. Another significant juxtaposition involves a cut from a close shot of the ground, with a shadow visible on it, to an extreme long shot of a landscape. Again the subjects of the images are similar, but the change in the camera’s relation to the subject appears to sunder visual connections between what are similar objects.

The disconnection between the juxtaposed images suggested by the formal qualities of all the substitutions in The Riddle of Lumen leads us to a principle central to the whole film: the purity, the separateness, the completeness of each of its individual images. In the absence of any unifying motions common to disparate subjects as occur in Anticipation of the Night a kind of separation develops between the images of The Riddle of Lumen. It recalls the separation of the section of the city and sky in Western History from the rest of that film. Each image seems to exist in a unique space and light, independent and complete enough to contain within it the mysteries, secrets, and sense of complexity and balance of the entire film, just as apparently antipodal images in Western History could be seen to contain suggestions of each other.

These qualities work in a number of ways. Separation is created through cutting between images that seem to have at most only distant substitutive or other resemblances. Brakhage cuts from a pan over a close surf ace or wall to an extreme long shot of a city, from a shot of a traffic light with its round lights standing out against a pale background to a shot of a glass surf ace which has a design on it. Objects appear which lack not only the subjective narrative connections of Anticipation of the Night but all apparent relation in shape or origin to the other images of the film. A strange image of a box of tissues is seen very close- up on a dark background. A number of out-of-focus images are used, but they have none of the qualities of out-of-focus images in earlier Brakhage films, such as Dog Star Man or The Art of Vision. In the ear lier films, the out-of-focus shot was used to transform a recognizable object into a visual texture or surface, whose color and appearance was then used as part of an organized “visual symphony” of colors and shapes, which had complex patterns of rhythmic visual order resulting from the juxtaposition of colors and surfaces. The out-of-focus images in The Riddle of Lumen are static shots; the cutting between static images with no clear visual patterns between them—examples of even partial substitutions are relatively rare—increases the separateness. A rare example of superimposition occurs in an image of a landscape superimposed on itself, the two images moving with respect to each other; this lasts only briefly as one of the images disappears leaving only a single, now static, shot. These abstractive qualities of superimposition which tend to reduce objects in the frame to textures disconnected from real space are thereby neutralized. Brakhage is not opting for “reality” images over the abstract, but rather for a deeper kind of abstraction, the purity of the single isolated image over any connective or rhythmic unifier, over anything which implies a technique or order which extends beyond the uniqueness of the image.

The film achieves a generality which is in a sense greater than that of Anticipation of the Night by not only refusing to subordinate its images to any larger idea but by then including in those images a vast variety of shape, color, and kinds of light. Images are varied and are invested with various kinds of motion and reflections- so that the film becomes an investigation of the nature of light itself. The images constantly seem, in their self-containment, to reflect themselves; their complexity seems to represent several of the enumerated possibilities simultaneously. An image of a huge forest taken from very high up loses some of its depth because of the intervening patterns of air motion which refract it and make it a vibrating surface; an image of a flat reflecting tin shows shapes moving in its reflections, and also reveals motion in a tiny space between its top and the top of the frame; a flat surface of glass contains a design on it; a moving person suddenly vanishes from an image, leaving it static. All of these are images which can truly be said to contain within themselves many of the possibilities of varieties of light suggested by the entire film.

Independence of the images is finally confirmed by specific moments in which the actual meaning of the image within the film’s structure seems to change. If all that I have said until now about the independence of the image might be true, we would have a film whose images each express the varieties and polarities of light, and yet there might be a commonality to its structure, even the beginnings of an interdependence be tween the images, if each image seemed to have a similar function and meaning within the context of the whole film. If, for instance, each image were another “artistic” rendering of certain aspects of light and color as seen by the film maker, if each image, by virtue of showing a different but equally important aspect of this theme, were equal in importance to every other, that interdependence would begin to emerge. In the progress from image to image a kind of sameness would begin to assert itself, so that the viewer could even begin to predict things about the next image: it might be of a different subject, and of a different appearance, from the last, but would be similarly “artistic,” and it might occupy a position similar, and/or have a meaning similar, to that of the previous one.

Brakhage works against even this kind of commonality, seeming to deliberately confound the possibility of such expectations. First of all, the images are rarely if ever composed for an obvious beauty of their photographic design as stills, just as images in earlier Brakhage films might be said to be (the shadow man image in Anticipation of the Night, for instance). There is generally a kind of imbalance, a strangeness, to the images in The Riddle of Lumen—an off-center object, an in explicable shape—whose specifics vary from image to image. Further, while most of the cuts are between images with no obvious relations, there are many between images with substitutive relations, which we have already described, and there are times when Brakhage will cut between very similar images, disrupting the expectation of change. The first such case occurs in a series of brief static shots of trees with mountains behind. There follows a series of rapid cuts between very similar images, all with an overall pale tan color. A similar sequence occurs later, in a series of brief static images of the woods covered with snow. Just as we begin to make a connection between these and the earlier sequence, thinking that this is going to be a formal repetition, Brakhage cuts to another snow image, like the earlier ones, except now two dogs move across the frame. Suddenly, our conception of the nature of the image we are seeing, of how to “take” it, is radically altered: what had been a series of similar snow images emphasizing a certain abstract visual design common to the landscape becomes an image centered around two animals, and their motion, with the landscape only as a background. Here is not simply a disjunctive cut between two very different visual patterns, but one between images which demand to be “read” in substantially different ways. Predictability is thus eliminated from the film’s images and we are made to see that each image not only establishes its own sense of shape, space, and light, but that each image also establishes its own context.

We are accustomed to “reading” an image by viewing it in the context of the previous ones: the pan across the grass in Anticipation of the Night is seen by a viewer as an abstract idea of a certain kind of motion because the cut to it is from an earlier pan across night lights. This finally means that the images of the film all operate in terms of the contexts established by the other images. For a director like Griffith the notion of context was realized in the use of establishing shots to locate the rest of the images for us in space, thus affecting our perception of them, what we take them to represent. In Anticipation of the Night, Brakhage escaped from such a spatial conception of cinema, locating the images with respect to each other in terms of certain qualities of light or movement which could be seen in widely disparate objects and spaces. Nonetheless he had not escaped the notion of a setting for the images which would then locate them in terms of certain concepts and thus determine our perception of them: the images of the shadow man and the rose act as a kind of emblem for the whole film: the kinds of motion in the film interact with each other to enclose the images they surround. In Song 3, he began the film with blue-green leader, progressing to images of water with a motion similar to that of the grainlike structure within the solid leader, and finally in the center of the film reaches a kind of realistically photographed house and street; here, the green leader functions not unlike a conventional establishing shot, locating the street not in any realistic space but in qualities of motion and inner perception suggested by solid colors or patterns of rushing water. The Riddle of Lumen reaches an abstraction which is formally more pure than all of these, because it completely transcends the notion of conceptual juxtaposition of images; it attains a balance and flow which is very rare in the history of cinema, thus surpassing in a particular way even the Brakhage film which just preceded it. In that film, The Process, fragments of photographed images of people and objects, images which usually only occupy a small part of the frame, were located within a field of rapidly flashing solid colors, either intercut or superimposed on the photo objects. This is the clearest example of Brakhage’s notion of the interdependence of seeing and perceiving: the photo objects can be seen only in terms of the rapidly flashing field of colors which might be related to inner perception or to some nonrepresentational optical phenomena. Having asserted this as strongly as he could, he seems now to have entered another kind of world, in which things exist in their own light and their own space. The interdependencies of the whole of The Process are, in a sense, contained in the deep complexities of a single image of The Riddle of Lumen.

Fred Camper