Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cat's Cradle

1959 • 6 minutes, 16 seconds • 16 mm • Silent

I am really enjoying watching these movies one or two at a time in chronological order and then pausing to put together my thoughts. These early films in particular took me the longest to appreciate and until I began this project they were probably my least favorites. Now, each is becoming something I hold dear.

“Cat’s Cradle” looks like such a natural continuation of “Wedlock House.” (And so then does “Window Water Baby Moving” which I’ll write about next.) Where “Wedlock” is a frightening, emotionally tentative, and sexually charged look at a honeymoon, “Cat’s Cradle” is a cat bewitching look at the first year of a young couple settling in to comfortable domestic living. There is a real sense here of relaxed hanging out. The couples fears have subsided, but they’re also still just playing at marriage, like children in a tree house.

Floating through this is a black cat. Cats actually float through a good number of Brakhage’s films (note the title of this blog) and he seems to have simply enjoyed them as pets, so I wouldn’t rush to place too much symbolic significance on the cat’s color. It’s not there to suggest the couple is dabbling in witchcraft. I do think it suggests though that Stan was bewitched by Jane. When considered as part of continuity between “Wedlock” and “Window,” something is definitely going on inside Jane that is another great mystery for the young Brakhage.

He would spend his career focusing on the great transitions or stages of life that we all share and that ultimately form the basis of all mythology. His life’s work could be summarized as a long meditation on sex, birth, aging, and death and how family and spirituality are what carry one from one to the next.

While “Desistfilm” and “The Wonder Ring” were edited in ways not far removed from classic continuity and “Wedlock” toys with something akin to peek-a-boo light montage, “Cat’s Cradle” is Brakhage’s first film to develop the editing style that he would toy with and perfect for the rest of his career. It feels like a practice film for his epic “Dog Star Man” for instance.

His editing here could best be described as fiercely non-continuous. He has three characters Stan, Jane, and a cat and their surroundings. He shows us each in a rapid succession of almost disconnected images. The cuts don’t have the cause and effect (telling a story) relationship that we are accustomed to after a lifetime of watching Hollywood movies and this makes the movie demanding and trying at first. The cascade of shots almost feel like watching footage as it spilled out of the camera, still waiting for an editor to show up and go to work.

I’ve watched “Cat’s Cradle” about a dozen times now and way they vibrate as they contact each other assures me that Brakhage actually put great care and thought into their precise arrangement. He is after two things with this style. First, he wants to thrill and engage your subconscious by feeding it new ways for shots to interact. Second, he gives your mind all of the makings of a story – a setting and characters – except for one crucial piece – a story. He recognized that the human brain will fill in the missing pieces – and most likely come up with a story far more interesting than if a screenwriter had crafted one.

One other comment, the colors in the film, especially on the Blu-ray disc are absolutely ravishing.

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