1959 • 10 minutes, 47 seconds • 16 mm • Silent
The more times I watch “Wedlock House,” the more I like it and feel at one with it. It tells the story, apparently, of one night in the young married lives of Stan and Jane Brakhage. It’s a night of fear and uncertainty and lovemaking. It’s a shadowy haunted house of a movie with two young people only finding comfort through sexual intercourse.
I wonder how many people get married before they really, truly know each other. That wedding night and the honeymoon and those first few months, even years, together would seem a frightening mystery. Do I even love this person? Is all we had in common just sex after all?
“Wedlock House” is set entirely in a house at night. It consists of moments of illumination revealing fleeting glimpses of one face and then the other. These are rhythmically alternated by even longer moments of darkness. There’s plenty of editing of the usual kind here, but Brakhage does something much more interesting, more innovative. As a filmmaker with a lifelong fascination with light, he has conjured up a way to create montage out of casting and covering his light source. Illuminate the room, then cover the light with a cloak, then uncloak the light to reveal a new image, and back and forth. It’s an intoxicating effect, a teasing effect.
The film reminds me of teenage sleepover truth or dares where a boy and a girl are ordered into a “haunted house” at night and not allowed out again until sunrise. And being maliciously playful, they, particularly the boy, take the game to a new dimension by telling each other ghost stories by the fireplace and, since all of their friends will spend the night imagining them making out and going all the way anyway, hell, why not?
For me, the most memorable sections of the film are two: a series of shots where they appear to be playing hide and seek, peering at each other from opposite ends of a hallway and through windows, and a series of shots where they share cups of tea like children having a tea party. It nicely captures what I think the film is ultimately about. Marriage is one of life’s most significant transitions. Before, a couple is merely playing at being a couple. Afterwards, the playing is over and adult reality sets in. “Wedlock House” shows us that, for one night, the play and the reality meet in the foyer, one coming, one going.
The quite graphic shots of Stan and Jane having intercourse are presented differently than the other material. They are shown as negative images. It is almost as if the sex and the fears exist on different planes. They fear each other – like teenagers in a haunted house – and they desire each other, intensely – like stray cats having a heated rendezvous. The glimpses we get of their faces are filled with these mixed emotions. At times, they appear to be panting, but from which emotion? It works either way.
I wonder if Jane really knew what she was getting herself into when she married Stan. Did she know that from the moment of “I do” onward, no moment would be too private for the camera?