Stan Brakhage’s hand-painted films are homages to God, his grandmother and himself.

Frames of Grain 

Stan Brakhage’s hand-painted films are homages to God, his grandmother and himself.

Alive with luminous colors and hyperactive abstract forms, Stan Brakhage's most recent hand-painted films are more reminiscent of Jupiter than of the yawning prairie. Yet Brakhage insists that his art is firmly rooted in images of the wheat fields around Winfield, Kansas, where he spent much of his childhood and where he helped his grandmother make Christmas decorations from any old items they could get their hands on. "I think what I'm doing is not much different from making an angel out of tinfoil," he says.

Brakhage's earliest sense of what art could be came from his grandmother's thriftiness and ability to transform the scraps of everyday life into homages to God, family and self. To Brakhage, it was no different when he began his prolific film career as a teenager in the mid-1950s with a couple of canisters of Army surplus film and a houseful of friends.

Since then he has made hundreds of films, drawing upon his immediate surroundings to divine a deeper sense of his own existence and, subsequently, the universal. "I think all of modern art has been involved with reconciling people to the existence of their selves, the existence of others and that which we share, in some sense, on the spiritual realm, which you could say is God," says Brakhage, who screens selections that span his career at the Rio Theatre on June 21. His visit is part of the Halfway to Hollywood Film Festival, which runs Friday through June 24.

Through the '60s and '70s, Brakhage aimed his camera toward the nearby and intimate, focusing primarily on his family to show "the world in a grain of sand." Some of these works have been hailed as unassailable masterpieces, though their audiences have been small by Hollywood standards.

Brakhage has since pushed his art even further inward, attempting to depict the electric synergy of his own thoughts and memories -- the stuff he sees when he closes his eyes. "It's visual music," he says. "For me, it's the best movie in town, if you can take the time to look at it." He has abandoned his camera, opting instead to paint his films one frame at a time, allowing him to capture what can't be photographed.

To the casual art-house patron, the prospect of watching 24 separate abstract paintings flash on a screen each second might seem daunting. But Brakhage's films tend to soothe more than they stun. Having been at it for nearly fifty years, he has achieved an unsurpassed mastery of film's rhythm, which indeed translates into a visual music that is, in its best moments, as fluid as Mozart's.

For his Rio appearance, Brakhage will screen at least one work from his early career -- The Wonder Ring, which was commissioned by famed artist Joseph Cornell -- and several later hand-painted works, including The Jesus Trilogy and Coda, a four-part film he made earlier this year. This film, he says, is an approximation of his innermost spiritual memories -- those of Kansas and of his grandmother's sharing the Gospel. "These are my sacred praises for the world we live in," he says. "It's my way of saying thanks."

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