"He actually put a plant in front of a television, and it died, of course, because of the limited spectrum," Clancy recalls with a laugh, also remembering a conference during which Brakhage sat an oncologist in the front row of the auditorium. Clancy thinks Brakhage wanted the man to argue that video causes cancer.
For Brakhage, filmmaking was a religious experience, the light of film sacred -- it brought its subject to life onscreen.
It's surprising, then, an anthology of the late artist's work, called By Brakhage, has just come out on a medium other than film. "It's so interesting to me that, as he's dying, he does permit to have this thing produced by Criterion, this DVD," Clancy says.
That doesn't mean Brakhage had changed his mind about his medium of choice. In one interview last year, Brakhage said he got into film as a teenager. "I was so shy, I couldn't even bring myself to say hello to this beautiful woman that I was singing with in the choir at St. John's Cathedral in Denver," he said. The film he made as a result showed a kiss that lasted longer than a minute. For 1952, that was pretty daring.
Filming a girl because you like her might seem amateurish, but Brakhage never stopped being an amateur in that sense. Amateur comes from amar: to love, Clancy says, and Brakhage explored real feelings about real experiences. That's part of why most of the films Clancy is showing in this week's Electromediascope deal with Brakhage's intimate explorations of birth and death.
Brakhage fans won't want to miss the last film on the program. (It's not included in the By Brakhage anthology.) He was working on it just before he died.
"We knew he was dying, but he was still making a film," Clancy says. "He was in the hospital bed, scratching the emulsion with his fingernail."