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One Last Look

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When the young Stan Brakhage threw away his glasses, it was for aesthetic reasons, but not the ones Brakhage mythologists later claimed. Though he was just beginning a career as a groundbreaking experimental filmmaker, Brakhage wasn't trying to see more purely, unencumbered by corrective lenses. He just wanted to meet girls.

 

But chucking his glasses did lead Brakhage to focus on the art of seeing -- a turning point with profound implications for the immensely influential films he'd create over the next five decades.

 

The myth of the discarded glasses is just one misconception Brakhage addresses in Brakhage: The Final Word, Benjamin Meade's half-hour version of a 2001 interview -- apparently the last full-length interview the creator of Dog Star Man and other avant-garde touchstones conducted before his death in March 2003. Meade will present the video at the July 20 Film Kitchen, which also includes a selection of Brakhage's stunningly beautiful, late abstract short films and two shorts by local artists: Ralph Vituccio's documentary Valley Town 1983 and James Duesing's animated Tender Bodies.

 

Meade, a former student of Brakhage's, persuaded him to go on camera when Brakhage visited the Halfway to Hollywood Film Festival in Meade's hometown of Kansas City. The gray-bearded 68-year-old -- a prolific writer and speaker on film art -- ranges widely, discussing his "brain movies" about personal memories, and what he calls hypnagogic vision and the painting on film of images he couldn't photograph. He also speaks provocatively about being an artist in America ("America has no arts, and doesn't deserve to have any") and debunks other myths about himself, including the real reason he lived for years in the mountains of Colorado.

 

Meade, who last visited Film Kitchen with the internationally screened experimental documentary Vakvagany (in which Brakhage is also featured), says Brakhage told him their 2001 chat was one of the best interviews he'd ever had.

 

"Sometimes I don't think he [took] himself so seriously as a lot of people [did]," says Meade. "I feel very lucky to have gotten this."

 

"Reaganomics Made Me What I Am -- Unemployed," reads the protester's sign. But the man at whom the message was aimed never saw it.

 

Shooting Valley Town 1983, Ralph Vituccio keyed on President Reagan's visit to Pittsburgh, supposedly to address rampant layoffs and the collapse of the steel industry. But Reagan met only with big businessmen such as US Steel CEO David Roderick, who once infamously said, "Our job is to make money, not steel." On a cold, rainy April day, that left Vituccio and his crew in Point State Park outside the Downtown Hilton with ticked-off protesters, effigies of Reagan, and interview subjects including mill worker and journalist Larry Evans and labor activist Paul Lodico.

 

The 12-minute black-and-white short was Vituccio's first documentary in a career including the internationally screened 1990 doc Performance: The Living Art (co-directed with Rick Dwyer). Valley Town is now a time capsule as well as an alternate vision of the lionized and recently deceased Reagan's legacy. "We were hoping he was gonna get in the film," says Vituccio. "They brought him in [secretly] through the back entrance."

 

James Duesing is a pioneer in the field of computer animation, and his painstakingly crafted shorts have been shown worldwide. He's also the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts' 2005 Artist of the Year. As a warm-up for the PCA's September show of Duesing's work, Film Kitchen presents the latest from the Carnegie Mellon University instructor: the surreal Tender Bodies, a dark-humored take on genetically modified life forms.

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