From the research I’ve done, of all the experimental/avant-garde filmmakers to somehow find their way onto the list, Stan Brakhage seems to be the most renowned of them all. What this says for experimental cinema and its ability to be considered as a form of cinema is something that may be debated for eons to come. For his representation on the list, in what seemed an arbitrary decision, the editors chose Dog Star Man, a five part film about… is it about anything? The Book’s information in the entry for this one seems to indicate that only Part I was included, but mention in the text is made of the five-part structure of the whole thing, so for completionist sake I opted to watch all five parts. Whether or not you do the same is up to you.
The biggest question, once one has actually started into Dog Star Man, is: what the heck is going on? The prelude, for example, starts off with an absolutely incoherent smattering of color and faded imagery layered over each other, as varied as it is befuddling. From what I’ve gathered elsewhere on the internet, it is supposed to be a realization of creation, including footage of the sun and, later, the Earth, but I have to digress. The Tree of Life also did a visual approximation of the creation myth, and it managed to get it done just fine and still be relatively comprehensible; this… this is just squiggles and splotches and smears of color flashing across the screen. When Part I comes along, we get occasional glimpses of a man struggling up a mountainside with a dog, but these offer no context, and seem to be as randomly captured as every other image in this film. There is no narrative line in the film itself; when I am required to have a secondary source along with me while I watch a film to be able to make sense of it all, or really any of it, then there is something wrong. It should all be contained in the film itself, in some form, even if it is ambiguous. This, this is just… nothing. Nothing but random images. No wonder Brakhage is the most renowned avant-garde filmmaker that I know of; he is simply the most avant-garde there is, and that’s all. I should also mention that there is no sound throughout any of the five parts of this film, or at least there wasn’t in the print that I saw, but sound or no sound, I don’t think it would have made all that much of a difference, unless the score or song selection was really, really good, and seeing what Brakhage has given me in the visual department, I have no high hopes he would’ve excelled in the audio department.
I don’t really know what I was expecting with this, but I guess I was expecting… something. Anything. Sure, if I viewed this a few more times, and was either incredibly tired or drunk or drugged out on some sort of illegal hallucinogen, I might be able to piece together a narrative, but it wouldn’t matter; I’d be essentially making it up, since Dog Star Man is nothing but senseless images scraped and spliced together. Looking back on my experiences with avant-garde and experimental cinema on the list, I can’t really say any have been positive (with the possible exception of Meshes of the Afternoon), but for a film to just have nothing of merit or substance that warrants an individual to spend what time is needed to sit through it is just… stupid. And vacuous. And that’s Dog Star Man: a vacuum of cinematic substance.
Arbitrary Rating: 4/10