The hand-painted films of Stan Brakhage:
: an interdisciplinary and phenomenological exploration of painted moving images

  • Victoria Smith

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis examines the latter hand-painted films of American avant-garde filmmaker, Stan Brakhage. These films, produced in the last few decades of the twentieth century, have suffered from critical neglect. They have also suffered from their historical and methodological framing within the renowned American avant-garde film movement. I argue that such approaches have resulted in inaccurate and unhelpful academic appraisals of these artworks.

This thesis addresses the neglect of the hand-painted works by presenting a new methodological and epistemic approach to this collection of films, which relocates the works outside the medium of film. Based on a wide range of primary and secondary evidence, it brings together phenomenological, interdisciplinary and performative lines of enquiry, considering both the production and reception of the films. The project also offers a greater understanding of Brakhage’s own experience of his hand-painted films and the artworks themselves as products. As a result, a new and creative understanding of the hand-painted works has been developed that investigates the abstract and musical possibilities of the painted images through the concepts of visual music and visual narrative.

In addition to the production process, this project also extends current scholarship on the performative process of reception, through a comprehensive study of the role of the audience. It argues for the increased relevance of reception for the hand-painted films, presenting an understanding of audience members as co-creators of meaning. This line of theoretical enquiry is evidenced through a qualitative and empirical reception study, engaging directly with audience members of a hand-painted film. A focus group, held at Southsea Sangha in October 2017, provides an original exploration of the possibilities of mindfulness and meditation as means of engaging with subjective audience experiences of reception.
Date of AwardSept 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLaurie Ede (Supervisor) & Joanna Bucknall (Supervisor)

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