Editor’s Exposition: Though still relatively anonymous, Stan Brakhage (1933 – 2003) was one of the most influential post-war filmmakers in America, utilizing a number of different styles and techniques to create hundreds of experimental pieces. Among his works, Window Water Baby Moving (1959) was in retrospect his most important; without a crew, he filmed the water birth of his daughter, in full graphic detail. Such unflinching intimacy shocked audiences, but paved the way for a more enlightened view of the physical process of birth, particularly for men who were at the time usually kept out of the delivery room.
Brakhage’s influence can be seen strongly today, particularly in the D.I.Y. and viral videos that saturate the modern internet. Enjoy this essay on his first film, Interim (1952).
Oh to Be Young: Thoughts On Interim
by Jaclyn L. Katz
Stan Brakhage speaks a bold dialect of film language in his directorial debut, Interim (1952). The experimental yet romantic narrative is expressed without a word of spoken dialogue between the two main characters, a nameless teenage boy and girl. In lieu of a traditional script, the filmmaker chooses to convey his ideas on adolescent emotion through camera movement, editing, sound, and softly expressive acting. Like the film’s title – which means ‘temporary’ or ‘in between’ – the film is short and bittersweet for both the viewer and the inhabitants of the on-screen world. The quality of the film is shy and understated, its naivety making it a charming piece, void of pretension. It oozes realism as a result of its simple form and authentic nature.
The narrative is a representation of the film’s title, depicting an interim, or, the meantime. It represents what young people do during their spare time, carefully telling a story of wandering, observing, and the search for excitement in the midst of adolescence. The film itself is a product of such a time; Brakhage started to piece together this quaint film at 19 years of age. With no intention of making money or a political statement, he took two years to finish what is ultimately a smear of young thoughts upon pieces of celluloid. While discussing Interim in an interview that took place in 1967 Brakhage stated that, “With the clarity that is real presumption in the young, I said: ‘Well, I’m an artist and I’m going to make a film’” Thus began the start of an oeuvre that would eventually include 373 films.
The beginning of the 24 minute film is captured without music, but with natural ambient noise. A young man is smoking a cigarette and staring at a winding staircase that leads to a grassy plain below the freeway he is leaning over. A shaky camera follows the boy’s gaze, tilting slowly and caressing the vertical length of the staircase. The wooden staircase is also a motif that appears at the end of the narrative, too, maintaining shape and structure.
The sound in the film is divergent, either diegetic and natural, or classical music that is quite obviously not being heard in the on-screen world. As previously mentioned though, the audience is not privy to hearing the words being exchanged between the male and female actors. Instead, the viewer sees signs such as ‘Street Closed’ and ‘Do Not Park Here’ that the characters casually bypass and ignore. This mindless breaking of the rules enforces the theme of the film, the empowerment and entitlement of youth with hearty appetites for sedition.
The audience sees the boy and a lovely girl stroll side-by-side, talking and ogling each other, the director capturing some very voyeuristic takes of them in long shots, with the pillars of the overpass surrounding them and from behind trees. Eventually the boy and girl sit on a landing, resting their hands on a rock that separates them. With nothing to distract them but their jittery, lusting minds, the two make eye contact. The young pair is uneasy with the intimacy, and each shakes off the moment, shown through a long shot. The cautious emotion in the scene is a statement about their unrushed approach to their days, and of course, to each other. The dramatic close-up of their hands touching is also in a way of mocking the emotional flood of pubescent feelings that teenagers take too seriously. Although this moment may be remembered for the rest of the characters’ lives, it could also be a fleeting hour that one night of experimenting with drugs will erase from their memories, maiming it and letting it sink into the satchels of adolescent memories. It is possible that they are having mere interim feelings.
In an interview about how he financed Interim, Brakhage explains the thrifty approach he took to making his first film. “And here’s the financial side of it: we got some war-surplus out-dated Dupont gun-camera film in fifty foot spools. And we had to sit in the dark with pencils and unreel in onto spools and make a splice in the dark so we could get hundred foot rolls. And we then borrowed several cameras; also we rented a camera for a couple of weekends”. The multiple cameras result in differing visuals throughout the film. Interim is interesting to watch because the film stock changes along with the amount of light able to reach it, so the images are skewed. This traditional technique is as fancy and fascinating as it might be if every single frame in a film had noticeably different settings, costume changes or computer manipulations. The creative spirit Brakhage maintained while shooting and editing this film is incredible to observe. Mentioning particular hairs and particles that dance around on the image from being stuck to the old celluloid is perfunctory. Not only might they have been unintentional, but over the past fifty years the film may have been meddled with by outsiders.
Still though, they add to the fragmentary charm of the film. Although Brakhage’s very first film is haggard and amateur, it remains charming. Interim is meant to paint youth as a triumph, revealing that in-between period in life when things seem completely complicated, yet are actually relatively simple. The film in itself is a picture of the director’s youth and budding artistry. At 19 years old he had nothing but creativity and fervour for film coursing through his veins. This short film is a captivating look at the blooming vision of one of the premier American experimental filmmakers of the 20th century.