Decent selections of Brakhage’s own writings, including manifestos, lectures, interviews, some film scripts/shooting notes, and most of his famous book ‘Metaphors on Vision’, were collected in Essential Brakhage, (a large selection of which comes from the Brakhage Scrapbook: Collected Writings, including an amazing interview with Hollis Frampton and Brakhage’s then-wife Jane Wodening, which I don’t think is reproduced anywhere else. Unfortunately the only copy of this I found on Amazon is signed by Brakhage and going for nearly £2k, so chances are you’ll have to be lucky enough to have access to a uni library which has a copy, or use an inter-library loan thing to get hold of it say).
Not contained in either of those however are these four lectures by Brakhage, on Méliès, Griffiths, Dreyer and Eisenstein. They’re important for driving home how Brakahge saw himself firmly in the tradition of these kind of ‘masters’ of cinema. His films were not intentionally so-called artists films meant to be looped against a wall in some corner of an art gallery while people walk through and glance at them, he meant them explicitly as cinema, to be projected on film in front of a collective audience who watch them from start to finish. But he also dreamed of a day when film technology would be pervasive enough that his films could be watched and re-watched the way people have been long able to do with music, and he did see this come to pass with digital media technologies, but of course this wasn’t a satisfactory solution for him as such a staunch film purist. It’s an interesting dilemma, and this stuff is why I think he’s such an interesting figure to look at it in terms of the slippage which occurred of avant garde moving image work into the gallery-based “art world”, something I want to look into more.
Now, works about Brakhage are relatively thin on the ground. The best place to go would be Stan Brakhage: Filmmaker, a collection of both personal reflections/reminiscences from friends and other film-makers, along with more academic essays. To my eyes the stand-out piece and the only one I gave much attention in my dissertation was ‘Brakhage’s Occasions: Figure, Subjectivity, and Avant-Garde Politics’ by Tyrus Miller. Sitney also wrote on Brakhage a fair bit so check out his stuff like Visionary Film, and I also seem to remember W.C. Wees writing some good stuff on Brakhage in his book Light Moving in Time.
Other than that the only major book I’m aware of on Brakhage is by the great Canadian film-maker R. Bruce Elder: The Films of Stan Brakhage in the American Tradition of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and Charles Olson. This book is a fucking behemoth. I spent £50 on a hardback edition for my diss but I see there’s a paperback going for £30 now on amazon. Anyway, the thing is about 600 pages long of incredibly dense analysis and I’m not lying about 200 of those pages are even denser endnotes, it’s like the most absurdly scholarly book I’ve ever encountered, that’s what I remember thinking through the massive digressions on Schopenhauer and stuff, and on the whole it makes as good an account of the formal intricacies of the major American modernist poets as it does of Brakhage’s films (up until the early 90s at least). Bruce Elder’s great anyway, like if you remove the few words about God and spirituality at the end of them, I’d happily take most of his statements on life and art and writing on art in the introductory chapters as my own.
Otherwise, just watch the films — or don’t, just go and watch what light does around you wherever you find yourself, it’s all good.