Wash Out Your Eye


“Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws
of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the
name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure
of perception.” Avant-garde filmmaker, Stan Brakhage, proposed
the concept of the “untutored eye,” an idea that possesses a profound belief in the
power of the cinematic image. The untutored eye is an eye refreshed, where
the organization of culture or ideology or even language are no longer imposed upon sight. In Brakhage’s films, he tried to capture
an intense subjectivity of vision, frequently choosing hand-held over the tripod, playing
with exposure, blurred focus, processing experiments, montage editing, and direct animation, where
he painted and scratched and affixed objects to the film strip itself. For Brakhage, subjective vision was not just
a representation of what the artist sees, but also an attempt to retrain how the audience
sees. This is why his films are silent. He wanted us to focus our attention on how
we see the world, and perhaps learn to see more fully. Brakhage is not the only cinematic avant-gardist
who has sought to challenge and expand vision. His contemporaries, Robert Breer and Paul
Sharits, defy the continuity of visual perception by taking advantage of the fact that movies
are composed of a series of single frames. Breer’s films create rapid montages of non-continuous
images and animation. He once wrote: “It has to do with revealing
the artifices instead of concealing them. The fact of that rabbit sitting inside the
magician’s hat is the real mystery, not how it’s dissimulated. The hat should be transparent and show the
rabbit.” Paul Sharits’ flicker films are also composed
of a series of discontinuous frames – often blocks of color and light – that create
a flickering effect when projected. The films assault normal perception, so much
so that before the films there is generally a warning: If you are sensitive to flickering
lights or are prone to seizures, you may want to exit the screening. Unlike Brakhage, both Breer and Sharits also
employed sound montage as part of their challenge to perception. However, the most famous example of a filmmaker
using the camera eye to alter consciousness is probably the Soviet director Dziga Vertov. Vertov railed against narrative cinema, considering
its portrayal of human relationships dishonest. Instead, Vertov sought cinema truth – what
he called Kino-Pravda. In the early days, he traveled Russia on propaganda
trains, filming everyday people and montaging the footage together in creative newsreels. His purpose was education, class consciousness,
the rejection of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, and the unity of the proletariat. “We therefore take as the point of departure
the use of the camera as a kino-eye, more perfect than the human eye, for the exploration
of the chaos of visual phenomena that fills space…My path leads to the creation of a
fresh perception of the world. I decipher in a new way a world unknown to
you.” I’m Laura Ivins. Thanks for watching.

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