Stan Brakhage 1933-2003
Stan Brakhage - The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes (1971)
The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes is a 1971 American experimental film by Stan Brakhage. It was filmed on 16mm without synchronized sound in a Pittsburgh morgue. The title is based on a literal translation of the term autopsy. The film is part of Brakhage's "Pittsburgh trilogy", a trio of "documentary" films Brakhage made about the city's various institutions in 1971; the other two are Eyes, about the city police, and Deus Ex, filmed in a hospital. Writing about the film, American critic Jonathan Rosenbaum referred to The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes as "one of the most direct confrontations with death ever recorded on film."
Brakhage shot The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes during a visit to a morgue. The film documented highly graphic typical autopsy procedures such as the removing of organs and embalming.
True to its title, The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes is a study in observation and immersion. Brakhage’s films are all about the visual and this film is no exception. He can be described as a 'documentarian of subjectivity' as the film techniques he used are partly about 'giving form to his eyesight' (In other words, the camera lens as the human eyes). However, the aim is always to ‘sensitize each viewer to his own subjectivity’.
The stripped-down filming style (silent thus free of all voice over typical in documentaries) enables the viewer to form their own interpretations and judgements. Indeed, for all its gore, the general viewing experience and observation can be something like what Fred Camper has described, “The Act of Seeing with one’s own eyes (1971) will soon discover that the film is also a curious, admittedly creepy, study of the varieties of light reflected off of skin, with luminous fluid appearing to dance with the camera”.
In a Senses of Cinema profile of the filmmaker, filmmaker and curator Brian Frye wrote: "The key image of The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes is quite likely the bluntest statement on the human condition ever filmed. In the course of an autopsy, the skin around the scalp is slit with a scalpel, and in preparation for exposing and examining the brain, the face of each cadaver is literally peeled off, like a mask, revealing the raw meat beneath. That image, once seen, will never leave you."