Stan Brakhage 1933-2003
The Text of Light (1974)
Duration: 67 minutes

Disclaimer: This is a VHS rip of what is perhaps the most delicate and beautiful film ever made. In classical terms, this verison doesn't begin to do the work justice. At best, it gives you a hint of the extraordinary vision that Brakhage captured on film and acts as a prompt for you to go see it in a theatre -- that is, if you can. Most likely, you can't. It's rarely shown in major metropolitan areas and never shown outside of them.

But there is another way to think about it. In the digital age, the many format manipulations that this particular copy has been through make it just as -- but differently -- extraordinary as Brakhage's original vision. New colors and fields of light appear, all as a result of several generations of copying, not dissimilar to Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting in a Room, So, perhaps it's best to think of this not as merely a poor quality copy, but in fact, a remix of the original, with the VJ not being one person, but being the technology itself. -- UbuWeb

The feature-length The Text of Light (1974) consists entirely of abstracted patterns of light photographed through a thick, deep-green ashtray. Anticipating his non-photographic abstract films of the ’80s and ’90s, it reduces photography to its ratio ultima, the influence of light on photographic emulsion.

…in photographing this ashtray for instance, I’m sitting for hours to get 30 seconds of film. I’m sitting watching what’s happening and clicking a frame, and sitting and watching, and further than that, I had shot several hundred feet and they seemed dead. They didn’t reflect at all my excitement and emotion and feeling. They had no anima in them, except for two or three shots where the lens which was on a tripod, pressed against the desk, had jerked. Those were just random, but what gave me the clue. What I began doing was always holding the camera in hand. For hours. Clicking. Waiting. Seeing what the sun did to the scene. As I saw what was happening in the frame to these little particles of light, changing, I would shoot the camera very slightly.

Cinema is consciousness and light is intelligence. 'All that is is light' (Duns Scotus Erigena) was a guiding quote and credo for Brakhage throughout the making of The Text of Light. Brakhage is exquisitely 'photosensitive', exploring all the visual registers of light across the known spectrum and through its unassigned frequencies and physiological and emotional manifestations. Cinema as consciousness and light as intelligence. Bookending this visually resplendent programme of non-representational 'imagnostic' film and landscape as engendering source are two of Brakhage's evocations of the 'filtered' sublime. Jonas Mekas was perhaps the first to refer to The Text of Light as 'cathedrals of light'. The vibrantly hand painted Chartres Series (propelled by a life changing visitation to see the incomparable stained glass windows of the Gothic cathedral in Chartres) and The Text of Light (a near microphotographic contemplation of the minute changes of refracted light painstakingly filmed through a crystal ashtray) have an affinity through their concern with light projecting through vitreous elements. Brakhage peered clairvoyantly into this crystal ashtray this Blakean grain of sand and found the basic makeup of all things a universe of colour and shape as living entities, a history of painting from Turner's mists to Cézanne's forests to De Kooning's 'Door to the River' and unnameable angelic beings and spectral emanations.

Stan Brakahge in UbuWeb Sound