Mothlight (1963)
Stan Brakhage
4 Min.

Stan Brakhage – the man without a movie camera – has adorned his filmography with some of the most bizarre films ever made, but Mothlight (1963), thankfully, remains one of the more accessible movies – visually and conceptually – among those. The quintessential garage work, Mothlight is an array of images made by gluing together pieces of dead insects and dry leaves on a film strip and projecting the product using a light source. The result is a fascinating viewing experience marked by a mixture of ambiguity and revelation. Like the work of a curious child, which oozes with innocence and imagination, Brakhage’s film (especially when seen with the hum of a projector) is one of the few films that truly capture the “magic of cinema”. Mothlight is a unique film in the sense that a digital copy (or any other recorded source) of it undermines its power because of the very intention of the film. If Andre Bazin traced the need for cinema, and all plastic arts, to the ancient Egyptian craft of mummification, Brakhage carries out precisely the reverse process – employing cinema to revive and preserve the dead for eternity. Mothlight could be seen just as a POV shot of a light bulb on which an army of moths has unleashed itself, only to get killed. But it is also the opposite. The artist’s desire to resurrect the dead and to eternalize the living in order to achieve an immortality of sorts is one of the very many motivations for art. Brakhage’s “actors”, although dead and dismantled, have now achieved life once more, thanks to the singular property of cinema to capture reality, in all its four dimensions.


[In this section, I’ll be posting brief write-ups about some impressive/interesting/frustrating/bizarre/whatever short films. And if possible the video too.]