Kool Kat of the Week: “We were all gods.” – Jane Wodening (Brakhage), an Elusive yet Central Character in American Cinema, Discusses Art and Life During “Jane Wodening in Person” Hosted by Film Love Atlanta

Posted on: Feb 9th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crewuntitled
Managing Editor

Jane Wodening, first wife to acclaimed experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, is a central character in the avant-garde film world. Jane is set to speak about her life in and out of cinema, her collaboration and marriage to Brakhage, as well as her own writing, at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center on Sat. Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. Included in this event is the screening of three short films focusing on Wodening, all shot in 16mm: WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING (1959 – 12 min/Stan Brakhage); HYMN TO HER (1974 – 2 min./Stan Brakhage); and JANE BRAKHAGE (1975 – 10 min./Barbara Hammer). “Jane Wodening in Person” is hosted by Andy Ditzler [March 2011; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Andy here] and Film Love Atlanta. Don’t miss out on this exciting and rare opportunity to delve into the life of Jane Wodening, in her own words.

Wodening’s marriage to Brakhage spanned three decades (1957-1987). Their marriage and family life, including rarely exposed intimate details, is the subject of many of Brakhage’s filmic endeavors. Although Brakhage is considered one of the of “the most important figures of 20th century experimental film,” Wodening’s collaboration with him is noteworthy in itself. She was not merely the subject, or “muse,” but was an active participant in the production of those films. Additionally, Wodening spent the last few decades churning out her own art; her written words (prose poetry, fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, etc.) can be found on her website here [FROM THE BOOK OF LEGENDS (1988); LUMP GULCH TALES (1993); BOOK OF GARGOYLES (1999); LIVING UP THERE (2013); BRAKHAGE’S CHILDHOOD (2015)] and most recently WOLF DICTIONARY (2016), which she will include at Film Love Atlanta’s event.

ATLRetro caught up with Jane Wodening for a quick interview about her life and collaboration with Stan Brakhage, her artistic influences,  the importance of the written word and her desire to write the biography of the 51+QfAD2iYL._SX359_BO1,204,203,200_Universe.

ATLRetro: You were a necessary component in the films of Stan Brakhage, as his wife and “muse.” Did you ever see yourself as something greater than the films themselves, or did you consider yourself a necessary part of the whole that was Stan Brakhage?

Jane Wodening: Naturally, I thought of myself as myself, but I felt that he was saying that I inspired him.

Stan’s films delved deeply into your marriage and family life. Did you ever feel overly exposed to the public? And how did you deal with that exposure?

When we were filming, we were alone. When the films were made and shown and people would ask me that, I’d say, well, that was then, and this is now. What I am is here before you, and I’m not those images.

Can you tell our readers about the roles you played in Brakhage’s films? Meaning, we see you onscreen, but did you assist in the techniques used? Did you work with Stan behind the scenes, preparing the films?

Yes. They were his films, always, but I did a lot. The world he photographed was my world; the children were under my guidance. Sometimes I’d run the camera, help him with editing, change things. We always discussed it if I did. Once or twice, I was the Sound Man. He said many times that “by Brakhage” meant by me also, AND the kids, and there was some truth in that. I was surely devoted to him and his work.

Stan, Jane - Still from WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING (1959)

Stan, Jane – Still from WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING (1959)

What are your thoughts on WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING? Were you supportive of Stan filming the birth of your first child? Looking back, what do you feel now that maybe you didn’t feel then?

I was agreeable to it. We were in this together. This was our life and he was a film artist. Naturally, he would want to film the birth. He filmed every birth. I liked having him there with me.

There must be an interesting story about how you and Stan met. Can you fill our readers in on your meeting?

I saw him twice before we met. The first time, I was coming out of the opera house with my date. We had gone to the matinee, and there on the street were two guys dueling. My date said, “Yes, they have a very off-beat little theatre in a tent.” But we didn’t have time to go to it. The duelists were Stan and Larry Jordan. The second time I was working across the street from Rockefeller Center in New York and I’d go to the Rockefeller Plaza to eat my sack lunch. When it rained I went into the mall where I found a Brentano’s Bookstore and bought books from him, but he would not look at me.

The third time was when I was introduced to him. He was renting a little house in Denver and my boyfriend at the time introduced me to him, said he was a genius. He started teaching a class unofficially with the film club, and my cousin Betsy and I sat in the back row giggling about “The Great Brakhage” because he seemed to be presenting himself that way. But one moment we stood together under a tree and fell in love. I was amazed when he didn’t contact me. He was with another girl who knew me, and finally said to him, “I think Jane Likes you.” By this time I was horribly depressed untitled (6)and sent him a letter, so he called me up and said he loved me and to come and visit him. It was about six weeks later that we married.

The ‘50s and ‘60s were a time filled with art and stories and experimentation in all forms. Can you tell our readers a little about your and Stan’s life in art before your children were born?

I entered the scene in 1957, and while the children were being born, we traveled a lot and met and befriended as many of the artists in all fields as we could. It was a very lively scene. We were all gods. We were very poor and we were going to change the world. We all knew each other, were drawn to each other like magnets, and we all agreed. It was exhilarating. And we did change the world.

We see that your most recent book, BRAKHAGE’S CHILDHOOD, is a retelling of Stan’s Depression-era childhood, as told to you in the ‘80s in conversations with Stan. In what ways do you think Stan’s formative years affected his art, his career, his family?

He was born a precocious child. He loved to get attention and he loved theatre. As a child, he put on shows, sang in the church, whatever. He had a rough childhood, pillar to post. He never outgrew being the center of the world.

Can you tell us a little about your most recent book, WOLF DICTIONARY?

I have it here. As a child, I ran with dogs, learned what they were communicating. I’ve always thought I learned dog WolfDictionaryCoverlanguage first and English as a second language. In my early 20s, I wanted to write a dog dictionary. Years later, three people told me about the time when they lived “way up the road beyond where the snowplow went across a winter and they watched a wolf and his mates.” I was very charmed by this story, but couldn’t figure how to present it. I finally realized that I could write it from the viewpoint of the wolf. But even then, people would read it and still they wouldn’t learn the language. So I added notes, talked about why the animal made that gesture, what it meant. To me it seemed obvious as pie. So that’s WOLF DICTIONARY. It’s a key to start understanding animals and what they are communicating.

How has your writing evolved over the years? Has there been a change in subject-matter? Tone? In your youth did you feel the need to express ideas that you don’t quite feel the need to express now?

In fact, I didn’t start writing until I was nearly 40, but even then, across the last 40 years, I have changed a lot in my writing. I never was interested in writing fiction. I always wanted to write to understand something that came to my attention. At first, I felt obliged to write a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, but then I got really excited about the realism of form that anecdote gave. Now I feel that biography can get to understanding the life if the motives and drives are shown and develop into acts and responses and perspectives. I’m now considering writing the biography of the earth, to clarify the legend that the scientists are excited about. It will be a sort of translation. I’m hoping I can show it as adventures.

untitled (5)Which writers (poets, novelists, etc.) influenced you the most?

I think my first big influence was Rembrandt who looks at me through his eyes and we look at each other. He tells me to work, to pour out vitality. Gertrude Stein is reassuring. She tells me it’s perfectly okay to be an odd-ball. Henry James tells me it’s all right to talk at great length about little details; just dance it, and I’ll have it right. Poe shows me how to put rhythm into my writing, to write the percussion and the beat. Vivaldi says to make living landscapes with whatever media. My father taught me to be blown away by a squirrel or an anthill or a bush.

With regards to filmmaking and art, who were your and Stan’s biggest influences?

I think I was his and he was mine.

Are there any filmmakers today (experimental and/or narrative) that you find intriguing?

Ken Jacobs, Ernie Gehr, Nathaniel Dorsky, all close to my age. I wonder if there are any young people doing art? I know there’s much that has been done in comic format. Rap seems full of energy, but it seems hard to avoid selling a message. I don’t know. It may be an in-between time, or possibly I’m unaware of what’s going on with the young. There is always talent, and talent is a beautiful thing, no matter what one does with it, but great periods like Baroque music or the Impressionists seem to be the blooming times.

What is your take on compartmentalizing art and films into genres? Do you think these types of creative outlets canuntitled (4) be properly tucked away into a single box? Or do you think most art (including film) overlaps several different genres?

When I tried to get agents or publishers to publish me, they’d say, but what is your genre? Evidently, if you’re writing in a genre, you know what you have to do and you get published. This doesn’t interest me. I write what I write.

Can you offer any advice to our readers about film, personal expression and creativity?

Whatever you do you’ll do what you’re told. The question is, who do you want to listen to? – The shop boss? There’s a steady job. – The pulse of the culture? – If you do that, you might starve and/or become famous. How about that inner voice? – How about writing what you want to know? – That’s where I’m at – I write to think.

What’s next for Jane Wodening?

I want to write the biography of the earth. There is some possibility that it will be the biography of the Universe. I’d like to put it all into common English, so anyone could know at least the theory of the moment – the amazing adventures of this planet and the life on it. I have a mess of little pieces of writing I’d like to put into shape – animal biographies, other thoughts. I really enjoy thinking. There’s nothing more fun than thinking.

Can you tell our readers what they can expect at Film Love Atlanta’s event, “Jane Wodening in Person,” on February 13?

51MKKshYY7L._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_They can expect to be surprised about a number of things.

We know you’ve done plenty of interviews, but is there something you’d like to tell our readers that they don’t know already?

I’m not sure what to say to this. I’m hoping they have open minds.

Photos courtesy of Jane Wodening and used with permission.

 

 

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: MidCentury Home for the Holidays: Persephone Phoenix Cooks Up Some Domestic Mischief with Fat Cat Cabaret

Posted on: Nov 12th, 2013 By:

Persephone Phoenix. Photo credit: Tim Fox Photography. Used with permission.

Oh, Happy Days! Fat Cat Cabaret, one of Atlanta’s newest Retro entertainment troupes, is sneaking a peek behind closed doors to home life in the post-World War  in their 1950s Burlesque Holiday Show this Saturday Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. at Andrew’s Upstairs. The sassy shenanigans set to the music of the birth era of rock n roll include iconic foods, props and include special guest and recent Kool Kat Talloolah Love, the Sweetest T in the South, as the hottest neighbor on the block, and Nashville self-proclaimed Dieselpunk Prophet of Pop Culture Big Daddy Cool, as the Ultimate Entertainer. Also on the roster are Sketch Macquinor as the comedic neighbor and bearer of all things funny; Ben Gravitt, as Jerry, your humble narrator and all-around hip cat; and another Kool Kat, Ruby le Chatte, as Jerry’s other half and the life of the party!

To find out more, we caught up with Fat Cat’s Creative Director Perspehone Phoenix, a true Kool Kat’s Meow in her own right. So yeah, we asked her a bit about her path to fabulous frivolity, too!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself. What’s the secret origin story of Persephone Phoenix?

As the Head Haunchess of Hell and the Princess of Purgatory, I emerged from a previously mundane, muggle existence, and with a fiery glory, was reborn as a creature of the dark side known as burlesque performance. I am currently an aerial instructor with Play Hard Gym and creative director for Fat Cat Cabaret, as well as freelance performer, splitting my time between performance, organization and community involvement.  An aerialist for nearly four years, I initially took burlesque classes with Syrens of the South, and after my debut combining both aerial arts and strip tease, I have not looked back. I have performed all over the Southeast and am a member of or have performed with such groups as Fat Cat Cabaret, Syrens of the South, Musee du Coeur, Cheeky BellesBible Belt Burlesque (Perry, GA), Spooky LeStrange and Her Billion Dollar Baby Dolls (New Orleans) and recently, in front of an audience of over 1000 people at DragonCon’s Glamour Geek Revue.

What about Fat Cat Cabaret?! The troupe is relatively new to the burlesque/variety/Retro scene in Atlanta. What sets it apart?

One of the things that initially attracted me to this group was that, unlike many other troupes whom I have worked with, Fat Cat attempts to tell a story with their productions. Each number is thoughtfully placed, with consideration being given to how it advances the story, explains the characters, or provides more era-related background for the audience. Using costumes, music and dialogue, you will follow a central character through a semi-period-accurate environment, and will be entertained the whole way through. It’s an intellectually challenging project, and it really takes burlesque/variety productions to a new level in my opinion.

The ‘50s is the heart of all we love at ATLRetro. What does that decade personally mean to you? What are your personal favorite things about it?

I have a penchant for A Line skirts, crinolines and short gloves. For someone who is often wearing little to no clothing, I have never felt more feminine, sexy and empowered than I did wearing these pieces. I see the ladies fashions from this decade as the delicate veil over what was the rising sexual revolution.

The show follows Jerry, the narrator, through adventures of 1950s home life. Is it a play or a series of burlesque vignettes? Why home life and not, say, the birth of rock n roll or haute couture?

It is both a play and a series of burlesque/variety vignettes. Each number is played out by characters who are in some way related to Jerry: a neighbor, a friend, a coworker, family member. The production tightly organized to bring continuity to the storyline and to entertain the audience.

As Jerry was a character first introduced in Fat Cat’s Holiday Show last year and this is a continuation of his storyline, home life was the natural subject to explore in this show, since the characters naturally fit as members of his community. But that doesn’t mean that other ’50s concepts aren’t touched on in this show.

Persephone Phoenix. Photo credit: Tim Fox Photography. Used with permission.

Will it be the ‘50s through the lens of the present day or is Fat Cat trying to create something contemporary to the time in humor, etc.? Or a combo of both? If the latter, then how did you research? What was most challenging?

Since the ’50s wasn’t a particularly sexually liberated era, and there will be copious dirty jokes and sexual humor, the production will not be entirely period accurate. However, using music, costumes and dialogue, we attempt to immerse the audience in a comical cross-section of 50’s home life. Research was conducted on music which fits the time, phrasing and subjects for comedy which were true to the era. The most challenging aspect of this show, which continues to be challenging, is sloughing off modern terminology and incorporating antiquated phrases. Since we’re adlibbing quite a bit, it’s likely a struggle that our audience will find comical.

Can you tease us a little about what you are doing yourself in the show?

Lets just say that relationships can be very messy. Especially when there’s food around..

What else is happening? We’ve heard there will vendors, a period deejay after the show and drink specials?

The fantastic artists of 2the9’s Retro and Jezebel Blue handmade jewelry will be hawking their unique wares at our show.  Also Deep Eddy Vodka will be on special, and DJ Huda Hudia will be spinning modern tunes into the wee hours of the morning.  The party doesn’t stop after the show is over, so we encourage everyone to stick around and enjoy the fantastic venue!

Photo courtesy of Persephone Phoenix.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The team creating this show are some of the most talented, professional, creative folks I have ever had the joy of working with. They are committed to bringing this shared vision to life, and have made personal sacrifices to devote the time necessary to make it happen. I am grateful for that, and can’t wait to show the audience all of our hard work.

Also, I took over creative directorship from my predecessor, who I count amongst one of my best friends. The theme and concept of this show was very much dependent upon her inspiration, and I’m thankful to have worked with her on this and previous projects.

What’s next for Persephone Phoenix and Fat Cat Cabaret?

Well, I have recently devoted my entire professional life to art and artistic endeavors, so I look forward to seeing where that will take me. The transition from a full-time professional muggle career to freelance artist is an intimidating one. However, I’m really lucky to be surrounded by an amazing community with lots of opportunities and support.  I am hopeful to travel some for performance, volunteer more in the performance community, and continue building my aerial student base.

As for Fat Cat Cabaret, we will begin formulating our next show, to be revealed early next year. All of the players in Fat Cat will no doubt be seen around the Atlanta community, so keep your eyes and ears out!

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