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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Weekend Update, April 1-3, 2013

Posted on: Apr 2nd, 2011 By:
Sorry not to get this post until Saturday this week. Away this weekend and was more challenged than expected finding wifi yesterday–maybe that was the April Fool’s joke on me! Hopefully you got a chance to read This Week in Retro Atlanta, and didn’t miss any of the cool events Friday night. If you didn’t get to Chris Hamer’s BIG IN JAPAN opening party, you should still hit Octane to see the exhibit which runs through April 30. Also, new in the update: another rare chance to see DEATH RACE 2000 on the big screen at the Plaza Theatre, if you missed last week’s Splatterday Night Live.

Friday, April 1

Terribly talented artist Chris Hamer recycles Tom Waits with the solo art show, BIG IN JAPAN, at Octane Coffee Bar & Lounge, opening night party from 7 to 11 PM. Works inspired by Waits songs will be on display until April 30, but isn’t it more fun to see them with Blast-Off Burlesque and other surprises. Read more about Chris and how Waits helped conjure some personal monsters in this week’s Kool Kat. Celebrate the 10th anniversary of THE LAST ROCK ‘N ROLL DOCUMENTARY and support an Atlanta retro treasure at tonight’s Plaza Theatre Foundation fundraiser with tickets just a bargain one buck. Film Love‘s Yoko Ono: Reality Dreams short film series part 4 is Flux Fly Body Music at Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center. A highlight is the enigmatic FLY, “a collaboration with John Lennon, which features the human body as landscape, with an improvised vocal soundtrack – one of Ono’s most engaging musical works.” Curated by last week’s Kool Kat Andy Ditzler.

Swing dance to Joe Gransden‘s big band at Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX. New band Please Pleaserock Me teaches Beatle-ologoy at Eddie’s Attic.

Saturday March 12

Classic train fans and their kids will dig Caboose Days this weekend from 10 AM to 5 PM at the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth featuring train rides in restored cabooses, oodles of kids’ activities and a chance to tour and see 90 pieces of retired railway equipment, including vintage steam engines, a private car once used by President Warren G. Harding and much more.

Get down to a Spring Soul Party with The Soulphonics & Ruby Velle at Star Bar. The fabulous Talloolah Love presents her Thank You/Vegas or Bust Party starting at 10 PM at Bart Webb Studios in Avondale. Drink Love Shots, dance to DJ Doctor Q‘s fine tunes and enjoy live performances, all to thank everyone who voted for her to nab a prestigious performance spot at the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend next month. Watch for an exclusive report by Love on the Southern Fried Burlesque Fest soo.

Don’t miss another rare chance to see one of the craziest, best black comedy cult movies of all time DEATH RACE 2000 at the Plaza Theatre at 9:30 p.m. Come on! David Carradine as a race car driver called Frankenstein! ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL’s Mary WoronovSly Stallone! And everyone in America is road kill. Read why Mark Arson thinks it’s a better ’70s SF/action flick than STAR WARS here.

Better Than The Beatles pays tribute to the Fab Four at Jerry Farber’s Side Door. DJ Romeo Cologne transforms the sensationally seedy Clermont Lounge into a ’70s disco/funk inferno.

Sunday March 27

Caboose Days continue at Southeastern Railway MuseumChickens and Pigs serves up blues “dunch” between 1 and 4 PM at The Earl.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Why Andy Ditzler Loves Avant-Garde Films and Why You Should, Too

Posted on: Mar 22nd, 2011 By:

SMILE JOHN: Includes HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO JOHN (1972), Dir: Jonas Mekas; FILM NO. 5 (SMILE) (1968), Dir: Yoko Ono; Fri. March 25, 7 PM; Plaza Theatre; $10 ($8 if attending 9 PM screening, too)

SKY, BED PEACE: Includes BED IN (1969), Dir: Yoko Ono and John Lennon; APOTHEOSIS (1970), Dir: Yoko Ono and John Lennon; Fri. March 25, 9 PM; Plaza Theatre; $10 ($8 if attending 7 PM screening, too)

Yoko Ono and John Lennon Montreal Bed-In, 1969 Photo by Ivor Sharp ©Yoko Ono.

Since he started Film Love, his provocative avant-garde film series, in 2003, Andy Ditzler has explored everything from the beat cinema subculture to American racism. But this Friday March 25 at the Plaza Theatre, audiences will be treated to filmmaking as love-making between two intensively creative people with the first two of five installments of YOKO ONO: reality dreams, which Film Love is co-presenting with Emory University and Atlanta Contemporary Art CenterJohn Lennon and Yoko Ono certainly must be one of the most famous couples of the 20th century, but these experimental films are rarely seen and aren’t available on video.

ATLRetro recently caught up with Andy to ask him about his own passion for avant-garde film, the origins of Film Love, what Frequent Small Meals are, and why you should spend Friday night getting to know John and Yoko better through some extraordinary movies.

From what I understand, you started Film Love in 2003 with a beat cinema series at Eyedrum. How did you become so interested in and passionate about experimental and avant-garde cinema?

In the early ‘90s, I was living in Boulder, where the great avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage was teaching. I attended his screenings and classes. He showed the wildest films, things I had no idea how to process or even understand. Yet Brakhage had a way of talking about the films that made it clear that watching them was to be considered an adventure, that you could figure it  out, and most of all how important it was that we gather to watch these films.

Andy Ditzler, founder & curator of Film Love.

Some of the films were so small, so obscure, that they almost disappeared off the screen. I was hooked. One day Stan showed THE END and THE MAN WHO INVENTED GOLD by Christopher Maclaine. Maclaine was a shadowy figure, long dead, and his films of Beat San Francisco in the ‘50s were completely haunting. I totally connected with them.

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