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Stan Brakhage is one of the most significant avant-garde filmmakers in the 20th century. His influence can be seen across genres and decades; many taken-for-granted editing techniques—image splicing, trick photography, physical manipulations of filmstrip—were pioneered by Brakhage for metaphorical effect and seized by the industry for their inventiveness. Many of his films are silent, focusing on the importance of intensive visual perception as a new, artistic way of “seeing.” This summer, Emerson grant recipient Marty Cain ’13 is exploring the aesthetic philosophy of Brakhage and its relation to contemporary poetry.

Brakhage’s films have a strong lyrical quality to them, and scholars in the past have argued that his films have as much in common, structurally and thematically, with poetry as they do with other forms of visual art. Cain, a creative writing major with a strong interest in poetry, is exploring the parallels between Brakhage’s films and poetry—how Brakhage’s editing functions similarly to line breaks in poetry, for example.

Cain’s personal interest in this project lies both in his love of poetry and his love for Brakhage’s experimental films. Cain says that he and Brakhage have very similar aesthetic philosophies, so Brakhages films appeal to him artistically. By making comparisons between Brakhage’s films and contemporary poetry, Cain is hoping to highlight the relevance that the filmmaker still has, because he doesn’t want Brakhage to fall out of salience as a poetic influence.

Cain says that he has been interested in film since middle school, when he used to make his own documentaries and enter them into film contests. His interest, though, evolved last fall after he took an introduction to cinema class with Visiting Professor of Film History Scott MacDonald. MacDonald’s class was Cain’s first exposure to Brakhage, to whom he was immediately drawn. His discovery of Brakhage coincided with a growing interest in poetry, and Cain was struck with the unexpected ways in which he found the two overlap. 

In addition to writing a paper, Cain is also working to develop a collection of original poetry with Visiting Assistant Professor of English Jane Springer. Every day, he watches a Brakhage film and writes a poem of his own. The hope, says Cain, is that once he has a polished portfolio, he will be able to examine the parallels between his own poetry and Brakhage’s films, which will allow him to isolate and identify Brakhage’s influence on a single body of work.

Cain will be attending the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, sponsored by Middlebury College, in August. The conference has been called “the oldest and most prestigious writer’s conference in the country” by The New Yorker, and participants attend various 10-person workshops and critically evaluate each other’s writing. Cain says attending the conference is an enormous privilege, and he hopes to be able to contribute some of the knowledge he is gaining now to the conference.

Cain is majoring in creative writing, but is considering adding studio art as a second major. He is not certain what he wants to do in the future, but says he hopes to get an MFA in experimental video and/or creative writing, with the possibility that he may someday become a professor.  

Cain is a graduate of Brattleboro Union High School in Vermont.

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