Movie Review: Dog Star Man

This is a very confusing entry in the book. Before watching this, I started to look around YouTube to find a copy. The Wikipedia page told me that there were five parts, prelude included. IMDB had a separate entry for each part. The book kindly omitted any clue in the name as to which part I was “required” to see before I die. My copy with the Black Swan cover stated that it was only 30 minutes or so. Already I had found time discrepancies for other entries, mostly by a minute or so, but they had Slumdog Millionaire billed at an hour and a half instead of two. Well, what was I to do?

I was able to find it under a different name on YouTube but without any audio even though it clearly said in the notes that there would be something. So, I did my best to sync it with the Ummagumma version of Pink Floyd’s “A Saucerful of Secrets” on repeat. True, I could just pay $30 for the Criterion version, something that I should do if I want to see the actual form, but at this point that won’t happen for a while.

In my review of Seven, I mentioned that the title sequence was one of the reasons to see it. Stan Brakhage, the creator of Dog Star Man, is said to be an influence for that sequence. Well, this movie is that sequence but a lot more. Due to the entry’s vague description, I will cover the entire work.

The Prelude, the first 25 minutes, features a lot of superimposed images, most lasting no more than a few seconds or even less. There are shots of the solar flares, a woman, trees, snow, lights, the moon, and much more. All of this would be interrupted by colored blobs or scratches in a haphazard fashion. There is nothing stable in the prelude. To me, this represents the chaos of creating the world. The multiple visuals are all of the things that would be created on Earth but because the images are on screen for so short of time that it serves as a reminder that what is here on Earth is only temporary.

Part I, from what I gather is what the book wants me to see, is more narrative based. We can actually see trees and waterfalls. We can see the full length of each shot from the Prelude. A man tries to climb up a snow-covered mountain with a dog. However it isn’t long until the shaky camerawork returns. Unfortunately, this part isn’t as impressive as what the entry makes it out to be. The constant use of all black, to me, did not progress the story forward. I’m sure there is something in the audio that I’m missing that goes with Part I. Also, the weird blood imagery is unsettling around the fifty minute mark.

Part II continues the man’s climb, albeit solarized and shortened. The scratches and blobs return to meander about the screen. A child is involved, possibly the man’s son. The infant’s closed eyes are superimposed with shapeless forms, abstract in quality. The infant does wake up at times but goes back to sleep, blinking as shapes fly everywhere.

Part III is body heavy. The exploration of the system that everyone on Earth occupies is shown. The imagery from Part I returns as the man remembers a child being concieved. There’s so much information that I cannot process all of it.

Part IV, the shortest of the pieces, is a reprise of the Prelude. A stained glass window is briefly shown. Skin superimposed on skin superimposed on skin with the scratches flying about. We see homes and fields. A baby crawls amidst the flames. At this point, the footage flashes inbetween frames, giving it all it has until it ends with black.

Now there is another way to see it as The Art of Vision, revealing more meaning. This runs at more than four hours. I should go see it, but I fear that I won’t have the chance. If it was available on DVD, I’d consider getting it. I probably won’t make the same mistake I did with Gone With the Wind and do it in one solid sitting.

But is it Art? I say yes. Despite the confusing imagery, I enjoyed this. Looking back at some of the other experimental reviews like Vinyl and Wavelength, I seem to appreciate pieces with camera movement and in more than one take. Rope had different takes, even points where the camera changes location at the end of a few scenes. Sure, Dog Star Man is a bit hard to visually watch with the camera in a nausea-inducing state that “Came Back Haunted” can’t match. But there is more content to work with than just a picture of waves and a sine wave.

I do need to rewatch this, don’t get me wrong.

6/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

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