It’s long been touted as common wisdom that words fail us when trying to articulate feelings of love. But where others succumb to empty truisms or opt to reach for a prefab Hallmark card, avant-garde wunderkind Stan Brakhage does away with words altogether in his brutally honest portrait of his own relationship with his first wife, Jane. In his self-consciously futile attempt to understand what exactly serves as the link between two separate individuals, Brakage turns his camera on everything from his sex life to occasionally silent meals, hoping to capture anything that might shed light on this bond called marriage. Pensive, quietly beautiful, and potentially NSFW, Wedlock House, An Intercourse is perhaps the most immediately accessible of Brakhage’s work, and serves as an excellent introduction to the rapid cutting, double exposure, collage technique, and direct celluloid manipulation that became representative of a great majority of Brakhage’s films.
While Stan Brakhage did a considerable amount to advance the filmic methods and techniques of the American avant-garde, Wedlock House, An Intercourse roots his experimental aesthetic within the context of a greater appreciation for the Baroque than is often cited. The chiaroscuro lighting of Caravaggio, the corbelled doorways of de Hooch, and the mirrors and soft candlelight of de la Tour are all on display here, though Brakhage has borrowed these stylistics in pursuit of his own end. The stark lighting, for instance, is equal parts playful and menacing, as brief moments of illumination heighten a feeling of intimacy, while moments of darkness thrust the young couple back into a state of prenatal oblivion. Likewise, open doors tempt the nervous newleyweds with the promise of escape from the spatial confines of cohabitation and domesticity. However, instead of giving in, the newlyweds find solace in flirting with mirrors around the house, transforming the otherwise empty coridors and archways into meaningful placeholders for their unspoken feelings. In this refractory play of light and mirrors, Brakhage betrays his inner compulsion to mediate his relationship through the unbiased eye of the camera, which inadvertently reveals the oneric character of this so-called wedlock house.