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Seeing

These five films by Stan Brakhage--one from each decade of his career--are part of a surrealism series presented by Doc Films and the Smart Museum of Art. Yet Brakhage's work explores every variety of visual consciousness, from dreaming to waking to imagining to discovering previously unimagined sights through film. Window Water Baby Moving (1959) documents the birth of his first child; daring for its time, this carefully constructed "home movie" was later used by advocates of natural childbirth. The Dead (1960) is a rapidly cut, almost terrifying meditation on death in the context of the "old world" of Europe. Brakhage's somewhat notorious "documentary" of human autopsies, The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes (1971), tries to fashion a light poem from images of dissection, but the inevitable failure of such lyricism to subsume the corpses turns the film into a haunting evocation of death. Unconscious London Strata (1981) conflates fragments of urban forms with abstract fields of changing shapes and colors, giving one the sense of peering into a human eye or discovering "a world in a grain of sand." Birds of Paradise (1999), a Chicago premiere, is a great example of Brakhage's hand-painted films, its rapid flood of angular shapes suggesting plumage. Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 1212 E. 59th St., Monday, February 28, 7:00, 773-702-8575.

--Fred Camper

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