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Machine of Eden

Stan Brakhage

USA, 1970
12 minutes, 30 seconds, Colour, Silent
Available formats: 16mm

In the Fall of 1971, I began photographing in the Allegheny Coroner’s office in downtown Pittsburgh. Thanks to the help of Sally Dixon, head of the Film Department of the Carnegie Museum, and the kind cooperation of Coroner Wecht, I was to be permitted to photograph Autopsy- a term which comes from the Greek meaning: The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes. Within two weeks I had completed the photography, and felt at the time this would be the third in a trilogy beginning with the film Eyes and followed by Deus Ex. The film-maker Hollis Frampton writes with the most objective clarity about the finished film.
‘[…]STAN BRAKHAGE, entering with his camera, one of the forbidden, terrific locations of our culture, the autopsy room. It is a place wherein, inversely, life is cherished, for it exists to affirm that none of us may die without our knowing exactly why. All of us, in the person of the coroner, must see that for ourselves, with our own eyes. It is a room full of appalling particular intimacies, the last ditch of individuation. Here our vague nightmare of mortality acquires the name and faces of others. ‘This is the last process that requires a witness, and what ‘idea’ may finally have inserted itself into the sensible world we can still scarcely guess, for the camera would seem the perfect Eidetic Witness, staring with perfect compassion where we can scarcely bear to glance.’
‘What was to be done in that room, Stan? and then, later, with the footage? I think it must have been mostly to ‘stand aside’, to ‘clear out’, as much as possible with the baggage of our own expectations, even ,as to what a work of art must look like, and to see with your own eyes, what coherence might arise within a universe for which you could decree only the boundaries.’ (Written for the premiere of the film at the Millennium Film Workshop…these three pieces excerpted from a longer piece)