Missouri-born filmmaker Brakhage was a college dropout, artiste and professor who was part of the experimental / avant garde communities in San Francisco, New York and various cities in Colorado at various stages of his career. He made nearly 400 (mostly short and mostly not at all concerned with conventional narrative) films, won an American Film Institute Award in 1986 and has had some of his work released to DVD by the highbrow Criterion Collection but may be best known nowadays for damaging, scratching and warping film stock, or painting or drawing directly onto it, to achieve a peculiar look that is said to heighten viewer subjectivity. That technique later carried over to other films, most notably the stylish opening credits of the popular serial killer "thriller" Se7en (1995), which have been aped endlessly since. He always shot on 8mm or 16mm and frequently dipped his hands into the experimental filmmaker grab-bag of trickery, utilizing out of focus / blur shots, collage, superimposition, experimental editing, overexposure, etc.
Brakhage was not someone really on my radar until I was made aware of his The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes (1972), which has turned up on some horror / "most disturbing" film lists in recent years. Act consists of 30+ minutes of silent autopsy footage which some people view as being a film that forces viewers to confront their own mortality while others view as 30 minutes of gross silent autopsy footage. That's not something that appeals to me in the least so I probably won't be viewing it, but when I discovered this guy had made a few other genre shorts, I was interested.
A handheld camera, resembling a floating spirit, travels around a room capturing a light, an open door, a spinning lampshade and other things, then goes up and down the wall, all accompanied by strange, loud and quite frankly annoying distorted sounds that appear to be a human whistling, wheezing and imitating howling wind and thumping sounds. Aside from the audio, this reminded me a lot of Sam Raimi's busy camerawork in his Evil Dead films, just far more primitive. A young man (Walt Newcomb) enters the room, looks around, grabs a timer and alternates looking confused with looking anguished. He then throws water in his face, cries, laughs and dances. His bed sheets move position all on their own. He lights a cigarette and starts reading a book. He then pokes his own eyeballs out with his fingers and wanders outside where the film goes to negative image as the man grasps at flowers and plants and the camera goes in and out of focus. What does it all mean? Well that's for you to decide, dear chum.
This comes off like an amateur student film because, well, it is an amateur student film. Brakhage was attending the California School for the Arts (later the San Francisco Art Academy) at the time and this is him very early in his career trying out a few cool filming techniques. My favorite thing about watching stuff like this is reading viewer comments afterward. You have a mix of people saying "WTF was that supposed to be?" followed by others insisting it's deeply artistic, profound, poetic, etc. and then insulting the confused viewers by calling them stupid. And the world keeps turnin'.