Last year, we discovered the 1951 Scholastic Award-winning short story of experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. Around the same time this year, while processing our archival collection, Fate (or the spirit of Stan Brakhage!) dropped a new piece of his story into our laps— a short autobiographical passage, plus a yearbook photo from his senior year. Score!

Stan Brakhage attended high school at South High School near Denver, CO. He would later become the “Father of Experimental Film,” and even “film teacher” to noted South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It seems like Stan Brakhage did everything as a kid—from singing soprano on radio to heading the drama and literary clubs of his high school. In 1951, his story won First Award in the Scholastic Awards’ Short Story category, and was also selected for the Ernestine Taggard Memorial Award and a $50 cash prize (worth over $400 in today’s economy!). The Ernestine Taggard Memorial Award was offered in memory of one of Scholastic Magazine’s notable literary editors and presented to a student who, according to the 1951 edition of Senior Scholastic, “displays special talent and versatility in creative writing.” The magazine goes on to say that Stan “hopes to make a career of writing, utilizing perhaps, both his literary and dramatic experience in creative work.” In addition to his honors in 1951, Brakhage also won Scholastic Awards in 1949 and 1950.

Brakhage’s writing and dramatic experience would indeed come in handy. Brakhage described his films as “moving visual thinking” and he often created work by manipulating the film emulsion directly with paint or collage techniques. Music and poetry remained important influences in his work, and he’s celebrated as one of the most influential American avant-garde filmmakers of the 20th century. In a conversation between Lithuanian filmmaker Jonas Mekas and Stan Brakhage in November 2000, Mekas remarked: “I think the work [of avant garde filmmakers] is universal, because poetry is universal. There is no difference between reading a volume of Sylvia Plath and seeing a film by Stan Brakhage…”

Stan Brakhage: The Glaze of Cathexis. (1990).

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