Thoughts on Synaesthetic Cinema

Stan Brakhage – Night Music

The natural phenomenon explained by synaesthetic cinema is the filmmaker’s consciousness. It is a documentary of the artist’s perception. – Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema

I have just embarked on a wild ride into Gene Youngblood’s epic media treatise, Expanded Cinema. Revisiting the book for the first time in years, it is an extraordinary return to one of those rare, quasi-hallucinogenic theoretical “trips” that simply makes your head spin in wild agreement. Written in 1970, Youngblood describes the space of media, in his own terms, long before the Internet was a network, long before William Gibson coined the term cyberspace, long before the World Wide Web was even conceived. The mind simply staggers at this accomplishment of invention.

The journey into mediaspace is like traveling at breakneck speed through the time warp in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is like going back in time and taking your first trip into a drug-induced hypersensory experience. It is like the moment you discovered that movies were not real. It is like watching the moon landing on inter-planetary television with the rest of the world. And it is like entering into one of Stan Brakhage’s films, where narrative is pure experience, where the story is what is going on in your head, where memory is distilled to what you are seeing in the here and now.

So I am re-entering into Youngblood’s world of synaesthetic cinema, a realm where the viewer can participate as a co-pilgrim in the expanding universe of what media could be and eventually became years after he wrote the book. The idea of sensory meaning, narrative that draws its organization (or disorganization) from the senses, reminds me of Arthur Rimbaud’s syaesthetic poetry that links grammar and textual meaning to a system of color correspondences: poetry as a vehicle for visual hallucination.

Oh so wonderful to be back in 1970 (I was still in high school at the time) dreaming abstract dreams that have no particular connection to the real world other than their transformative, otherwordly sensation. And to enter into the artist’s consciousness is an amazing phenomenon: the imagination as a place to be.