An oblique portrait of the artist as a young man, director Stanton Kaye’s 1969 feature confirmed a prodigious filmmaking talent, and chronicled and embodied an anarchic spirit abroad in the American independent filmmaking scene of the 1960s. Nimbly skating between observations of insular family and relationship dynamics and impressionistic depictions of social class experience, 45 years after its making the film offers a (still) refreshing figuration of artistically inclined Americans, not as obscure elites, but as fellow citizens who strive and struggle like anyone else. It also announced an exciting range of possibilities for penetrating and revealing techniques for telling one’s own story, and for offering an autobiographical form every bit as clamorous and turbulent as one’s own life. Named to the National Film Registry in 2013 by the Library of Congress, Brandy’s power to confound and delight remains undiminished.
The film finds its lead character “Simon Weiss” (a stand-in or avatar for Stanton Kaye) drifting from job to job on the fringes of the film world, until his angel materializes in the form of “Brandy” (the film’s version of Kaye’s collaborator Michaux French), who hires him to direct her script. The two undertake a cross-country journey ostensibly to produce this work, also visiting family members, and dealing with the impact of their rapidly-forming but complicated emotional bond. Will they be lovers? Will they finish a film together? Will it all just come apart?
Significantly, as they pursue their own film project, the status of the film that we are witnessing becomes its own enigma. Begun as a diaristic document narrated by Simon, it becomes, at half-time, the property of Brandy, who addresses us with her own version of the present sojourn, along with telling details of her backstory and a glimpse of the surprising future that the two artist-searchers seem poised to form together. The fractured telling of their tale, free-associating family snapshots and oblique interview fragments, gives a clue to the torrential energies that inform and propel their story as creative aspirants fleeing workaday lives, and willing to endure vertiginous emotional traumas on the road to an uncertain destiny. Filmmakers within a film, they lead us into a hall of mirrors both cryptic and beautiful. —Shannon Kelley
Director: Stanton Kaye. Distribution: Wilderness Enterprises, New Line Cinema. Producers: Stanton Kaye, Michaux French. Screenwriters: Michaux French, Stanton Kaye. Cinematographer: Stanton Kaye. Editors: Stanton Kaye, Susan Pottish, Masako Takahashi. Cast: Michaux French, Stanton Kaye, Allan McCollum. 35mm, b/w and color, 69 min.
Restored from the original 16mm black & white negative a/b rolls, a 16mm composite fine grain master positive, and a 16mm print. Laboratory services by Fotokem, Audio Mechanics, Endpoint Audio Labs, Simon Daniel Sound. Special thanks to: Stanton Kaye.