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A still from Mothlight, showing the wing of an insect
Directed byStan Brakhage
Release date
  • 1963 (1963)
Running time
4 minutes
CountryUnited States

Mothlight is an experimental short film by Stan Brakhage, released in 1963. The film was created without the use of a camera.


Mothlight is a silent "collage film" that incorporates "real world elements."[1] Brakhage produced the film without the use of a camera,[2] using what he then described as "a whole new film technique."[3] Brakhage collected moth wings, flower petals, and blades of grass, and pressed them between two strips of 16mm splicing tape.[4] The resulting assemblage was then contact printed at a lab to allow projection in a cinema. The objects chosen were required to be thin and translucent, to permit the passage of light.[3] Brakhage reused the technique to produce his later film, The Garden of Earthly Delights (1981).[1] Mothlight has been described as boasting a "three-part musical structure."[1]


Brakhage was initially drawn to the idea of using moths in a film when he noticed many of them burning to death in a candle:

Here is a film that I made out of a deep grief. The grief is my business in a way, but the grief was helpful in squeezing the little film out of me, that I said "these crazy moths are flying into the candelight, and burning themselves to death, and that's what's happening to me. I don't have enough money to make these films, and ... I'm not feeding my children properly, because of these damn films, you know. And I'm burning up here ... What can I do?" I'm feeling the full horror of some kind of immolation, in a way."[5]

After spending some time following live moths with a camera, an exercise that proved fruitless,[5] Brakhage instead turned his attention towards using dead moths:

"Over the lightbulbs there's all these dead moth wings, and I ... hate that. Such a sadness; there must surely be something to do with that. I tenderly picked them out and start pasting them onto a strip of film, to try to ... give them life again, to animate them again, to try to put them into some sort of life through the motion picture machine."[5]


Mothlight won awards at the 1964 Brussels International Film Festival, and the 1966 Spoleto Film Festival.[6] James Peterson describes Mothlight as belonging "to a new class of films, those that direct attention away from the screen and to the physical object in the projector."[7] Darragh O'Donoghue, writing for Senses of Cinema, praised the way Brakhage "evokes the moth not through cartoon mimicry, but by the fragile sensation of its movement, batting against the screen, hurtling in descent."[8]

Along with Window Water Baby Moving (1959), Mothlight remains one of Brakhage's best-known works,[9] and his most rented.[10] It is currently available in the DVD collection By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volume 1 from Criterion.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Elder, R. Bruce (1998) The films of Stan Brakhage in the American tradition of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Charles Olson, Wilfrid Laurier, Univ. Press, p389
  2. ^ James, David E. (2002) Imagine nation: the American counterculture of the 1960s and '70s, Routledge, p285
  3. ^ a b MacDonald, Scott (2001) The garden in the machine: a field guide to independent films about place, University of California Press, p69
  4. ^ "Mothlight" and Beyond, (2011) by Fred Camper La Furia Umana, September 30, 2011 - Accessed June 3, 2013
  5. ^ a b c Commentary by Stan Brakhage on By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volume 1, taken from 2002 interview with Bruce Kawin
  6. ^ Liz Faber, Helen Walters (2004) Animation unlimited: innovative short films since 1940, Laurence King Publishing
  7. ^ Peterson, James (1994) Dreams of chaos, visions of order: understanding the American avante-garde cinema, Wayne State University Press, p81
  8. ^ Mothlight (2004) by Darragh O'Donoghue Archived 2009-10-03 at the Wayback Machine Senses of Cinema, CTEQ Annotations, June 2004 - accessed November 17, 2010
  9. ^ Maureen Furniss (2007) Art in motion: animation aesthetics, p44
  10. ^ MacDonald, Scott (2005) A critical cinema: interviews with independent filmmakers, p62
  11. ^ By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volume 1 listing The Criterion Collection official website - accessed November 17, 2010

External links[edit]