TO DEC. 1

Should every cinematic picture tell a story? Perhaps so, reply the films of Stan Brakhage (pictured), but not by simply transferring the conventions of theater or novels to celluloid. Although Brakhage is this country’s most celebrated experimental filmmaker, his work is seldom seen. This 10-part retrospective, marking 50 years since Brakhage created his first piece of cinematic art, includes 75 of his films, which forgo narrative for abstraction, symbolism, and imagistic improvisation. The best-known film, 1961’s Prelude: Dog Star Man (included in “The Loom,” at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9), combines scientific footage of solar flares, elliptical scenes of the artist chopping down a tree, and direct manipulation of film frames. Although some Brakhage films sketchily depict his own family life—including the birth of his first child, in Window Water Baby Moving (part of “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10)—they also include such techniques as painting on film, scratching the emulsion from frames, and printing images directly without use of a camera. The effect is to create pictures that are both abstract and tactile; Brakhage’s films have a physical connection with the medium that video artists will never know, showing the role of the artist’s hand as well as his eye. Although Brakhage’s films tend to be short and silent, this retrospective includes the 65-minute A Child’s Garden and the Serious Sea (also in “The Loom,” at 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9) and a program in which most of the films have sound (“Passage Through: A Ritual,” at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1). The Brakhage retrospective runs to Sunday, Dec. 1, at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th and Constitution Avenue NW. Free. (202) 842-6799. (Mark Jenkins)