Stan Brakhage Defends His Editorial Decisions For An Episode Of Three's Company
Three’s Company, ABC
by Evan Johnston
I realize that there are a lot of confused and angry people out there complaining that this episode of Three’s Company, which I have retitled as Jack Man #3, is only eight minutes long with no sound.
I want to open up by saying that this was a total compromise on my part: I had initially proposed nine minutes with about five minutes of total darkness on screen. But this is already a much more commercial project, and frankly I’m already disgusted and ashamed of it.
To be clear, there is sound – it’s a disorienting clatter in the opening shot, and it’s a vast improvement on that “Come and knock on our door” jingle which sends chills through my ears into my bowels. That “We’ve been waiting for you” lyric runs contrary to the very idea of “Three’s Company.” Jack, Janet and Chrissy are not waiting for anyone. If they were, there wouldn’t be a show every week.
But there is, and it’s a show about the driving force of life and the physical and mental tensions between men and women, of ego and superego and the conflicts and possibilities in between.
The problem is that all of the scripted dialogue, the music and the clothing is getting in the way of that. How are we going to explore the ideas of conscience and existence if we’re hemming ourselves in with a song about the accessibility of these characters to the viewer? Hence, the clatter and the darkness, which indicates that this is an episode of Three’s Company as the mind would see it.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this, but in all of the episodes of this show thus far, the characters are talking in these very painfully loud tones about things that don’t matter, while they voice their various assumptions about the the other characters, who may or may not encourage these assumptions. This invariably leads to a humorous misunderstanding which then must be rectified in the show’s last minute.
Well, this episode fixes that.
We finally have an episode that shows these characters have a subconscious and a soul. The point of Three’s Company is to move people, through laughter, sensuality, and tension, and when you look at this episode, you will be moved: the hairs will stand up on the back of your neck. I see the whole thing as being dreamed by Gertrude Stein as a child, if that helps frame it for you.
But you are here with your notes, your fists, your shaking pitchforks and your burning torches, just as you were here when you tried to draw and quarter Charles Laughton and flung peanuts at the head of Orson Welles, buried to his neck up in your Hollywood sand, forced to watch the rising of the sun over the Hollywood sign, his eyelids pinned to – wait, where was I?
To continue . . .
I see from your stack of scribbled notes that Jack is supposed to be a chef and not a woodsman. I would ask you to consider the woodsman the chef, or perhaps sous chef of the forest.
Some of you have accused me unfairly of removing the character of Mr. Roper, who is now represented by some some violent scratches on the film in certain scenes. I’m surprised you didn’t notice this. These scratches serve the same general purpose, which is to interrupt Jack, Janet and Chrissy from expressing their emotions for each other.
I want to add that I discussed the Roper scratches with Donn Knotts and he agreed with me. At least I think he did. He made that face where it looks like his spleen has just been rung like a gong, which I assume means that what I have said has resonated within him. My hope is that you will make that same face when I am finished talking.
I understand that you’re all concerned that I have replaced John Ritter, who was instead instructed to play a mandolin in the corner of certain key shots. I have assumed the role of Jack Tripper, because it’s critical that the audience understand that Jack is everyone. If we had Jack played by the same actor every week, it would be predictably oppressive.
I keep hearing about the disappearance of Larry, who was never real to begin with. You should see his absence as a sign that Jack has finally come to terms with his innocence and his masculine imperatives. I see it as a way to avoid the idea of conflict and story entirely and focus on the true psychodrama.
One scene that I am told will never air in a thousand years is where Janet and Chrissy both give birth in a series of mirrored images to a watery blur in a negative exposure. I’m proud to say that wasn’t directed or scripted. I am hoping that you will regret your error, and make this watery blur a recurring character, although I would prefer that it didn’t speak or have a name.
Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, I am aware that the show up until this point has been video, and this is a film. Well, the men who are living with two or more women in this country at this time are not shooting their escapades on video or television cameras. They’re using 16 and 8mm, just like me. Think about it, the sheer scale of that operation in cost and manpower would be ridiculous . . .
Now, I don’t know if you realize this, but you’re spitting while you’re screaming at me, which is visually engaging, but physically unpleasant. Also, it involves sound, which is a mistake. If you could communicate purely through painting on an unconscious level, I would be much more sympathetic.
Look. I’m not making this for other people.
This piece is loosely based on this lecture, archived by the Museum of the Moving Image, and more or less inspired by Brakhage’s conversations with Pauline Kael.
About the Author:
Evan Johnston is a writer and graphic designer who has had work published in McSweeney’s Online Internet Tendency, graphicdesign.com and The Brooklyn Rail.