The culmination of a series of autobiographical films that Brakhage made about his family (collectively known as The Book of Family), Tortured Dust was shot as the filmmaker's children from his first marriage were beginning to leave the house, and edited during Brakhage and his first wife Jane's impending separation; understandably, the film is permeated by a sense of imminent loss. The first half concentrates on Brakhage's teenage sons as they move around the cabin that has been their home for almost 20 years, Brakhage shooting them through windows and doorways to emphasize the claustrophobia of adolescence that they are now taking leave of. The second half turns towards the filmmaker's three daughters, particularly Neowyn and her new daughter, Brakhage's grandchild — a hope of the new, but also further recognition of life dancing on. While not commonly viewed as a centrepiece of Brakhage's oeuvre, Tortured Dust is a compellingly introspective film that sees the artist reflecting on his own future as he watches his children preparing to embrace their own.
Preceded by Hymn to Her, a short portrait film of Jane Brakhage at home in the couple's cabin and greenhouse.