USA 2002 : Bill Morrison : 67 mins

According to Variety magazine, Decasia “began as the film component to a multimedia stage extravaganza that premiered in Switzerland in 2000, for which the score, played by 55-piece Basel Sinfonietta, was commissioned.” Watching the film version in a normal cinema is probably therefore a somewhat diminished experience – and catching it on video (as circumstances forced this reviewer to do) is even more unfair to Bill Morrison’s debut feature.

It’s a non-narrative piece, constructed entirely from bits of old celluloid in various stages of deterioration. Each bit of film is decayed in its own unique way – while some images are in a reasonable state, others are almost indecipherable, faces flaring into view before receding back into a psychedelic chaos of monochrome blobs. Long-dead people pulse in and out of existence, in distorted ‘visions’ that recall the amniotic procog dreams of Minority Report, or fragments of a TV broadcast from the distant past. Morrison deliberately slows down the projection speed a little to allow us to examine the patterns wrought by decay – though, by doing so, he reinforces the fallacious impression fostered by TV showings of silent movies that, in the past, things happened at a different speed from today.

The results are intermittently very impressive: highlights include a boxer who appears to be punching away at a Star Trek-style column of energy (or at decay itself?), some spooky footage of a nunnery, with white-uniformed children walking two-by-two, and a funfair ride in which the rocket-shaped cars of a ride swim into view like intergalatic pods emerging from a star-gate.

But there isn’t much sense of progression, and the film soon feels a little repetitive and monotonous, relentlessly driven on by Michael Gordon’s droning symphonic score – even an hour is quite a long time for this kind of experimental curio, which might be ideally served by being projected as a gallery installation. Among the long end credits is a meteorological thank-you to Hurricane Fran, for her effect on one of the archives plundered by Morrison. A natural disaster for some becomes a source of serendipity for a film-maker who, proclaiming the potential for beauty in these entropic processes, stands in polar opposition to Martin Scorsese’s campaign to save classic old movies from disintegration. Morrison’s images emphasise, instead, our shared status as transient beings – or, as Gaspar Noe puts it in Irreversible ‘Time destroys all things.’

24th August, 2002
(seen 17th on video – Edinburgh Film Festival)

For all the reviews from the 2002 Edinburgh Film Festival click here.

by Neil Young
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