BluRay/DVD Reviews

DECASIA: THE STATE OF DECAY

By • Jan 24th, 2004 •

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Plexifilm
67 mins / 1.33:1 AP. Not Rated

That’s quite a warning on the back cover. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about the flashing imagery, though I’m not prone to photo-sensitive seizures that I know of. Still, I braved it out.

This film must be played on a double bill with VERTIGO, or REAR WINDOW, or SPARTACUS, or MY FAIR LADY, or even LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, for it represents the ‘ying’ to Robert A. Harris’ ‘yang’ – it is everything dark and pestilent (and gorgeous) that can befall our beloved film media, much as Harris’ heroic and costly projects represent mankind’s best efforts to save and restore its most remarkable art form. It is the picture of Dorian Gray, only not of one man, but of all mankind.

Bill Morrison has rooted through vaults of celluloid and has dredged up examples most gone to earth. So fascinating are the images of deterioration that I was moved to freeze frame the film on several occasions, and proceed one frame at a time. What I saw was museum quality, photographed by hands unknown, and then reshaped by nature.

Harris, in restoring his masterpieces, also fine-tuned them –- bringing David Lean and Anne Coates in to tighten LAWRENCE to what they originally intended before a London premiere deadline robbed them of a final cut; having Anthony Hopkins (notorious for his party impressions of Laurence Olivier) dub Olivier’s voice in the restored image-only sequence from SPARTACUS; stereo re-mixing parts of VERTIGO, etc. And so Morrison also plays with his findings, juxtaposing images, skip-framing them, and adding a passionate, upsetting score by Michael Gordon which has been purposely decayed by the composer – detuning instruments, etc…all to contextualize his archeological treasures.

I liked this experimental 67 minute reverie a great deal. It’s a special experience and is even rewatchable. But since Morrison takes, among several credits, that of ‘screenwriter’, then I must address the credit by declaring that the script is his weak point. Early on there are remarkable images of decadence: a boxer fighting a swirling black twister-like mass that has invaded the image, a boy staring out at us from a bus seat as the air around him grows foul and grave, a man smiling wanly, knowingly at us as his world rots. These profound portraits comment so remarkably and surprisingly on our short tour of duty upon this earthly sphere, it’s a wonder it’s taken someone so long to hit upon the concept. In what I sense is the third act, however, Morrison strains to make the point these earlier shots have done merely by being put in near proximity to one another. He gives us a chemically corrupted sunset (or sunrise), for instance, and by holding it for an extra long time, bids us interpret it as a sort of ultimate coda of loss. Quite the contrary, however, the feeling I got was one of having been there and done that in the strong center section of the film, and with far less pretention. I’d love to see the film trimmed of several minutes, and the second half is where I’d wield the shears.


Special Features:
Features audio interview with Bill Morrison and Michael Gordon.

Credits:
Written, Produced, Directed, Edited by Bill Morrison.
Composer – Muchael Gordon.

Warning: this film is not recommended for individuals prone to photo-sensitive seizures.

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