#252) Decasia (2002)


#252) Decasia (2002)

OR “Weirdest Clip Show Ever”

Directed & Written by Bill Morrison

Class of 2013

The Plot: Culling from dozens of silent films, with quality varying from deteriorating to unrecognizable, Bill Morrison creates a narrative that showcases these clips in their natural unrestored state, all set to a score by Michael Gordon.

Why It Matters: The NFR write-up is mostly a description of how Bill Morrison put this film together, mixed with critical praise, including from Errol Morris who said “[‘Decasia’] may be the greatest movie ever made.” There’s also an essay by silent film expert Daniel Eagan.

But Does It Really?: Well, it’s that experimental type of film I’m always on the fence about, but I can give this one a pass. Bill Morrison’s contributions to film preservation cannot be ignored, and here he has managed to salvage the unsalvageable and turn it into art. The footage is well-chosen, expertly timed to the music, and masterfully edited to create a unique narrative. This movie works on a lot of levels, with Michael Gordon’s slightly off-balance score keeping things interesting. A must-watch for film lovers, though I hope the Library of Congress realizes that preserving this film doesn’t automatically preserve the footage featured in it.

Everybody Gets One: Bill Morrison is known for utilizing old and decaying film footage in his art pieces. “Decasia” was commissioned to play alongside Michael Gordon’s already completed score of the same name. Morrison scoured multiple film archives to find the footage needed for “Decasia”, including…The Library of Congress! Now I’m getting a clearer idea as to how this film made the NFR cut so quickly.

Wow, That’s Dated: “Soundtrack available on CD”.

Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar nomination, probably because how do you categorize this movie? Bill Morrison has yet to be nominated for an Oscar in any category, but he is the king of the festival circuit, I’ll tell you what.

Other notes

  • “Decasia” was the first film from the 21st century to be inducted into the NFR. And when you think about it, a movie about preserving film is a natural choice. Suck it, “Lord of the Rings” trilogy!
  • Among those films featured are: “Truthful Tulliver” staring western star William S. Hart, and “The Last Egyptian”, written by, of all people, L. Frank Baum!
  • My first thought while watching this movie was “Shouldn’t this be playing in the background at someone’s art show?” “Decasia” premiered at Sundance, so close enough.
  • The odd blurring between films is interesting to watch, but this may be the Registry title that finally gives me a seizure.
  • Among the lost footage I wish this film had included are the missing reel of “Magnificent Ambersons”, the pie fight ending from “Dr. Strangelove”, the other six hours of “Greed”, and the rest of “The Curse of Quon Gwon”.
  • Of all the movies featured, the one I’d most like to see is the…I’m gonna say horror movie where some guy pulls his buddy out of the water and they scream in terror. It looks promising.
  • Yep, just watched color negative footage of a baby being born, possibly by C-section. I cannot un-see that.
  • Sometimes the scratches on the film make it look like the “Take On Me” music video.
  • While watching “Decasia” you really get a sense of film as a series of images. Each frame has its own set of damages, which break the overall illusion of movement.
  • Then we get to a shot from the 1927 newsreel “Ritchie Trains”. We don’t know who Ritchie is, but thanks to deterioration he appears to be fighting the Tasmanian Devil.
  • This really is a great marriage of film and score. Gordon’s score always keeps you alert, as if something is just about to happen. Not an easy task for a film that is a hodgepodge of random images.
  • I hope those Baptists aren’t using the same body of water from that horror film.
  • In addition to the dervish footage that bookends the movie, we get multiple shots from presumably “The Last Egyptian” of camels traveling across the desert, followed by a sunset. It’s a reverse “Lawrence of Arabia”!
  • This is all well and good, but the greatest found footage will always be the Angela Lansbury workout tape.

In lieu of a “Legacy” section, I’d like to present my own Mini-“Decasia”comprised of Other Notes that were deleted from previous posts. Presented out of context and in no particular order.

  • This movie changes reels like a stick shift.
  • You don’t hear the word “harpy” too often.
  • What is that, a monkey?
  • Jack Valenti: Hollywood’s Rumpelstiltskin
  • For three drunk guys they sure can harmonize.
  • Do you kids know what astro-turf was?
  • One of the dinosaurs just mugged at the camera.
  • Bosco?
  • Back when you could manhandle a rabbit.
  • Man, the bible has a passage for everything. No wonder it’s so popular!
  • Gets married, has a baby, leaves her home, befriends a lamb?
  • Sorry we killed that guy, have some nudity!
  • He’s getting ahead of the tempo! Very “Les Mis”.
  • Not to get all Hitchcock, but is this a metaphor for sex?
  • Eggs! Our one weakness!
  • What the hell is happening?

3 thoughts on “#252) Decasia (2002)”

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