Plot: Film decays over time, often beautifully.
This is a little over an hour of silent film footage assembled and recontextualized by director Bill Morrison and scored by Michael Gordon, a co-founder of the avant-classical collective Bang on a Can. It's a meditation on the fragility of both humans and our artistic endeavors, our mortality, and exactly what time can do when it's feeling a little antagonistic. The found footage used to put this together seems to be decaying before our eyes. Morrison's collected mostly nameless fragments of film that are now over a hundred years old in various states of deterioration, and instead of making any kind of attempt to restore them and release them close to the way they were intended like a lot of "lost" silent movie footage, he recognizes the beauty of that decomposition. I was transfixed throughout as the images flickered and danced on my screen, sometimes as psychedelic as the backdrop of a Pink Floyd concert, images ranging from humorous to horrific, always so very fragile. Your eyes are quickly trained to try to find outlines, bits of human forms or structures, or something recognizable as this transitions from one film fragment to another. Sometimes, images are just blurred or blistered, fighting to overcome inevitable decay. Other times, the decomposition has already won, and any remaining recognizable images have just given up and decided to blend in as another amorphous blob. From the first time I watched the slowly spinning whirling-dervish guy to the final shot of that same guy, I was just stunned by how beautiful this all looked. And I'm pretty sure I had tears in my eyes with the final shot of that whirling guy.
You can find lots of still images of Decasia with a Google image search, but it's not as effective as seeing it all swim before your eyes. Here, however, is one that I thought captured the central metaphor of it all so perfectly, a boxer jabbing at the inevitability of decomposition:
Just so, so good. This is one of those movies that I never wanted to end. And some of my faithful readers (Note: I like to pretend that I do have some because it keeps me going.) might remember a special feature where I listed movies that should be projected on the walls of museums. Well, this is the kind of movie that is absolutely perfect for something like that.
As incredible as this is visually, I don't want to deny the beauty of the score. Gordon's assembled a 55-piece sinfonietta, and the music they produce--driving, sometimes harsh, as fragmented as the images--is just perfect. Not all of the instruments sound properly tuned, and it's raw, sometimes unnerving, and almost dangerous. I loved every second of what I was hearing. The music in this becomes just as important as Philip Glass's music in Koyaanisqatsi.
Go watch this as soon as you can because it's wonderful. I don't think you need to have an appreciation for silent cinema or avant-garde movies, but consider this is coming from somebody who has an appreciation for both.