It is my opinion that Bill Morrison is trying to recapture the 60's-70's Avant-garde movement in this film, where he takes, literally, decaying filmstock and splices it together to a haunting soundtrack. It's pretty to look at for the first 15-20 minutes, but I found myself quickly wondering if this was it? He wasn't doing anything new at all.
Isn't the point of experimental film to push boundries? To take art to a new level? This was more of a sendup to Stan Brakhage than a wholly new work of art.
If you are a fan of the genre, check it out, but you may be disappointed.
If you somehow stumbled on this and you don't like experimental, stay far far away from this one.
Seriously great score though!
Said concept involved the director gathering, and stringing together old film stock in various states of decay (hence the title). Age, misuse early on, accidents over the years, bad storage...all contribute to the at times severe damage of some of this obscure bits of film, ranging in age from the first years of cinema, up until World War II. This clips of mostly forgotten and unknown origin, (though two have since been identified) are strung together, their decay sometimes visually enhanced by CGI, and presented to the audience in slow motion, and the sound track of an orchestra that is literally out of tune.
The theme, according to the interview included on the disk, was that everything dies. The whole piece is supposed to be a ghoulish experience...everything about it is supposed to bring to mind a rotten, or rottING corpse. (Or all that same would stand for.)
It is for this reason I cannot give the film higher marks. First of all, despite my fascination with the notion of foundfilms being strung together, (I was attrracted to it by my love of all things obscure and forgotten), the piece becomes too immersed in the point it is trying to make.
For starters, the out of tune orchestra, (played, as I said, quite literally on instruments that were out of tune) is not simply playing tunes in minor keys, which would have been enough. Not even macabre music. It is loud, jarring, and instead of musical moments throughout the piece, is presented in one long, oppressive, undulating wail of sound. Many reviews referred to it as a nightmare set to music, but it is in fact the music that makes it a nightmare. It was written first and the film added later, but why anyone would want to hear just this music is beyond me. And when coupled with the ancient film stock...it seems obnoxiously out of place.
Of course, as I read more about the movie, that is what they say they were going for...horror, fear, nightmares...a jarring of the senses...all to scare us into accepting the notion that, like the once vibrant and life resembling moments captured on the celluloid samples so long ago, we too, and our whole existence, will eventually begin to deteriorate, fade, become unrecognizable noise, and utlimatley, just vanish, and in all likelihood be forgotten totally, as the actors and directors of most of the clips.
I guess I am too introspective for all of that to be shocking, if unpleasent. My father died when i was 7 years old, and I suppose I don't need some kind of rude awakening to bring me in line with the notion that our earthly lives are temporary, or that one day my body will turn to dust. Yet I could easily have enjoyed something making that point...instead of trying to hasten my much thought about demise through the use of excruciating anti-music.
Plus, my religious beliefs don;t match up with the allegedly horrifying notion that one day I will die and be nothing...people will pass on my stories, words and memories. I will not be known to the world perhaps, but I am more than a piece of rotting celluloid, and have no problem saying so.
If the concept had not been presented with such a heavy hand, i still would have found the notion of enhancing some of the decay with CGI to be quite disruptive to the entire notion. Granted, it's not always there, but when it is there, I think it is pretty obvious when it is being done...and you long to see what the natural state of decay was for these long lost relics. (If the metaphor holds, does he advocate we hasten our own decay? Awkward way to make a point...CGI has no place in something professing to be this profoundly artsy.
Still, some of the selected clips are fascinating to watch and to ponder over..who are these actors/people (there were some non-fiction clips, such as a real childbirth). Who directed? Where is it? was it a successful venture? How did it get forgotten? And the decay itself does sometimes provide a hypnotic, if not breathtaking visual experience.
Worth it to see the old, mega-obscure clips, and to ponder the things I have mentioned. Just put in on mute every so often if you do not want a head ache.