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DECASIA (director/writer/editor/producer: Bill Morrison; music: Michael Gordon; Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; BFI Bookings/Plexifilm/ Hypnotic Pictures; 2002)
“It’s for those who like curio films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Bill Morrison’s Decasia is a 70-minute b/w non-narrative experimental film consisting of a collage of hallucinatory images produced by partially decayed nitrate stock footage set to minimalist avant-garde percussionist Michael Gordon’s score that is performed by Switzerland’s 55-piece Basel Sinfonetta. The filmmaker spent two years rummaging through the film archives of the University of South Carolina, the Library of Congress, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York to collect his materials. I would assume the visual storyline is about birth, decay, death and rebirth (but I won’t bet my house on that). It could just as well be a calculated argument for film preservation. In any case, its possible mythical theme can’t be separated from its hypnotic music and capricious images that are shown with a wild sense of abandonment. It reminded me of an acid trip without taking acid, where the visions are induced from outside (history) and not from one’s personal or collective unconsciousness (psychology). It thereby played more as an academic art/musical spectacle than as a ticket ride into my inner thoughts. I found myself sitting back and relaxing and taking it in as a mental massage that gave me pleasure without getting me to explore my depths.

It should be noted that Decasia is a reference to Fantasia, which should give you a hint where the filmmaker is reaching for.

The film begins with almost perfectly clear shots of both a whirling dervish and stacks of film reels rotating away, but it soon moves to footage that crackles with decomposition. A series of unrelated images follow from a kimono-clad geisha, a camel caravan on the move in the desert, amoeba and ink-blot shapes that explode into bubbles, children on a school bus, a baptism in water, miners swinging picks at a wall that is bubbling, and a boxer punching a column of swirling nitrate; it continually fades into a strange mixture of images that flicker from light to dark, that give the film a curious look. I thought I was again stoned in the old Fillmore watching the Jefferson Airplane with a background light show.

It’s for those who like curio films, ones that march to their own logic and are not made for a commercially bent audience.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”