Decasia (Bill Morrison, 2002)
Decay, in its most technical sense, connotes deterioration. It is a chemical process that transforms a substance (molecularly) into something less brilliant, something practically different and substantially lesser than its former self. In Bill Morrison's mind, however, decay is something else. It is the connective force that weaves borrowed footages together. It is the narrative force that supplies both characters and logic to disconnected scenes. It is the unique aesthetic; it is the theme; it is the entire film.
Decasia is composed of snippets of footages from various films that have suffered from different levels of decay. It's quite fascinating how nebulous clouds of what seems to be a mix of vinegar, film, and other chemicals reveal decipherable images --- a geisha beside a window, two romantic lovers amidst a serene lake. At first glance, the feeling gathered is remorse. These identifiable beautiful images have been transformed, over time and human neglect, into monstrous formations.
The formations however become so familiar in the film, so mobile and life-like that the feeling of remorse transforms to absolute hypnotism. The revealed identifiable images have turned into the background, the formations are now the protagonists. Morrison identifies the film decay with life itself --- footages of bacteria, of insects, leaves, and other plants are comparable in motion and appearance with the formations. Moreover, Morrison suddenly conflicts us by telling us an equally nebulous story of life. A decaying footage of childbirth, of developmental progression, of human pain, joy and other emotions join the mix. Hollywood has also become a victim of decay; and equally lends its stories, its melodramatic anthems, its slapstick comedy into the bunch --- further completing the cycle of humanity.
The decay has become the embellishment in Morrison's tale. It becomes the enemy of humanity (there's a sequence wherein a boxer continually punches the formation of film decay; amazing visual wit, I thought). It is also the obliterator of human error, of our imperfections --- in one sequence, a man seduces a girl while the decaying formation partially censors the actions. It accompanies human tragedy (a sequence wherein a mother is revealed her dead son; looks like a scene from a well-produced Hollywood flick), and desperation (there is also a sequence wherein what seems to be men are rescued from a mine). It modifies; in a sequence that ordinarily is charming and pious (a group of kids marching in a nun-operated school), the decay and contrast discoloration affects the atmosphere to the point of reversing child-like innocence into horror and bad faith.
The film's aesthetic and thematic suggestions are only enunciated by Michael Gordon's haunting score. In one interesting sequence wherein decaying footages of children playing in a theme park, Gordon's score emulates the glaring noise of locomotion. The effect is undeniable; with the invading visuals of decay and Gordon's suggestive music, the innocence of children playing is transformed into the stress, the clarity of danger of everyday commute, of man's day-to-day world.
Morrison's avant-garde techniques aren't as offputting as to claim Decasia as a difficult film to pursue. Morrison is actually very generous; he amplifies cohesion, he makes his work impersonal as to attract universal appeal. He has a story to tell, yet that story is not as strict as a declared narrative. It is open to various interpretations; even his themes are as open-ended as his narrative. There's a wild play of visual, aural, and thematic metaphors that invite you to take part in his cinematic game of redefining decay. Morrison's film is junk art, in its most innovative sense. It's quite brilliant.