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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I eventually managed to get hold of a copy of Decoder after reading with great interest about it in Jack Sargeant's book "Naked Lens - Beat Cinema" and it is indeed a must see for Burrough's fans as not only does it feature him in a speaking role but it is also largely based on his ideas.
The story is (roughly) this: Pop performer F.M. Einheit discovers that different sonic frequencies and induce different patterns of behaviour in listeners, first in his own studio but later in the local "H-Burger" restaurant where the passive muzak appears to be wiping people's emotions.
The government headquarters responsible for this are represented by a huge 'fascist' building full of winding spools. Bill Rice, the government official who works there meanwhile goes on a journey of sexual discovery in the local red-light district.
Einheit meanwhile, after several arguments with his girlfriend (played by former child prostitute Christianne F.) and dream sequences featuring William S. Burroughs finds himself amongst underground rebels led by Genesis P. Orridge (the avant garde pop performer in groups like Psychic T.V. and Throbbing Gristle, himself a fan of Burroughs) who explains to F.M. about how the government have been 'controlling' the public through muzak. After this revelation he steals the tape from H-Burger and remixes it so that it induces panic, the rebel army replace the tapes in all the burger bars which are strangely now shown as Burger King and McDonald's rather than the fictional H-Burger.
Suffice to say, revolution ensues and Rice is killed.
Much of the film is done with heavy monochrome lighting and plenty of stock footage (some of it pretty nasty) and has a soundtrack of early eighties electronica. At times Decoder is very amateur (indeed Bill Rice is the only 'actor' in the cast) but the very 'underground' feel of the film and (the copy I have is very grainy indeed) adds to the sense of reality - like it really is something dangerous and grubby passed quietly amongst those who dare to find out - anyone seriously interested in Burroughs or early eighties music should see this film, others will probably find it difficult, boring and dated.
It is interesting and apt that it should be credited to the year 1984, as it is probably much more important (if inferior)than the film of the 1984 released in that year - although I think on behalf of the makers of Decoder it was entirely unintentional.
A film with the simple story subject of a man who wants to oppose the ever
present muzak in a hamburger restaurant and other places deserves any credit
it can get, surely if it has been made into this remarkable and very
stylistic German cult films of the 80's. Inspired by W.S. Burroughs, who
also has a cameo, the makers came up with a very tense, very good edited and
very rhythmic film that invites the viewer not only to watch, but also to
feel the poetry of the film.
There is the wonderful cinematography by Johanna Heer, giving in general the film a steal blue colour. Variations are made for the different characters and different situations. In an interview producer Klaus Maeck may have said that to him this style seemed to be exaggerated, I think that the film could not have done without this cinematographic style.
Then there is the very good music that accompanies the film, and adding to the rhythm of the film. The script, simple as it may be, is well written, although there are a couple of flaws, the main being that it takes too long. But do not expect a linear told story, this is not that kind of a film; you have to carefully study and interpret every image to know what is going on. This does not mean that the makers were not able to tell a story, it is part of the overall poetic style: the viewer has to go through this film.
Though the acting may not be of greatest importance as the filmed image is main story teller, some of the acting should have been much better. With all due respect to Christiane F., she never comes further than saying her lines. Bill Rice as the undercover agent is the best and seems to have walked out of a Raymond Chandler novel.
The riots you see are actual riots the makers made use of. The riots accompanied President Reagan's visit to Berlin. After seeing this film you probably will not enter any hamburger restaurant again, which to me may be the strongest reason to watch the film. I recommend this to the discriminating film buff. What a pity that this team never produced another one. (8/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Oh well, actually I do. I just watched the 90-minute "Decoder", a (despite the title) West German predominantly German-language film from 1984, so this one is already over 30 years old. It is one of the rare directorial efforts by "Muscha" (???), but the writer Klaus Maeck is slightly more prolific, at least as a producer in the three decades after this film. This one here is actually a really early career effort by him. Now back to the title of my review here, with that I mean of course that I am absolutely clueless about the contents of this movie or what the makers were trying to depict and teach us. It did not connect with me on any level. Maybe you really need to be / have been extremely deep into a certain music scene or political scene perhaps even (back then in Germany) to see any appeal in this one and this means I am most certainly disqualified. So this one here is the epitome of a film that is not for the masses. It is only really for very few and I am definitely not among these as I found it almost annoying to watch (effects, colors) and listen to (music). The acting also was stale and bland and this is already gently-speaking. No cinematic value in here at all for me and I have to give this one a major thumbs-down. Stay far away from this one. It's not bold, not beautiful and especially not creative despite trying so hard. Just amateurish.
this low budget film, containing lots of technical mistakes, like a blue
lettered title in a blue sky, also is an artfilm.
it is using a language of pictures (which is wrongly called MTV-style) like
the early and contemporary videoart: compilations of tv-pics,
computer animations and filmtakes cutted in fast rhythms with an amazing
non-musical soundtrack of voices and sounds, best example is the part in the
gamehall, where the players melt with the game machines.
another film which also use some tv/animation-parts is roland emmerich´s
early film "das archenoah prinzip" , but in it there are not this fast
rythms and it uses an electronic ambient sound combined with
back to decoder, irritating light and dialogues like ingmar bergman make
this sci-fi to one of my favorite german films.
sad: there are no more movies of this crew (i never heard of any other film from one of them)
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