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Decasia (2002)

Not Rated  |   |  Documentary  |  3 October 2003 (UK)
7.3
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 581 users   Metascore: 67/100
Reviews: 21 user | 43 critic | 6 from Metacritic.com

A meditation on the human quest to transcend physicality, constructed from decaying archival footage and set to an original symphonic score.

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Title: Decasia (2002)

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Margaret Cullington ...
Maggie Jiggs (archive footage)
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Black and white stock footage, much of it scratched or blistered, illustrates a Michael Gordon symphony. A whirling dervish, couples laughing, a soldier trying to take advantage of a flower vendor, a camel caravan moving across the horizon, a single plane and then others, paratroopers in the sky, a mining disaster, a pugilist, nuns and children at a school - some images last a few seconds, others for a minute or more. The scratches, blisters, and bygone look of the footage suggest time's passage. Only the dervish, who begins and ends the film, is intact. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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3 October 2003 (UK)  »

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Aposynthesia  »

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Selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in December 2013. See more »

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In memory of Hortense K. Becker, (1902-2001) 'Big Non' See more »

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Features The Last Egyptian (1914) See more »

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The most authentic science fiction movie ever?
14 October 2004 | by (Hertford, England) – See all my reviews

Bill Morrison's 2002 experimental feature just has to be seen to be believed.

From thousands of decaying archive prints, he's selected the most baroque examples of negative decay in which the nitrate-based film stock has degraded to the point that its images melt into one another or are partially obscured under whirling vortices of psychedelic disintegration.

The finished effect is simply stunning.

A boxer unleashes a flurry of blows at the spot where his opponent once stood but which is now obliterated by a seething column of celluloid magma.

Nuns escorting a crocodile of schoolchildren are thrown into a near-photo negative contrast, making them look more like daunting sentinels herding their captives.

A kissing couple attain a sense of heightened reality in a world rendered in shimmering tones of silver by the process of decay.

Phantom faces and objects swim momentarily into lucidity from images now transformed into a kaleidoscope of amoebic distortion and static.

In a courtroom scene, the elderly female witness shifts in and out of certainty as her features are pulled and warped like gum into monstrous facades suggestive of liquefying skulls while the judge delivers his verdict from the writhing face of a nightmare.

These images insinuate themselves into the imagination like bad dreams recorded directly from the subconscious and imperfectly reassembled via primitive technology.

They feel as if they might have been the ancient television broadcasts of some impossibly distant alien culture, plucked out of the cosmos by radio telescope and translated for human eyes.

To complete and reinforce the experience, Michael Gordon has contributed an astounding soundtrack, likened elsewhere to the sound of a plane crashing in slow motion and calling to mind the more haunting industrial works of Philip Glass, rescored for an apocalyptic funeral mass. You could turn off the sound and play the film to, say, something delicate by Debussy for a totally different experience but that would only deny you the awesome, hypnotic power of the visuals and music working in harmony.

Morrison's selection of material appears to be far from random and he's evidently chosen images of permanence and stability for the ironic effect of watching them transformed by inevitable corruption.

This remarkable project works on so many levels – as a slice of cinematic history from the earliest days of the medium; as a study in the nature of decomposition; as a rococo piece of visual and aural entertainment for the chemically enhanced; even, perhaps, as the most authentic science fiction film ever made.

If the function of cinema is to transport its audience into another reality via the willing suspension of disbelief, to show them things they've never seen before and to create a compelling emotional state from a synthesis of sounds and visions, Decasia: The State Of Decay must qualify as one of the most accomplished examples of the form produced to date.

Guaranteed, you've never seen anything else even close to it.


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