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Decasia (2002)

Not Rated  |   |  Documentary  |  3 October 2003 (UK)
7.3
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 596 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)

Decasia (2002) on IMDb 7.3/10

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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 Truthful Tulliver (1917) See more »

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All the lonely filmstrips, where do they all belong?
31 August 2004 | by (Berkeley, California) – See all my reviews

The screening I saw had a very low walkout rate for an experimental movie, although admittedly the audience were mostly students taking Berkeley's avant-garde film course, so they probably had to be there. Poor kids, you might say, but this'll probably be one of the high points of their semester. It'll take you a few minutes to flesh out the decay metaphor (even film doesn't last forever so what chance do we puny humans have, etc.) but surprisingly a large proportion of the imagery continues to be affecting beyond that point.

The game I play when viewing an unannotated found-footage work is to discover what scenes the filmmaker's way of seeing enhances, and why. I could draw up a list of (possibly false) dichotomies - human vs architectural, familiar vs exotic. The one that struck me, though, was documentary vs fiction. Bill Morrison (the same guy who worked on Futurama? Really?) uses excerpts from both categories, but all of the scenes that moved me were unscripted. When I watch a silent fiction film, the image on the screen is evidence that the characters, and thus the stars, are alive. When I watch old documentary footage, the first thought that comes to mind is "These guys must all be dead by now". Perhaps that's why I slightly prefer Gianikian's and Lucchi's all-doco "From the Pole to the Equator", even though that film makes "Decasia" seem as watchable as "Fantasia".

But probably a pertinent reason is "From the Pole to the Equator" has a more useful soundtrack. Gordon's "Decasia" symphony sounds like a parody of Glass, which of course is still better than the score to "The Hours". My favourite bit of "Decasia" is when a long take of nuns 'n' schoolgirls is accompanied by a seemingly infinite collection of continuously descending string lines. Interestingly, Gordon reverses this trick at the end, using ascending lines, and it sounds just like the Beatles' "A Day in the Life". I would've been happier if Morrison had set the film to "Sgt. Pepper", as long as I didn't have to see decaying footage of Peter Frampton.

Obscure references aside, "Decasia" is better than most avant-garde films because the pictures look nice, the same way a body lying in state looks nice, only better. Morrison is an outstanding undertaker.


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