Decoder (1984) Poster


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Paranoid Politics and Plenty of Pop
alpha60-211 October 1999
Warning: 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.
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J. Steed2 November 1999
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)
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Zeitgeist of the Berlin 1980s! counterculture!
samxxxul9 May 2020
Decoder is a bizarre, neon-drenched, proto-cyberpunk, bureaucratic surveillance drama film from West Germany featuring FM Einheit of German industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten as a young noise freak with hacking ambitions employed in a hamburger shop. He discovers that replacing the Muzak (background music played in retail stores, elevators) imposed by the government with industrial noise will alter people's behaviour. Inspired by an encounter with a noise-pirate high priest (played by Genesis P-Orridge of industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle), he rebels against the Government for using music as weapon of corporate mind-control and environmental sedation leading to consumerism and massification. He then plays his mix partly made up of the distorted bleat of a screaming frog, only to turn into the countries most wanted noise terrorist for inciting riots.

Decoder is inspired by the Electronic Revolution (1970) by William S. Burroughs, who appears in the film, it has a strong anti-consumerist message, quotes about Lady Di (Diana), biblical metaphors using frogs as symbols for the vagina. The film is also notable for starring no real actors, Bill Rice (East village avant-garde artist) is Jaeger, a peep-show obsessed company man tasked with starring at snowy surveillance monitors all day, is assigned to putting an end the F.M.'s operation. Christian F. plays FM's girlfriend, a punk peepshow worker who prefers the company of her pet frogs to humans.

Muscha's Decoder is a cult classic and a criminally under-seen masterpiece of German weirdness, before the Internet and cyber warfare shot on 16mm, peppered with bright pink, blue, and green hues with camera work by the Viennese / New Yorker Hannah Heer. It should be considered required watching for anyone who love Shinya Tsukamoto's classic cyberpunks, Sogo Ishii's Electric Dragon 80.000 V and films such as They Live, Vortex (1982) and Liquid Sky. The film is battered in 80s industrial/electronica culture by intense soundtrack from the likes of Einsturzende Neubauten, Soft Cell, The The, and Psychic Tv.
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Seriously strange movie that addreses some relevant issues
Woodyanders13 November 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Fast food restaurant employee FM (likeable FM Einheit) discovers that the insipid muzak played over the PA system at the place he works at contains subliminal messages to lull people into a passive state so they stay in line and adhere to the status quo. FM decides to alter said muzak in order to shake the masses out of their blank unthinking complacent state.

Director Muscha brings a funky-punky very 80's New Wave aesthetic to the odd, yet absorbing premise that proves to be quite hypnotic and engaging in its sheer blithely overt weirdness. Moreover, the biting script trenchantly explores the still quite timely and pertinent themes of stifling mass conformity, corporate and government omnipotence, how advanced technology intrudes on people's lives and can be used to control people's lives, and the use of various media such as music, video games, and television as a means of further reinforcing both conformity and complacency. William Rice excels as ramrod government agent Jaeger, Matthias Fuchs contributes an amusing turn as an overzealous fast food manager, and William S. Burroughs has a cool cameo as a raggedy old man. Only Christiane Felscherinow leaves something to be desired with her stiff portrayal of the zonked-out Christiana. Shot with striking garish style by cinematographer Johanna Heer, set to a groovy techno-rock soundtrack, and moving along at an unhurried pace, this truly unique and different one-of-a-kind sci-fi oddity is highly recommended to adventurous viewers who want to see something way out of the ordinary.
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low but high
melmo12 August 1999
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 silence. 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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No idea what I just watched Warning: 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.
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A Violent Art-House Collage
iabosco14 September 2019
Based around a simple premise circling around a burger shop employee who discovers the power of weaponized industrial noise music and its capability of inciting riots against the government in West Germany, Decoder brings together the efforts of multiple underground artists in this rich and enthralling sci-fi hidden cult gem.

Decoder compensates its lack of technicality (which the film itself is never afraid of exposing) with a great poetic quality present all through the film and with a very inventive dreamlike cinematography focusing especially on lighting, creating haunting scenarios and succeedinñg at delivering a unique vision of a dystopian West Germany that never was but lives within the film's own vision. The particular cast of characters drive the film's themes, along with heavy symbolism and a great soundtrack counting with the likes of Einstürzende Neubauten and Psychic TV, Decoder truly is a cinematic countercultural manifest, which demands more than one viewing in order to catch all of its quirks.

This is a film that never shies away from presenting its own vision, championing itself above the apparent downturns that could play against an independent film by fully utilizing its resources to its artistic benefit, this film is the definition of a cult classic.
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