bill morrison – decasia – trailer (2002)

A film by Bill Morrison / Music by Michael Gordon / Blu-Ray Trailer / An Icarus Films Release

Often compared to Stan Brakhage, Bill Morrison created DECASIA entirely with decaying, old found footage, melded to the music of Bang on a Can’s Michael Gordon, performed by the 55 piece basel sinfonietta. The result is a delirium of deteriorated film stock, a moving avant-garde masterpiece that leaves its meaning open to interpretation and, most importantly, your imagination.

“Bill Morrison’s DECASIA is that rare thing: a movie with avant-garde and universal appeal…. Morrison is not the first artist to take decomposing film stock as his raw material, but he plunges into this dark nitrate of the soul with contagious abandon. Few movies are so much fun to describe. Heralded by a spinning dervish, DECASIA’s first movement seems culled from century-old actualités: Kimono-clad women emerge from a veil of spotty mold, a caravan of camels is silhouetted against the warped desert horizon, a Greek dancer disintegrates into a blotch barrage, the cars for an ancient Luna Park ride repeatedly materialize out of seething chaos.

“DECASIA is founded on the tension between the hard fact of film’s stained, eroded, unstable surface and the fragile nature of that which was once photographically represented. Michael Snow contrived something similar in the chemical conflagration of his 1991 To Lavoisier, Who Died in the Reign of Terror-in which he purposefully distressed new footage. But Morrison is far more expressionistic. A second opposition arises between the lushly deteriorated images and composer Michael Gordon’s no less textured, increasingly ominous drone. (Unlike Philip Glass’s scores, Gordon’s never overpowers the visual accompaniment-even when it escalates to wall of sound.) A third opposition might be termed ideological.

“On one hand, DECASIA…can be taken as a cautionary advertisement for film preservation. [like] Morrison’s 1996 short THE FILM OF HER, an imaginary romance about the preservation of paper prints in the Library of Congress, celebrating what the archivist Paolo Cherchi Usai calls the “monumental necropolis of precious documents.” On the other hand, DECASIA is founded on a deep aesthetic appreciation for decay. (“Cinema is the art of destroying moving images,” per the gnomic Cherchi Uchai.) The solarization, the morphing, the lysergic strobe effects on which the movie thrives, are as natural as the photographic image itself.

“As DECASIA continues, the calligraphy of decay grows increasingly hallucinatory and catastrophic. The sea buckles. Flesh melts. A boxer struggles against the disintegration of the image. Wall Street is half consumed in flames. A dozen little parachutes dot the cracked sky. A group of nuns traverse a courtyard that frames an Italian landscape in severe perspective, evoking a Renaissance vision of the Last Judgment. DECASIA [seems] Hindu in its awesome spectacle of violent flux. The film is a fierce dance of destruction. Its flame-like, roiling black-and-white inspires trembling and gratitude.” —J. Hoberman, The Village Voice

“I popped Morrison’s video into my VCR and within a few further minutes I found myself completely absorbed, transfixed, a pillow of air lodged in my stilled, open mouth. Now, I’m no particular authority on film, but I do know one-Errol Morris. A short time later, when I happened to be visiting him, I popped the video into his VCR and proceeded to observe as Morrison’s film once again began casting its spell. Errol sat drop-jawed: at one point, about halfway through, he stammered, ”This may be the greatest movie ever made.” —Lawrence Weschler, The New York Times Magazine

“Compelling and disturbing! Swimming symphonies of baroque beauty emerge from corrosive nitrate disintegration as rockets of annihilation demolish cathedrals of reality.” —Kenneth Anger, filmmaker

“A stirring, haunting modern masterpiece…Bill Morrison has created a unique artifact, as enigmatically authoritative as Max Ernst’s collage novel “Une Semaine de Bonté.” It makes you think of Joseph Cornell’s memory boxes, Robert Rauschenberg’s time-stuffed assemblages, Anger, Hitchcock. It makes you feel that the art, as opposed to the business, of cinema does have a future – even if it has to be found deep in the past.” —Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

eric rondepierre – couple, passant (1996-1998)

Eric Rondepierre, “Couple, Passant” (1996-98)

‘Cinema was born in 1895. In 2015, the original device has disappeared – such is the world, techniques vanish and others emerge: “There is no doubt that death is the youth of the world” [said Georges Bataille, in L’Histoire de l’érotisme]. I initiated my cinematic research at a transitional moment, in 1990, and started to present it in 1992. In 1993 in Washington (USA), I started a series of photographs figuring photograms of films corroded by the passing of time and storage condition, which was exhibited in New York two years later at MoMA. Since then, I have been watching films in Western film libraries and private collections, harvesting “decomposed” images affected by the passing of time. Without retouching them, I select the improbable and rare ones, those on which the marks of time enter in dialogue with the image to the point where it becomes difficult to distinguish between the actual image and its destruction process. Jean Cocteau claimed that cinema filmed “death at work”. It seemed interesting to identify death at work at the core of the medium, within the material and invisible layer allowing us access to the film: the reel. So I ventured through cinema, with great patience – it takes fifteen days, eight hours a day, to watch a feature film frame-by-frame –, reflecting upon the instability of film archives, their support, the conditions of their appearance and disappearance (I was far from imagining that the proper reel could vanish!). I fancy the idea that figures and locations filmed a century ago resurface differently at other times and that I was able to capture this hazardous encounter with the ills affecting the medium. Furthemore, the fact that these images exhale beauty, strangeness and intensity is a nice complement: grace befalls anywhere.’

– Eric Rondepierre, The Mark of Time.

That impossible photogram, as Roland Barthes said. An object which is not (even) an object, but at the same time is actually two objects. It doesn’t (really) belong to the cinema or (simply) to photography ; it is more than a photograph yet less than a film. It is, therefore, a sort of axis or fold, the precise crossing point (punctum) between cinema and photography. Eminently paradoxical, the photogram is the touchstone of Eric Rondepierre’s work which is acutely conscious of the delicate balance on the razor’s edge where cinema meets photography in their most intimate specificity.

Eric Rondepierre’s work always starts with a film, or more precisely with the image-matter of a film. Rondepierre is not interested in cinema as the reflection-projection of a film on a screen, in a consumer relation to what is watchable, with its imposed length and speed, uninterrupted flow, impression of movement, perceptive fiction, transitory illusion – in other words the magic of the large cinema-body on the screen. What interests him is the film as actual film strip, a material sequence of fixed images intimately and appropriatively related to its object. Film images that you can not only see but also touch, hold, manipulate and collect.

In other words, Rondepierre aims at what is most authentically photographic at the very heart of cinema. This is of course profoundly contradictory. The photogram is an impossible object : it is both film’s condition of existence and its total negation. Obviously a film consists only of photograms, yet seeing a photogram for what it is (the frozen image of a film) necessarily means not seeing the film, which can only exist fully as movement. Seeing a film flow past automatically implies not seeing photograms, nevertheless the very essence of a film since they disappear, absorbed into the projection process. Photograms are the only real images and the only invisible images in a film. This is the ontological paradox which makes photograms into cinema’s blind «spots».

Don’t believe too much in what you can see. Learn to not see what is displayed (and therefore which hides). Learn to see beyond, beside, across and beneath. Look for the spot in the image, texture in the surface, negatives in positives and latent images in the negative ground. Follow once more the route mapped out by the psychic photographic apparatus, shifting from eye to memory, from appearance to unrepresentable. Dig down through the layers and levels like an archaeologist. Photographs are only surfaces, they have no depth, only a fantastic density. Behind it, beneath it or around it, one photo always hides (at least) another photograph, or a film. It is a question of screens, and here you enter in a singular universe, the one of an individual by the name of Eric Rondepierre.

Read this whole essay by Philippe Dubois, and visit Eric Rondepierre’s website. And, if you can read French, there’s a piece which discusses Georges Bataille’s influence on the artist here.


david whyte – santiago (2012)

The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
hiding then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall,
and the way forward always in the end
the way that you followed, the way that carried you
into your future, that brought you to this place,
no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,
no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:
the sense of having walked from far inside yourself
out into the revelation, to have risked yourself
for something that seemed to stand both inside you
and far beyond you, that called you back
to the only road in the end you could follow, walking
as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice
that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,
so that one day you realized that what you wanted
had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place
you had lived in before you began,
and that every step along the way, you had carried
the heart and the mind and the promise
that first set you off and drew you on and that you were
more marvelous in your simple wish to find a way
than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:
as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city
with golden towers, and cheering crowds,
and turning the corner at what you thought was the end
of the road, you found just a simple reflection,
and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back
and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:
like a person and a place you had sought forever,
like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;
like another life, and the road still stretching on.

from David Whyte‘s Pilgrim, ©2012 Many Rivers Press

Cumberland Nature Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, 26 December 2017