Bill Morrison's 70-minute Decasia consists of decomposing shots from silent movies and newsreels, slowed down in projection and accompanied by a repetitive yet dramatic score by Michael Gordon. The images include factory workers, schoolchildren with nuns, airplanes and parachutes, a circus performer, a Ferris wheel, a geisha, a boxer and a Greek dancer. Ostensibly, there is no story, just the images (sometimes repeated), distorted by the blotches and burns that are corroding the nitrate stock on which they were originally filmed.
Since the film contains neither narration nor an explanatory preamble, it is conceivable that Morris has created everything we are seeing: The images could have been newly shot in an 'old' film style, then deliberately distressed and 'destroyed.' After all, fellow experimental director Michael Snow did this in 1991's To Lavoisier, Who Died in the Reign of Terror.
Whatever their origin, the visuals are hypnotic to watch (Morrison's production company is appropriately named Hypnotic Productions), and despite the seeming lack of narrative, they even generate suspense via the associative editing technique Morrison employs. It's as if Morrison has married 1958's A Movie, Bruce Conner's seminal found-footage collage, with the abstract artistry of the late Stan Brakhage. Remember 1963's Mothlight, the underground classic where Brakhage glued flowers and moth-wings to undeveloped film? Like Brakhage, Morrison contemplates the nature of film itself and, like Conner, he conjures an apocalyptic vision. In Decasia's case, this comes from the deformation, which turns ordinary scenes into horror-movie spectacle. Of course, despite the formal splendor, this may be a subtle, subtextual way of arguing that film preservation is necessary after all.