DECay fantASIA

DECASIA (DECay fantASIA) was made in 2002 by Bill Morrison and is an exploration of Morrison's fascination with the decay of early nitrate film footage. All of the clips used to make this 65 minute piece are sourced from pre-1950 footage, and all shows sign of decay typical to film of this era. It is estimated that 10,000 or more feature films from before 1950 have been lost due to the volatile nature of this storage medium, and this film is in part a homage to them. It is entirely in black and white and the film itself is silent, though there is an accompanying soundtrack written by Michael Gordon. Neither the soundtrack nor the visuals make a particularly comfortable experience: the music has been described as the sound of a plane crash in slow-motion, the visuals are stark, flickering and often incomprehensibly jumbled. The only treatment which Morrison allowed himself to make to the footage is that it is slowed down to around 8 frames a second.

This film produced a wide range of reaction amongst the people I saw it with, as one would expect for such experimental work. Despite this, the film is artistically very strong, and it produces a great quantity of metaphor for the mind to work through while watching. Most obvious is that the footage shows common activities from over 50 years ago and the parallel between the decline of the ways of life shown and of the nitrate itself allows one to ponder how long it will be before both are gone completely. The director's aim with this film is to demonstrate the transience of life and this is achieved, because even the so-thought immortality of life on film will eventually distort and fade. The views offered are like old memories or dreams, there is visual noise, warping, distortion, a sudden clear glimpse of a nun or a whirling dervish, a discontinuity, an aeroplane.

There are more direct visual allegories given too - in one scene there is a boxing match, with one boxer perfectly clear, throwing punches to where his opponent has been obliterated by smudged and melted film. 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.

Overall the impression, helped by the score, is of horror. I actually think this is the scariest film I have seen, in terms of how it made me feel about myself. The scenes with warping nuns flicking between normal and negative while silently herding children through an archway will stay with me for a long time. Sections of it flow beautifully and in places the timing with the music is magical. There are some scenes which are too long (the parachute and ladder scenes espeically) and in a film which is so chaotic the line between riveting and painful can be crossed easily. Watching this film should not be undertaken lightly - it requires a certain amount of willingness on the watcher's behalf to be taken on a journey to places unvisited by mainstream cinema, but if you are prepared to bear witness to a visual rhapsody of decay, then please, you will not be disappointed.

The film is (perhaps ironically) available on DVD, but rest assured that even that will perish eventually.