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Review: Decasia: The State of Decay

Decasia is uncompromising, difficult, and unbearably beautiful.

Decasia: The State of Decay
Photo: Icarus Films

Like any Stan Brakhage you may or may not have seen, Bill Morrison’s Decasia is uncompromising, difficult, and unbearably beautiful. The director’s camera travels through a cavernous film lab, revealing a faceless individual pulling a strip of celluloid from developing fluid. There are three stories here: that of the archival footage, its layer of emulsion deterioration, and their combined effect. It’s a work of suggestive genius, its narrative open to interpretation. The first half of Decasia might as well be the hallucination of a Middle Eastern man whose native tradition causes him to spin before a group of fellow tribesmen. The decay of the celluloid—which resembles everything from butterflies and leaves to sponges and the ridges of the human brain—becomes a stunning complement to the archival footage. Decasia is so hypnotically ephemeral and grandiose that its seamless linkage of sound to image suggests a spiritual presence. The Bang On A Can score pulsates with a quasi-techno groove that heightens the gravitas of the film’s archival footage. And just as Decasia seems to wind down, it begins again: a child is pulled from the womb, a boy (possibly the newborn’s older incarnation) rides a bus, a woman (possibly his mother) burns her body fat inside a beauty salon’s sweat chamber. The grainy, monochromatic images of children inside convents and planes unleashing care packages conjure images of war. Like the phoenix, the planes from a carnival ride seem to originate from the flame-like celluloid decay. Then, a woman wearing a flowery kimono is knocked out (or awakened, it doesn’t matter). Decasia is about the state of decay—the birth, death and rebirth of physicality itself.

Director: Bill Morrison Distributor: Icarus Films Running Time: 70 min Rating: NR Year: 2002 Buy: Video

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