Screening of Bill Morrison’s Films

Screening of Bill Morrison’s Films

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logo_onion_cellarScreening the Films of Bill Morrison

DECASIA / LIGHT IS CALLING / THE FILM OF HER: 21 and 25 Sep 2013, 8 pm

From The Onion Cellar:

THE ONION CELLAR proudly presents the official Vietnam premieres of a program of found-footage films by the renowned experimental filmmaker BILL MORRISON.

Main attractions are BILL MORRISON’s two (arguably) most well-known works: DECASIA and THE MINERS’ HYMNS, each accompanied by a number of short films

Each of these films will be screened twice on different dates.


Over the past fifteen years, BILL MORRISON has created a remarkable series of found-footage films that highlight the ravages of time and decay on the filmed image. These are as much celebrations of the sometimes-frightening beauty of decomposing film as laments for vanishing relics of cinema’s origin.

Although not drawing exclusively from early cinema, Morrison specialises in this originary epoch of movie history. On the material level, he appreciates the paradoxical fact that nitrate simultaneously offers what he considers the most perfect film image and is also notoriously unstable. Beyond this, he sees the invention of film as the only precisely locatable birth of an art form, one whose inception is not lost in the mists of time but is more or less contemporary with the emergence of modern man. From the decaying body of film, he extrapolates an analogy for the fate of the human mind and body.

As an introduction to his films, BILL MORRISON explains:

“The frame pauses briefly before the projector’s lamp, and then moves on. Our lives are accumulations of ephemeral images and moments that our consciousness constructs into a reality. No sooner have we grasped the present, it is relegated to the past, where it only exists in the subjective history of each individual. The images can be thought of as desires or memories: actions that take place in the mind. The film stock can be thought of as the body, that which enables these events to be seen. Like our own bodies, this celluloid is a fragile and ephemeral medium that can deteriorate in countless ways.”

(Maximilian Le Cain – Sense of Cinema)

DECASIA (2002)

DECASIA: THE STATE OF DECAY, BILL MORRISON’s moving avant-garde visual symphony, was edited entirely from found film footage left in archives that had decayed over time. The severe emulsion deterioration reveals the film stock in its basic chemical form and the images are stripped to their most primitive emotional state. The film was shaped to MICHAEL GORDON’s moving symphony performed by the 55-piece basel sinfonietta. The soundtrack is decaying itself: Gordon took the orchestra to musical extremes by detuning the instruments and using prepared pianos (in which various objects (pingpong balls, cutlery, etc) are placed on different parts of the pianos (strings, hammers, etc) to create different new sounds and tones) to further emphasize the powerful hallucinatory visual experience.

“Bill Morrison’s DECASIA is that rare thing: a movie with avant-garde and universal appeal… the film is a fierce dance of destruction.” – J. Hoberman, THE VILLAGE VOICE

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


Trailer and excerpts:


Filmmaker and artist BILL MORRISON pries open the past, patching together a hypnotic collage of archival footage to reconstruct England’s vanishing mining communities. Northeast England was once dotted with coal mines, with entire communities living off the black gold pulled from the earth. That all ended after the 1984 miners’ strikes, with a brutal wave of police suppression and mine closures.

Morrison’s mesmerising film unearths vivid images of the coal towns’ heyday, piecing together a lost way of life rich with community and celebration, and marked by intolerably hard and dangerous work.

(Australian Centre for the Moving Image –
Even without having previous knowledge of the film, a viewer of Morrison’s careful selection will come away understanding the strong and cohesive narrative.

These specific miners are from the Durham coalfield area in the Northeast UK. At the beginning and near the end of the film are two aerial segments that contrast the past and present Durham area. What was once the pride of Durham has now become parking lots, malls and football stadiums. Where towns had once supported miners with parades for unions with power (“Miners fights your Battles” read one sign) the history is displaced. Even the protests and conflict which erupted in the ‘80s as the miners’ unions faced collapse and braced themselves against Thatcher’s free market agenda.


THE MINERS’ HYMNS is conceived as a collaborative project between Morrison and composer JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON, whose brass-heavy, electronic score is meant to recall the music of the colliery brass bands that are occasionally glimpsed in some of the film’s archival footage (especially during the glorious ending). Jóhannsson’s work, with its rousing crescendos, frequently lends a heroic air to the material, particularly during footage of the miners at work hacking out coal nuggets with their pickaxes or during a union procession that wends into a local cathedral, an impression aided by the gravitas-accentuating use of slow motion.

(Slant Magazine)


TICKETS: VND 50,000 (each screening) – available at doors

Hanoi Cinematheque
22A Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội
At the end of the alley leading to Artist’s Hotel


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