The Sunday Subtitles: Drops of the Night

We’re still in the world of silent cinema, kind of, but these are definitely subtitles and there’s no getting around THAT.

If you never knew what the amber whorls surrounding this blog were before, here’s your answer — nitrate decomposition in the hands of Bill Morrison.

LET ME COME IN is a newish Morrison short which repurposes decaying footage from LIEBESHOLLE/PAWNS OF PASSION (1928), a really interesting looking German silent directed by Wiktor Bieganski & Carmine Gallone. Gallone had a very long career but it’s the even earlier diva dolorosa films like MALOMBRA (1917) with Lyda Borelli that I’m familiar with. And I knew about his not-too-highly-regarded fifties MICHAEL STROGOFF because it was produced by Emile Natan, brother of the more celebrated (and traduced) Bernard Natan.

One striking thing that happens in the clip is we pan with the central couple up and impressive staircase and into an upstairs room, all in one unbroken shot, which must have necessitated the construction of an open, dollhouse-like set.

In addition to digitally step-printing this molten, jellied fragment to slow it down, Morrison adds a song by David Lang and subtitles it, I think mainly for atmospheric reasons (the lyrics are very distinct).

Morrison has really cornered the film decomposition market — these disintegrating images are endlessly fascinating and touching to me. They’re beautiful and spooky in themselves, and then you realise they represent the death of a film, something that cannot be recovered.

2 Responses to “The Sunday Subtitles: Drops of the Night”

  1. My nickname was nitrate. Until I finally stopped talking about it. A friend snuck me into a 2-day archivists screening of nitrate prints. Cured me.

  2. Carbon arc projection is the way forward.

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