Archive for Decasia

Scratch Film

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2015 by dcairns

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THE FLESH EATERS seemed like the best film for me to write about for the Film Preservation Blogathon, whose theme this year is science fiction. Obviously METROPOLIS, that ever-lengthening classic, would make a lot of sense too, but somebody’s probably already thought of that. But THE FLESH EATERS is an obscure monster movie in which the monster is played by neg scratches. Put it on a double feature with DECASIA, in which a man engages in a boxing match with an all-consuming blob of nitrate decomposition. But the silvery, wriggling scratch-monsters here are much too tough to punch out with a padded glove — they go boring into people’s legs in gory insert shots that are genuinely disturbing, despite the seemingly primitive nature of the effects work. I mean, OUCH.

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The movie gains huge cult credibility by starring Martin Kosleck, the man who sculpted Rondo Hatton in HOUSE OF HORROR and the screen’s silkiest Dr.. Goebbels. By this time, he seems to have had a little eye tuck which accentuates his feline/feminine qualities and adds even more unsettling ambiguity to his persona.

The movie, unusually well covered for a B-picture (mostly shooting in the open air must have made the filming go quick) is dynamically edited by Radley Metzger, the favourite pornographer of all right-thinking cinephiles (Russ Meyer being more of a cartoonist than an eroticist).

Speaking of cartoons, the script, which trafficks in soapy stereotypes and jut-jawed confrontations, is by Arnold Drake, comic book writer and creator of The Doom Patrol (in their Grant Morrison incarnation, my favourite funnybook thing ever). The Doom Patrol were freakish superheroes who were all multiply-disabled as much as they were hyper-powered, which suggests a slightly wacky and agreeable perspective, and that off-kilter feeling prevails here too. He also created Deadman, the funniest/stupidest name for a superhero ever, and the original Guardians of the Galaxy. Drake also seems to have storyboarded this flick, so that one-shot director Jack Curtis, otherwise best known as a voice actor, consistently delivers exciting and punchy compositions far more dynamic that anything usually seen in Z-list B-pictures from bottom-feeding indie production companies.

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Opening shot is a succulent flesh feast, a lithe bikini girl laid out like a banquet, in combination with the title seemingly inviting the audience to consider cannibalism. She’s soon skeletonized along with her obnoxious boyfriend, washing up later as a fully articulated set of science lab bones clutching a bikini top (the movie is totally silly but somehow preserves its own strange dignity).

Soap opera: a broke pilot takes a job flying a drunken movie star and her nurse/PA, unwisely trying to dodge a tropical storm — they wind up on an island inhabited only by nasty Kosleck and his weird man-eating sea-spawn, the results of a Nazi experiment he uncovered after the war. Rather refreshingly, Kosleck isn’t himself a Nazi — he’s a German-American employed by the US to investigate Nazi science — having found the ultimate weapon, he now hopes to make his fortune selling the blighters to the highest bidder.

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Barbara Wilkins’ balconette bra is the film’s strongest supporting player.

The bickering crew are eventually joined by another character, Omar the beatnik on his raft, a yammering chowderhead whose role is to delight us by dieing horribly, eaten alive from the inside out. Kosleck feeding him flesh eaters seems to anticipates Michael Fassbender’s entirely unmotivated poisoning of a crewmember in PROMETHEUS, while a guy who rides to the rescue on a speedboat only to immediately get his face eaten reminds me of Scatman Crothers abortive mercy mission in THE SHINING.

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The effects work is consistently ambitious and inventive. The most epic shot tries to suggest that the whole sea is glittering with the silvery worms, which it does simply by filming sunlight reflecting on the water’s surface. Not so much a special effect as an attempt at brainwashing, telling us that the commonplace sight we see is something else — Raul Ruiz would be proud of that. Landscape as bricolage. When Kosleck electrocutes the ocean as part of his crazy masterplan, we get one giant monster, the least satisfying thing in the film because obviously it has to be a Cormaneqsque monster costume, waving an action figure in its left tendril. But there’s one further insane flourish: to kill the thingy, stalwart Byron Sanders injects human blood into its eye, and Curtis films this action from INSIDE THE EYE.

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Blob-monster puppets inspire affectionate nostalgia rather than terror. But those scratches… those can really fuck you up, especially if you’re a film lover.

This is my first entry for the Film Preservation Blogathon, hosted initially at Ferdy on Film. Click the button below to read all about it and then donate.

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Citizens of Decasia

Posted in FILM with tags , , on February 17, 2010 by dcairns

Bill Morrison’s DECASIA is a wonderful thing, to me anyway — a kind of thaumaturgical travelogue of an unknown, unknowable kingdom, a melting world of nitrate decomposition. Morrison’s film, which belongs to that form which, perhaps fittingly, has no satisfactory name — call it avant-garde, experimental, non-narrative or abstract — and is composed of extracts from various silent-era films, both drama and documentary, which are in the advanced stages of decay.

Parts of DECASIA remind me of a strange, abstract nightmare I had recurrently as a child — some vast annihilating force was coming to destroy the world — it started at the top of our garden and rolled towards our house, engulfing or obliterating everything before it. But what was it? I woke in terror, but quite unable to identify the source of the fear.

Perhaps TIME? Perhaps these images fascinate because they are a photochemical analogue of our own eventual extinction?

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Intertitle of the Week: The Decalcomaniac

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2009 by dcairns

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This image comes from THE MESMERIST, a short film by Bill “DECASIA” Morrison, which takes a sequence from a silent film, THE BELLS, and isolates it, slowing it down to allow us to appreciate the terrifying beauty of the nitrate decomposition that’s eating the print alive. Imagine that white flicking and sparking all over the frame, while the image itself warps and billows as if projected on a sheet somebody’s pummeling from behind.

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Fortunately, better prints of THE BELLS exist, so I’ll be able to check out this early appearance by Boris Karloff as a Caligari-esque fairground hypnotist. It’s his first vaguely horror-movie role. I’m also interested because the film is based on a story by Erckman and Chatrian, whose work I researched when I was making my movie CLARIMONDE, which was based on a story by Hanns Heinz Ewers, but also drew on related work by Theophile Gautier and the writing team of E & C, who were a sort of conjoined latterday ETA Hoffman, only not so brilliant.

Morrison’s other film from THE BELLS is called LIGHT IS CALLING, and it’s even lovelier and more tragic.

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I was wondering what these images reminded me of — experimental films send my thoughts flitting about, whereas narrative works tether my brain to the unfolding events — and I thought of Max Ernst’s painting Europe After the Rain, a sort of apocalyptic vista of psychedelic distortion, created by a technique Ernst called decalcomania: you’ve probably used the approach at nursery school without hearing the big word. Simply paint one sheet of paper thickly with different hues, press another on top of it, then peel them apart, to create beautiful abstract patterns.

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And of course, that’s how Morrison’s work is created too. As the nitrate stock deteriorates, the surface turns to jam, and the whole reel gets gummed up. As the film is unspooled, the celluloid strips aways from itself, exactly like those sheets of paper when you were four, and with similar results. THE BELLS peeled.

The way the sepia tinting oozes like marmalade and assumes myriad hues made me think of a print by Turner of ships at sea that hung framed in our house when I was a kid, a golden mist through which shapes loomed in abstracted outline. Equally, I was reminded of Andres Serrano’s ludicrously controversial work, Piss Christ, in which an image of the Crucifixion glows dimly through obscuring golden clouds of urine.

I also thought of Ralph Steadman’s Paranoids, Polaroid images mutilated with a blunt instrument as the image is still developing, squashing and stretching facial features to turn likenesses into unlikenesses, actualité caricatures. I was never able to get that to work, although I did  have my Polaroid taken by a ghost once. Beat that, Steadman.

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