It’s fitting that Bill Morrison named his production company Hypnotic Pictures, because Decasia (Morrison, 2002) must be one of the most soporifically soothing films in existence. It’s mesmerizing ambiance derives from apparently random sections of celluloid in various states of decay.
But Decasia isn’t a lament to the frailty of celluloid. Rather, it celebrates its medium, becoming a perfect example of the Louis Kahn philosophy. It takes the inevitable negatives of its form and makes them the focal point; a metamorphosis in which flaws are reborn as the apogees of this art.
In Morrison’s film, we see the medium and the process by which the visuals have been created; the celluloid is elevated from a tool with which to capture art, to art in itself. And consequently, Decasia becomes a meditation on the beauty of transience, in which decay and mortality can be beautiful in their own right.
The mortality of analogue film and its effect on audiences is something that I’ve considered before. I speculated then that analogue enthusiasts find digital technology unsettling, because of its perceived immortality and consequent lack of history. Whereas adherents to the new digital technology find comfort against their own fears of ageing and mortality in its apparent timelessness.
The idea that the popularity of digital technology is in part due to its sense of permanence links to the concepts of patternicity and agenticity and the belief in a higher power as a way to achieve a type of eternal life.
Decasia seems to reject the idea that a mortal life is of lesser value than an everlasting one. And by celebrating the unexpected results of the random process of decay, it also suggests that randomness, and even chaos, are not things to be feared, but instead are to be embraced; a clear call to celebrate mortality and the transience of life.
And yet… how did I watch Decasia? Digitally. There’s little chance that I’d ever have been able to see it in its analogue form. Now partly this is because I’d struggle to find a analogue projector, which could be seen as a consequence of the rise of digital. But more importantly the film itself, in its original form, is surely too delicate to survive repeated projection. Perhaps it could be scanned and reprinted to fresh celluloid, but is that missing the point?
So, does watching Decasia via digital technology make its arguments invalid? I don’t think that it does. If anything, the inevitable use of digital reflects the imperfection of the world that Decasia presents, because the ideal world in which audiences could see it in its original from doesn’t exist (and never has).
Moreover, people have always yearned to live on after their death; even the most basic biological urge to have children is a reflection of this. This desire for a type of immortality will never leave us, and denying that is foolish. But we can attempt to develop a greater acceptance of our own decay, both individually and collectively, and strive see the beauty in it.
Hypnotic Pictures, Bill Morrison Film, Available from: http://billmorrisonfilm.com/ [Accessed on 14 January 2016]
Morrison, B. (2002) Decasia, Hypnotic Pictures
“Decasia” Trailer, YouTube, Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDa-mmSldDg [Accessed on 14 January 2016]