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Bill Morrison, USA. The Retrospective

Critics cannot draw a line between elements of cinema and theatre in films о Bill Morrison, separate the magic show from early cinema art. Filmmaker is almost an archeologist researching and recovering form Time fragments of old, created in various formats and often anonymous films, to juxtapose them in an artistic collage. At the Festival the best works will be screened.

Films for the theatre - Bill Morrison retrospective

The same synthetic quality should be also ascribed to the work of another Media Forum guest –Bill Morrison. His critics can never manage to draw a line between theatre and cinema components of his films, between the elements of magic show and early cinema art which is strongly influenced by a live auditorium. 

American audience knows Morrison first and foremost as the author of the Decasia music performance, available for the public at large on DVD. Its live premiere took place in Basel in 2001. In the Decasia as in his other works Bill Morrison conducts an actual archeological research recovering form the time the fragments of old, multiformat and often anonymous films and juxtaposing them in an art collage. 

At the American premiere the feature and documentary images of cowboys, factory workers, paratroopers and dancers were projected onto several screens, between which the viewers were seated. Behind these screens on three-story stands 55 musicians were hidden playing Michael Gordon’s  modernist symphony. This placement of the orchestra suggested an uneven movement of the sound in the hall answering the concept of the piece – its doubling and trebling themes created not even a  cacophony, but a rhythmical pattern of old cinemachinery at work. The dissonance of sounding notes formed a comment on the source video material used by Morrison.

The performative methods and forms used in this show give out the theatre roots of Bill Morrison’s work. Indeed, having graduated from the Cooper Union Art School, the young professional was ready to walk everywhere with a placard “Director. Experimentalist. I make strange non-narrative films” without any hope of being noticed. That’s why Morrison is still very grateful to have been adopted by the Ridge Theatre and given an opportunity to realize all his passionate dreams there. Close to him he found the people who understood his experiments and agreed that the the mixture of archive research, theatre scenography, avant-garde music and the cinematographic mode of material presentation is the best thing possible. 

The director is adamant that theatre is the most appropriate setting for his films and the only thing he is really interested in is the live and direct viewer’s empathy with actors and performers. And yes, the audience is the only real hero of his oeuvre.

The Film of Her Bill Morrison, USA, 1996 - 12`00``

Music by Bill Frisell and Henryk Gørecki. 

It is a story of memory and oblivion, a first -person narrative. A clerk from the Library of Congress is infinitely infatuated with cinema and passes his work days in finding, restoring and printing out film materials form the library's archives. He even gets a promotion for this. Like Bill Morrison himself, his character saves the past of the cinema from destruction and neglect of his contemporaries. When the Second World War starts the clerk's task is changes and nobody cares anymore for restoration of old reels, only for servicing the trophy films. After the battles are over and the victory won, society becomes once more interested in the early films and the value of cine-archeological work is generally recognized. But at the Oscars when the award for the hero's work is given nobody remembers him, the Library employee who had actually found and saved the old reels. 

Footprints Bill Morrison, USA, 1992 - 6`00``

Music by Jim Farmer 

In Footprints the history of cinema is compared to the constant changes in human concepts of the world in the 20th century. The film is based on a live performance in the Ridge Theatre where Morrison works. Music written by Jim Farmer which compliments the action is built around the famous Caravan theme by Duke Ellington. 

Light Is Calling Bill Morrison, USA, 2004 - 8`00`` 

An officer rides through deep forest and sees a mysterious woman with long braided hair -in Light Is Calling Morrison has also restored the old half-decayed black-and-white reels and these have contributed towards the setting of a romantic story on the nature of love. It is about this film that he has made the important observation:t blemishes and destroyed fragments always become  the foreground of a new work and compose the main plot. The other characters - the officer, the stranger -are secondary and thus hidden behind the mystical scenery of the decomposing and corroded film.

The Mesmerist Bill Morrison, USA,  2003 - 16`00``

At a funfair a mesmerist proposes to make one of the audience fall into a magical trance to learn the secrets of his past. From the whole crowd only one man agrees - a hotel owner. When the mesmerist hypnotizes this volunteer, the man confesses to a murder. Many years ago he has killed one of his guests, a Polish Jew, for the gold in his money belt. The artistic effect of this simple plot is based completely on the quality of the old, half-decayed film that is Morrison's favorite medium. The fragments used have various integrity - the scenes of the séance and pictures of the crowd are highly damaged and become blurred on screen as in a surreal delirium or a dream, while the character's flashbacks are clear and bright as if they came intact from the clutches of time. 

The Highwater Trilogy Bill Morrison, USA, 2006 - 31`00``

Accompanied with symphonic music by David Lang and Michael Gordon, the director collects views of the wild water element. They give a documented proof of the fragility and uncertainty of this world based on an inauspicious weather report. Icebergs, hurricanes, all kinds of calamities and catastrophes threaten people of New Jersey, Newfoundland; French Bordeaux and English Lancashire, the banks of Mississippi and the shores of the Atlantic. The documentary reports from the beginning of 1920's create an image of limitless and fierce power of water over land. 

Outerborough Bill Morrison, USA,   2005 - 9`00`` 

To make Outerborough Bill Morrison used material filmed in 1899 in Brooklyn. On the restored film a ghost tram from the distant past rides over the city bridge...The lines of the Brooklyn bridge multiply and become dissolved in the history of a passing 19th century. It's a silent film and everything happens in complete silence, though at some screenings the movie is accompanied by live music played by a cello and a violin.