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Worst Movie ever? (At least physically)

In one respect, yes. I saw Decasia over the weekend at Facets uptown.

It’s kind of a “found film” project, compiled from film archives across the world, of old, unstable nitrate film in various stages of decomposition. It s indeed a little disturbing to watch. We see the images of people, sometimes barely discernible amid a swarm of flaked off emulsion, bubbles in the film itself, or images “solarizing” from an unstable fixed image. The scenes most commented on by critics has been one in which two boxers are sparring, but one of them is completely obliterated by a column of black streaks, leaving his partner to appear to be trying to hold back oblivion itself. Another scene shot at an amusement park shows a swirling miasma of emulsion on the left side of a frame, from which the cars of a whirlygig ride materialize. Given the premise of the movie, many less startling scenes take on an air of urgency. The film’s subjects, who had done nothing more than walk in front of a movie camera years ago, now appear to be holding on to the last remnants of their souls. Even though these people likely died years ago, the film seems to represent the only trace of existence, now in danger of fading into oblivion. But again, this is due to director Bill Morrison’s choices in presenting and editing the film; most of the subjects went on to live their lives without concern for the film they were. Heck, some of them may even be still alive.

Only problem in seeing the film is that it was produced as a backdrop for contemporary dissonant musical piece by Michael Gordon, kind of a Philip Glass wannabe. That kind of work is best heard in shorter pieces, and not always sober.

Still, I’ll willing to be confounded, challenged or frustrated by a movie. Just don’t insult me for forking over my money to see it.

In the years since I wrote about this movie, it’s been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, in December 2013.

Once a larger list of the silent-era performers came around, I also discovered that one of the characters fighting off the ravages of time was an actor named Marc McDermott. I’ve been aware of him for a long time, but have not been able to track down many of his appearances.

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