Monday, July 20, 2015

Bill Morrison's short art work, BEYOND ZERO: 1914-1918, arrives on DVD from Icarus Films

I suspect that the strange and highly unusual work of artist Bill Morrison -- his films resemble nobody else's that I've ever seen -- is an acquired taste. The first film of his I recall viewing (Decasia, when it first hit video some years back) seemed so strange that I could only now and then connect to it. It was too much for me. Still, it stayed with me over time and in ways I didn't expect. It was his 2010 short film The Miners' Hymns that finally got me hooked. By the time his The Great Flood opened at NYC's IFC Center last year, I'd become a fan -- despite the hugely hypnotic quality embedded in his work that can sometimes have me drifting off to sleep.

Morrison, pictured at right, combines old decaying film stock with fairly ancient documentary footage, and then wraps around this both art and color, putting it all at last to splendid musical scores that move us most powerfully. His newest work to become available on video, BEYOND ZERO: 1914-1918, takes as its subject The 'Great' War, WWI, but as ever, Morrison's real subject goes far beyond this -- to time and decay and the human condition and, hell, a whole lot more. And he gives it to us in a style that is all his own: alternately moving, chilling, hypnotic and while sometimes confusing, always fascinating to view.

The images are seldom straight-forward. Here, using World War I footage, he overlays this with other images that force us to think -- maybe feel, too -- out of the box.

Repeat viewings, I should think, are almost required in order to get anything like full understanding and appreciation. With most motion pictures I would consider this a drawback, as the payoff is too paltry. Not with Morrison. Between the wonderful music (this time it's from Aleksandra Vrebalov and played by Kronos Quartet, shown above, as one of the visuals roll by) and the vivid, haunting images, there's plenty to ponder and digest.

Among the many jewels are two particular scenes I'll remember for a long while. In one, military men atop a tall building ready a canon to fire -- but where? Into their own city? Or are they the city's conquerors? Does it matter, given the decimation about to occur?

In the final episode, we become aware of a tiny parachute in the sky, slowly descending... to what fate? The music, first pulsating, pounding and then often dirge-like, here lifts into a kind of beauty that brought to my mind Benjamin Britten's War Requiem -- not in style but in achievement. And the visuals simply amaze and then haunt.

And yes, there were moments during the film's 40-minute running time that my eyes glazed over. But I suspect that when I watch this one again, it will be those moments that maybe stand out. As I say, concerning the work of Mr. Morrison, repeated viewings are required.

Beyond Zero: 1914-1918, from Icarus Films is available now on DVD.

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