‘The Village Detective’ decays into the avant-garde

“It was probably inevitable, baked into the chemical essence of film, that the medium’s own ephemerality would become a metaphor for time, aging, and death. Filmed images outlive the people in them, but time’s army eventually catches up, and what we’d long thought was immortal confronts the laws of decomposition just as we do. Movie images are ghosts, but eventually the ghosts themselves begin to rot away. It may’ve been because cinema was finally a century old, or due to a leveling-up in the world of film preservation, but it was in the ’90s when artists began recycling old film not for its subject but for its nitrate collapse. Emerging around the same time as Dutch archivist Peter Delpeut, Bill Morrison quickly became this domain’s archdruid; soon, he was, and still is, America’s most viewed and most distributed avant-garde filmmaker. A primary ingredient to a Morrison experience is the dramatic invasion of an old film scene’s flicker-fusion integrity by the roiling swamp of chemical decay that defies the frame’s edges and churns of its own menacing accord. We’re very aware that we’re watching the process of oblivion happen before our eyes. Morrison himself started out using this visual drama for strictly suggestive, lyrical ends, but lately he’s toggled toward a purely historical interest in archivable footage, like a poet who becomes obsessed by etymology. Like Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016), Morrison’s new feature The Village Detective: a song cycle is essentially a straight documentary, one that begins with the discovery of unearthed celluloid — in this case, Russian film cans dredged up in fishermen’s nets off the coast of Iceland. The find was not, as an ardent film geek would hope, a long-pursued “lost film” or anything rare, but a never-missed copy of a 1969 proletariat farce, The Village Detective, which was hugely popular in its day and has never been unavailable in Russia. … Never mind — for Morrison, every smushy slippage is a cause for contemplation. His investigation into the film becomes a look at its star, Mikhail Zharov, who is more or less unknown to Western viewers but whose 63-year career began in 1915 and ran like an artery through almost the entirety of Soviet history.  …”
senses of cinema – Sunken Film: Bill Morrison Talks The Village Detective: a song cycle
Variety – ‘The Village Detective: A Song Cycle’ Review: Bill Morrison Finds Fresh Angles on a Half-Forgotten Mystery
W – Village Detective
YouTube: The Village Detective: a song cycle – Official Trailer

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