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Bill Morrison

It would be a misnomer to define Bill Morrison strictly as a filmmaker interested in exhuming, recovering and redesigning aging and often extremely decayed films maudit. But with the international success of his 2002 feature, Decasia, and widely screened recent shorter works of astonishing beauty, including The Mesmerist (2003) and Light Is Calling (2004), Morrison is at the center of a fascinating contemporary conversation about the nature of celluloid preservation, and whether some films are better off being preserved but not restored. In two hearty local servings of Morrisoniana supplied, respectively, by REDCAT and Los Angeles Filmforum, the full range of his career work is considered, with both programs arranged chronologically. This is wise, because Morrison’s purposes and intentions have steadily evolved since early work such as Footprints and Photo Op (both made in 1992 for the Ridge Theatre company, the latter for Conrad Cummings’ opera of the same title), where a love of montage and sometimes-shocking juxtapositions (silent-film nudes vs. exploding atomic bombs) suggests the intersection of Bruce Conner and Dziga Vertov. A crucial work, The Film of Her (1996), thrust Morrison directly into the issues of rescuing films from oblivion, as it tells the true story of Library of Congress clerk Howard L. Walls’ efforts to save condemned film rolls in the library’s vaults. At the time, Morrison could have been perceived as a prime recruit in the growing cause of restoring old cinema, but his mission has become radically different: While the DVD business has propelled a renewed, worldwide drive to restore films back to something close to a pristine state, Morrison deliberately selects films whose very emulsion has devolved into a chemical ghost of its former self, and uncovers the beauty therein. Several of his recent films are printed on 35 mm, not only to better capture (in extreme slow motion) the near three-dimensionality of the phenomenon of watching an image melt before our eyes, but to ensure that the soundtrack, twice the width of 16 mm, carries the full sonic force of Morrison’s music selections, which range from Michael Gordon’s explosively churning orchestral pieces to Bill Frissell’s jazz-folk guitar acid trips. (REDCAT — Mon., March 5, 8 p.m. www.redcat.org; Los Angeles Filmforum at the Egyptian Theatre­ — Sun., March 11, 7 p.m. www.lafilmforum.org)


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