Bill Morrison’s Light Is Calling (2004) opens the prestigious 2013 Orphans Midwest Film Symposium at Indiana University, setting an avant-garde tone for the event.
Morrison’s credentials as a experimental filmmaker are considerable, having received widespread critical recognition for the feature Decasia (2002). Morrison’s collages are composed and juxtaposed to music, often by his frequent collaborator composer, Michael Gordon. This technique, combined with Morrison’s obsessive use of decaying silent film and newsreel footage, makes him one of the most startling, original homegrown artists since New Englander Charles “take your dissonance like a man” Ives. Comparing this twenty first century filmmaker to an early twentieth century composer is not as fanciful as might be first imagined, since inherent musicality abides in both, as does a shared aesthetic of deconstructionist Americana.
Light Is Calling will be shown Thursday night at 830 pm. It is part of an evening of film and music, which will include Just Ancient Loops (2012) and the world premiere of Morrison’s All Vows (2013). Israeli American cellist and Bang On A Can founding member Maya Beiser will supply live musical accompaniment. (Beiser’s reputation for collaborating with composers such as Louis Andriessen, Steve Reich, and Brian Eno may prove to be refreshing in a city whose symphony rarely defines progressive art-music beyond the nineteenth century).
Light is Calling, like many of Morrison’s films, follows an existential arc witnessed through layer after layer of resplendently cruel textures produced by severely decomposing nitrate film stock. Here, Morrison uses footage from The Bells (1926), focusing on stars Lola Todd and Edward Phillips. Slithering through the visceral sepia gangrene is the haunting fragility of love, life and, ultimately, meaning. Once fully fleshed, figures become as fragmented and as meaningful as the simple images of riders we find in a late Gauguin canvas. Through the cinematic milieu, accompanied by Gordon’s shimmering, haunted music, Morrison demands more than the lack of attention one might succumb to while whisking through an art gallery; he takes us deeper than the surface paint, to the very texture of the burlap canvas.
Just Ancient Loops breaks down into three sequences: Genesis, Chorale, and Ascension. It is a collaborative work between composer Michael Harrison, soloist Beiser, and Morrison. Nineteenth century symphonist Anton Bruckner described Harrison’s work as “boundlessly expansive.” The Harrison/Beiser opus, “Time Loops,” constructs a homogenous, Brucknerian cathedral. The artists’ refreshing consistency of purpose embraces the transient station of a paradisaical hour. From a solar eclipse to consummating cells, and the expulsion from paradise, the three artists dance with their putrefied avatars: hand tinted witnesses to the resurrection and ascension.