Bill Morrison: Compositions, Opens at Museum of Modern Art, New York

The physical decay of old 35mm film is at the heart of Bill Morrison’s filmmaking practice, salvaging and creating new narratives from found and archive footage while using this visible fragility of the film itself in order to reflect on the fragility of memory. He has also frequently collaborated with some of the most influential names in contemporary music to create another dimension to his work, including Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Adams and Laurie Anderson.

Fittingly then, live musical performances are a key part of the Museum of Modern Art’s Morrison retrospective this autumn, and jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, cellist Maya Beiser and trumpeter Dave Douglas, amongst others, will be performing their soundtracks at three special screenings. Bill Morrison: Compositions offers a wide-ranging view of his work featuring more than two dozen shorts and feature films. They include the groundbreaking Decasia (2002) which consists of fragments of decades-old silent film footage and decomposed nitrate film stock, sourced from multiple archives across the United States, including MoMA itself, with a haunting symphonic score by Michael Gordon. The film begins with the image of a whirling dervish, reels of film being developed, and an explosive cloud of smoke, followed by beautiful patterns of nitrate decay that replicate and reveal the emerging patterns of figures, landscapes, and other scenes that lie underneath.

The Great Flood (2013) is based on actual footage of the destructive Mississippi river flood of 1927 and the revitalization of African American music that evolved as black southerners migrated northward to escape its devastation. The flood levees broke in over 100 places and engulfed thousands of square miles of land, bringing about a great migration of people left homeless and jobless. Using documentary film footage, Morrison reveals how, despite the devastation, culture can be revitalised. Bill Frisell composed the score and will perform it live as part of a quartet at a screening on the closing night. Spark of Being (2010), a retelling of the Frankenstein story, will feature music by Douglas, while Beiser will perform live with a programme of short films, including Just Ancient Loops (2012) and All Vows (2013).

As a teaser for the exhibition, on 4 October, Morrison will take part in a live collaboration with experimental DJ, DJ Olive, under the title Bill Morrison: De-Compositions. Morrison will project a selection of clips from his archive, including previously unscreened sequences, in the Gund Lobby on two screens, while Olive will DJ a live soundtrack with the film selections.

Bill Morrison: Compositions, 14 October – 21 November. The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters, Museum Of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street, New York, NY 10019.

1. Spark of Being. (2010). USA. Directed by Bill Morrison. Courtesy of Bill Morrison

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