Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 19, 2021 9:57 pm 
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"An old Soviet film dredged up from the depths of the Atlantic serves as the departure point for this relatively shallow cine-essay from the director of 'Dawson City: Frozen Time.'"

So begins Peter Debruge'sVariety review of Bill Morrison's The Village Detective: a song cycle (2021)" In its visual quaintness, with an onrush of destroyed or damaged film verging at times on the unwatchable despite a hypnotic or soothing score, Morrison's film about a locally famous Soviet actor and various lost or obscure Russian films at times has a look reminiscent of the quirky Canadian, Guy Maddin. And it requires as much, or more, patience.

Morrison is known for celebrating fragments of decayed films, but Debruge says this film, a partial copy of the popular Soviet film Derevenskiy detektiv from 1969,a fairly uninteresting find, is "fool's gold" compared to the treasure of his earlier, more successful and interesting film-celebrated find of Dawson City: Frozen Time,where he had a fascinating cache of 35mm prints found in northern Canada that allowed for a rumination on the gone era of the Klondike and the gold rush. What is there to ruminate on here? Derevenskiy detektiv can be watched in undegraded form (at least in small segments) on YouTube. Morrison, however, loves the degraded look for itself.

The film Derevenskiy detektiv is about the search for a stolen accordion. There is a presumed parallel for Morrison in the found footage dredged up at the bottom of the ocean by an Icelandic fisherman. It's not a very interesting story, but Morrison focuses on the long career of the star, Soviet actor Mikhail Zharov, who acted in movies for something like seventy years; but Morrison sees him as forgotten and lost, like the reels of film buried at the bottom of the ocean.

This doesn't have much point in it, despite Morrison's finding clips of Zharov in several other films where he is playing a musical instrument, and getting David Lang, the composer, to create a score for his film for the accordion. The score helps link together elements of Morrison's film that are not very much connected. As Debruge says, the use of large onscreen texts as the narration has an effect that's "clunky," and despite the momentarily mesmerizing effect of seeing the flickering mystery of the degraded, silent found film from 1969 with its special added border - an effect that palls when you start to feel like the flickering might be more likely to cause brain damage than induce enlightenment, this ambitious effort doesn't finally add up to very much. And, by the way, there's no "song cycle." At least it's only an hour and twenty minutes.

The Village Detective: A Song Cycle, 81 mins., debuted at Moscow, also showed in festivals at Rotterdam, Melbourne, Telluride and Reykjavik. It opened in limited US release by Kino Lorber began Sept. 22, 2021. . No Metacritic rating yet, but three more enthusiastic views than mine or Peter Debruge's appear. Glenn Kenny in the New York Times called the film "strangely intoxicating," and Morrison a "cinematic investigator of the first stripe" and " the poet laureate of lost films." Los Angeles premiere at Los Feliz 3 Theatre Nov. 14.

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