Silent newsreel footage played at a handful of frames per second, beginning with Il Duce’s death. Unfortunately I am not someone well-versed in history who says “ah it’s that famous footage I know so well of the notorious event at the end of Il Duce’s life,” but rather I am someone who has to wikipedia who Il Duce was… ah, it’s Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy for twenty years. The movie then flashes back to footage from early in his reign and carries on forward.

It’s silent for the first ten minutes, then gentle glimmering drone music kicks in as Duce stands at some kind of parade or rally, looking like the fourth Stooge. Closeups of the Great Man get intensely slowed down, while crowd shots of darker-skinned people run at almost full speed.

Segment 3 in Tripoli features a Florence Foster Jenkins song about modern Europe letting refugees die. 100,000 Libyans were shot in the 1920’s? Italy carried out a North African genocide by raining poison gas from planes? Someone needs to look into this. The movie is doing some sort of Ken Jacobs thing, hypnotizing the viewer with archive footage (I fell asleep at least once and had to rewind). “Barbaric Land” was a phrase used about Ethiopia when Italy was colonizing.

The evil dictator… the fascist system… the normal people who carried out orders to exterminate thousands, photos of them smiling casually next to their planes loaded with poison gas, and period pictures of Africans representing the victims… a photo slideshow, the pictures handheld by gloved fingers, trembling in front of the camera.

Nuclear war was in the air this month, so I double-featured two hour-long films.


Atomic (2015, Mark Cousins)

A bunch of period footage cut with no sense of rhythm… not sure what this adds to the conversation. It’s not fair that Cousins gets to use and manipulate the music of Mogwai, instead of vice versa. It’s diverting, at least.


The Bomb (2016, Kevin Ford & Smriti Keshari)

Started out so promising… scientific documents expertly composited over footage that was mostly unique from the other movie. Then it devolves into mumford-scored bomb montages with a long segment from that old standby Duck & Cover, ending up on the surface of the sun, just like the other movie. If we could’ve taken the first half of this movie and scored it with Mogwai, then we’d really have something.

Slow-motion stock footage and photographs of miners and their mines, with slow-motion color helicopter shots of their present-day locations, accompanied by slow-motion music. The movie doesn’t tell a conventional story, allowing you to apply your own knowledge and bias to the visuals. In my case what came to mind was Harlan County USA, Ace in the Hole and every Freakwater song (plus some Mekons/Freakons, Johnny Miner). Anyway, nothing hopeful or positive. The helicopter shots seem to back this up, showing these sites erased by history, covered up with parking lots, shopping centers and housing developments, unmourned. But it ends on a happy note, a massive parade of Durham-area miners marching into a cathedral.

Since each is under an hour, you could easily double-feature this with Coal Money, or maybe more appropriately, Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind.

After “A Bill Morrison film” it says “A Michael Gordon symphony”, assigning auteur credit separately over the soundtrack, a rare thing. I didn’t love the symphony, though – an undertone even more monotonous than Philip Glass with bombs-falling string-sliding atop it. I enjoyed the bit where percussion chattering along with the background rhythm sounded like an old TV news theme song. But next time I’ll just listen to a Pinback album instead.

Visuals are exciting, though – Fragments of narrative films (and science films and home movies and other weirdness) gone Brakhage (or less generously, gone Begotten) through decay, slowed down so we can appreciate the distinct frame-by-frame damage.

I don’t understand what property of film decay causes the picture to go negative, bright whites turning black while the rest of the picture looks unaffected, but I’ve never much understood the chemical side of film anyway. Elsewhere, scenes are obscured by dark blots, sunken under oily water and giant amoebas, or just torn to shreds.

Forget the Great American Scream Machine – this is the most terrifying carnival ride. Each car emerges from a burbling time/space warp on left side of the frame, to circle around and go back inside. At the end of the ride, whoever’s left inside the reality-warp is doomed to spend the rest of their days in a hellish alternate dimension.

Second best part here, a boxer fighting an amorphous column of decay