An excerpt from the booklet essay by Peter Walsh

In a career stretching over four decades, Bill Morrison’s work has established him as a pre-eminent visual artist working with the moving image. Described variously as an avant-gardist, an experimental filmmaker, an innovative documentarian, and perhaps most lyrically as the ‘cine-poet laureate of orphan films’ by Dan Streible, Morrison’s work has repeatedly broken new ground and established new precedents for how artists can engage with the materiality of archived film collections. Through two quite colossal film projects, Decasia (2002) and Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016) Morrison has, in the cineaste’s eye, become established as the archivist’s filmmaker of choice. Through his assemblages he has helped recover numerous reels of near extinguished nitrate film and dragged them back in front of the arc lamp to be reframed, not as ‘spoiled’ footage but rather as objects whose materiality we must confront. The dazzle of shimmering decayed material, merged with intricate and somehow intimate scores, interwoven with jaw-dropping context and history has made Decasia and Dawson City break-out successes first on the festival circuit, and later on limited art-house release.

Being Morrison’s first feature length work since Dawson City, The Village Detective: A Song Cycle is from the start playful, and ironically subverts the viewer’s appetite and expectation for amazing rediscovery. Taking many of the themes and creative approaches he cemented in Decasia and Dawson City, Morrison recasts them for a film whose material and inherent narrative is neither grand nor cathartic. The story which emerges is of an accordion, a popular Soviet folk-hero, and a uniquely ‘sunken’ film print that was dredged up from the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. If Decasia emerges from the tradition of experimental filmmaking, and Dawson City stands as a form of imaginative, almost oneiric documentary filmmaking, The Village Detective echoes both while also incorporating modes of referencing popular in contemporary video essay films, and in particular its ability to intercut filmic source material into an active dialogue within a film, or indeed an individual’s own history in that medium. What emerges is a uniquely personal piece of filmmaking that uses a storied and, at times, mysterious film print to draw the viewer into a wider and more complex project.

The story of the ‘sunken’ print is the backbone of The Village Detective: A Song Cycle, and the film opens and closes with underwater footage of green waters, hinting at the depths from whence this story will emerge. Later sequences will show canisters of film being plunged into this backdrop, a rare instance of Morrison recreating a key moment onscreen, as if to show the filmic scene of the crime, as the reels nonchalantly dumped overboard become the seed from which this new film is born. Yet as compelling as this mysterious act is in establishing a level of intrigue, we come, over the arc of Morrison’s on-screen investigation to realise that, on some level, these reels are, to borrow Dan Streible’s term, an ‘avant-gardist’s MacGuffin’, which is not to say the reels don’t carry value and significance in their own right, but rather their value lies, in large part, in helping to establish an investigative route for Morrison to dive into the story of Mikhail Zharov, and his place in the popular Soviet imagination.

Peter Walsh's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.

Disc Info

USA / 2021
The Village Detective:   
81 minutes
Special features: 112 mins
Sound: 2.0 Stereo /
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Colour / Black and white
Original aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Language: English, Russian
Subtitles: English

Blu-ray: BD50 / 1080 / 24fps
Region ABC (Region Free)

Blu-Ray: £19.99
Release Date: 26 February 2024



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