A Song Cycle ‘Review – The Hollywood Reporter
In 2016, filmmaker Bill Morrison received a tip about a local event from Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson: Off the coast of Iceland, four rolls of 35mm film had been pulled up from the seabed in a shrimp fisher’s net. lobster. Archives have long been the specialty of Morrison, who has aimed to “reposition” through pioneering victories such as Decasia, Spark of Being and Dawson City: Freezing Hour, all of which are built from old films in various states of decomposition.
The rolls of film lying under the Atlantic turned out not to be the remains of a rare, lost film – Morrison’s usual raw material – but part of a pre-printed version of an existing mainstream comedy by Morrison. Soviet Union. Released in 1969, Derevenskiy Detektiv (Village detective) played Russian actor Mikhail Zharov at a point in his long career where he pleased audiences rather than critics. Decades later, it still appears on Russian broadcast schedules.
The Village Detective: A Song Cycle
Bullshit than Morrison’s usual work, but still moved by mystery.
Unboxed and covered in mud, partial print of Village detective has been damaged by water but is largely preserved by volcanic gases around the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. With a pulsating universe of cracks, fissures and scratches, sea grit creating a sepia effect, the film itself gives Morrison the opportunity to explore the play of texture, light and melt decay, the terrain was familiar to him.
But it’s also the starting point for the director to research Zharov, whose popularity is on par with Bogart and Gable, according to a Russian film curator interviewed for The Village Detective: A Song Cycle. The crisp color footage of interviews today is a shock at first, and certainly a departure from Morrison’s usual regime. As far as we know, Zharov was the first to sing in Russian on film, had a steady stream of supporting roles during the silent film era, and went on to play many comic and iconic works.
In Derevenskiy Detektiv, Zharov portrays district police officer Aniskin, a role he would reprise twice, including in his last film, in 1978. The plot revolves around a small, criminal investigation in The plan of things but important to the small town setting: A big city musician’s accordion has been stolen. The scenes between Zharov’s policeman and the accordionist (Roman Tkachuk) are faded and not easy to read; when surface damage disrupts the visuals, it further pushes the characters apart, adding an extra layer of intrigue to the story.
That contemporary super aesthetic aside, Derevenskiy Detektiv itself offers a bit of Soviet ideology. After noting that art “belongs to the people”, the musician reminded Aniskin that the “mass accessibility” of cinema is unparalleled, but that it is music, above all art forms, ” help us build and work.” Zharov’s life coincides with the time frame of the 20th century itself (he died in 1981 at age 82) and with the existence of the Soviet Union, and Morrison offers glimpses of social realism Stalinism and the lingering effects of political orthodoxy – on a country, a film industry and Zharov himself.
The plot of the 50-year-old film serves as a loose hinge for the roughly three dozen films that Morrison cites. Zharov’s films range from obscure to epic (by Eisenstein Ivan the Terrible). Among the most tantalizing artefacts here are surviving excerpts from a lost film, the 1917 American film. The Fall of the Romanoffs, based on accounts of Iliodor, Rasputin’s arch rival, who played himself in the film. Aside from the haunting weirdness of that New Jersey shoot, Village detective Note that reenactments of history can and have become part of the historical record.
The “song cycle” part of Morrison’s film is David Lang’s music which, fittingly, features a lamentable accordion. The melancholy drone is starting to feel like an expression of discontent, a signal perhaps of an unsatisfied mission to the filmmaker and audience.
But if the film doesn’t approach the conveying effect or deep resonance of Morrison’s previous work, the question of cinematic ghosts is nonetheless peculiar. The composer brought the Icelandic fisherman’s discovery to Morrison’s attention in 2016, Johannsson (Sicario, Come), died at the age of 48 two years later, while Morrison was still working Village detective. In images of the actor Zharov’s remarkable transformation over the decades and his aging merely death, the mortality issues evident throughout the film are uneven.
Morrison asks us to look at life’s work – specifically what it means to live on film – but also asks broader questions: what we’ve left behind, what’s been lost, and what’s gone. What may or may not be dredged from the seabed.