Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mikhail Zharov (archive footage)
Written by: Bill Morrison
Directed by: Bill Morrison
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 81
Date: 11/23/2021

The Village Detective: A Song Cycle (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Keeping It Reel

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Filmmaker Bill Morrison must have been thrilled when the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson emailed him about four reels of film that wound up in an Icelandic trawler's fishing net, rescued from the bottom of the sea. Unlike Morrison's last film, Dawson City: Frozen Time, about many cans of film discovered under the Yukon ice, this one turns out to be quite unimportant. It's a 1969 comedy called Derevenskiy detektiv starring Mikhail Zharov, about a detective who tries to find a stolen accordion. It was loathed by critics and cinephiles, but was a box office hit, inspiring several sequels. The film is easily available in its intact form. I suppose it's similar to finding four reels of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. But Morrison is still fascinated by something. His mesmerizing 2002 Decasia was a collage of damaged films, and the weird patters of erosion playing over the top of, and playing havoc with, the original images created new forms of visual poetry. Morrison does that again here, letting the four reels play through in their eroded state, providing some context with clips of Zharov's other films, a bit of biography, and just a little commentary. The result is both touching and a little mystifying, as if, at the end of it all, Morrison still wasn't quite sure what he wanted to say. Kino Lorber released it on a spiffy Blu-ray edition, including three recent short films by Morrison, and two audio mixes (2.0 and 5.1).

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