The Miners' Hymns
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Posted: Tue Feb 7 2012
Bill Morrison mines what already exists. The avant-garde filmmaker behind 2002's decay-of-celluloid meditation Decasia collects all of his visual materials from archives around the world and constructs ruminative works that, at best, enhance and expand our perceptions of the events captured in the found footage. This recent effort explores the history and legacy of the northeastern England mining community of Durham, and it's not among the director's finest achievements.
After a striking color prelude---an uninterrupted aerial shot over modern-day Durham, where supermarkets and stadiums stand in place of collieries---the film settles into a somnolent groove. There are some mesmerizing images of the soot-covered miners at work and of children at play on a coal-strewn seashore. But Morrison switches gears, relying on composer Jhann Jhannsson's deathly dirgelike score to do the thematic heavy lifting, paving the way for a facile pro-unionization finale that bizarrely plays like a raise-your-lighter stadium rock set piece.
Fortunately, Film Forum is screening several other Morrison works alongside his latest feature, including the shattering "The Film of Her" (1996), a sort of warm-up for Decasia about the discovery and preservation of the Library of Congress's Paper Print Collection. Even better is the spectacular "Release" (2010), a powerful examination of tabloid sensationalism consisting of a single pan (that Morrison repeats, mirrors and incrementally extends) across the exterior of a 1930s prison, where a crowd awaits the appearance of Al Capone. Both shorts are pointed and profound where Miners' is tiresome and scattershot; great talents, as this illuminating program shows, do not always produce great long-playing work.
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Author: Keith Uhlich