At times it feels like I’m so busy trying to read about the entire universe of my new film studies course, I seem to have little time to devote to other pursuits. Such as music. Or this blog. I’m definitely feeling like some of the posts from the past couple of weeks have been of a bit of a smash and grab, guerrilla format. Heavy on links but not so much on insight. I will at least try to change that over the next couple of weeks.
But at least i can still fire this weeks film post up. For this week’s edition of the Sunday Cult Film Corner I’m looking over to the world of Neue Deutsche Welle, industrial landscapes, the inspiration of Burroughs and mind control though music. Ladies and Gentlemen i give to you, DECODER.
DECODER was made in 1984, the same year that ‘Neuronancer,’ William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel was published, and was directed by a person known only as Muscha (Who has only two directing stints to their credit). The plot itself is easy enough to follow. A noise freak and sound engineer (played by FM Einheit, also known as Mufti from the bands Einstürzende Neubauten and KMFDM) finds out that the local burger chain, H-Burger is brainwashing its clientele with the use of background muzak containing mind controlling subliminal messages. the noise freak realises that if he replaces the muzak with industrial noise then it causes the customer to riot in response. Leading a band of techno pirates, the sound engineer tries to deprogram the chain’s customers and incite a revolution, while the government’s hunter agents (Played by Bill rice, a veteran of the NYC underground film scene) tried to crush opposition descent.
DECODER, In displaying the breakdown of western society, shares similarities to films such as Derek Jarman’s ‘Jubilee.’ But while that film is steeped in punk rock and the stench of English decay, DECODER is definitely of a film of Eurocentric influence, with many of its signifiers coming from the 2nd wave scenes of industrial music. Many of the main players were involved in the film with bands such as Soft Cell, Psychic TV, Einstürzende Neubauten, and The The contributing to the soundtrack. Meanwhile Genesis P-Orridge and Christiane F appear in the film with painfully stilted performances. Even old William Burroughs, gets involved with a cameo part as a electronics repairman (We also hear his recorded voice drift in and out of the proceedings on occasion).
The film’s environment echoes the “industrial” soundscapes invoked by the music of the scene. The film depicts a near future Germany. Numerous shots of high-rise brutalist tower blocks, and rubble strewn wasteland rubbing shoulders neon soaked inner city decrepitude. Everything and everyone is awash in a cold blue or blood-red colour rinse, highlighting everyone’s ennui. Everyone is over-saturated with the detritus of modern mass media from TV screens churning out images of modern societal collapse, to huge banks of electronic hardware and tape decks.
As a film DECODER has dated rather badly, mostly due to the rather rudimentary cinematography, set design, and poor acting across the board. Also it doesn’t seem to work, either as a straightforward narrative based film, or as an out-there piece of experimental film, instead falling somewhere into a muddled middle ground that doesn’t feel comfortable with itself.
But while the film itself feels clunky and xxx, the message and themes of DECODER are still relevant. Much of the film centres around the work of Burroughs, namely his ideas on authority and control. Indeed certain aspects of the film come straight from Burrough’s book “The Electronic Revolution” that talks about how non-written communication, such as sound and language as viruses that could control minds. The essay also talks about the use of the human voice as a weapon and how people can use the cut-up technique and tape recorders to forment unrest (pretty much a how-to manual for the entire industrial music scene). The idea of information and control in DECODER seem eerily prescient today’s cyber warfare battleground as we fight over privacy, internet freedom and net neutrality. “Information is like a bank. Some of us are rich. Some of us are poor. All of us can be rich. your job is to rob the bank.” demand’s Genesis P-Orridge’s cyberpriest.
DEOCODER is in some way a documentation of the music, ideas and people from the industrial scene of the ’80s all of whom were heavily influenced by Burroughs