The Great Flood
The Mississippi River Flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in American history. In the spring of 1927, the river broke out of its earthen embankments in 145 places and inundated 27,000 square miles. Part of its legacy was the forced exodus of displaced sharecroppers, who left plantation life and migrated to Northern cities, adapting to an industrial society with its own set of challenges. Musically, the Great Migration fueled the evolution of acoustic blues to electric blues bands that thrived in cities like Memphis, Detroit and Chicago, becoming the wellspring for R&B and rock as well as developing jazz styles. THE GREAT FLOOD is a collaboration between filmmaker and multimedia artist Bill Morrison and guitarist and composer Bill Frisell, inspired by the 1927 catastrophe.
Coming to Terms With One of America’s Greatest Natural Disasters
Documentary filmmaker Bill Morrison plunges us into the Great Flood of 1927
By Jeff MacGregor
"The movie on its own is great, but with this music it's sublime."
If there were still such things as record stores the music of Bill Frisell would be filed under jazz. This isn’t entirely accurate, even with jazz’s highly elastic definition, as Frisell – a guitarist and composer – is one of those musicians whose work blurs all lines and leaps across all genres. His catalogue includes small combo improv jams, forays into elaborate “world music” with esoteric instrumentation, aggressive rock explorations featuring feedback and digital delay, and complex, sometimes atonal compositions. He also has an “Americana” streak as wide as the great outdoors, using his inimitable voicing to glide through consonant, oftentimes melancholy melodies that sound as if you’ve known them your entire life.
I’ve always felt that this aspect of his work was, to use a phrase as ambiguous as jazz, “cinematic.” Sometimes, when I’ve walked around listening to albums like 1998′s “Gone, Just Like A Train,” 2002′s “The Willies” or 2009′s “Disfarmer” on my headphones, I’ve constructed elaborate fantasies in my head like I’ve become the head of a major studio and I’ve got a major film director begging me to greenlight his movie and I say, from behind a cloud of cigar smoke, “you can make the picture on one condition, a wall-to-wall original score by Bill Frisell.”
Well, “The Great Flood” isn’t quite a big budget bonanza, but it might actually be more appropriate. Commissioned by a coalition of arts organizations, director Bill Morrison has assembled over 80 minutes of startling found footage pertaining to the devastating Mississippi floods of 1927. This event displaced roughly a million people and had a major impact on American society. (You know all this, because Randy Newman wrote a song about it.) Separated into chapters (which become movements in Frisell’s symphony) we witness hardship, devastation, strategy, evacuation and rebirth. Working to the movie’s benefit is the decomposing nature of the surviving film stock. The corrupted nitrates and crackled frames lend an otherworldly air that ought to remind well-versed cinephiles of Stan Brakhage. Indeed, Morrison’s best known previous work, “Decasia,” is a found footage collage old, “damaged” films. (YouTube clips abound and they are far out.)
The visual aspect is 49% of the show at best. Morrison wisely cuts to the original score, which presents Frisell in peak form. With Frisell upfront on electric guitar, Ron Miles on trumpet, Kenny Wollesen on percussion and Tony Scherr on bass you get a nice taste from different plates. There’s the blazin’ Frisell, the peppy Frisell (this to images of the Sears Robuck catalogue and a tongue-in-cheek montage of visiting politicians) and, most importantly, the break-your-heart-into-a-thousand-pieces Frisell who can take a golden chord progression and ride it through with an articulate unpredictability unmatched by just about any other musician today. Put the two pieces together, you have a rich and emotional experience that takes images otherwise lost to history and gives them the breath of life.
The movie on its own would have been nice, but with this music, it’s sublime. If you can make it without sobbing through the “Migration” sequence which leads into a quiet version of “Old Man River” you are a stonier individual than I.
SCORE: 9.0 / 10
The film is playing this week (Jan 8 – 15) at the IFC Center in New York. It then travels to Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC and, hopefully, the art house and/or museum space near you. Icarus Films will be handling the eventual home video release. Original article HERE
A collaboration between Bill Morrison, the avant-garde archaeologist of lost and often fortuitously decayed film, and Bill Frisell, one of the galaxy’s most exciting instrumentalists and composers. Together they do what mankind has always done – they tell a story they heard from their elders about something terrible that happened, in this case the 1927 Louisiana flood. I don’t know if this is documentary or non-narrative experiment or a prolonged music video for people of peculiar taste. All I know is that it is gorgeous and haunting and altogether human and important. The biggest question is why there aren’t more movies like it? I’ve seen the film three times – twice on DVD and once “live” with Frisell and his band performing the score as the picture was projected behind them at the Museum of Modern Art. In my film.com review from January 9th I was so bowled over by the music that I hardly wrote about the film. The images Morrison selected are so harrowing (and, occasionally, funny) that it seems almost inappropriate that they play against such a gorgeous score. The Great Flood is a benediction back through history and you owe it to past generations – and yourself – to pay attention. Original article HERE