Damaged Good: “Spark of Being” at SIFF

It’s alive! Experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison, known in the art world for his collage film Decasia, stitches together a patchwork of old nitrate films in Spark of Being, a 2010 homage to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Each sequence in the 68-minute trip of a movie is announced via title card, as in the silent movie era. It’s said to be a fairly faithful recreation of Frankenstein’s flow, but I was unfamiliar with the original and managed to figure it out anyway.

“The Creature in Society,” in particular, was a long, spooky look at a crowd of somber faces, who peered back dispassionately at the camera—a thing perhaps no more familiar or comforting in the early 20th century than a monster. Brief and chilling, it was one of my favorite segments.

The opening scene involved “The Doctor’s Journey,” here interpreted through tattered film of a ship navigating glaciers and breaking through icepack. Filmed in black and white, the black water sloshes against the jutting monoliths to the syncopated rhythms of composer Dave Douglas’s score.

Douglas’s sound is highly experimental itself, and sometimes the electronic bleeps and the high cacophony seemed to distract from the decaying filmstrips fading in and out. Other times it was a dazzling combination. Burnt, blasted shards of glass and splatters of reddish paint seemed to vibrate over the screen for long minutes, resembling the photographic abstractions of Wolfgang Tillmans.

Once or twice, I wanted to shout “Woo!” as if I were watching a live electronic musician and accompanying VJ at a moment when the music and visuals line up just right. This got me thinking: Decibel might do well to get a tentacle into SIFF next year. (Last September, hundreds of attendees packed into Benaroya Hall to watch audiovisual meditations just as, if not more, experimental and intriguing).