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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Decoder, a film by Jürgen Muschalek

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The Burroughs Centenary approaches, and this month sees the 30th anniversary of this Burroughs-related item. Decoder is a low-budget feature film from 1984 written by Klaus Maeck, and directed by Jürgen Muschalek (aka Muscha). Despite the constraints of budget and casting—many of the actors are amateurs—Decoder is truer to the techno-anarchist strand of Burroughs’ fiction than anything attempted before or since, and it’s arguably truer to the spirit of his works as a whole than David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch.

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Decoder was shot in Berlin during its grim post-punk years when the city was still an isolated Cold War outpost riven by riots, some of which are seen here. The narrative concerns attempts by FM (played by FM Einheit from Einstürzende Neubauten) to combat the insidious effects of muzak in shops and restaurants using home-made electronics. William Burroughs makes a couple of brief appearances as the “Old Man” with a shop full of electronic components. Among the rest of the cast there’s Christiane Felscherinow in a room filled with frogs, and Genesis P-Orridge (in Psychic TV gear) as the head of an underground pirate cult. Original music is provided by Dave Ball (from Soft Cell) and FM Einheit. The complete score is very good, featuring additional tracks by Soft Cell, Einstürzende Neubauten and Matt Johnson. Watched today, the narrative seems very much a product of its time, and somewhat outmoded. In 1984 home computing was increasingly prevalent, and cheap sound-sampling was just around the corner; Decoder is the last hurrah of an analogue struggle against the agents of the Control Virus.

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It’s a shame Jürgen Muschalek didn’t get to make anything else when he was obviously trying for some kind of cross between Burroughs’s The Electronic Revolution (1970) and Godard’s Alphaville (1965). Low-budget films often suffer visually but this one makes impressive use of vivid lighting and plenty of shadow which helps alleviate some of the weaknesses elsewhere. David Cronenberg has often acknowledged the influence of avant-garde types such as Burroughs and Warhol but his own films tend to be very conservative in their presentation. Muschalek at least tries to parallel some of Burroughs’ fragmented narrative techniques with an abrupt and disjunctive editing style. The film as a whole is much more in tune with the early Industrial Culture ethos than Peter Care’s noir pastiche, Johnny YesNo, but suffered from being more read about than seen in the 1980s. A few copies can be found online. In 2010 it finally appeared on DVD with extra material and a soundtrack disc.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Burroughs Century
Interzone: A William Burroughs Mix
Sine Fiction
The Ticket That Exploded: An Ongoing Opera
Burroughs: The Movie revisited
Zimbu Xolotl Time
Ah Pook Is Here
Jarek Piotrowski’s Soft Machine
Looking for the Wild Boys
Wroblewski covers Burroughs
Mugwump jism
Brion Gysin’s walk, 1966
Burroughs in Paris
William Burroughs interviews
Soft machines
Burroughs: The Movie
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire

 


 

Posted in {books}, {burroughs}, {electronica}, {film}, {music}, {politics}.

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2 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by Wes

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    Yeah, a very good film, I have the DVD+CD soundtrack and it’s a very good package. Decoder has a nice little link to Derek Jarman too – Jarman’s Super 8 film Pirate Tape, includes footage of William Burroughs signing autographs on Tottenham Court Road, shot immediately after Burroughs had filmed his cameo appearance for Decoder. The Pirate Tape also features F.M. Einheit and Peter Christopherson who operated the camera for the filming of the Burroughs’ scene in Decoder. I just checked discogs now and Jarman’s film (or parts of it) are included on the Decoder DVD.

  2. #2 posted by John

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    Yes, I ought to have mentioned Derek Jarman since this is almost something he might have made himself.

    Pirate Tape is also on the BFI’s Derek DVD:

    http://filmstore.bfi.org.uk/acatalog/info_11952.html

 




 

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