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329 West 18th Street Suite #610
Chicago, Illinois 60616
(312) 243-1808

February 1, 2013

Romanticizing Decay

Every so often we run across a reel of film that has been damaged by the elements (water, heat, humidity, etc). Sometimes this deterioration results in beautiful yet horrifying effects.

Hypnotic visuals like these are often utilized by New York-based filmmaker Bill Morrison (Chicago born!), who is most well known for his experimental collage film DECASIA (2002). Since our vaults are not secure for nitrate storage (we send all of our nitrate over to the Library of Congress), the only image decay we see here affects acetate film, rather than the nitrate decay most often featured in Morrison’s films.

Here are a few frame grabs from a 16mm water-damaged acetate film found at our vault (click on the images to gain a larger, more detailed view). Thankfully, only the last 50′ or so of this particular film was damaged by water.



It’s up for debate whether romanticizing these images is warranted (New York Times’s David Kehr seems to think so, while AV Preserve’s Joshua Ranger thinks maybe not). I guess I fall somewhere in the middle, more so seeing this imagery as a conversation starter for sharing film preservation basics (remember..dry and cool storage conditions are best!). It’s hard, though, to not be a little bit enticed by these frighteningly beautiful and abstracted images formed by time and the elements..

Head on over to the National Film Preservation Foundation to learn more about film preservation basics.