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Decoder - Decoder(Blu Ray & DVD) [Vinegar Syndrome - 2019]

1984s Decoder is one of only two films directed by talented underground German film maker Muscha, the other being Humanes Toten, the tale of a young butcher’s assistant who experiences feelings of alienation from those who he comes into contact with. Feelings of alienation and societal difference feature strongly in both of Muscha’s films along with a strong sense of his own personal identity. Muscha identifies with societies individuals or outcasts, those who dance to their own beat as opposed to following the societal norms. This instantly makes for a much more interesting filmic experience, as Muscha is not afraid to challenge regular perceptions about society as a whole.

Decoder, which was shot at the height of the Cold War, is a fascinating film that delves headlong into the political fragility of the time using industrial music and the otherness of the counter culture to juxtapose the societal norms of the 1980s. The film’s soundtrack is a heady mix of the great and good from the 1980s electronic and industrial music scene including the likes of Soft Cell, whose Seedy Films is used repeatedly to great effect, Einsturzende Neubauten, Psychic TV and The The to name just a few of the luminaries to feature on the soundtrack. The film itself is the Avant Garde tale of FM (played most effectively by FM Einheit from Einsturzende Neubauten) who works at a burger bar (H Burgers) and begins to realise over time that the restaurant’s dreary background music is being used as a means of controlling the masses, in an effort to break the cycle he switches the music in favour of the more hypnotic industrial soundscapes that were prevalent at the time, this results in an increase in rioting and violence among the customers.

A brilliantly subversive piece of cinema that is shot with a distinct blueish hue to highlight the cold unforgiving nature of Cold War Germany, and in stark contrast uses reds to represent the sex clubs and peepshows, whilst the sense of grubby decay that emanates from the West German streets adds perfectly to the film’s sleazy veneer. The whole thing feels like it’s layered in grime.

The film is heavily inspired by the writing of William S. Burroughs, who, himself, appears in a cameo role, adding that little extra weight to a cast featuring William Rice, Christiane. F and Genesis P-Orridge. Muscha’s almost dystopian vision of 1980s Germany is repugnant and depressing, a truly unpleasant place to live and breathe, however it still speaks to us 35 years later. Depressingly, ideas about controlling the masses have never been more relevant than they are today when political propaganda seeps into every aspect of our culture, and we find ourselves bombarded with “fake news” to use one of societies favourite new soundbites.

The film was originally released seven years after David Lynch’s Eraserhead, and features some Lynchian qualities, the cold industrial environment and general urban decay that is prevalent throughout fits with the aesthetic of Lynch’s film. Decoder is a dark and powerful, underappreciated masterpiece of German cinema, from a director whose immense promise never materialised into the long career he perhaps deserved. Decoder remains a brief and fleeting glimpse at what could have been.

On the whole Vinegar Syndrome’s new restoration looks fantastic, a real credit to the company. The print looks crystal clear and the images are crisp, the colours are vibrant and there is no bleed between them. The discs are rounded out with some top-notch bonus materials including an excellent commentary from film historian and film maker Kier-Le Janisse, several interviews with cast and crew and some excerpts from Derek Jarman’s “Pirate Tape” featuring William Burroughs. The package contains the film on both bluray and DVD,and features a rather brilliant reversible sleeve that use new and old artwork.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Darren Charles
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