Decoder

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J├╝rgen Muschalek’s (known as Muscha) directed the William S. Burroughs inspired cyberpunk film Decoder (1984) as a sort of reaction to the anti-Reagan protests that had broken out across West Germany two years earlier. The attitude of the film is pure punk, borrowing a number of techniques and stylistic gestures from the films of Derek Jarman (who was actually present filming William S. Burroughs for his short film Pirate Tape).

In some ways Decoder is more indebted to Burroughs audio work than his novels. The plot itself revolves around tape manipulation and treats recordings of music as an allegory for the political circumstances that maintain the status quo. The recordings off of Break Through In Grey Room seem to serve as as the skeletal structure onto which Muscha hangs his images and plot. Decoder is packed to the brim with cutaway and insert shots of television screens broadcasting atrocities and mutilations as the soundtrack throbs with industrial music; a kind of media overload.

Punk cinema, particularly the early narrative films like Jarman’s Jubilee (1977), Jack Hazan and David Mingay’s Rude Boy (1980), and Susan Seidelman’s Smithereens (1982), can all be characterized by a lack of formal narrative with more attention paid to the syncopation of music to often trippy images. This loose cinematic movement in Punk culture also has a collective eye on the past. The Beat poets and writers who rose to infamy in the fifties and sixties played a major role in legitimizing Punk and often appear in cameos across different mediums. In the case of Decoder, William S. Burroughs has a cameo as a character who could have been lifted directly from his own Nova Trilogy. Christiane Felscherinow also appears in the film as a character who seems to echo her own real life in many respects.

The premise of Decoder, subverting those in power by sabotaging the muzak used to numb the population, feels like something from a Rick Veitch comic. It looks like it too. Muscha’s images are wonderfully surreal and really off kilter, specifically all the scenes with toads. Sound and vision are the strengths of this film, which is partly why it’s so Punk. Within the genre of narrative Punk films Decoder is one of the better efforts I have seen and definitely worth checking out if one has an interest in Burroughs.