Bill Morrison’s elegiac reflection on the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927 was commissioned by and debuted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2011. Following revisions, it went on to screen at festivals including Cleveland, Vancouver, Adelaide, and Viennale, and has had special performances at Carnegie Hall, Chicago’s Symphony Hall, London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, and Los Angeles’ Royce Hall, among others.
The third collaboration between Morrison and acclaimed guitarist/composer Bill Frisell, the film chronicles the most destructive river flood in US history, which saw nearly 150 breaks in the Mississippi’s levees, flooding of 27,000 square miles, the deaths of 250 people in seven states, and damages estimated at over $400 million. As in his previous work, Morrison turned to decaying archival footage of the actual flood to convey the story of the flood, its deterioration lending a poignant, faraway, dreamlike quality to the project. Dialogue-free, with minimal text, the lovely monochromatic footage marries well with Frisell’s original score, inspired by the evolution of period music into various forms – blues, jazz, gospel, soul, rock, and r&b – that followed the forced migration north of sharecroppers displaced by the disaster. The result creates an almost hypnotic effect, more suited for an immersive theatrical or concert setting than home viewing. Still, this is decidedly esoteric arthouse territory, and will likely be an endurance experience for most audiences, even at a relatively brief 80 minute running time.