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Reportedly, when the first movie to use rock music in its soundtrack, Blackboard Jungle (1955), appeared in theaters it caused riots. It's fun to think about a world where the cliche sheltered youth of the 1950s just got so fucking pumped by the Bill Haley track “Rock Around the Clock” that they lost their shit, started tearing up seats, fucking each other and burning stuff. I have a feeling those reports are a little embellished, brought on by some kind of Footloose (1984) style fear of kids dancing, but there is definitely something to the notion that rhythmic sound has a drastic effect on the human animal. I don't mean this in that Tipper Gore, PMRC bullshit kind of way, more just the basic fact that sound patterns do have powerful and visible effects on the brain. I can easily see the changes myself, on my mood, speed, and even attention,based on the type of music I'm listening to. Various points have been made as to the correlations with performance during mental and physical activities, and I’m sure science will only add to that over time, that is if it's not already some kind of secret government weapon. Stores, commercials and casinos use sounds (along with colors,lights etc) to make you act a certain way , they pour a fuck ton of money into research along these lines. It's a vast, interesting and relevant concept, and when pushed to the extreme makes for a entertaining one. So I'm sure more flicks then I can recall have used it as a plot device on film, but it would be hard for any of them to be as bonkers as Decoder (1984).
In a glowing dystopian society, an oppressive governing power uses various sensory tools to control the public, including what they describe as “sound systems”. Despite this evil government seemingly having a whole department to defend against it, there is obvious dissidence among the societies youth, which you are left to gather over moody scenes of some chick that really digs frogs and some bohemian style discourse, without the participates looking at each other. Somewhere along the way, we are introduced to the disillusioned protagonist F.M. (F.M. Einheit). Our burger flipping main character discovers, through an interest in tape players and electronics, that special sounds can induce certain actions from the listener. He becomes suspicious of the elevator style music at H-Burger, where he works. Rightfully so, because as it turns out, the sleepy tunes were in fact installed by the fascist government to make the patrons passive and compliant. Soon he is recruited by a team of rebels who give him the lowdown about all of the government’s dirty tricks. Together they run around jacking tapes from the burger joints and replacing them with their own remixes that induce turmoil, kick-starting a revolution. There is also a hooker addicted government agent(William Rice), dream sequences featuring William S. Burroughs and some undeserved frog violence in the name of music.
The film takes a lot from the works of William S. Burroughs, who appears in the film. Not only does it seem to be fueled directly by his work, specifically "The Job", (as well as the related/remix "The Electronic Revolution"), the film also takes cues from the style of his writing, favoring a strange rhythm over a coherent or linear plot. The story is intercut with random footage, from the extremely abstract to the disturbing, which weaves together the strange scenes that make up the tale.
The first quarter of the film is a fucked up collage moving from morbid imagery and bright lights to random displays of the grimy societies norms. The world of the film is a dirty, alien place only reminiscent of our own. Imagine if a hungover Terry Gilliam met a younger Tim Burton in a German rave and they spent the night watching Italian neorealism, on a shared a hit of acid. It feels messy and violent at first, but it forms patterns and a strong rhythm with the seemingly random imagery. The later half of the film becomes much more concise and focused, but it's always fucking weird.
Each scene or room has a color that it is drenched in, and a collection of, two or three odd angles that it switches between. Camera direction gives strange amounts of focus to orifices on the face or background objects. Analog glitching and degradation are used to blend the varied effects used on scenes with the inserted stock footage. Its feels raw and dangerous as if it could have been secretly passed to you, in the world of the film.
The soundtrack plays a huge part in the whole fuckmess. So much so that it can feel like a music video at times, letting the audio take center stage, despite some of it being somewhat non-musical. Much like the main character’s tape of noise, it’s made up of human voices, industrial sounds and unidentifiable clips, that have been looped to make a pattern. The more musical pieces are almost entirely 80s electronica that breeze by with the imagery they accompany. Inexplicably three languages including English are used in the German production, sometimes switching back and forth in concurrent scenes. The sound effects focus on mostly on things like mouths chewing, as if by accident, that were obviously added in the dubbing purposely. It's all part of its style.
The film is steeped in 80s industrial/electronica culture, employing a few of the genres performers as actors. The lead role is held by percussionist F.M. Einheit,known at the time for his experimental live performances during his stay in bands like Einstürzende Neubauten. It also includes the avant-garde/occult legend Genesis P-Orridge, and I’m sure there are bunch more related faces that someone more versed in the musical genre could point out. As for any real acting, William Rice gives a spacey performance that plays well with the altered reality around him.
I can see it being a little much for some viewers and not in the normal “blood guts and titties” style of the films I normally write about. If you can get some footing, it makes for a interesting but very entertaining watch. It's very much an experiment itself in the sciences depicted in the film. Decoder is beautiful in it's way, and I can't help but feel it's important or somehow relevant, despite being nuttier than a jar of testicles.
1h 27min | 1984
Director: Muscha
Writers: Klaus Maeck, Muscha, Volker Schäfer, Trini Trimpop 

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