Decoder is a German film that hasn’t been easy to find in recent years. It’s very much the German answer to Liquid Sky, which Vinegar Syndrome has also recently released: a post-punk/industrial science film heavily influenced by William Burroughs’s “The Electronic Revolution.” Burroughs himself has a small cameo as the proprietor of an electronics shop. He was in London at the time, and director Muscha filmed this part there first, using Throbbing Gristle’s Peter “Sleazy” Christophersen as the cinematographer. However, the creative force behind the film seems to have been writer/producer Klaus Maeck, who would like make The Commissioner of Sewers Burroughs interview film.
While not the most coherent film on the planet, that’s the point. The story behind it is that basically these kids and their mildly well-known friends made a film (probably the best-known person appearing at the time besides Burroughs was is Christiane F.) F.M. Einheit of Einstürzende Neubauten has discovered a very Burroughsy idea: if he changes the Muzak played in the fast-food chain H Burger to industrial noise, he can stir up the population to resist consumerist urges and run amok. The riot scenes were shot during an actual riot (something fairly easy to find in 1980s Berlin). There’s a somewhat noir, detective aspect to it, with the influence of Alphaville all over it. Along with that film, Soylent Green and aspects of some Frankenheimer films, it was one of the few films to combine sci-fi and noir until Blade Runner. This adds some interest.
The plot is super-messy, but it definitely has a very nice feel of its era. It’s pretty well shot. Each character kind of has their own colour scheme, leading to accusations at the time of trying to be “new wavey.” But some of that was also the peculiarity of film stock at the time and low budgets films just looked and were lit like that.
Bill Rice plays Hunter, kind of a government official who is trying to supress dissidence. Christiane F. at that point was as massive celebrity in Germany due to the book and film about her early life, to the point where she had to stay away from the city to avoid being mobbed. She raises frogs in the film, which may have mystical properties… It reminds me of the very early Cronenberg films, where the ideas behind the movie are a bit more interesting than the movie itself.
While it won’t set the world on fire, Decoder is an interesting curiosity with a very interesting group of people in the film. Genesis P. Orridge appears as a cult leader (the role he was playing everywhere at the time). Dave Ball from Soft Cell does the score, and there’s some music from Einstürzende Neubauten, Psychic TV and The The as well. The filmmakers got the music from Ball for free, but they had to pay the recording costs—and that ended up costing more than just licensing it.
The disk is a 2K restoration from the original 16mm camera negative. Derek Jarman made a film about Burroughs on set while the film was being made, and this is included on the disc, as are new and archival interviews with Maeck, an audio commentary with critic/author/film programmer Kier-La Janisse, video footage from the 1982 Berlin riots, a ‘then and now’ comparison of film locations, a stills gallery, original trailer, and a mini-documentary on the Italian “Decoder Collective.”