NPR logo Archival Filmmaker Bill Morrison Meets Lambchop: Watch Their Film

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Archival Filmmaker Bill Morrison Meets Lambchop: Watch Their Film

A film by Bill Morrison featuring "The Hustle" music by Lambchop co-written by Ryan Norris and Kurt Wagner.

A film by Bill Morrison YouTube

There is a magical new film by Bill Morrison, who has has garnered love and accolades for his films that use archival footage to tell new stories.

His work has been shown around the world, recently as part of a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Along with his use of found footage, Bill Morrison often teams up with modern composers. He's made films using music by Philip Glass, Harry Partch, Vijay Iyer and Bill Frisell which gives you an idea of his reach into both the world of classical, avant-garde and jazz.

For his new film, The Dockworker's Dream, Bill Morrison did something a bit different, by teaming up Kurt Wagner of the dreamy, country-tinged band Lambchop for music that is both instrumental and vocal. The film is a reflective black and white journey from port to factory that includes a wedding and a hunt.

Bill Morrison told me via email that the project started in France, in February 2014, where he and Kurt were jurors in the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival. "I'd been following Lambchop since the mid-1990s, and was thrilled to meet Kurt, and to hang out with him. Mario Micaelo, director of the Portuguese film festival, Curtas Vila do Conde, approached us one night with the idea of our doing a collaboration for Curtas 2015, and we both agreed. During the summer of 2014, Mario and I visited the Cinemateca Portuguesa, where I selected the source material for The Dockworker's Dream. Once we had the material in hand, Kurt and I exchanged edits to create the film.

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The music is an eighteen-minute-long cut from the new Lambchop record FLOTUS. Its sound is even more ethereal than what we're used to hearing from this thoughtful Nashville ensemble, and like like the entire record, it's a welcome venture into a more ambient elegant sound using electronics.

Kurt Wagner told me in a email, "I think both Bill and I understand the power of things being less than black and white when it comes to narrative in black and white films. He is most poetic in his ability to edit such specific archival images into something moving and lasting. In some ways my method is the same in that the things I write about are rarely fictitious. Just notes taken from life woven into song."

The film, as it turns out, is an allegory about archival footage itself. Bill Morrison says: "The Dockworker's Dream developed from the idea that the archive is a port of call, a place where goods are loaded and unloaded and held until a dockworker carries them off. In some ways the imagery is a metaphor for our process. As a film researcher and editor, I find myself seeking out hidden or elusive film material. In the film, there is the voyage, the expedition — and the hunt: We hunt these rare films in order to bring them back alive, so that they can live, for awhile longer, on the screen."

Find eighteen minutes out of your day and take this journey. The faces, the landscape and even the hunt, from that not-too-distant past, offer perspective on who we are and how we've changed.