Cinema Review: Disintegration Loops [SXSW 2021] | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, July 6th, 2022  

Disintegration Loops [SXSW 2021]

Studio: Cinema 59 Productions
Directed by David Wexler

Mar 17, 2021 Web Exclusive
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David Wexler’s short documentary, Disintegration Loops, explores the work and legacy of composer and experimental musician William Basinski. The film focuses primarily on Basinki’s best-known work: “The Disintegration Loops.” The track, released in 2002, is a 63-minute loop of tapes slowly deteriorating. The story of the track, though, is more complex. The evening of September 11th, 2001, as the skyline of New York City was filled with ash, Basinski used a video camera to record a short snippet taken in the final hour of daylight. He paired the visual with the track, creating both an experimental classic and an elegy to one of the most terrible tragedies in United States history.

The 44-minute documentary opens with sobering black-and-white shots of New York City spring of 2020, as the city was experiencing the early months of the Coronavirus pandemic. From there, Wexler uses Zoom to interview Basinski, some of Basinski’s close friends, and music industry professionals to tell the story of Basinski’s childhood, how he launched his career, and how the release of his hit track changed his life forever.

The biggest win of Disintegration Loops is Basinski himself. As he narrates his life from his early days to the present, his energetic personality radiates through every moment of the film he’s in. Moreover, both his story and the story of the creation and meaning change of “The Disintegration Loops’’ is one that is both fascinating and timeless.

The documentary showcases the importance of Basinski’s track, both at the time of its release and the present, a time filled with isolation and trauma. Wexler’s shots of a deserted New York are particularly chilling and depressing. Since this aspect of the documentary only occurs a few times, it often feels rushed. These moments still have an impact, but they would likely be more effective if the documentary was just a little bit longer.

This issue of rushing through things is also evident in the film as a whole, as Wexler tries to explore too many aspects of Basinski’s life, and legacy, in too little time. Each of these moments are interesting in themselves, but rather than being relayed in just over 40 minutes, it becomes clear early on that they just need a little bit more room to breathe. Moreover, the sheer amount of ideas trying to be executed smoothly often hold the documentary back and cloud over the impact of Basinski’s song and story.

A lot of documentaries have been released during the Coronavirus pandemic, but few utilize Zoom as much as Disintegration Loops. For most people who have used video conferencing platforms over the past year, the problems with it are fairly obvious, most of them stemming from connectivity issues. The documentary is filled with awkward cuts, glitches in the interviews, and at one point, there’s even an extended sequence as Basinski and Wexler try to figure out where the internet connection is most clear in Basinski’s house. This could have – and should have – been left on the editing room floor. While Wexler’s determination and commitment to making sure the filming process is safe and COVID-friendly is laudable, the Zoom moments feel distracting and tiring, taking the spotlight away from the story.

Whether you’re a fan of Basinski and “The Disintegration Loops,” or if you’ve never heard of him, Disintegration Loops is a concise but too far-reaching documentary that does provide viewers with some insight and reflection on the power of art. All the documentary needs to take it to the next level is a bit more time and focus – and a lot better internet connection.

(www.sxsw.com/festivals/film)

Author rating: 5.5/10

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