The Great Flood
CAM/ED Bill Morrison
MUS Bill Frisell
PROD CO Hypnotic Pictures
Director Bill Morrison weaves together compelling archival footage of the great Mississippi flood of 1927, complemented by a very well-considered Bill Frisell original score. That flood led to an exodus of sharecroppers, all heading north. The result? Chicago blues, rhythm & blues and, ultimately, rock ’n’ roll…
The flood was the most destructive in American history—27,000 square miles were inundated. The migration fueled the evolution of acoustic blues, including artists who witnessed the flood such as Charley Patton ("High Water Everywhere") and Memphis Minnie ("When the Levee Breaks"), as well as influencing electric blues bands that thrived in cities like Memphis, Detroit and Chicago.
Much of the incredible archival footage here (there is no narration) is taken from sources like the Fox Movietone Newsfilm Library and the National Archives. All the film documenting the catastrophe was shot on volatile nitrate stock, some from the air, some from the land, much from in the midst of the swelling river itself. The partially deteriorated film stock figures prominently in Morrison’s aesthetic—the bubbles and washes of decaying footage are associated with the destructive force of the rising river, the celluloid seeming to have been bathed in the same water as the images it depicts. These layers of visual information—paired with Frisell’s musical mix that combines roots influences with his own inimitable stylings—become contemporary again. The Great Flood’s imagery is visible through history’s prism, one that dances with the sound of modernity.