I've been practicing graphic design and photography for about 15 years now, and one of my favorite hobbies is photo retouching and restoration. On occasion, I'll receive an exceptionally old photograph or slide; more often than not, it displays a distant relative or friend of the surviving customer. Even without background information for (or a personal connection with) the person in front of me, a visual bond can still be formed over time. Filmmaker Bill Morrison's Tributes - Pulse presents a stripped-down version of this idea: comprised of aging film stock and a variety of styles and subjects, it attempts to provide "A Requiem for the 20th Century" through its unusual images and musical accompaniment.
On the visual front, Tributes - Pulse in an interesting bird. For the most part, this "found footage" is highly degraded nitrate film that swirls and pops with unintentional detail and energy. Mysterious faces creep in every so often; many of the subjects have undoubtedly passed away since their moment in the spotlight, which gives the visuals an unavoidable weight at times. Each of the film's four "tributes" attempts to convey influences by the four elements, but only the most attentive viewers might draw these conclusions unprompted. For the most part, this slowed-down slideshow of forgotten images has a tendency to bleed together after awhile...but on occasion, Tributes - Pulse surprises its audience.
Unfortunately, Danish composer Simon Christensen's score (performed by his electronic-influenced band, "Kundi Bombo") grows incredibly tiresome within the first three minutes...and folks, this is a 65-minute film we're talking about here. Low-frequency electronic effects and percussion are dominant during the first 15 minutes or so, and the constant, numbing nature of this noise makes Tributes - Pulse an exercise in patience. In all honesty, it's roughly on par with what Alex was subjected to during the events of A Clockwork Orange. More adventurous types may be tempted to replace Christensen's score with music from their own collections (Godspeed You Black Emperor or Mogwai, perhaps?), because what's here just doesn't fit. At the end of the day, I'd say that less than 1% of the population would enjoy this style of music...so even if you think you're up for it, keep the remote handy just in case.
The disastrous music deals a crippling blow to Tributes - Pulse, and one that will seriously hamper its appeal to nearly all audiences. The Blu-Ray is also a mixed bag: it sports a strong technical presentation (under the circumstances) but no real bonus features, which makes the disc's $30 price tag almost laughable. In any case, more details can be found below.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer does a fine job with difficult source material. The single-layered Blu-Ray has no problem displaying the aging nitrate film in its decayed, weathered state---and obviously, no attempt has been made to clean anything up. With that said, there aren't any digital problems like compression artifacts, DNR or ghosting, so there's very little to complain about under the circumstances.
Although I'm not a fan of the music by any means, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track does a fine job of revealing every minute sonic detail. Surround use is frequent, separation is especially crisp and the dynamic levels are pleasing. If you're not wired for surround, a linear 2.0 PCM track is also included at a substantially higher volume. This is a well-done mix from start to finish...and it's a shame that it couldn't have happened to a better score.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The static menu designs---which load exceptionally fast, I might add---are simple and easy to navigate. This 65-minute film has been divded into a scant 5 chapters (one for each "tribute", plus the end credits) and this Blu-Ray does not appear to be region-locked. This one-disc release is house in a standard-width case and includes an insert detailed below.
Nothing on the disc, but we do get a brief Booklet
featuring an abridged essay and a few "crew" bios. The essay goes into mild detail about the film's intentions and production, but an interview or commentary with the director would've been much more helpful.
On paper, Tributes - Pulse is a interesting experiment: if nothing else, this slideshow of found footage includes a few arresting visuals. Unfortunately, the horrible score makes it hard to stomach this film (even at just 65 minutes!), unless you genuinely hate your own ears. Experimental types may want to try playing different music, but let's face it: with no bonus features on board, Tributes - Pulse is incredibly hard to recommend in good conscience. Curious parties may want to dig deeper, but most folks should just Skip It entirely.
NOTE: The above images were obtained from promotional outlets and do not represent this release's native resolution.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes at a local gallery and runs a website or two in his spare time. He also enjoys slacking off, telling lame jokes and writing stuff in third person.