The Great Flood

High waters

THE GREAT FLOOD (Bill Morrison). 80 minutes. Opens Friday (April 4). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN

The Great Flood is experimental documentarian Bill Morrison’s archival exploration of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Some 27,000 square miles in 10 states were submerged when the Mississippi River overflowed its banks, and tens of thousands of people were displaced.

Matching silent footage of the event with Bill Frisell’s mournful, jazz-inflected score, Morrison tells the story of this forgotten American disaster in vivid vignettes.

We see what life was like before the flood, and how people coped with the slowly rising water. A clip of men loading a chesterfield from a flooding house into a truck almost resembles a Laurel and Hardy short, but of course it’s not funny at all.

Frisell’s score deserves as much credit as Morrison’s editorial accomplishments, reminding us that a generation of black sharecroppers driven north by the flood brought the Delta blues to Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and New York City, where it mutated into jazz and R&B.

This isn’t a movie for everybody. The long stretches of silence and Morrison’s disdain for conventional storytelling might make some viewers very restless. But if you can find its rhythm, The Great Flood tells an enveloping, enthralling tale.

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