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#1 Alain LeTourneau

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Posted 01 December 2006 - 01:14 AM

Satantango, Bela Tarr's 7.5 hour film from 1996, screened for the first time in Portland, Oregon this past weekend. I'd seen the film a number of times in SF and Berkeley, but was excited to see it again.

I recommend the film to anyone who cares about cinema or perhaps the state of the world.


-Alain
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#2 Giles Sherwood

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Posted 01 December 2006 - 01:37 AM

My roommate is getting the DVD soon and I can't wait to tackle this beast. I love Werckmeister Harmonies and the Prefab People was pretty swell.

I think I fully realized to what extent Bela Tarr knows what he's doing during the Werckmeister steadicam shot that follows Janus around the crowds of men waiting around the Whale's trailer. It's an amazingly conceived and executed shot. His stuff does try my patience though... I'll probably have to break Satantango up a little bit hehe...
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#3 Mitsos Triantopoulos

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Posted 01 December 2006 - 04:03 PM

My roommate is getting the DVD soon and I can't wait to tackle this beast.

I know it's not a frequent opportunity but I think this film--at least for the first time--must be viewed on film, in a theater. A home theater with a TV and sofa, outside distractions, and a pause button would detract from the experience, me thinks...

It actually has two breaks built in...
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#4 Jon-Hebert Barto

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Posted 01 December 2006 - 04:41 PM

Good filmmaker, Tarr. I read an interview where he said the limits of stock length is a form of censorship. Not intellectual, but "form" censorship. Gotta love this guy...

Ya, Satantango is a good one. Somehow he manages to keep the "pretentious" out of his work. I say this because a lot of work that is built on the long take comes off this way, to me at least.

Wish I could see it on actual film...lucky.

-Jonnie
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#5 Giles Sherwood

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Posted 01 December 2006 - 05:26 PM

I know it's not a frequent opportunity but I think this film--at least for the first time--must be viewed on film, in a theater. A home theater with a TV and sofa, outside distractions, and a pause button would detract from the experience, me thinks...


Oh, well yeah, in a perfect world I'd love to be able to see it huge and on film, but...

Actually though, I often prefer the home experience to theaters. Even in artsy theaters like the George Eastman House I find myself being more distracted by talking viewers, bad prints, or inattentive projectionists than by anything at home. When I watch movies that really matter to me, I watch them alone, in the pitch dark, maybe a foot away from my 20" television screen. It's just the film and I, and in a way, it's pretty religious.

There are definitely merits to the theater experience, but I'll certainly take a good home viewing before a bad theater viewing, or no theater viewing. The problem isn't that the opportunity to see these films on film is an infrequent one, it's that it's almost non-existent.

For instance, I have only been in the vicinity of a Tarkovsky screening once in my life, and it was almost by chance that I managed to be able to make it. It was a print of the Sacrifice which was kept in the Eastman House archives, and it was wonderful--except that the middle reel(s) were old and warped and so everything except the outer edges of the screen was out of focus. And that's probably the only time I'll ever see the Sacrifice on film. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll get to see a good print of Stalker someday.

Yikes, that was long-winded and self-concerned. But in any case, I definitely see where you're coming from, but somehow, for me, films are just as effective on the small screen as the big one. Lucky!

Cheers,
Giles
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#6 Mitsos Triantopoulos

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Posted 01 December 2006 - 06:06 PM

Yeah, outside some major metropolitan areas Satantango would not make lengthy runs...

How was the turnout in Portland?

It's up in Seattle this weekend...
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#7 Alain LeTourneau

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Posted 02 December 2006 - 01:17 AM

Yeah, outside some major metropolitan areas Satantango would not make lengthy runs...

How was the turnout in Portland?

It's up in Seattle this weekend...




The first screening of Satantango had about 60-75 people. Damnation, which screened on Thanksgiving night, had about 35 people.

It's 26 reels. I would image it is one of the most difficult shows any projectionist will do. The prints were not in the best of shape. The prints projected at the PFA shows I attended (years ago) I think were from MoMA and in immaculate condition.

As for home viewing v. theatrical there is no comparison, scale is one thing, but really it's the principle of the matter, as the cinema is a public space and all too often the private is exalted and the public sacrificed.


-Alain
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#8 Giles Sherwood

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Posted 02 December 2006 - 01:44 AM

As for home viewing v. theatrical there is no comparison, scale is one thing, but really it's the principle of the matter, as the cinema is a public space and all too often the private is exalted and the public sacrificed.
-Alain


The movie theater is a public space, but until I experience cinema with a public who appreciates and respects it, I'll always prefer to spend my time with Bergman the same way I like to spend my time with Dostoevsky: in solitude, or at least in peace.

I don't know, I'm afraid if I go on it will just hijack the thread. Suffice to say I think we have very fundamentally different philosophies regarding our relationship to cinema :x

Cheers,
Giles
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#9 steve hyde

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Posted 02 December 2006 - 02:47 AM

Where in Portland was the film screened? I hope we get a print at NWFF in Seattle...

Steve
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#10 Alain LeTourneau

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Posted 02 December 2006 - 11:00 PM

Where in Portland was the film screened? I hope we get a print at NWFF in Seattle...

Steve




Steve, Steve....

Get over there right now.... NWFF screens the film tonight, and tomorrow (Sun, Dec 3). Get over there man!


-Alain

The movie theater is a public space, but until I experience cinema with a public who appreciates and respects it, I'll always prefer to spend my time with Bergman the same way I like to spend my time with Dostoevsky: in solitude, or at least in peace.

I don't know, I'm afraid if I go on it will just hijack the thread. Suffice to say I think we have very fundamentally different philosophies regarding our relationship to cinema :x

Cheers,
Giles




Giles,

Probably best not to quibble over such small peanuts... but I watch films at home like anyone else. I do so for a number of reasons, but theatrical viewing is.... well the best of all worlds.

I have to ask were you watch films? I rarely sit in theaters where people are chatting away, and if they are then walk over and tell the to shut up, and it they don't, then walk over to the manager and ask him to tell them to shut up. Bad manners do not have to be tolerated.

Bad projection is unfortunate, but this can be addressed as well if you talk to the right folks. Esp, at the smaller art/museum style venues.


-Alain
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#11 steve hyde

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 12:59 PM

...Thanks, I'm going today at 2:00pm.. can't miss this opportunity..


Steve
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#12 Angeliki Makraki

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 08:53 AM

There is also a Bela Tarr festival at the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, MA.
The middle of January 2007.
Satantango on Saturday and Sunday. All day 2 - 10PM !
Check out their calandar :http://hcl.harvard.edu/hfa/calendar/january.html
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#13 Rod Otaviano

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 02:03 PM

By the way, there'll be a screening tomorrow here in Vancouver at the Vancity Theatre. 1:00PM

http://www.viff.org/...ventNumber=1256
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#14 steve hyde

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 09:31 PM

I went to see "Satantango", "Damnation" and "Werckmeister harmonies". More noir than what is commonly called "noir". All are fascinating films and the experience is made more profound if seen in the darkness of a quite screening room among others. These films are made to be seen on silver. Much thanks to North West Film Forum from bringing these prints to Seattle. It was an extraordinary opportunity to see them.

Of the three Satantango is the most powerful. I generally dislike long films. Like most film goers, I have been disciplined to conform to the 90 minute form and set my expectations around it. However, I have been reading about Satantango for years so I had a good idea of what I was getting myself into when I sat down for the 7.5 hour experience. We had three intermissions and the intermissions were events in themselves since everyone wanted to discuss what was going on in sight and sound.

From a cinematography perspective, "Satantango" is a very important film because it challenges conventional practices. To state the obvious: cinematography is the art of recording space with light in time. That said, the contemporary discourse on cinematography, here on this forum and elsewhere, is primarily focused on the many uses of light and less focused on sculpting in time.

Bela Tarr's films are an important milestone in cinema history.

Steve
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#15 nathan coombs

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Posted 23 December 2006 - 08:10 AM

From a cinematography perspective, "Satantango" is a very important film because it challenges conventional practices. To state the obvious: cinematography is the art of recording space with light in time. That said, the contemporary discourse on cinematography, here on this forum and elsewhere, is primarily focused on the many uses of light and less focused on sculpting in time.


You are very lucky to have seen his films screened in 35mm. I have only seen his films on DVD, but nevertheless they have made a powerful impression upon me.

What you say about his cinematography echoes the thoughts I have been penning in my article on Tarr.

I've pasted a rough draft of the introduction below - excuse the typos and omissions.
**

The recent release of Bela Tarr?s seven and a half hour masterpiece SatanTango on DVD in November was a momentous event. But perhaps not for the reasons most commonly cited. In the interim between the film?s release and its occasional showing to adventurous festival goers worldwide, SatanTango has operated as a signifier of the most exotic, most profound, the darkest and the densest cinema can aspire to; the film which has occupied the place of the dreams of filmmakers who hope that a film can be more than just a film, that a film can have its own mythology, that a film can transcend its materialist roots and take on a life of its own. Tarr?s own lack of exposure and the relative obscurity of Hungarian cinema also contribute to sense that if ever there was a holy-grail for filmmaking: this is it. In other words, the film has an aura.

But what is this aura? The accepted approaches to Tarr?s work have reached a consensus that Tarr?s late films provide allegories of the deteriorating social malaise of life in the Soviet Union and the aftermath of its collapse, woven into a grander cosmological vision of humanity. Much is made of Tarr?s earlier interest in philosophy as a student, so that is tempting to see him as a philosopher working through the medium of cinema, much as Tarkovsky was a director-poet.

But Bela doesn?t do philosophy. Despite all the prodding he received at his (200?) appearance at the National Film Theatre, he unequivocally refuted that anything he does has anything to do with philosophy. He claims we ?don?t think about anything like that on set? and ?we just work out how to get the camera from A to B.?

Devotees of Tarr?s work will find all this a bit hard to swallow, especially considering the weight of allegorical and philosophical references in his latest opus the Werkmeister Harmonies. Thomas Hobb?s leviathan, in the form of a stuffed whale, makes an appearance and town patriarch Uncle (?) obsession with the 12 tone scale of Andreas Werkmeister and his resulting detachment from reality of his, could be seen as a thinly veiled reference to the aestheticism of late Adorno. Add to this the theological titles of his mid-career oeuvre: Damnation and SatanTango and the quoting from scripture, mystical monologues and messiah figures and it would not be hard to argue that Tarr?s work has some of the most overt philosophical themes in recent cinema. But no, he denies it all.

Ahh, but the contrarian retorts, that?s because Tarr?s work represents an anti-philosophy; a fin-de-siele portrait of woe set against all the social agendas and dialectical theories of progress of the 20th century. He evokes philosophy only in the sense of a straw man to knock down. The problem with this find-the-loophole argument is that even such a Nietchzean interpretation of his work is a philosophy in itself and Tarr is adamant that he does not concern himself with such issues.

So is he just being coy? The easiest way out would be to claim that Tarr is simply resisting the temptation to interpret his work in the modernist belief that his films are self contained; without the necessity of a post-modern web of discourse we are increasingly used to assimilating as part of an artwork. Or even that since he is just directing the scripts of Lazni ?, he is using a technicality to sneak away from subjecting himself to discussion of his work.

But could it be that all these ways of attempting to unpick Tarr?s obscurantism are missing the point? What if, for a moment, we take Bela at face value on his claims to have nothing to do with philosophy and take seriously his assertion that his filmmaking is solely about aesthetics?

Looking at Bela?s forms as the basis of his works, a profound meaning can be read, which flys in the face of critical thinking about cinema. His vision is one of a cinema as a self-contained sphere to itself, where a knowledge of the cinematographic techniques he pushes forward explains why Bela is the greatest filmmaker?s filmmaker and how he is uncompromising stance stands singularly apart from any other contemporary auteur. His films aura is created exactly by the fact that he is operating meaning through his medium, in a way which is completely opposite to all modern trends: such as the blurring distinction between fiction and documentary made possible through digital technology, the erosion of the reverence of the image through its cheapening, scepticism of the truth of the image and the convergence of a monoform film language.

Edited by nathan coombs, 23 December 2006 - 08:13 AM.

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#16 steve hyde

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Posted 23 December 2006 - 02:20 PM

Nathan,

There are a lot of interesting ideas in your text. I especially like the questions around "aura", but I don't think it is possible to create a narrative cinema "solely about aesthetics." It is not possible because philosophy must be used to create a narrative.

I can understand why Bela Tarr is resistant to explaining his films and I can understand why he does not want to confound the range of possible meanings of his films by making theoretical claims about them. If a filmmaker explains what a film means to her/him? does that make that particular meaning the definitive meaning? No. because meaning making happens in the process of communication - not creation. The filmmaker does not control the meaning of the film.

Consider the five main branches of philosophy for a moment:

1) Ontology: the study of what can be known
2) epistemology: the study of how we know what we know
3) ethics: the study of the differences between right and wrong
4) logic: the study of reason -how things make sense
5) phenomenology: the study of how things are experienced.

Subconsciously (at least) all five of these elements of philosophy are used on every narrative film. If a filmmaker's intent is to communicate something specific. (like an adapted novel in Tarr's case) then he is literally using philosophy to do that.

Nathan, I think you are getting at something different. I think you are talking about *theory* and questions like: Does the Whale symbolize the collapse of Communism? Is it a reference to Thomas Hobb's or a reference to Adorno etc.? These are the kind of theoretical claims people like to talk about after seeing a Tarr film - but it means something different to all of us. For me the whale symbolized the wonder of the universe and all its complexity - not the theoretical musings of dead professors. However, such theoretical musings may or may not come to the minds people who know about them when they see the film. And furthermore, the filmmaker, Bela Tarr in this case, may not want to be bothered with self-critical epistemological questions while working on his projects.

I suggest pursuing the "aura" angle for this piece. ...This article is a good idea. Who are you writing it for? Senses of Cinema?

Steve
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#17 NathanCoombs

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Posted 26 December 2006 - 10:40 AM

Nathan, I think you are getting at something different. I think you are talking about *theory* and questions like: Does the Whale symbolize the collapse of Communism? Is it a reference to Thomas Hobb's or a reference to Adorno etc.? These are the kind of theoretical claims people like to talk about after seeing a Tarr film - but it means something different to all of us. For me the whale symbolized the wonder of the universe and all its complexity - not the theoretical musings of dead professors. However, such theoretical musings may or may not come to the minds people who know about them when they see the film. And furthermore, the filmmaker, Bela Tarr in this case, may not want to be bothered with self-critical epistemological questions while working on his projects.

I suggest pursuing the "aura" angle for this piece. ...This article is a good idea. Who are you writing it for? Senses of Cinema?

Steve


The Werkmeister Harmonies is about the possibility or impossibility of resistance and creating new social orders. The title of the book it is adapted from is called 'The Melancholy of Resistance'.

The central motif/metaphor is Andreas Werkmeister's retuning of his piano to some sort of 12 tone scale in order to emancipate music to reach heavenly/transcendental meolodies that were repressed in our conventionla tonal system until then. There is practically no doubt that given everything that this has a basis in the atonality movement starting with Wagner and continuing on through Stravinsky and Shoenberg. If you recall Adorno was a musicologist who interpreted the emancipatory qualities of atonality, but grew increasingly dissolusioned with the real world and the potential for change. On another note, the 'Prince' is a sort of Hitler figure/universal demagogue and the huddled masses are amoral hordes. It is only the corrupt regime, which restores order to the town through repressive mechanisms. So there is no doubt that there si some sort of philisophical allegory in there.

The question is, however, are these stories (and scenes contained within stories) at the service of the aesthetic or visa versa. I will argue in my article that Damnation represents a grand reversal for Tarr who is now driven by aesthetics and takes his stories and scenes to service his aesthetic, which is seeking to push a form of auteurism to the extreme at a time when that form of auteurism is dying. He creates his aura by going exactly in the opposite direction to all contemporary trends. I think he choses these stories through his influence by Tarkosvky. Tarr saw a real-world 'Stalker' in the landscapes of Hungary at the time and through a kind of fetishisation of the 'Soviet style' (lack of symbols, brands and general symbolic clutter in the uSSR) saw the aesthetic he needed to push his self-referential style to its limits.

The stories themselves are almost irrelevant, watching a Tarr film is like stepping into the most wonderous balck and white photography gallery you will ever see. He even plays on this at times. Take the tracking shot in Damnation where he lines up all his extras in the rain and pans across them as they stare into the lens.

I will argue that it is only Western film journalists who want to read social allegories into his work by taking it literally. This is also because they are generally accustomed to placing theme and narrative above aesthetics, take the critical snubbing of Paradjanov for example.
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#18 steve hyde

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Posted 02 January 2007 - 12:38 PM

Nathan,

I am looking forward to reading your article.

I wonder if Felix Guattari's "Chaosmosis" would offer some insights into your line of argument - he posits an argument for "an ethico-aesthetic paradigm".


The mind is collective equipment.


Steve
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#19 Angeliki Makraki

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Posted 15 January 2007 - 05:08 PM

Does anyone know the technical specs on SatanTango ?
What cameras where they using, film ?
I read that there were 5 diiferent cinematographers who worked on the film.
I think only one Hungarian who did most of it. Medvigy.
I wonder who did those great dark shots of the people all curled up and sleeping towards the end.
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