Let's imagine film culture as a vast global terrain, and video technology, the Internet, and all the gratifications of commerce are the methods for mapping out and travelling on this terrain in this day and age. It's easy to get from place to place, and heretofore "remote" areas are becoming more accessible. Now we can throw around buzzwords, "rhizomatic" and all that, but for all the benefits of a smooth space for cinephiles, buffs, Net-surfing compulsive spenders, etc., to inhabit, it is necessary to point out that these benefits exist as part of a trade-off, and are not solely gains. There is always a price to be paid. This trade-off includes video, and the technological-aesthetic complications that arise, but furthermore it concerns questions of access. Once you level the playing field, so that access for "cinematic experience" is limited only by one's amount of disposable income (and leisure time), you negate & erase history, in fact you relegate history itself to the past--"this film, now restored and available on a pristine DVD, was once almost lost." And once the market makes it clear that 'everything is available' with a few clicks and a credit card transaction, if not with cash at your local videostore, anything that is not available doesn't exist. (Until ... the market makes it (re)exist by making it available!) This is a problem that has plagued film culture before video technology, but which is potentially more dangerous now because it is cloaked by the "ultimate freedom" of the digital marketplace.
It's not that things were once good, and are now bad. Things are changing. As Gabe put it, he can't decide if he wants to live in world before or after DVD's arrival. The question is how viable resistance to this latter-day strand of commercial hegemony will now be. Because true cinephilia, as I see it, is one not of consumption but devotion, not of hedonism but real world and cine-world engagement. And it's what ensures that film culture remains lively, that it changes and that we who follow it change with it, that we're never bereft of ways of connecting to other people and other cultures ... through films and through those who also watch them. Sátántangó, an unusual case, is important because those who have seen it, those who love it, and those who want desperately to see it are conjoined in a dialogue with each other--if this resolute, deliberate film (a film unlike just any other) is simply transferred to discs so that anyone can see it at any time and in any (video) way they wish, then Tarr's film becomes culturally irrelevant as an event, it's simply a marathon in Eastern European miserabilism. Of course this is how it is existing only in 35mm, as well--but I'd say, even apart from Tarr's celluloid intentions, film screenings ensure that the event trumps the novelty, whereas video availability reverses this. And all this happens basically in replacement, not in addition to, the small but greatly dispersed base of admirers whose dedication to the cinema, and to this single particular work of cinema, is a sign of connection and perhaps even fellowship.
More people will see Sátántangó if it's on DVD of course, but (a) I don't buy the truism that all art everywhere is best seen by more, more, more people--we need our local specificities, our hidden masterpieces, our holy grails, our challenges, our Mount Everests!; and (b) the trade-offs involved in this specific case with Sátántangó weigh too heavily against it as a work of art. Certain films, for reasons of form or scale, or maybe also reputation, are best not made so readily available for our television screens. Tarr's film is a work that requires an investment of time, patience, and energy from its viewers--it should be large, uninterrupted. And while one could feasibly reproduce these circumstances in a superb home theater, most people won't be seeing the film this way on DVD, and I fear that "to have seen Sátántangó" will lose a lot of its meaning.
Perhaps, perhaps "to have seen Sátántangó" in the sense I'm describing connotes a certain sense of elite club mentality (not the same thing as elitism!), but at least it's upfront about such. I mean, what does someone who sees the film with bathroom breaks, phone calls, and snack runs at their discretion (and perhaps a discontinuous viewing time) mean to accomplish? "Yeah, I sat through Sátántangó as well"--so one can say they've seen it and arrogate for him- or herself that much cultural capital, but perhaps without having put in the same investment for those of us who counted our days-months-years to see the film and then numbed our asses and dried out our eyes watching it as it was meant to be seen.
I am certain that there is a cinephile in, say, Arizona who longs to see this film, who lacks the money to travel far just to see it (trust me, I can relate on this point). And, in the end, when Sátántangó becomes available to all on DVD, I certainly can't blame this devoted person for seeing it on that format. I'm sure this hypothetical cinephile will be more appreciative of this compromised experience than, for instance, the quartet behind me at the screening who tittered at this film that "moves too slow." I won't begrudge such to anyone who cares this much, especially not when I occasionally take my own liberties with rare cinema (mpegs of c. 1970 Godard films!?). Still I--even as lucky as I am to live in New York--know what it is like to pay my dues, bide my time, await chances to see films for years (I have no idea when I will again be able to see my very favorite film, Une histoire de vent), and for me, not only is waiting for some films worth it, but it constitutes part of what being a cinephile (i.e., the audience that will likely want to see and most appreciate Sátántangó) is about. And a DVD of Sátántangó will render smooth and bland the complicated, fascinating terrain that surrounds the film, that helps make it singular, that helps make it important. This is a film, like some others, not meant to be seen under the basic commercial cinema-video lines of exhibition & distribution. It is meant to circumvent these formulae to communicate what it wants to communicate, and it is the type of film worth fighting for to keep "special."
That I want the film to be one of the "special" ones does not mean that I want to be unavailable or scarce--in my own film-healthy city I'd love to see a few screenings organized each year or two!--but I think it should be an event that only comes very occasionally, which requires the viewer to succumb to its terms rather than the other way around. When it comes out on DVD, I personally can't think of seeing it in this form.