Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sátántangó (2)

Now that I've had the opportunity to let my experience of the film ferment, I want to actually discuss it--and, here, not so much the issues around it. And in this respect I'm once again in accordance with the blogger Waggish, who writes some insightful paragraphs on the film. And to take a cue from him, I want to say a few things about Tarr's tracking shots and the way they compare with (to choose one) Antonioni.

For me a long track across an open space (in which people, objects, and landscape are integrated equally) feels, in Tarr, like a sigh, an exhalation--the sliding down into gravity's pull, as though the camera itself were a felled animal assaying its surroundings at length. Quite unlike Antonioni, whose shots--to me--seem to always scrutinize, they produce tight lines of vision, and in that I suspect he's quite comparable to De Palma & Coppola, to evoke discussion of these three made here back in October. I'm only anthropomorphizing Tarr's camera because this is what it feels like, and the vibe of its particular "personality" that I get is that it's passive, weary (and wary). It's also a camera very attuned to the liveliness of the images it captures, perhaps because it imparts little liveliness or tautness of its own.

The weight of these images is crucial but what's also important is that Tarr is not simply a "visualist"--I believe he considers Krasznahorkai very much a collaborator on this project, as a whole, and while I've never read any Krasznahorkai and can't say much for certain about what he brings to the project authorially, this is very much a film with 'novelistic' meaning and importance. Jonathan Rosenbaum has once or twice written about Tarr as Faulknerian, even, which not only describes the film's very dry comedy, but brings up the issue of its narrative organization. The dozen episodes are given immense weight through time, insisting upon its very deliberate pacing, a very "cinematic" thing, but they are structured like a 20th century novel, including (yes) a Faulkner one--and also I'm sure a Krasznahorkai one too, if I knew what one was like--wherein actions are repeated and obscured/clarified on the basis of whose subjectivity we are following. This isn't a matter of Rashomon-istic philosophizing, but a technique to better describe a large construction of reality (the film's reality) by way of more intimate brushstrokes.

And, in the end, there are moments like those of the fog, which I mentioned before, impossible to adequately describe, which remind me a little of Herzog and Tarkovsky, but all three have ways very much their own of handling the camera's capture of 'phenomena' (be it winds blowing the sand in Nosferatu or the disappearance of condensation on a table in Mirror). Tarr's concern, I think, is with the immanence of moments that will occasion burst through the ordinary. Philosophically, he's a skeptic, maybe atheist too (I don't know), and so he doesn't treat his phenomena like phenomena--he treats them like things that happen which other people treat as phenomena. (Does this make any sense? I can't figure out now how to phrase myself more clearly.) So by the 400th minute of Sátántangó, if not before, the viewer is likely defeated because the images offer us only transcendence at one remove: it's tantalizing, but we come to feel through the film's sheer scale and pace, and the character of its camera-eye, the crushing acquiescence that the collectivist characters undergo all this while ...

5 comments:

Matt said...

"Does this make any sense? I can't figure out now how to phrase myself more clearly."

It does make sense, Zach, yes (your writing rarely doesn't), and is correct, I think, having not yet even seen the film. I've only seen WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (a very important film to me as it happens), but agree that transcendence Tarr offers is, as you say, at one remove. While János is amazed by the whale carcass in HARMONIES--so moved, so amazed--to Tarr it always seems that, ultimately, it's really 'just' a whale. Transcendence is not so much the subject of his films as his characters' personal experience of transcendence.

By the way, I've really liked you other posts on the film; I would have joined the discussion if I didn't feel I'd already missed it!

jmac said...

Z.,

This is liquid luminescent writing that flows like music. I've tried to see Bela Tarr's films, but Reel Life doesn't have them yet. Which do you recommend, which is the most beautiful?

Zach Campbell said...

Thanks, Matt and J. (And yes, Werckmeister Harmonies has much in common with our giant Tarr opus.) J, I don't know which film to recommend--his first three are out on DVD, and the one I've seen seemed like it would play just fine on a television screen ... but: I didn't like it! (It was The Outsider. My impression is that Family Nest is the most-liked of the three early ones though: am I wrong?) But as I said, Sátántangó and Werckmeister are very much alike, and both masterful. Those are the only three I know.

Matt said...

I regret not having seen Damnation when I was still at Bond...

Larry said...

Interesting and well-written article. I have SATANTANGO on order -- I opted for the Artificial Eye R2 release over the Facets (I don't like the look of their DVDs, and even though I don't speak Hungarian, I'd prefer to have removable subtitles), and I'm anxiously awaiting its arrival. I have WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES, DAMNATION and ALMANAC OF FALL. Tarr is amazing -- the pacing of his films physically FORCES the viewer to become involved, but in a natural way (now it's my turn to ask if THAT makes sense...). I experience new insights with every vieweing.