Saturday, January 14, 2006


Maybe it's only because I finally saw it this time around, or maybe because it got a positive write-up in The New York Times. But Béla Tarr's amazing Sátántangó seems like a real cultural event here in New York City this weekend, where it enjoys a handful of showings at MoMA. (I think the film has had tiny "runs" in NYC rep theaters twice since I've lived in the city, but this may be the most extensive Sátántangó exposure the Big Apple has had since 1996.) The theater where my friend (it's his favorite film and his third viewing) and I saw it was pretty full, even if both intermissions saw a healthy flow of people never to return, and even if the 'cat sequence' (one of the hardest things I have ever watched) propelled a lot more people back out into the real world.

This blog entry on the film is a fantastic read, by the way, and one of the things it "sets straight" in my book is that Tarr is actually not very much like Tarkovsky: he's about (to paraphrase Waggish) an overdose of the ordinary rather than the extraordinary. The moments of 'spiritual resonance' that punctuate Tarkovsky, and which at his best take him into fascinating, singular wavelengths, don't exist in Tarr, who is inclined to undercut such transcendence, as when a character stops dead in his tracks, falls to his knees, and after watching him frontally, the camera cuts to a view of him (and his two standing companions) watching fog disperse before a ruined church. When he stands back up and the trio continue walking, one of them says, "What, you've never seen fog before?"

Sorry that analysis and reflection have been skimpy for these last two blog posts, but I have needed to get off my chest a little of the exhilirating weight of these heady, heavy, transformative, and long-awaited encounters. I won't be able to really say a thing about either The Text of Light or Sátántangó until many more days of weeks of pondering. When one of Claire Denis' most "perplexing" or "difficult" films, reputation-wise, is easily the cheeriest and smoothest thing you've seen in over ten hours of film-viewing in two days, you know it's time to shake things up and watch a yakuza movie. Which is what I plan on doing this weekend ...


Anonymous said...

Would you say it was close to being sold out? I'm nervous about it and will probably make a trip to MoMA tomorrow just to get Monday tickets, but I'm not sure if it's entirely necessary.

ZC said...

Well, it was closer to being sold out than I'd ever have guessed Sátántangó to be, but no, you should be fine. A nice thick attendance, but plenty of stray seats around.

My own caveat, to cover my own ass: I saw it on Friday, when it started at 4:30, a time when a lot of people were still working, and which ended after midnight--perhaps the other showtimes this weekend, which start earlier, on full days off (MLK Monday included), would be able to draw even bigger crowds?

But I still think anyone who goes to see the film should be fine.

Anonymous said...

I'll probably piss off a few people by saying this, but I think the fact that SATANTANGO is coming out on DVD is a shame.

Zach, now that you have seen it on film, in a nice theater, and with a/n (presumably appreciative) audience, would you have wanted to see it any other way?

Both SATANTANGO's rarity and massive length seem worth justifying, say, a car ride from Florida, or a plane ride on Jet Blue from upstate, to see at MoMA. Art, music, and theater lovers regularly make trips to NYC to see and hear things they wouldn't otherwise be able to see and hear. SATANTANGO is, as they say, "on the level"...

The fact that it's coming out on DVD will make all those whiny fly-over people content that they don't have to leave their wives, babies, and/or and cozy home theater systems.

But that's not my main gripe. No, my concern is that screenings of SATANTANGO will become even rarer, that fewer people will have the patience for a 10-hour theater experience when they can easily break it down at home, and that, as a result, we will no longer understand a work like SATANTANGO from the point of view of how it was conceived.

ZC said...

Gabe, I'm basically on your side on this one, and don't know if I can say what I want to succinctly in the comments box. Let me see if I can come up with a whole new blog entry very soon that touches upon this topic relevant to all (film) culture, because it actually is getting into some questions I've been thinking about separately for a while now.

Anonymous said...

It's depressing to think that Rialto, Kino, and Milestone are basically the only three distribution companies in the U.S. actively releasing films made before the 1970s -- yet we live in a movie culture that is clearly interested in the Douglas Sirks and Straub and Huillets of the world, though that interest seems to stem from the sparkling DVDs that are available, not from theatrical viewings of the films.

I can't decide which world I would rather live in -- the one before or after DVDs (a lot like the world before and after cell phones from a cinephile perspective).

A lot of students at Columbia College -- where I started teaching introductory film courses last fall -- seem to buy Criterion DVDs because of the attractive, smart-looking cover art. The DVDs themselves become the fetish objects, and the films, strangely, become of secondary importance. With a theatrical viewing experience, there is nothing to fetishize: your faced with the screen and the movie, and usually that's it.

Anonymous said...

"With a theatrical viewing experience, there is nothing to fetishize: your faced with the screen and the movie, and usually that's it."

Wishful thinking Gabe. At least in New York, casual filmgoers (like, from the sounds of it, your students) can fetishize the very idea of being artsy - i.e., going to see a movie once at MoMA for the mere experience, or being able to point to The Squid And The Whale as proof of your engagement with the "arthouse" when it's the only non-blockbuster you've seen, maybe because you heard it was like Wes Anderson. It's not as bad as what you're talking about, I guess, but it's still annoying. "Dude, did you hear about this weird movie...squid and the...marmot...or something."

Anonymous said...

At the end of the day, though, you can't put SATANTANGO in your pocket and walk away with it. About all the physical proof you have that you were there is your ticket stub.

Talk is cheap -- a DVD, especially from a boutique label like Criterion, is like a trophy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link! Your point about the fog scene is dead-on.

Satantango sold out on Sunday. I was there for the La Cava films. Whether it was still sold out by the time I left, I don't know. The night I went, half the audience had left by the end of the first intermission, with one man angrily saying, "It's a masterpiece of nothing!"

Also, during the first doctor scene, the lady next to me wondered out loud, "What's he drinking?" And then there was the person (never identified) who was tapping a zipper along to the music in the tavern scene.

How was L'Intrus?

Anonymous said...

Satantango rules. It should be seen in a theater. The theater should be locked, and no one is allowed to leave (except for bathroom breaks and the 2 intermissions). In defense of DVD, many directors (especially the American ones), don't frame things well. They have no sense of composition, so seeing in a theater is a waste of time. Seeing Satantango in a theater is mandatory.

Anonymous said...

Gabe, it's Dave Berglund. Good to hear you are still championing seeing film at the theater. I stumbled upon these posts while looking into Santantango (which has a short run in the Minneapolis area I was thinking of attending if I had the time).

Seeing film at the theater is definitely the best way to see film, but many people do not have the luxuries of time and money to do this. I still believe good film is powerful enough to overcome what you consider the downfall's of DVD viewing (people using DVD's as trophies). The people who will use DVD's as trophies will not get anything from the films anyways; we need not worry ourselves with them.

But you must understand there are people out there who are genuinely in love with classic film and DVD's are the only option they have. I see nothing wrong with the proliferation of DVD's. Without them, film itself would become elitist and irrelevant. For every couple people using their DVD collection as a trophy case, there is a genuine film lover who uses their DVD's to either experience new and classic films or spread the knowledge of films they love (I fall in to the latter group: I rarely watch the DVD's I own except to share them with people I think would appreciate them).

Is it not most important for film to reach the masses so that the sincere artists in the film world can be recognized and appreciated? Is it not worth it to put up with conceited "film buffs" if it means that a small percentage will genuinely benefit from their DVD viewing experiences?