Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Finally saw my first Bela Tarr film, "Werckmeister Harmonies", over the weekend. Jon Abbey, among others, had been touting this fellow (mostly for "Satantango", iirc) and Robert Kirkpatrick recently wrote up this one on his fine blog, A Spiral Cage (link to the right). Thanks, fellows, for the prompts.

We recently capitulated to the inescapable charms of Netflix and this was my first choice. An amazing film, both formally and emotionally, one I can easily imagine watching many times (one of the reasons I prefer owning DVDs rather than renting, having the thing near at hand when the mood strikes). One of its strengths is its openness to numerous interpretations, a number of which I've read in the last couple of days, several of which seem equally persuasive (the sign of a deep work). I like the general notion of an "innocent" (Janos) being buffeted between the forces of co-called science (the harmonic system of the title), so-called politics (the riotous mob following the ravings of the dwarf) and so-called mysticism (represented by the whale).

I have to admit, I could probably watch the movie bereft of any content aspect, simply wallowing in the images and sounds. Tarr's been called "minimalist" which seems as off-base as using the term for Feldman. There's so much to see in virtually every frame. Happily, Tarr has no problem lingering; there are only 39 shots (from what I understand) in the 140 minute film and almost every one deserves contemplation. If I had to single out a couple of favorites, they'd include the night-time scene of the whale-trailer entering town and the incredible tracking shot of Janos and his uncle walking to meet the protest group. Too many to list, though.

Already looking forward to watching it again as well as checking out other Tarr work. ("Satantango" not yet available, I don't think)

New Listening:

Songs and Music from Turkmenistan (World Music Library) Fantastic!


Jon Abbey said...

nice! Werckmeister Harmonies is actually the one I'd recommend seeing first, from what I've seen, Satantango later. Satantango is on Region 2 DVD, it was scheduled for release in the US, but I'm not sure if it actually made it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brian,

I have to say that the Netflix is a great deal, I also got Werckmeister Harmonies from them. Though I think I'm going to buy a copy at some point. One thing you can do on it is Save a film that has been released and they will add it to your queue it it is available. I have Satantango Saved right not as matter of fact.

I have to say that along with the film the music of it has really haunted me. There is a cd that I have yet to be able to track down Mihály Víg Films of Bela Tarr that includes the Werckmeister Harmonies music. But I was able to find a download of it and have listened to it often. Simple, powerful music that I find incredibly moving.

Brian Olewnick said...

I also have Satantango on Save. I'll wrestle you for it.

Nirav said...

Glad to see you're writing about Tarr, Brian! I've seen Satantango 3 times, twice in theaters (MoMA both times), and it's one of the great film experiences that I know of. If Tarkovsky is Tintoretto then Tarr is Gruenwald and Satantango is his Isenheim altarpiece.

Everything of his is worth seeing, even the early Cassavetes-esque realist films. 'Almanac of Fall' is one that not a lot of people talk about, maybe because it doesn't come across very well on video. It's the Tarr transitional work - thematically akin to the earlier films in that it's essentially a chamber drama but stylistically (camera movement & pacing) leading the way to the later films. The use of color (color!) is as deliberate as any Sirk film, so much so that one hopes that he'll do another. I recommend it highly.

If you get a chance, you should try to see the films of Fred Keleman, who is a sort of Tarr protege. His style is more raw, but the feeling is simiar. 'Frost' is pretty tough, but his film 'Fate' is closer to perfect than any other narrative film I can think of (other than 'Killer of Sheep').

Nirav said...

Oh, and the book Werkmeister Harmonies is based on is great too, _The Melancholy of Resistance_. There's a similarity between Krasnahorkai's prose style (Faulknerian, I suppose you could call it) and Tarr's camera style that's pretty interesting.

Brian Olewnick said...

Appreciate the recs, Nirav, thanks.

Tarkovsky as Tintoretto, eh? Hmmm....