cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

FILM Satantango (Sátántangó) by Béla Tarr {2}

6 February 2009

Cinema started as simple, single-shot, full-length proscenium compositions resembling theater, the only thing it could find to reference to commercialize itself. By the next twenty years, there was a new vocabulary. The closeup, montage, and parallel storytelling fragmented the continuity of the previous proscenium-encased static-frame full-figure images. Separate fragments were now placed together to form meaning; the director could play with time and cinematic space. It was exciting. Was this an inevitable direction or just one road cinema chose to take?….Somehow Bela has gotten himself back there psychically and learned things all over again as if modern cinema had never happened.

Gus Van Sant        (Source:  blog Girlish, post  Bela Tarr)

S: It seems to me that there are certain sections of Satantango which emphasize the image far more than the story, and vice-versa. Do you see a tension between image and narrative?

B: I don’t think they are detached, because the story is always a part  of  the image. In my vocabulary, story doesn’t mean the same thing it means in American film language. There are human stories, natural stories, all kinds of stories. The question lies in where you put the emphasis on what’s most important. There are everyday tidbits that are very important. For instance, in Damnation, we leave the story and look at a close-up of beer mugs. But for me, that’s also an important story. This is what I mean when I say that I’m trying to look at things from a cosmic dimension. If I could describe a film fully by telling you the narrative, I wouldn’t want to make the film. It’s time that film frees itself from the shackles of linearity. It drives me crazy that everyone thinks film must equal linear narrative.

A Brief interview with Bela Tarr

….not a film you watch so much as an environment, world, which you inhabit for a time.

Jared Rapfogel

…..bells, cows, the destruction of old furniture, dipsomania, rain, dogs, and many other beautiful things…

The Art of Memory (blog)

Structure and detail

Partisans in the persistent and hopeless fight for human dignity:

There are twelve chapters in all, told from differing viewpoints with overlapping narratives – the story progresses in linear fashion, but the start of a new chapter may move events back a few hours to replay part of the previous chapter from a different angle. The narrative itself is for some while ambiguous in structure – halfway through I began to suspect I was now watching events that occurred before those of the opening scenes, a view I later reversed. Not that this necessarily matters, as it becomes increasingly evident that storytelling in anything approaching a traditional sense is not what Sátántangó is all about.

Kill the Snark:

Satantango is based upon a novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. Apparently in synch with the source material, it is arranged like a tango: six steps forward, six steps back (but not in that order). Some scenes advance the plot, while others step backward and show the same scene from a different character’s perspective, so the audience slowly learns what is happening to multiple characters concurrently as they criss-cross each other’s paths, each trapped in his own world to the point of obsession and paranoia.

Below, the twelve chapter  headings as translated* into English in subtitles on the Artificial Eye Disk,  with my own ‘script’ ( impressionistic action, some  dialogue and transcribed voice over/narration), to remind the person who, like me, who has watched the film then immediately forgets which bit is where.

In this synopsis of the Facets DVD, “Rise from the dead” becomes, “We, the Resurrected”, “Only trouble and Work” is  “Only problems and Work”. The final chapter is “The Circle is Completed” which is quite a way from the AI’s ” No Way Out”.

Cow scene

SEE Béla Tarr’s Long Takes (an education in film)

More thoughts on cows in note 7. Cow sand horses.

Chapter 1. The News is They are Coming

Church bells. Window. Futaki and Mrs. Schmit have been getting it together. Mrs. Schmidt’s bad dream. Schmidt arrives.


Futaki hides outside.

Knocks on the door as if he has himself just arrived.  All three conspire over money they hold earned by the commune.

Mrs Kraner brings rumour Irimiás and Petrina are coming back.

Voice over as Futaki and Schmidt walk off in rain:

So Schmidt went first, Futaki staggered behind him. He was trying to feel his way with his cane in the dark…And the relentless rain merged Schmidt’s swearing [..] Futaki’s cheery, encouraging words as he repeats:

“Never mind, old man, you’ll see we’ll have a great life! A great life!”

2.  Rise From the dead

[1] Irimiás and Petrina.

Irimiás and Petrina as they walk down a wind-blown road towards what at first seems like a hospital but reveals itself as a government building, possibly a police station, where the two are grilled and given a lecture on order and freedom and collaboration by an unnamed uniformed official. The pair are humble and obliging, but back outside display a more self-confident and authoritative swagger. Source: {1} Slarek.


[2] Waiting to be interviewed


I : “The Two clocks show different times. Both wrong , of course. This one here is too slow. The other, as if it showed the perpetuity of defenselessness. We relate to it as twigs to the rain: we cannot defend ourselves.”

P: ” Twigs and rain….? You’re a great poet, I tell you.

[3] Interview with Captain. Captain’s speech:

“How did this happen. Don’t call your lives a tragedy. Be modest about it, not a tragedy  at all…..not that human life was so highly valued….keeping order appears to be the business of the authorities. But it’s the business of all. Order. Freedom, however, is nothing human. It’s something divine, for which……our lives are too short for us to know it properly. If you’re searching for a link, think of Pericles…..order and freedom are linked by passion. We have to believe in both, we suffer from both. Both from order and freedom. But human life is meaningful, rich, beautiful and filthy. It links everything. It mistreats freedom only….wasting  it, as if it were junk. People don’t like freedom, they are afraid of it. The strange thing is there is nothing to fear about freedom…order on the other hand, can often be frightening.

I must call your attention to certain points. In actual fact you… have no choice but to collaborate. if you really, respect the law, then I’m just a little ahead of you in this.  Practically you have…offered it.

[4]  Cafe in town. That sound. Irimiás asks what it is.  He gets angry. Threatens to blow everyone up.  The pair leave.  In the corner drinking, heavily bearded man in leather jacket and peaked cap.

[5]  I/P walk in rain in countryside. Discuss villagers. In the background horse and cart crosses the road left to right towards woods on horizon.

{= Chapter 3.  May be showing The Conductor on his cart going to the woods where he finds Doc, which happens at the end of Chapter 3.}

Teenager meets pair. Updates what’s been happening in village.

[6]  Three enter pub.

Final narration [over static side-shot of rain/lit entrance to pub ]:

In the east the sky clears fast like a memory. At dawn, it leans all red on the wavering horizon. As the morning beggar trudges up the back steps to the church, the sun rises to give life to the shadow and to separate earth from sky, man and animal from the disturbing, confused unity in which they became inextricably entwined. He saw the fleeing night on the other side, its terrifying elements in turn diving on the western horizon, like a desperate, defeated, confused army.

3.  To Know Something

Binocular shaped shot. View of Futaki looking out of pulling curtain window {= Chapter 1}.  Pan to water trough, tap running,chicken, make-shift tent shape, (like this)  dog, scap outside house, doorway, roof, dog eating scraps, dripping tap.

Man sitting, pouring drink. Drinks. Drag of cigarette smoking  in ashtray. Opens draw. Opens exercise book. Writes and speaks what he writes:

“Futaki…it seems…is afraid of something. Early….startled….he was looking …out…the window. Futaki is terrified….he’s afraid of death.”

Smiles. Says:

“They kicked off anyway. You too, Futaki, you’ll kick off.”

Dog drinking from puddle seen through window. Cigarette smoke rising between camera and window.

Man draws picture of what he sees through window: two houses; electric posts and wires.

From a shelf of  flat-stacked folders, chooses one folder containing exercise books, sits at desk in front of window. Compares three drawings of same scene.  Date on one older drawing: XI 3 – 6.

Sees man leaving right hand house who stands outside peeing. Second man leaves house. Hides against wall of house opposite. First man re-enters house. Second man knocks on door and enters.

[= externals of Futaki/Schmidt in chapter 1: The News is They are Coming]

Records event while speaking words. While writing, another man walks past window. Does not notice, does not record. Finishes with:

“It has started….to rain….It won’t….stop…. till…spring.

Man drinking. Reads aloud from a reference/text book.

“It is fascinating to see….the erosion caused by water and wind at the edge of the Ponticum, when the sea on The Great Plain had receded. It looks like a shallow lake, like Lake Balaton does now.”

Mrs. Kráner brings his food. Calls him doctor. Tells him she can’t do it any more. Leaves the key.

Doctor collapses and wakes. Inject himself. Recovers. Diabetes.

Goes to workshop/barn carrying empty spirit flagon. Two older girls in the upper floor who appear to be prostituting.  Ask Doc if he wants sex. He’s availed himself before…. Declines. Collects new flagon at their feet.

Exterior. Doctor walking in rain towards lighted building.  Stumbles and falls over.

Cut to lit front of pub.


Young girl [ in background looking into window of pub = Chapter 5] runs from alley along side of building. Tugs doctor’s arm.

“Doctor. Doctor.”

“What are you doing. let me go.”

Doc falls over. Girl runs into night. Doc. Calls girl back. She doesn’t return.

Doc in woods: In a back-lit misty background three silhouetted figures walking left to right. He doesn’t see them.


Morning.  Doc. has slept in woods with flagon.

Man (same man in cafe with leather jacket) takes Doc home on his horse-drawn cart.

Narration as cart moves to horizon:

My heart – he thought again and again. He longed to lie in a warm room, and be taken care of by sweet little nurses, sipping hot soup, then turn towards the wall. He felt light and easy and the conductor’s scolding echoed long in his ears: You shouldn’t have done it, Doctor. You shouldn’t have done it if…


4. The Spider’s Function [25 minute sequence]


Gannex Man talks to barman who is out of frame. Thunder and lightening plays through window left as Gannex sits on bench

Leather Jacket (the conductor) comes in. {Has picked up Doc. in the woods in the previous scene} Tells barman Irimiás and Petrina are coming.

Barman goes to store room to work up a head of steam about Irimiás and Petrina.

Mrs Schmidt enters. Barman and Mrs. Schmidt discuss Irimiás.

The conductor says they will be here before midnight.

Mrs. Schmidt says she can smell something. Bends down under the stable to sniff floor boards. Says, “It is the earth.”

5.  Comes Unstitched

Girl and brother bury coins in woods. Kids her it will grow.

Told to sit outside house by mother.


Girl pets, taunts, tortures and kills cat.


Finds coins in wood are gone (carrying dead cat under one arm). Goes to tell brother (carrying dead cat). He tells her he has taken it. Ignores cat. Finds rat poison in her pocket.

Night. Girl walking towards pub. Outside light on. Faint sound of accordion music.

Girl looking through window.


Adults dancing. Side view of girl looking into window. Doctor walking to pub door. Girl runs from window down alley to Doctor front of bar. (=  chapter 3. To Know Something ). Close up girl’s head and shoulders. Scared. Runs. Disappears into into dark. Cut. Short walking to camera.

Day. Long walk to camera. Dead cat under arm.

Ruined church. Takes rat poison. Lies down. Dies with dead cat under arm.



Yes, she said to herself softly. The angels see this and understand. She felt serene and the trees, the road, the rain, and the night all breathed tranquility. Everything that happens is good, she thought. Everything was, eventually, simple.

She recalled the previous day and, smiling, she realized how things are connected. She felt that these events aren’t connected by accident, but there’s an indescribably beautiful meaning bridging them. And she knew she wasn’t alone for all things and people, her father upstairs, her mother, her brothers, the doctor, the cat, these acacias, this muddy road, this sky, this night down here depend on her, just as she herself depends on everything.

She had no reason to be worried. She knew well that her angels had set out for her.

6. The Spiders Function II (The devil’s nipples, Satantango)


Voice as yet unidentified:

I was just plodding and plodding, just plodding along. The Steigerwald kids and Hochan, the butcher, the girls, they jumped when like grasshoppers when Irimias hugged me and asked “How’s it going, Keleman?” and bought a round and told me everything and they were drinking rum and liquor, even then I was plodding and plodding and plodding along.

They’ll be here. They’ll be in the yard. They’ll be here. The Toth kid, Irimias and Petrina, and they’ve been to the Steigerwalds. And as I was plodding along it became clear. They are leaving for the yard, then I knew everything.

Irimias and Petrina are  coming towards the yard. I met Hochan, the butcher and bumped into the Toth kid. And as I was plodding along, for I had to pod, and saw them by the road, revelation…which way…why…where to…and the plodding, the why the where to and the which way, the Toth kid, the Steigerwald kids. Irimias and Petrina and the gunpowder at the Steigerwald’s. And the Steigerwald kids talking of gunpowder, and me plodding and plodding…And the Steigerwald kids were talking of gunpowder. And the Steigerwald kids…But the Toth kid he was there in the Weighbridge.

[At the bar – Put some soda in it.

– I’ve already put some in.]

And the Steigerwald kids…

[ A bottle of wine (someone asks the barman)]

Gunpowder’s not gunpowder. They were talking about gunpowder.

[ Careful it doesn’t go to your head. (barman)]

– No gun-powder, gunpowder.

I was plodding, plodding along…Gun-powder’s not gun-powder!  Gun-powder’s not gunpowder! Gun-powder! It’s no gun-powder! He hugged me…the waitresses jumped like grasshoppers…They were drinking rum and liquor.

Mrs. Schmidt: I shouldn’t have any more for it goes all to my head. You’re offering it so invitingly.

Schmidt: Just goes to your head! You’re pissed to the eyeballs.

Kel: As you plod along you learn everything.

Sch. to Kut.: Don’t give her another! Can’t you see the state of her!

Kut: I shouldn’t drink. When I do I keep thinking of coffins.

Kel: The Toth kid, the Steigerwalds and Irimias hugged me, the girls jumped like grasshoppers, and bought a round, drinking rum and liquer…and he told me everything and I’m plodding and plodding…plodding , plodding, and plodding along….but there’s a huge difference between plodding and plodding. I knew exactly when I saw them at the junction, why, how which way, why and how…I’m plodding, plodding, and how am I plodding? How am I plodding? The gunpowder, the Steigerwalds, the Toth kid…the whole street was talking, that they’re hiding gun-powder. Why did they do this? And why are they coming here?  I know why they’re coming because I had a revelation…

(Woman, off frame) This heat is unbearable. Janos, please do something.

Woolly Hat at bar to woman off screen: You don’t begrudge the coal?

Kel: He’s coming at the road junction. I know exactly why. Why,why and why they’re coming and why they’re coming.

Man not Schmidt puts hands unto Mrs. Schmidt’s blouse from behind: It’s nice and warm in here….

Mrs. Schmit: You let him dickhead?

Sch: What the hell you want? There’s some at least for the others.

Kel: (off screen): For I was plodding and plodding along…..They’re coming and coming…They stop but they’re coming!

Barman:  This is no whore-house.

Sch: What then?

Kel:….coming and coming. They stop but they are coming!

W H to barman: Let’s go to the mill.

{= two older girls chapter 3}

Kel: They get here. In some minutes.

Wife of WM : Where the hell are you going?

WH: Nowhere, honey-pot, nowhere.

Mrs. WH: I’ll show you who’s honey-pot, just you wait and get sober.

WH: Nothing, nothing.

Kel (to WH):  They’re coming  for I saw them by the road. At the junction.

Mrs WH (at bar):  Give me a shot.

Kel (still towards WH):   The Steigerwald kids talked about powder. Irimias and Petrina are coming towards the yard. Gunpowder, Steigerwald…and they’re coming towards the yard. They’re here in a short while. We were plodding along…

Mrs. WH [over Kel’s repetitions]  (to barman) : My man’s a good man…but the alcohol, you know. He can be a blessed good man if he wants to be. He’s a hard worker. You know that. He can do the work of two. Only this tiny mistake, that he has. Who doesn’t have one? Who?

Keleman still directing his repetitions at WH,  who is not listening or looking at Kel, while Mrs WH is at the bar:  They’re coming, plodding. Irimias and Petrina..

Someone shouts off-screen (Kel and WM look toward door (= to camera) : Someone’s coming. Everyone in the bar looks to door (= to camera).

Cut to door and handle opening. It is the girl’s mother (all this conversation has Kel’s voice in the background repeating)

Mother : Have you seen my daughter?

Bar: which one?

Mother: The little one. Estike.

Bar: She hasn’t been here.

Kel [off] : At the weighbridge.

Mother: You know what happened. A Little trouble with the Halics. [Smiles, wanly] Now he doesn’t even say hello, the shithead.

Kel [off]: I saw them by the road. Revelation….which way, why, where to…and the plodding, and the why and the where to, the which way…

Mother: I slept all day. I wake up in the evening: no one there. The house is empty. No Mari, no Juli, no Sanyika.

Kel [off]: And plodding, plodding, and plodding…The Steigerwald kids were talking about gunpowder.

Mother: But that’s alright, the little one wandered away somewhere. If she comes back she”ll get it.

Bar: She’ll come back. She’s not the wandering type.

Mother: She’s really not.

Kel [off]: …the gunpowder’s no gun-powder…

Mother : Wandering in this rain all night long…no wonder I must stay in bed for days.

kel [off]: The waitresses jumped like grasshoppers. They were drinking rum and liquor…

Mother: That’s good for my stomach.

[ Kel [off]:  plodding and plodding …]

Bar: Do you want coffee?

Mother: Why? I’d be tossing and turning all night long. Then what for? Nothing.

Kel [ off]:  In a little while I was plodding and plodding….The Toth kid, the Steigerwalds…and Irimias hugged me….the girls jumped like grasshoppers…he bought us a round, they had rum and liquor. He told me everything and I’m plodding…

Mother: Well, good night. If you happen to see them, tell them to hit the road home. I can’t be wandering around all night long.

Bar: Here’s the bill.

Kel [off]: why, how, which way, why and how….plodding and plodding. And how am I plodding? The gunpowder, Hochan, the butcher, Steigerwald, Toth…Everybody was talking about the Steigerwald kids hiding gunpowder.Why? And why are Irimias and Petrina coming towards the yard? I know why they’re coming. because I had a revelation. A revelation. I know why they’re coming because I had a revelation.They’re coming at the junction. I know exactly why. They stop but they’re coming.

[3] Futaki outside in rain being sick. Pig eating in the rain by the door. Barman stands outside in doorway in rain. Brings Fut inside.

[4] Barman to Fut: Futaki, that stupid ass rolls in the mud like a pig, then he goes out in the rain like a sheep that has gone astray. You’re out of your mind? You know you’re not meant to get wrecked in here? And without eating too? Wash your face.

Bar: milk chocolate or cheese rolls.

K: Give me two cheese rolls.

Barman and K. eat in back on bed. Barman rants about spiders covering everything with cobwebs.. At one point he says; “That damn Swabian did me in….nothing comes of nothing…

{ Irimias a Swabian? Who are the Steigerwalds?}

Kut:   Kut’s remarks and barman rant about Irimias drinking at his bar for a fortnight before disappearing and now coming back to take his money.

[5]  Tango dance sequence. At the end Halics the ex-teacher asks Mrs. Schmidt for a tango.

End narration:

And for the tender sound of an accordion the spiders in the pub launched their last attack. They sewed loose webs on top of the glasses, the cups, the ashtrays, around the legs of the tables and the chairs. Then they bound them together with secret threads so that in their hidden corners they notice every little move and every little stir until this almost invisible web is not damaged.

They sewed a web on the sleepers faces, their feet, their hands. The hurried back to their hiding-place, waiting for an ethereal thread to move to start it all again.


7.   Irimias Gives a Speech

(Girl) Estike’s funeral. Irimias speech: part funeral oration/ part threat.  They hand over their money.

8.   Perspective from the Front

[1] Estike’s coffin loaded on 4×4 by bar owner.

[2] Irimias wakes after sleeping with Mrs. Schmidt.

[3] Irimias’ farewell speech to group.

[4] Group smash furniture and leave [ in same direction as cows in first shot]


The wind is blowing the clouds, behind the sky is burning, Give me, my dear, your little hand, God knows if I’ll see you again; whether I’ll close you in my arms, whether I’ll kiss you, dear? God only knows the day the battery is leaving. Whether I’ll close you…

[5] Head and shoulder Futaki walking to camera heavy rain. [Song still heard in background…]

You’re lovely, you’re fair, Hungary…

[6] Pulling trolleys  along made up road away from camera. Noise of trolley wheels almost overpowering dialogue.

Stop at a monument. Share a bottle of spirit or water.  Gannex Man is called  Lajos by wife.

[7] Arrive at manor house at dusk.

[8] Inside manor by lamplight.


One owl hoot off screen.

[9] Manor house. No dialogue. Panning, swirling camera [accordion music] examines faces of group. Camera circles Mrs. Schmidt’s head.

Zoom in on owl in fireplace.

[10] Sleeping group to accordion.

Narration over shot:

Halics was pursued by a hunchback with a glass eye. And after all sorts of trials he ran into the river, but he’s started to lose heart, every tike he came up for air the little man hit his head with a long stick. And each time he shouted, “Now you’ll get it.”

The schoolmaster persuaded a man wearing an old suit to go with him somewhere he knows;  the man agreed, like someone who can’t say no. He could hardly control himself and when they turned into a deserted park, he even pushed him to reach a bench surrounded by bushes. He made the man lie down and he jumped on him, kissed him on the neck, but in seconds some doctors appeared on the walk dressed in white; embarrassed, he waved that he was going  but he started to reproach the confused little man for, by then, he seemed to hate his guts.

The ground trembled under Schmidt’s feet. As if he were walking on the moors. He climbed up into a tree, but he felt, that’s started to shrink too. He was lying on the bed and tried to get the nightgown off his wife. But she started to yell, he jumped after her, the nightgown was torn. She laughed, and the enormous nipples on her breasts were like two beautiful roses.

Mrs Halics was washing Mrs Schmidt’s back;  the rosary on the rim of the tub slipped into the water like a snake. Mrs Schmidt said she had enough, her skin was burning from the rubbing but Mrs Halics pushed her back into the bath and went on scrubbing her back; she said she was afraid that Mrs Schmidt wouldn’t be satisfied.

Mrs Kraner heard a noise from outside but she didn’t knew what it could be. She put on a fur coat and left for the engine-shed. She had almost reached  the road when she had a bad feeling. She turned and saw their house was on fire.

“The chopped wood. Christ, I left the chopped wood out,” she screamed and ran back. Kraner was sitting at the table, calmly eating.

“Joska, are you crazy? The house is on fire!”

But Kraner didn’t move.

Mrs. Schmidt was a bird, flying over the clouds, happy. She saw that someone down there was waving at her. She came down a bit and heard Schmidt shouting.

“Why didn’t you cook anything, you bitch! Come down here.”

But she flew over him and chattered: tomorrow. You won’t starve till then. She felt the warmth of the sun on her back, she came down a bit. She wanted to snatch a bug.

Futaki’s shoulders were beaten with an iron bar. he couldn’t move, he was tied to a tree. He stretched out and felt the rope loosen. He looked at his shoulders and saw a long wound; he turned his head, he couldn’t stand seeing it. He was sitting on an excavator, the grab was scooping out some earth. A man came up to him and said,

“Hurry up, I won’t give you any more petrol whatever you say.”

But it was no use scooping for the earth kept falling back. He tried again but failed.. Then he cried…He was sitting at the window of the engine-shed and didn’t know whether it was daybreak or evening, it just didn’t end; he was sitting not knowing the time of day, nothing was changed outside,  morning didn’t come, night didn’t fall, day was beginning to break or night was beginning to fall.

9.   Go to Heaven? Have Nightmares?

[1] Irimias departure speech on steps of pub seen from behind the group. {= Ch.7} Camera pulls back. Group moves off. Same swearing at barman.

[2] I/P/Sanyi (girl’s older brother) walk to horizon discussing whether to go through with plan or get away.

[3] Three walk through woods.

[4] Irimias close up with deep sound heard first at cow shot.


[5]  Irimias kneels as mist passes through ruin {where girl killed herself}. Walk off in same shot. Mist disperses. Gets up.All three walk on on same shot.

[6]  Empty Town square. 10-15 horses appear, run around central monument. Camera pulls back to reveal backs of all three in close-up. Petrina: “The horse got away from the abattoir again.”

Three walk away down road horses have come from. A few of the horses mill around monument several times.

[7]  Steigerwald’s bar. Irimias dictates notes to Petrina. Sanyi sent to find Peyer. Talk to him about explosives.  I/P sleep.

10.  Perspective From the Rear

Group at the manor.  Irimias turns up.  Tells them the plans for the project have to be postponed. They are to split up.  Driven to town, where final ‘instructions’ are issued by Irimias. Kutaki says he’ll go his own way. Irimias returns some money, so he can eat every day.

11.  Just Trouble and Work

I/P/S litter-strewn walk. Policemen tailor Irimias’s report on the group.

12.  No way Out

Doc writes.

During the thirteen days I spent in hospital…Mrs Kraner didn’t turn up….again….everything is…like I’d left it. Neither of them leave the house. They must be…lying on their beds, snoring…or staring at the ceiling. They haven’t a clue…that it is this dull inertia…that leaves them…at the mercy …what they most fear.

Sound of bells in the distance.

A cosmic wirtschaft*. My hearing…is getting worse.

* business

Sound of bells. Looks at window. Puts on coat. Goes out.  Cut. Walks toward camera.  Pan across wet meadow. Flat horizon. Sound of bells rises. Cut to bell tower. Walks to tower. Sound of  light bell.

Voice from tower:

The Turks are coming! The Turks are coming! [repeated endlessly]

Enters tower. Man banging metal bar/gas cylinder.  Repeating chant. Sound of tinkling bell. Sound of deep bell rising up over it.


Doc walks along road away from tower. (SEE note. 6. Bells) Silence. Camera moves away leaving him walking. Smaller and smaller figure.

Back in room. Speaks.

I’ve mistaken the bells of the sky for the sound of the knell.

Boards up window. Blackness.

Doc’s voice pacing his voice to his writing:

One morning…at the end of October….not long before…the first drops…of the insufferably long …autumn rains….fell…on the parched…sodic ground…on the western side of the yard…for…the stinking bog….to make the tracks…until the frosts…impassable…and the town cut off…Futaki was woken…by the sound of the bells. Closest…eight kilometers to the south-west…on the Hochmeiss* field…was a solitary chapel…but not only no bell there…even its tower collapsed….during the war…

* that looks pretty German to me!



A Place in the Pantheon Jonathan Rosenbaum

The story line in Satantango— brilliant, diabolical, sarcastic–gradually unravels the dreams, machinations, and betrayals of a failed farm collective over a few rainy fall days, two of them rendered more than once, from the perspectives of different characters. But the plot operates almost independently of the moral and experiential weight given each shot: Tarr’s camera obliges us to share so much time as well as space with the grubby characters that we can’t help but become deeply implicated in their lives and maneuverings.

Other succinct summaries

The Spiders’ Webs (on Bela Tarr’s Satantango) Green Integer blog and Bright Lights Film Journal

A Longer summary with comments

The Spiders’ Webs (on Bela Tarr’s Satantango)

Two reviews by dialogue

Dan and Ben go barmy at Cinemania (My title)

A compilation of emails between  Dan Jardine and Ben Livant – two enthusiasts debate Tarr, Tarkovsky, etc, fresh from viewing Satantango

Sean and Padric wax  lyrical at blog Reviews from the Couch


Take a sentence here, a phrase there, cut and paste a super-view.  (Or, Many Minds Make Film Understood)

  • Many of these reviews are quite old and did not have the benefit of frame-by-frame using the DVD. When I watched the YouTube extracts way back, pause and replay made it possible for me to examine how these shots were made. Clearly, anyone coming to long takes for the first time, will want to think about how the content is delivered by Tarr compared with how it might be presented though cutting.

I do not agree this sort of film has to be seen in a darkened auditorium.  There is something to be said for being able to stop watching for a moment when things get tough or re-wind to take in what has been seen. I have watched it on TV and PC. The software I use has a mouse-wheel  5 second forward and rewind facility, which has proved invaluable.

  • There are many links to reviews of Sátántangó in the first Bela Tarr post, so some of them might overlap with the collection here.

The World According to Bela Tarr By András Bálint Kovács in KinoKultura

Essay on whole oeuvre.

Three posts from Waggish:

Bela Tarr: Satantango

Bela Tarr: Satantango [2]

Bela Tarr: Satantango [3]

He refers to

Sátántangó: And then there was Darkness

By Donato Totaro

Satantango (Bela Tarr) 1994 Jeremy Heilman

Lateral Sculpture: Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó Ryland Walker Knight in blog The house next door.  Starts by comparing Tarkovsky and Tarr.

Satantango (Hungary, 1994, Bela Tarr)

Extremely long and discursive post in Cinemania. 10 stills.

Partisans in the persistent and hopeless fight for human dignity: Sátántangó

Sátántangó (Satan’s Tango  /  Hungary  /  1994)    Rumsey Taylow

TANGO marathon David Borwell

Shall We Satantango? Cullen Gallagher in The L Magazine:

Tarr’s extended long takes (many lasting several minutes) invoke an almost out-of-body experience in the viewer, as real-time blends with Tarr-time and the minutes on-screen encapsulate something both intimately specific and profoundly universal. Time has rarely been used more wisely in cinema than in Satantango, which is, along with Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), one of the most resolute cases against wearing wristwatches during a movie.

Nine Minutes of Cows blog Spectacular Attractions

9 stills.

Satantango DVD review by John Adams. Thinks it’s about time and texture.

Satan’s tango Richard Warburton in a Warwick University blog, True Contradictions.

On DVD: “Satantango,” “Eagle Shooting Heroes” reviews two films.

Dancing in the dark with Satantango Kathie Smith

Satantango (1994) Darren Hughes, at blog Long pauses….

Satantango (1994) A Film by Bela Tarr Film blog “are the hills going to march off” (Carson Lund)

Bela Tarr’s Slow Burn Ed Salter, The Village Voice.

Opening Shots: “Satantango” (Bela Tarr, 1994)

Blog Out 1: Film from the Inside Out

On Sátántangó Initial thoughts blog:  Drifting / David Lowery

Sátántangó (Satan’s Tango) – Béla Tarr by Srikanth Srinivasan:

….in these shots, you see a very ordinary picture, say of bar-room dance or a group of cows grazing. As the length of the shot increases you’ll feel a bit edgy, waiting for a cut. When the shot further prolongs to unimagined lengths, you’ll start noticing finer details in the images that you failed to pay heed to in the previous minutes. You’ll gather a lot from the still life of the shot and from objects and events that appeared to be banal till now. And as you slowly get enthralled by these tableau-like images, Tarr cuts to the next, leaving you craving for a longer shot! In a way, each cut seems like a turning point in the seemingly simple plot.

The Spiders’ Webs (on Bela Tarr’s Satantango)
Green Integer Blog
Contemporary Obscurity: Satantango Mike Dawson

Béla Tarr’s bedeviled magnum opus Michael Garberich
Partisans in the persistent and hopeless fight for human dignity: Sátántangó

David McDougall Chained to the Cinematique.

The long take extends time. Each shot spends so much time observing a character that it becomes a sort of presentation without judgment. The experience of watching each shot is meditative; as a result, the viewer spends most of the film in his/her own head. For me, a typical experience of watching a single shot in the film might go like this: I identify the action and the character. I process how it relates to what I’ve seen. Then I get an idea of what it means. I then have time to contradict my thoughts and construct an alternate – or opposite – meaning. I then am struck with the weight of time, and the length of an action as it occurs. This time then forces me to be aware of the moment presented as a component of life, an event that exists but then fades away (both on screen, and for me). I then think about the limitations of time, and about my impending death. I then return to the scene and feel empathy for the characters even as they commit morally questionable acts. Finally, I’m left watching them, seeing them as they are: striving, flawed, human.

Rain Man by Michael Atkinson

…Sátántangó is a vast lake you explore for its endless depth, not a narrative river you ride from plot point A to point Z.

…it’s an epic trance state, a massive portrait of a withered universe.

Within this fraught structure, Sátántangó wanders, dallies, and watches, exhaustively, as the individuals worry and doomsay their way into one dead end after another (alcoholic ruin, cruelty, suicide, thievery, sodden despair), a plethora of scheming, paranoid human beasts playing out their final act in a godless world.

Are you sitting comfortably?

The slow, oblique existential film is making a comeback. Jonathan Romney couldn’t be happier

By Michael Atkinson {GoogleBook} pp. 73-78

Satantango: A Seven-Hour Contemplation of Boredom, Decay and Misery

Contemporary Obscurity: Satantango
Mike Dawson in Left Field Cinema

Sátántangó (1994, Béla Tarr)
Cathartic Pictures Film Blog


Martin Drouot. This is an automatic translation from the French, so make allowances.

Satantango: A film by Bela Tarr

Another French view from Pierre Grise Distribution: note how it is possible to re-adjust the translation by running the mouse over these translated texts.


Having watched the film at least three times including re-winding, I am slowly coming to come to the conclusion that Tarr made Satantango primarily for  his own satisfaction and pleasure, and his friends, but is happy for anyone else to watch it and make what they will of it.

This might also explain why he is so tetchy about explaining the film or how he made it. Doing so in any detail would spoil his own immersion in the film, what went into making it, and the journey he, as a person, went on in the process.

1. Structure.

A review by Tim Wilkinson, The devil has all the good tunes, of the book on which the film was based, Satantango by László Krasznahorkai, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Bela Tarr, explains the novel substantially, including the structure, based around the tango steps. Six out, six back, represented by the 12 chapters of the book and the film.

A simple way to show  how the film works it to draw a horse-shoe, open end at the bottom,  arrange 12 nodes, chapters 1 and 12 at the ends, and then use arrows to link each node. Each to his own. I chose  to concentrate first  on chronology/overlaps, linking any one scene to even with the slightest re-occurrence in another. For example, I/R/S appear fleetingly at the end of the doc’s Chapter 3. Know Something.

2. Book and film.

[1] As soon as I finished reading Wilkinson, I wondered if the book was more effective than the film. Or, rather if the film lived up to the book. There is no way of telling without having read it, but once I got the idea the book might have been hard to translate into film, it wouldn’t go away.

There are plenty of others that fall into this category. My favourite {unfilmable/hard-to-film} is Mann’s The Magic Mountain.  Reading  the quotes from the Krasznahorkai’s book which turn into narrative voice-over in the film, I got the feeling that the length of Tarr’s film was a reflection of  his desire to capture  the ‘interior’ of the book:  the thoughts and feelings of the characters which are rarely effectively translated into film. Standard montage films can’t achieve this effect. If you want to cut, cut, how to show long stretches of text which contain the mental activity?  Tarr gives a demonstration of how it is possible with the doctor writing his reports. It’s as if he started with the doctor and had to make the film 7 hours long to accommodate the rest without Doc looking too bloated!

[2] Tarr and book author Krasznahorkai co-wrote the screenplay. Tarr apparently saw the book before it was published in 1985.

László Krasznahorkai Portrait

László Krasznahorkai was born in 1954, in the town of Gyula in the east of Hungary, close to the Romanian border.(source : almost and island ).

The first three chapters of László Krasznahorkai‘s Satantango, translated by George Szirtes, are available online which are useful to partially see how it has been possible to make the book into film. Fun to see which parts have been left out and major differences.

Book chapters:

I. The News of their Coming

II. We are Resurrected

III. To Know Something

HTML version (all three chapters)

One glaring difference between book and film is ‘the summons’. {Chapter 2. Rise from the Dead.}  The description of the interaction between Irimias, Petrina and the Captain in the book is radically different from the film. (Unless there is more of this in the book elsewhere…). In the book he swears and bullies them, forces them to become informers, and sends them packing. In the film he breaks into a measured speech, trying to quote Pericles on freedom and order, which is partially transcribed in my ‘script’.

Chapter III of the book begins:

At the end of the Palaeozoic era the whole of Central Europe begins to sink. Naturally, our Hungarian homeland is part of this process. In the new geological circumstances the hill masses of the palaeozoic era sink ever lower until they have reached rock bottom at which point the sedimental sea inundates and covers them. As the sinking continues the territory of Hungary becomes the north-western basin of that part of the sea that covers Southern Europe. The sea continues to dominate the region right through the mesozoic era.

In the film Doc reads from a reference book:

“It is fascinating to see….the erosion caused by water and wind at the edge of the Ponticum, when the sea on the Great Plain had receded. It looks like a shallow lake, like Lake Balaton does now.”

Lake  Balaton.

Map of Hungary showing position of Balaton.

{SEE  Note 13. Locations.}

3. Repetition (and the long take)

[1] I have transcribed the whole dialogue from Chapter 6 of the film to see what it might have looked like on paper at the start. One suspects that such a post-transcript is not identical to the working script. And how would the book read?

Having watched the scene you can laugh more at the text.  (Bela Tarr Notes from Adrian Chan’s blog The Listening Ear, has something to say on repetition: “…the slow, repetitive passages invite the viewer to think about the principles of repetition.”

On paper, the bare dialogue including The Conductor’s ‘plodding, plodding’ loop looks like  reading a Beckett play. On film, the others pay no attention to what he is saying, which I have not fully indicated in my ‘script’. Not one person turns to listen to what he has to say. On the one occasion when he directs his speech to someone that person looks towards him but does not respond. No one tells him to shut up.

Although this may not be what Tarr intended, a long think about this scene suggests, to me, perhaps the plodding, plodding, plodding, though expressed orally – received aurally – can represent what is going on in the heads of the people in the pub. So, if you like, it is as if Keleman has said this only once (or twice!)  and the rest is the dread, the keywords, the re-formulations running through the minds of the people in the room, who at the same time are  pretending it doesn’t bother them. They can’t, in any case, let on what they think of the news of Irimias’s possible return because they each have their own agendas which they do not wish to disclose to others.  Have the two at once – the repetitions and the sense that it is also teeming through the heads of the otherwise inscrutable – and pow!

The repetitions, watched and listened to, are irritating, but one can see something is going on despite the irritation, if one asks why he says it so often, why the others do not respond, what relation it has to the next, long dance shot, remembering at the same time that in the other pub scene everyone stops and looks to the door – they expect it to be Irimias but it is only the girl’s mother.


Partisans in the persistent and hopeless fight for human dignity: Sátántangó

argues, “The long take extends time.”  He constructs a scenario for how he might watch a long take:

….a typical experience of watching a single shot in the film might go like this: I identify the action and the character. I process how it relates to what I’ve seen. Then I get an idea of what it “means.” I then have time to contradict my thoughts and construct an alternate – or opposite – meaning. I then am struck with the weight of time, and the length of an action as it occurs. This time then forces me to be aware of the moment presented as a component of life, an event that exists but then fades away (both on screen, and for me). I then think about the limitations of time, and about my impending death. I then return to the scene and feel empathy for the characters even as they commit morally questionable acts. Finally, I’m left watching them, seeing them as they are: striving, flawed, human.

Note 10. Mechanical time, has been put separately. The term came from reading Dan and Ben.

4.  The cow shot.

A set up shot, yet it is also documentary footage.  Some comments: Béla Tarr’s Long Takes (an education in film).

The introductory cow shot could be seen as documentary because the cows actions are uncontrollable, despite the mis-en-scene being planned and the structure introduced by the use of a long track.  An example of the ad hoc element in filming is when the boldest cow comes quite close to the camera (it can’t be a long lens because of the wide-angle of the shot) and then moves to the right. The camera turns leftwards, as if an instant decision has been made to exclude the cow it is at that point half in / half out of shot) for a more tidy frame – it is disrupting the mid and background activity of the other cows. In the end the cow is left half in the frame because to move the camera too far to the right will begin to remove the centre of the herd from the centre background of the frame.

When The Conductor pushes the drunk doctor up onto his cart at the end of chapter 3. Know Something, there is a kerfuffle with a box being used to help him step up. This involves the actor first putting the box one way, then, when he  realises the doctor won’t be able to get up from that height, laying it side-on to make a higher step.

5. Cows and horses.

Cows at the beginning, and later a horses clatter on the cobble stones into the market square of the town where they Irimias and Petrina visit the authorities.

Cows and horses probably pinpoints the locale pretty accurately for a Hungarian.

I’m no expert, but  it does take long starting from wiki: Hungary to find such things as Puszta

For those saying the film is about the collapse of communism (said not to be because of when the book was written), I would suggest cows and horses suggest a longing for some past Hungary.  But other keywords suggest the very complicated history of Hungary: in other words whose  past Hungary?

6. German Names

Schmidt and Steigerwald – suggesting something about Hungary’s history. To Hungarian audiences many of these things will have a meaning the non-Hungarian audiences miss. I picked up on it after a few re-watchings of selected scenes. I tried to remember what I had seen and read about Hungary, particularly around the Second world war, but nothing specific came apart from it being part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Reading around, and noticing later in a one of the manor house shots, someone  says, “…damn Swabian …”.


In parts of the former Yugoslavia (i.e. Slovenia, Slavonija in Croatia, and Vojvodina in Serbia), the term Swab (locally Švab, from Шваб) is somewhat applied to all German peoples who lived in those regions until shortly after World War II, and many of their descendants; it is even occasionally used as a slang term to refer to all Germans as well as Austrians and Swiss German speaking people.

This seems to be a theme of the film. Though study Hungary’s history and it is apparent there are dozen of ethnic groups, and re-alignments of borders etc, so why the Swabians?

One line of thinking is the roll German Hungarians  played in The Second World  War.

Wiki: Danube Swabians

wiki: Swabian Turkey

wiki: Swabia

History of German Settlements in Southern Hungary by Susan Clarkson

{SEE note 8. Bells}

7.  Music/sound.

Mihály Vig, who plays Irimias, composes music for Tarr’s films and is in Hungarian band Balaton.

Watching the scene at the end of the film quite a few times revealed something about overlap in sound.  which echoes and helps to tie together some of the overlapping pov.

{SEE  last three paras. of note 8. Bells.}

{SEE   Bela Tarr’s Sound Images: Cinema of Proximity}

8. Bells

The mention of “The Turks are coming!” by the bell ringer suggests something to do with  Ottoman / Austro-Hungarian empire.

Blog Gladsome Morning is the only post reviewing Satantango I have so far found which  suggests the historical point.

There were waves of German immigration over the centuries {History of German Settlements in Southern Hungary}  The Germans seemed to suffer disproportionately at the hands of the invading Ottomans. {SEE note 6.}

Learning more about the location of the ruined mansion { SEE note 13.} it seemed quite clear that this part of Hungary which author of book came from, bordering on Romania, , was the bit that was overrun by the Turks centuries before.

In the final part of Chapter 12, as the doctor arrives at the bell tower, the sound changes from the deep drone, first heard in the cow shot, to the more tinkling sound of a smaller bell, and then to a more metallic sound, created by the ‘madman’ banging what almost looks like a suspended gas cylinder, as doc. enters the tower, and is seen to touch the ‘bell’.

As the camera lingers on the ‘madman’ (a fantasy sequences or real?) endlessly repeating his “Turks are coming! “, the deep drone reappears  under the sound of the more tinkly banging. Through a glassless window directly behind the ‘madman’s head in close-up, the horizon can be seen, and on it the vague outline of woods, or even what might be a building such as the ruin where the girl killed herself. By this stage, one suspects that every shot has a reference to another in it. It’s as if Tarr had designed this film with lines of sight from one shot to another in a chain.

In the next shot, as Doc. returns to the settlement – the bell tower receding to his left – both the banging of the ‘bell’ and the drone continues, but slowly, as he gets further away from the tower, the bell sound diminishes, leaving, just for a few moments only, the eerie drone, till in the end there is no sound at all, just Doc. waking on to a fade to black.

In the book:

I. The News of their Coming

One morning near the end of October, not long before the first drops of the mercilessly long autumn rains began to fall on the cracked and saline soil on the western side of the plot (so that later the stinking yellow sea of mud might render footpaths impassable and put the town too beyond reach) Futaki woke to hear bells. The closest possible source was a lonely chapel about four kilometres south-west on the old Hochmeiss estate but not only did that have no bell but the tower had collapsed during the war and it was too far to hear anything at that distance. And in any case, it was not of distant bells these ringing-booming triumphal sounds reminded him but something quite close (“ It was as if they came from the mill…”) swept along by the wind. He propped himself on his elbows on the pillow so as to look out of the mousehole-sized kitchen window that was partly misted up, towards the faint blue dawn sky but the field was still and silent bathed only in the ever fainter bell sound; and the only light to be seen was that percolating from the doctor’s window among the other houses set well apart on the far side, and that was only because its occupant had for years been unable to sleep in the dark. He held his breath because he did not want to lose a single stray note of the rapidly fading clangor in order to know the truth (“ You are bound to be asleep, Futaki…”) and in order to be assured of it he needed to hear every single sound, however isolated.

Doc in Chapter 12. :

A cosmic wirtschaft*. My hearing…is getting worse.

which seems to translate as business.

and soon after:

I’ve mistaken the bells of the sky for the sound of the knell.

9. The Doctor’s record

[1] Dan and Ben are not enamoured with it his scene.

[2] Ric Olson has done a marvelously titled little post called Binocular Aesthetic, in his blog Coosa Creek Cinema, including three ‘binocular stills” and at the end 4.20 mins. of the shot, ending with a cut to shot 2 of  the Doc.  in side view looking through his binocs.

For some reason when I played this shot to see where it ended, there was no sound. It looses a lot however, by not having the soundtrack. This fortuitous soundlessness in Olsen’s extract is a serious mini-essay on film sound.  For me, in silence, the shot seems just what it is, a filmic conceit: a camera movement that tells us it is what a man saw. Without the eerie booming bell sound, which creates such an emotional reaction, focusing the mind as much on the sound as the image — even working to suggest there is someone behind the view a silent version tends not to — it just looks like a complicated pan and tilt: no human eye moves so slowly over a set of objects. The word saccade comes to mind. If you had asked set of people to look at this camera trajectory from a diagram, and then perform it on the mise-en-scene, there would be an almost universal tendency to go back and forwards, to stop on particular items of interest for longer than others, and even to depart from the diagram at certain points.

What in fact happens is both a pre-ordained camera movement and additional  movements which are dictated by events as the shot is being filmed (as in many other shots, but particularly the cow intro).  For example, the dog is in the frame, and then moves out of it, so the camera locks on to it for a few seconds before letting it leave the frame, to concentrate on the water trough and tap which happens to behind the dog at the moment it exits right.

[3] Tarr needed a device to mirror the way the novel achieves this. {How did the novel do it, I wonder?  Was the description in the book like the shot in the film?}

Having him mumbling what he is writing down get’s round the necessity to have more narrative voice over. We don’t need to see what he is writing. We are shown he’s writing.  If the director chose to show us only once that this character was writing down his observations, what does he then shoot?  What is the point of the camera filming what the man sees if he is describing it? In reality, we get a bit of both which is what makes film so much fun for the people making them!

There are other ways of  packaging the information in these scenes. But they would require many cuts and might temporarily de-emphasise the man himself. (cf. Hitchcock’s, Rear Window)  The shots of what is going on from various angles would take the place of the explanation and exploration of the doctor in long takes.

On several occasions the camera records what the doctor sees (= we see it) through the window and then what the doctor records and says. This enables us to see how he interprets what he sees.

Overall, it may be saying something about film,  about how it can or cannot translate a book’s ability to do the milieu interior.  In the main, directors are always playing with and demonstrating what film can do. But then so do the authors of novels.

[4] There is something which is mentioned in several of the reviews listed above and by  Chris Robé in Sculpting through Movement:

While sitting at his desk and staring out his window at his neighbors’ houses, he pours out brandy in a glass. He then pours water into another glass. Into a third glass he mixes them and drinks.

When Futaki (Miklós Székely B.) runs from Mrs. Schmidt’s house (Éva Almássy Albert), he shuffles through his pile of notebooks, opening one and writing what he sees. He remains sitting, breathing heavily, every movement underlined by grunts. He repeats his drinking process until Mrs. Kraner (Irén Szajki) enters his house and informs him that she can no longer work for him. After she leaves, he shuffles through more notebooks and then writes down what transpired as well as his belief that something shifty is going on in the town. He repeats his drinking process.

Without any background information, we nonetheless learn that the Doctor parcels out his life through distinct routines. Nothing is left to chance. Even the unexpected moments must be reworked into habit by capturing them within his notebooks. It is a sad life that his drinking attempts to soften but only becomes yet another routine further burying him within his house, in his chair, underneath his belabored breaths.

If the doctors activity is closely observed, perhaps missed on a first viewing, he can be seen to be meticulous in where he places things.  For example, when the lady brings his lunch and places it on his desk, he angrily asked her to move it, then carefully reorganises his pencils. In the scene where he drains the last  few drops of brandy from the flagon, he uses a funnel from the cupboard at his feet, then puts it back in the cupboard.

He carefully records the goings on observed through his window, yet while writing down about Futaki’s activities, doesn’t notice The Man with the Glasses (and what looks much like Harold Wilson’s Gannex Coat) walk straight past his window right to left. But we see him. The camera sees him. We see Doc. does not see everything.

In a previous scene, Janos (Gannex Man) is see walking right to left in the background, which is past the doctors window, shot from outside the Schmidt’s house.

10. Mechanical time

Dan and Ben:

Bergson was so openly hostile to the mechanical measurement of time replacing what was for him our authentically human sense of duree

wiki: Duration (Bergson)

[1] There must be a simple way to say this for film. When a director gets two men to walk off into the horizon, and watches them continuously for the 5 minutes it takes to do, and then asks them to repeat it while he films it, he becomes aware of the difference between the two and fancies demonstrating it.

Film of course, asks the audience to fill in what is missing. Tarr asks us to imagine watching the two men disappearing over the horizon while watching his shot of it in real time. (As we watch we say, Yes, he is filming it in real-time, but at the same time we say, This is not real.  When we think of such things, we know that we would rarely watch anyone continuously for 3-4 minutes, in real life, as they walked away – except perhaps a much-loved one who we thought might never return!  Many of us have watched the train (and the person waving from the open window) get smaller and smaller, till it disappears round the bend.  Though we could be distracted – someone on the platform might get in the way – and perhaps come back to the scene in visual doses of our own choosing  (“Have they disappeared yet? No. Then I’ll look at something else till they do.”)

In film, we are directed, within a frame, to watch such a shot. We don’t have to, but the convention – the unwritten contract between film-maker and film-viewer – is that we do so. Anyone who makes such a long continuous shot knows some of the audience will watch without a break, while others will not. Some will watch intently, others will drift off into the examination of detail, others into personal memories.

[2] Does a director (or script writer if not the same) wonder what happens after you have left the cinema?  Of course he does.  He has come out of the dark into the light many, many times himself. He knows no two people will have seen the same film even though they have been in the same cinema at the same time. And will be delighting and annoying  each other with what they thought they did  and didn’t see as they walk down the theatre steps and into the street.

11. Narrative, chronology, p.o.v.

My first post on Sátántangó was based on a YouTube extract of the opening cow and the later tango scene. This seemed like a good exercise while waiting to get the DVD:  nothing but to concentrate on the scenes as film without worrying about the story which they formed a part of.

Watching the whole film on DVD, with these two scenes already in the pot, didn’t spoil the viewing, which is a demonstration of the way he has structured the film.

At one point, in the girl and the Doc. exterior night scenes, faint accordion music in the background — rain sheeting down, a paltry exterior light forming a weak glow over the entrance to the pub — was enough for me to re-imagine the drunken dancing in the pub seen in full in YouTube months before as I was watching this different perspective.  A strange, pleasing sensation that the two characters themselves at that point knew less than me. I knew what was going on in the pub in great detail having seen the full 12 minutes and Doc. didn’t know a thing! Not that I knew exactly what the drunken dance meant out of context in the YouTube extract.

In her scene, the girl moves to the window to watch the dancing. Doc. pays no attention to the sound of music in his scene, which also shows the girl in the background looking at the dancers before she runs to the doctor.  Doc does not see the girl at the window. But we do. Or might do.


By chapter 3, which starts with the doctor looking through his binoculars, we recognise we are reprising chapter 1. In the girl’s chapter (5) we see the Doc, already seen in 3, and are thrown back perhaps to Futaki in 1.  Doc. 3 presages tango dance at 6, through the sound of the accordion, but we do not get a view of the dance through the window till the girl looks in at 6.

Doc. drunk trudges outside near the pub. He falls down, gets up. A young girl approaches and calls him Doc. Scared of him, she then runs away. Doc falls down in the mud then gets up to call after her.

Chapter 5, from the p.o.v of the young girl, ends with two shots of the girl: one looking into the pub watching the adults dancing to accordion music, the other a static close up of her face framed by the misty window from inside the bar.

The girl’s scene starts much earlier in daylight outside her house. The doctors scene also starts earlier with him in his room. It is only as one watches the second scene, questions arise if both sccnes represent exactly the same block of time or overlap in some way.

Pub scenes in Chapters 4 and 6 are continuous, starting with Keleman entering in 4 , and ending with the dance in 6.

Knowing the pub tango scene and its looped accordion music  from the YouTube extract, something happened that was not meant to when I watched the DVD.  Though the bar dance had not happened yet in the film, having watched all twelve minutes of it in YouTube,  months before, I could visualise the whole scene from outside in the dark as I ‘stood behind’  the characters trudging about in the rain.

We do see what is happening inside the bar, when the girl goes to the window, but the action does not last as long as the full 12 minutes of the dancing shot from within the room.

Some bright spark in one online assessment  writes of cubism, which is a neat analogy. For this to work in film, we need persistence of memory. Whether one could be clever enough to claim Tarr is applying analytic rather than synthetic cubism, I cannot say.

12. Subtitles.

Tarr was reluctant, it seems, to bring Satantango out on DVD. I wonder what he thought about subtitles. Having watched the film, whole and part, it was only when ignoring the subtities many of the visual details were noticed. Thankfully there isn’t much dialogue, so it can be an eye-centric experience, with half an ear (= eye on the subtitles) on what is being said. Those shots where the words are important to grasp the story, for example, the Captain’s speech, the visuals can be almost be ignored. What can be learned from watching the captain’s face as he delivers his ‘speech’?

The ultimate for me – to be able to understand more of what Tarr was trying to achieve – would be a well-done English dubbed version, so that the non-Hungarian gets the full Hungarian experience through listening to what is being said. There are quite a few words which by themselves without anything else, flesh out a greater terrain than the film covers visually. {SEE: quite a few of the other notes.}

Many of those reviewing the film after a cinema viewing, claimed it was the only and best way to watch it, debating whether the DVD would do the job the director intended.  I have only watched it on DVD, and unlikely to get an opportunity to see it in a cinema.  An example of what you get with DVD that you might not catch otherwise is my description (real or fanciful?) of the final bell sequence in note 6.

13. Time, Location, Locations.

Tarr has said that he considers time and location to be characters in his films, on the same level of importance as his human actors.

According to Harry Tuttle, there were 10 separate locations. I’m a location freak, so if you have any detailed info about this, let me know. For example, did Tarr film in or near his home town, Pécs.

László Krasznahorkai was born in 1954, in the town of Gyula in the east of Hungary. This photo of the puszta comes from that page. Even more fun, from here, we get to this intriguing oat tower, at Mezőhegyes, which is SW of Gyula. Imagine that being used for the bell sequence.

I’m putting my money on locations around Gyula. This ruin at Póstelek, {2} {3}, about 5 miles NW of Gyula,  looks much like the  place where Estike kills herself:


The view in the film would be the back of the photos. When the girl is inside the building arches can be seen but these do not identify the building well from the outside.

This Hungarian map shows the position of the ruin at Postelek (The Gyula-Postelek Castle).  And there a clear aerial photograph of the mansion, which pretty much clinches it from the arrangement of trees and paths which can be correlated with several of the shots.

Gyula Pósteleki kastély

[2] Location as character.

Clearly this is true in Satantango. This is partly explained by the re-visiting of structures and objects.

The route the doctor walks from his house to replenish his brandy flagon is almost the reverse of the final tracking shot in the introductory cow scene.


February 6, 2009 Posted by | Bela Tarr, film analysis, film directors, film editing, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques], Satantango | , , , , | 5 Comments

TV NORWAY The world’s most boring television

TV NORWAY Thomas Hellum 1

TV NORWAY Thomas Hellum 2

Thomas Hellum: The world’s most boring television … and why it’s hilariously addictive

The world – or at least the Norwegians – must now be ready for Bela’s Tarr’s Satantango.

[1] Béla Tarr’s Long Takes (an education in film)

[2] FILM Satantango (Sátántangó) by Béla Tarr {2}

Bela Tarr Satantango [bar boy] 1

Bela Tarr Satantango cows [3]

December 11, 2014 Posted by | slow t.v. | , , , | Leave a comment

FILM Hitler and Hollywood

Did Hitler Run Hollywood

Ben Urwand, Sunday Telegraph, 29 September 2013

His book:

The Collaboration, Harvard University Press.

Came across the article in a discarded Tel. mag. The digital version is the same text. The three page article by Urwand puffing his own book (or is it an extract?) is entertaining enough, particularly the bit about where scenes successively cut out of a film about Dreyfus end with a script that has no mention of him being a Jew at all, and is finally titled: The Life of Emile Zola [1937].

The Telegraph web version of the article has a photograph not in the paper.

PHOTO Hollywood execs Hitlers yacht

A group of American motion picture executives take a trip up the Rhine on Hitler’s personal yacht. Eddie Mannix (second from right), Jack Warner (third from right).

has no date nor is it mentioned in the paper article.

David Denby in the New Yorker 23 Sept 2013, How Could Harvard Have Published Ben Urwand’s “The Collaboration”? explains the photo. He points out:

By July, 1945, Hitler, of course, was dead, and the executives embarked on his boat wearing Army uniforms. Why? Because, as Urwand relates, they had been invited to Germany by General George Marshall as a way to witness the destruction of Germany and to reëstablish their business in that country after the war.

All good stuff.

He then helpfully points us to Self-Styled Siren who takes up the cudgels. She herself points back to his cudgeling of The Collaboration. No,no, no, get out of the loop, read something completely different. Self-styled Siren has a luxuriously long piece on Bergman that is included in the Criterion Collection:

Autumn Sonata: Mothers, Daughters, and Monsters

By Farran Smith Nehme [16 September 2013 ]

Must remind myself to put up a few more film blog links. (Have relied on 6 degrees to get to most film sites from my current small selection, though there are a lot more in Moleskine which may or may not work any longer. Notice a lot of the embedded YouTubes don’t).

They say writing a reminder backwards on your forehead is quite effective. Maybe a Bruce Lee-style bandana

PHOTO Bruce Lee bandana

with a slot for a sunflower yellow super-stick Post-It instead of the rising sun. Don’t recommend you pop down to the shops with it on. There again, once it’s off, you’re bound to forget to put it back on – so no new film links.

As far as COTA is concerned, I must re-iterate, I see it as much as a database for my own purposes as a place where I write to an audience. And when it is some writing on something or other, it tends to be as if it was to one individual: a friend who I’m talking through some film thing with. Mind you, it ends up in a blog (where it can be more widely shared) because few people I know would be interested in the length of the cow scene in Satantango, and how I’m imagining the tracking! It’s that or in OneNote, which is a great for place to find things wot you wrote or gleaned.
The greatest number of hits are simply posts where I’ve linked to something. Monaco’s book being #1. It’s a pleasure to think people are Googling it and finding my finding of a digital version.

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Hollywood and Hitler | | Leave a comment


FILM POSTER paths of Glory [2]

Why use my own words when those of the website are readily available and, well, they know what they’re doing. I’m just shining my spotlight on another corner of the film world magnificently exposed to everyone – film expert, buff, film student, even those unsure about film over book – through the wonders of the interweb:

INTERCUT is a film podcast supported by the #yegfilm collective which explores a love of film, the process of filmmaking, and filmmakers themselves.

I started with Dailies #1 purely because it has Michael Douglas in Kubrick’s 1957 Paths of Glory as it’s cover. Think it’s time to watch that again. What a pleasure to hear them start talking about Bela Tarr. Since I’ve spent hours rewinding the opening cow sequence of Tarr’s Satantango, hearing anyone at all talking about his films is really exciting.

My Tarr’s can be found in this search on Cutting on the action. Slow, slow film, requires slow, long posts.

N.B. I’m not a film expert, I just watch films and dream of making my own. (The making equivalent of the guy working in the New York restaurant as a waiter who says he’s an actor, usually seen as a scene in a film…). So don’t expect illumination: you might be disappointed. Anywhere I have written at length about a film is mostly me working through things about a particular film I’ve just seen. It won’t be expert analysis or criticism. Or if turns out to be either or both, that’s probably purely accidental.

P.S. Check out these images of Paths to Glory. There’s a whole set of posts in there on colour and black & White film…

….note the way light rays and blocks of light on objects work so well in monochrome.

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Bela Tarr, film, film analysis, film blog, film directors, film editing, film podcast, film production, film reflexivity, Film script/screenplay, film short, film sound, film still, film watching | , | Leave a comment

PHOTOGRAPHY ESSAY ERROL MORRIS On Roger Fenton’s 2 Crimean War photographs titled ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death’ taken 0n 23 April 1855


Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? (Part One)

Errol Morris, NYT, 25 September 2007.

Starts with Susan Sontag on Fenton. Canvasses expert opinion. Gets down to the question of ordering the photographs without considering Fenton’s ‘intentions or beliefs’. Morris mentions there is an archive of Roger Fenton’s letters from the Crimea

Part 2

Errol arrives in Sebastopol to look for himself. We get to see maps at last.

Part 3

blog posts on

Who’s Zooming Who?
–Errol Morris’ obsessive investigation of a Roger Fenton photograph.

But Which Thousand Words is the Picture Worth?

Jim Lewis in Slate, 1 November 2007. Notable mainly for working out that the three-part essay plus comment stream is slightly longer than Moby Dick. Guess he would hate Bela Tarr’s Satantango.

Béla Tarr’s Long Takes (an education in film)

FILM Satantango (Sátántangó) by Béla Tarr {2}


wiki: Roger Fenton

N.B. mentions that Fenton’s equipment limited him to posed photos and landscapes because of the long exposures needed.

Roger Fenton – the first war photographer

Post in Slugger O’Toole blog • Gives background of Fenton himself • His photographic techniques • Crimean adventure, which lasted for 3 months from mid-march 1855 to mid-June 1855 • Under what auspices he went there • Limitations he was under

Crimean War Photographs by Roger Fenton March-June 1855

First photo is canon balls on road [ON]

My comments

The two photos above are not Fenton’s. But in one you can clearly see men standing amongst canon balls in a road not dissimilar to The valley of the Shadow of Death. Difficult to see but looks like one man has a big canon ball on his shoulder.

The fun of Errol’s story is he’s determined to solve it all from the photos. That’s all you’ve allowed. (He then can’t resit popping over to walk up and down dusty Crimean tracks himself with his girlfriend in tow…and who can blame him. I’d’ve been there before the developing fluid had dried).

Of course, in real life the wider context – things beyond one set of evidence – is always examined – what usually goes on in an area to make the specific event in time and space different or similar. Here, there are 2 photos known to have been taken within an hour or two of each other according to the photographer. As Morris says, its the first movie.

Let’s talk movies for a moment for light relief from 25 lb canon balls. Godard in his long interview, Fragments of Conversations with Jean-Luc Godard, talks about the famous footage of a little Palestinian girl standing in the ruins of Carmel near Haifa declaiming a famous poem, I will Resist, by Mahmoud Darwish, that Godard uses in his film Ici et Ailleurs. They are discussing authentic or inauthentic. It’s given the thumps up even if it’s staged.

There is no story without the two canon ball photos, OFF and ON. If ON had been the only one (maybe Fenton destroys OFF), who’d then or now be discussing canon balls in the Crimea? I wonder if the strength of the message was destroyed (whether or not it was staged) by seeing OFF as well as ON. Very few keen eyes would be questioning whether the balls on the road in ON where not randomly enough distributed.

Erroll did another essay on photography Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire (NYT 10 July 2007). This one on Fenton’s Crimean canon balls is fun because there were two photos. The main challenge for Errol: to decide which was the before and which the after. (Kids of a certain age could have great fun with this. 7-8 years old would be perfect. They love those cartoon before and after pictures.)

Not surprisingly, in the end the story strays into the realms of conjecture based on such unreliable things as what humans would be expected to do. Well, despite high-tech tools, the analyst he has asked to look at the photographs inevitably strays into this territory because there isn’t really enough to work on. Errol is keener to stick the the original premise: What can can be deduced from the photographs alone. He wants to avoid:

…arguing that to interpret a picture we need more than the picture itself..

Commenter crazymonk way down in the comments has posted links to enlargements of OFF and ON photos, with the idea to open them in adjoining tabs and flick between the two to see the rock movement:


I don’t find it very easy to see the rocks moving, but very easy to see balls moving. One ball in the centre foreground disappears in ON. Three balls in the left foreground move. In enlarge (clicking the plus sign on your cursor over pic) it’s very easy to see one ball on the right of the track at 2 O’clock – just in front of a small rock outcrop – appear on the track no more that 1 metre or so SW of it’s original position. The more you click the more you see displacements. Right in the centre of the photograph in the ditch full of balls, three more appear in ON. In OFF there are a bunch of 9 in the mid- foreground

which are joined by by two more, here, for example, next to the little rock

one carefully placed to its right between two others, above and below it, in OFF. So they are not only going on the road itself, but more have been added to the ditch! The more you look the more you see. Above this group three balls appear in ON that weren’t there in OFF.

Has the man posting these photos in the comments been up to no good, moving balls digitally to pass away long lonely evenings when there was noting worth watching on t.v.? Few of us reading Errol on Crimean Canon Balls are looking at the original prints but digital copies! There is no certainty the digital versions are exactly the same as the real prints. Even the one in the Fenton digital archives might not be identical to the original. Even more important, will people in the future ever be able to tell what was going on in photographs with any certainty as more digital copies are produced?

This is another one of Fenton’s. No, no, no don’t start counting those. Maybe there is only one of these.

Oh, by the way, yes that’s Roger Fenton the man himself posing at the top. I deliberately didn’t put his name there, so that you’d see the posed shot, read the long essay, then see canon ball photos, and – like in clever films which use a technique of inserting a shot which is only explained much further on (My favourite, mentioned more than once in my posts is the bird of prey swooping on the white chickens at the beginning of Kieslowski’s Camera Buff) – think about the posing Fenton when thinking about his Crimean balls.

Surely this self-portrait is the sort of evidence we also need to decide whether the canon balls were moved ON to create a more artsy shot. For me there no need for rock movement analysis really. If there are 9 balls in one cluster in the OFF ditch and 11 in the ON ditch, that says they were moved there as well as those onto the road itself. Simply because another fusillade from the Russian batteries would probably have sent dozens of new balls into the area. It does say somewhere that they regularly shot up on to the road whether there were troop movements or not, just to act as discouragement to try.

As is apparent from the Morris essay and other sources, Fenton’s stock in trade was posed photos of the military personnel and landscapes, both suited to long exposures needed.

It’s still a great war photograph even if it was posed.

March 7, 2012 Posted by | Errol Morris, photographic analysis, photography, Richard Pare, Roger Fenton, Susan Sontag, Ulrich Keller | , , , , | Leave a comment


Two previous posts in COTA on the long take:

Béla Tarr’s Long Takes (an education in film)

FILM Satantango (Sátántangó) by Béla Tarr {2}

More for my future reference than anything else, three posts in Big Other on the long take, including many Youtube examples. Most of these are not exclusively long takes, but contain them.

[1]  Top films of the decade by Greg Gerke  (Dec 19 2009)

[2]  Brevity, Part 2: Long Takes (January 8 2010)

by A D Jameson

[3]  Brevity, Part 3: Long Takes Continued (well, they’re long) (January 10 2010)

by A D Jameson

There is also

Top 15 amazing long takes

which includes Antonioni’s , The Passenger,  as does [2]


The Long Take

a post in Daily Film Dose, which includes a selection of YouTube long takes, and says:

The difficulty arises when the camera is forced to move which complicates the logistics ie. Focus changes, lighting changes and hiding production equipment.

An entry in filmreference:
Camera movement and the Long take

It would nice to see more discussion on the merits and demerits of the static long take compared to the tracking, panning, zooming one.

There is Mark le Fanu’s:

Metaphysics of the “long take”: some post-Bazinian reflections


Child of the long take: Alfonso Cuaron’s film aesthetics in the shadow of globalization by James Udden

which mentions le Fanu’s essay defending the long take and does a bit more than use Cuaron’s Children of Men [2006], including some quotable quotes such as:

[..] For Bazin, the long take is a principle means of directly linking the cinematic image with phenomenological reality, which the film medium can directly record. The long take supposedly ensures a truth of the spatial and temporal relations within that said reality. The long take allows the world to be seen as it is–objectively–without the imposition of the filmmaker’s world view, which occurs when one edits and thus manipulates cinematic time and space. And according to Bazin, this in turn this offers the possibility of revealing the ambiguity of the world before we impose our ideas on it.

In The Long Take: Finding Hope Amongst the Chaos, Bryan Nixon deals specifically with The Children of Men and the long take. (i.e. no diversions into Bazinland!)

Two film posts

[1] The Long Take that Kills:Tarkovsky’s rejection of montage
Benjamin Halligan

[2] Girish’s post The Long Take

are already linked to in a previous post in COTA:

FILM Satantango (Sátántangó) by Béla Tarr {2}

Other sources

Pier Paolo Pasolini – Observations on the long take [1967]

Toward a synthesis of cinema – a theory of the long take moving camera, Part 1

Toward a synthesis of cinema – a theory of the long take moving camera, Part 2


David George Menard

Orson Welles, Gregg Toland and the Long Take
Ned Casey

The Mobile Mise en scene by Lutz Bacher
GoogleBook of Intro and chapter 1 [67 pages].

Time Lost or Spent or Not Yet Had: An Argument For the Long Take
Brett Mccracken

Slow Cinema & The Long Take
A. V. Cheshire

Notes on the Fetishism of the Long Take in Rope
Jean-Pierre Coursodon

Re-viewing Mizoguchi, Master Choreographerof the Long Take
Freda Freiberg

The Long Take: Finding Hope Amongst the Chaos
Bryan Nixon

In praise of the long take
John Patterson

April 7, 2010 Posted by | long take | | Leave a comment

Little patch of yellow wall or a single asparagus? : Harold Pinter’s The Proust Screenplay


My greatest pleasure was asparagus, bathed in ultramarine and pink and whose spears, delicately brushed in mauve and azure, fade imperceptibly to the base of the stalk.

Pinter interests me mostly because of his screenplays. Wiki: Harold Pinter lists them.

In 2007, I was checking out Proust and rediscovering and enjoying re-listening to my cassettes of the 1995 BBC Radio 3 version of The Proust Screenplay, which was never made into a film. Coming across Vermeer’s View of Delft recently has brought me back to my tapes and reawakened my fascination with how Pinter tackled Proust.

In 1972 Joseph Losey asked Pinter to do a screenplay. Pinter had written the screenplay for Losey’s, The Servant (1963), Accident (1967 and The Go-Between (1970 ). Writer, director, translator and BBC person, and Proustian, Barbara Bray was involved in the Proust project.

They say The Go-Between was his best, but my favourite Pinter adaptation, till learning of his Proust, was his adaptation of John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), directed by the late Karel Reisz. Wiki: French Lieutenant’s Woman (film) explains the history of the script development. Not many people who loved the book thought the dual story idea effective. But Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep as the actors does sort of take the role of the author’s interjections by forcing us to leave the story in a similar way.

Looking at Pinter’s later interpretation of Fowles might shed light on how he tackled Proust. These litnotes on the book may help if you are re-watching TFLW. I haven’t yet found a screenplay of TFTW. And so far, I’ve not come across anything substantial online about Pinter and Fowles. All in due course.

As transcribed from the audio tape the first few lines of The Proust Screenplay, adapted for radio by Michael Blakemore, aired on BBC Radio 3, 24 December 1995, illustrates a sparkling nodule of Pinter’s genius as a screenwriter:

{ [..] is actual sounds not narration. }


[sound of bell]











In the middle of writing this post, I have acquired the book, which has the beginning:

1. Yellow screen. Sound of a garden gate bell.
2. Open countryside, a line of trees, seen from a railway carriage. The train is still. Quick fade out.
3. Momentary yellow screen.
4. The sea, seen from a high window, a towel hanging on a towel rack in foreground. No sound. Quick fade out.
5. Momentary yellow screen.
6. Venice. A window in a Palazzo, seen from a gondola. No sound. Quick fade out.
7. Momentary yellow screen.
8. The dining room at Balbec. No sound. Empty.


If I had been set the task of writing the screenplay and was re-reading the book and around the subject, coming across The Death of Bergotte {The Captive}, one of Proust’s alter egos, and that his second to last dying words were,

“Little patch of yellow wall, with a sloping roof, little patch of yellow wall.”

I doubt I would have come up with that yellow screen. Possibly a scene with Bergotte uttering the words as he sank down on the settee, but not a screen full of yellow!

When you learn {1}, what Proust thought of the painting and see the words Bergotte is made to utter it is not hard to see why Pinter found it irresistible.

And it was important to find such a key because  A la Researche is much concerned with art and the Arts as well as being the journey a writer travels in time and memory to get to the point where he at last decides to begin writing. It’s a literary conceit for such a man as Bergotte to think of an artifact, a human creation – something at one remove from life yet as real to him – rather than a person or event or even some equivalent of Denis Potter’s “blossomiest blossoms“. But it works for me. Or, maybe if we look up famous last words, thinking of a painting might not be uncommon. Perhaps we should all have one ready in case we get mown down by that big red bus: “The Girl in the P….”

Pinter’s screenplay (not the working script – we don’t really know what would have gone into final cut of the Losey film, let alone what anyone else who might have tried it after Losey would have made of it) eschews the detailed art and art aesthetic which saturates the book, except in so much as the film itself would have compactly demonstrated, visually, much of what Proust believed about art.

There is some dialogue or voiced thought about art. A Botticelli is mentioned to compare a woman to. There is brief dialogue such as


















MARCEL! [me: Swann recognises Marcel] OF COURSE!





Pinter includes his version of the Red Shoes scene after this dialogue.

I haven’t yet found in the Pinter script a full-blown Proustian rumination on life and art, but the way Marcel responds to his environment, for example in the repeated shots of the steeples (and three trees) and how from the train they change their positions relative to each other, is the mind of the artist (whether writer or painter, who knows exactly?) at work, as much as it is a man comparing what he sees with what he remembers seeing.

Stanley Kauffmann in an article, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu: The Proust Screenplay, re-published in 2005 when Pinter received the Nobel prize (and originally published in 1977),  asserts it is “incomparably the best screen adaptation ever made of a great work”, and explains this has been achieved by “deliberate omission and imaginative recomposition.”

The play of the film of the novel explains how Pinter’s script eventually ended up in a stage version. I’d like to see the working script of that.

It bears repeating: there is probably not a screenwriter in the world who, handed Proust with a brief for a standard length film, would not start at the beginning, or soon after, with some lesser image, perhaps of the pesky dunk your madeleine episode, in the belief that it crystallised the essence of Proust. Pinter saw it differently. He didn’t fall for it. In the book the tea cake doesn’t start Swann’s Way, but it is near the beginning [ p.50]. Pinter resists, with the merest tinkling of a spoon by a waiter at the house at the Place de Guermante hinting at, but not telegraphing, an activation Marcel’s involuntary memory.


A page with the View of Delft with the virtual magnifying glass is re-linked here.  There is a post in didyktile, a little patch of yellow, which has both a brief explanation of Proust/Bergotte and the Vermeer, and two versions View of Delft, one which expands to full size, the other which shows the right section where the yellow wall might be. There is also a link to the Web galley of Art, which includes Vermeer. It’s an obsession with one sunlit yellow wall (or two, or three) but it might be instructive to look at the others and wonder if Proust might have taken as much interest in light in Vermeer as a whole.

There is a newer “petite pan de mure jaune” at the exceedingly good essential

For more Vermeer light there is a slide-show of 38 Vermeer paintings at Slideshare.


Many who have not read Proust might be surprised by how much art is in the book. The blogroll in Moleskine Modality has a section on Proust, including links to the individual Gutenberg e-books. If you don’t fancy reading the whole lot but want to get an idea of the art in Proust, check out the e-texts using FIND in your browser.

But what to search on? ‘Artistic’ does a pretty good job of getting close to the sections of the text where Proust waxes about art or the Arts. But take this review, Pictures worth a thousand words, of Eric Karpeles’, Paintings in Proust, published in 2008, and make a list of some of the paintings mentioned in A la Researche, et voila vous êtes dans l’action. Note the drawing by Paul Helleu of Proust on his deathbed. On the NYT review page there is slide show of four of the paintings in Proust, with quote from The Book. Look at the first one and you’re in Balbec on the beach, courtesy of Whistler!

Another review of the Karpele in New Statesman, The eye of the beholder, by Paul Taylor, is also a source of painters names (and about Proust and art).

An interview with Lorenzo Renzi, author of  Proust and Vermeer: An Apologia of Imprecision, gives more fascinating suggestions including the observation that he tends to go for nature and landscapes and that View of Delft was Vermeer’s only exterior.

In Consciousness, art and the brain: Lessons from Marcel Proust [a .pdf file] Russell Epstein looks at Proust as the first neuroscientist. Proust’s approach to art is explained clearly and concisely.


Time Regained mentions a translation of Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies seen on the bookshelves of Baron Charlus. Proust translated the book into French with the help of his mother who was better at English than he was.

Marcel Proust – Ephemera site
has English translations of Proust on Ruskin, an obituary of Ruskin, and much more.


Pinter is the voice of the screenplay in the BBC Radio version, which was adapted for radio by Michael Bakewell.  That deep-voiced narrator of the script really does make it special. After all he wrote it. Let’s hope the BBC re-air it as part of the inevitable retrospective of his plays and the films he scripted. And that someone gets the it out on DVD, pronto.


So if Marcel (and Proust mentioned the smell of asparagus in his own chamber pot as perfume) gets excited about asparagus, why not start with a flash of a close up of a painting (which turns out to be a Manet) of an asparagus instead of yellow representing the Vermeer?

Karpele gives a nice example of how Proust could twist his own encounters with art to the ends he needed for his novel. His friend Ephrussi once admired Manet’s small painting A Bunch of Asparagus (1880). In his eagerness to purchase the work, Ephrussi sent the artist 200 francs more than the asking price of 800. Manet responded by dashing off and dispatching to him a picture of a single stalk of asparagus to even things up.

Paintings in Proust reproduces both images with a passage from Le Côté de Guermantes (The Guermantes Way). This third volume of the novel was Proust’s attack on the shallowness of French upper-class society, embodied by the aristocratic Guermantes family. Here, the Duc de Guermantes is incensed at the suggestion that he should buy a painting of a bunch of asparagus. The price, he declares, is extortionate. “Three hundred francs for a bundle of asparagus! A louis, that’s as much as they are worth, even early in the season.” With the same paintings as touchstones, Ephrussi’s gesture of generosity has been transformed into a parable about the tight-fisted philistinism of the aristocracy.

[Source: The Eye of the beholder, by Paul Taylor, New Statesman, 16, October 2008]

For additional information about asparagus, Proust and artistic inspiration read what there is of the GoogleBook of:

By Ulrich Finke


Pinter decided on a well-lit patch of yellow on a famous painting to represent Proust’s aesthetic concerns (and of course, memory). What a pity we cannot see it expressed in a completed film of Pinter’s screenplay, which will surely have gone beyond the screenplay in the process of trying to make yellow filling the frame of the camera, and the screen, and the few flashed of yellow thereafter, and what flowed from it in the script, realisable cinematographically. It has to be shown to relate to Bergotte in some way, and yet on my listening (the book of the script in on the way to check) the patch of yellow could be connected to Marcel the narrator and Marcel the character. Well, yes you say, it is, because Marcel the narrator considers Bergotte the novelist. Yes, but whose memory is the yellow patch? Bergotte’s. So either Pinter didn’t get that bit – not likely – or he knew he had to show (in a few flashes) the connection between Bergotte’s dying words and Marcel/Marcel’s examination of Vermeer.

Tom Lubbock in examining Vermeer’s View of Delft, does it from the Proust angle, says:

The passage suggests that the little patch all by itself, the sheer precious substance of its painting, so dense and luminous, is what transfixes Bergotte. But the picture suggests otherwise. It’s only within the whole view that this patch – suddenly brighter and purer than you’d expect, and with its yellow animated by the adjacent reds and blues (Vermeer always a great one for the primaries) – blazes out. It’s not a self-sufficient and extractable gem. It’s an integrated effect, a climactic note.

In other words, Bergotte dies under an illusion. His illusion is normal enough. With any climactic note, we tend to feel that it can be isolated and extracted – that its power and preciousness lie somehow within itself, rather than depending on that to which it is a climax.

But this is why it’s such a good image of the man’s fading consciousness and will to live. Bergotte wants to see this detail as a separately precious thing, something he can isolate and grasp in his hand. Yet he can’t – any more than can hold on to this last precious moment of his life.


A lesser man than Pinter might have ended up with :






Georges Bataille: “The solitary asparagus of Manet is not a still life like others: although still, it is, at the same time, lively.”


(Buy all your favourite art images from Allposters) – that’s where the single asparagus painting came from.)


There are wonderful things to play with online for writers trying out ideas. Here, for example, at Research Project- Painting Techniques of Impressionism and Post-impressionism, it is possible to closely examine the string tying Manet’s Still Life with Asparagus. I wonder what Pinter might have made of that! Check out the full report in the ‘pdf. There are sets of amazing close-ups of the textures of the painting.


It will be apparent, if you have got this far, that the impetus for my Notes on Pinter’s Proust gathers around the question of questions : [1] Can Proust be adapted to film or radio? (The Book is the Book, and that is that, etc.), [2] In what way has Proust been adapted, [3] What is the best medium for an adaptation? [4] Can one judge the quality of Pinter’s or anyone else’s adaptation of Proust without understanding Proust? (Well of course not, but there are things to grasp in a film of Proust without a complete understanding, which I do not claim to possess.)

The All-England Summarise Proust Competition.

A worthwhile Proustian digression in the search for lost answers to these questions, particularly Q.4, is the In Our Time BBC Radio 4 programme on Proust.

One of the the experts on the programme, Jacqueline Rose, Professor of English at Queen Mary College, London, in talking about her novel Albertine, touches on some of the problems of adapting Proust through changing him. I picked up on one phrase which I think is useful both in looking at the novel, its interpretation, and in adapting the story: “……the expectations of a Proust-literate readership.”


And, now, for something completely outstanding, the more traditional (non-Pinter) BBC radio adaptation. This is not a Pinteresque interpretation, and yet, and yet, can the adapters not have spent some time enjoying the Pinter radio version? It follows the story faithfully and in detail. Get a few minutes in to it, and one should be saying to oneself this is the medium to do it in. Why bother attempting film?

The Pinter screenplay as radio was effective. But why hasn’t someone had a go at making the film or as TV (yes….)? And then we could compare the results. Even if brilliantly done, it would be of limited interest: mostly to those who had already read the book, or at least attempted it, or, even less at least, who had read about it and knew the main characters, author’s intent and how it was achieved. [….pretentious but lazy readers.]

Perhaps film is useless in getting over the story Proust wrote. Any attempt at brevity simply sending the viewer of the film who didn’t know the basics into a spiral of increasing incomprehension.

There is the Jeremy Iron’s Swann’s Way. But that’s a cop-out because Swann’s Way is regarded as the easy option.

There is Raoul Ruiz’s Time Regained, starring Catherine Deneuve, based on the final book, Le Temp Retrouve. The article which lists other film attempts and scripts, including one for Visconti, reckons the Ruiz did a reasonable job.

“In filmmaking, like in painting you have the story and you have the picture. In the story, one thing comes after another. In a picture everything happens all at the same time. I thought what was worthwhile from the filmmaking point of view in
Proust was the fact that these two functions are reversed. We expect Proust to basically tell a story and he produces a picture. He tells us about very intense moments in a minimalist way. And when expect him to produce a picture he tells it to you. He sees someone standing still and then tells you all about the story behind that person. That’s what the film depicts. I would have liked to have done even better but that aspect is indeed a priority in the film. We have this strange Proustian emotion which fascinates many people including me. One is moved, you don’t know why. You feel like crying. And you don’t know why. Nothing serious has actually happened.”

Raoul Ruiz

Reading Kevin Hagopian in Film Notes: Time Regained, discussing the Ruiz, it is clear one better assesses what the Pinter could have been through other attempts to bring the book to life in film. Simply: one needs to study the films made so far to re-assess the Pinter script.

Then there is Chantal Akerman’s La Captive.


The Pinter radio adaptation doesn’t represent what it would be as film. The narrative voice provided by Pinter himself gives much more orally delivered information that the film would do. For example, would dates and Marcel’s age be included on screen? When you hear Pinter say, “Marcel aged 21”, you forget that this might not be in the film.

Proust in the novel is perfect: in film almost impossible: through radio very acceptable. Proust filtered through another fiction {=meta-meta-fiction} – novel or film – is likely to be even more successful than radio renderings which attempt faithful renderings. That is purely and simply because there is no obligation to present “the case for Proust” in full through another novel. Characters can quote Proust, discuss Proust, claim Proust effects (or effected) their lives, without the novelist – who may be a kind of Proust the narrator/Marcel the narrator if he wishes – claiming to be adapting or ‘doing’ Proust. Is this not what the attempts at film have tried to do? Well, not quite. Pinter’s screenplay and the BBC 6 -parter tried the whole, in different ways, others have tried parts.

I argue the imagined Pinter film would be almost exclusively for a restricted niche audience defined by those already mentioned categories of people (readers of the book and those who know what it was about but who either hadn’t finished it or had given up), rather than by people who didn’t have any pre-knowledge of the story. This is not to say that un-Proustian ignoramuses would get nothing out of the film of Pinter’s script (or from the more recent Proust films), but it would almost certainly be too little about Proust’s book. Certainly the non-Pinter BBC radio series worked well, in part because it was an almost oral-aural ‘transcription’ made possible by its length.

I love radio, and I think Proust would see the point of an aural meta-filter through which we the listeners have to re-construct his characters and absorb the ideas. In my view, the complexity – both of structure and ideas – comes over better in the listening than in reading. This may be about how the brain retains and organises. All we need is a 36 hour word-for-word radio version to prove the point.

But there will be an argument there – because Proust is also examining what is possible in the novel, in his novel, as well as the other things he is attempting – that this aural/text choice is mere preference. A test is to try a very long, difficult passage from the book and its equivalent in the BBC 6-parter (if there is one…). The audio might be somewhat filleted, but it might still be a reasonable comparison. Try to find a section of the serial that is pretty intact. I’ll have a try.


Can radio or film can do the better job?

Despite the fact that Pinter’s Proust was written filmically, unless a film is the length of Bela Tarr’s Satantango, it won’t truly reflect the book. The BBC radio adaptation is roughly 6 hours long and in some ways comes near to the book because long stretches of complex combinations of action and thought are woven into it. As an example, the part in Time Regained where Marcel overhears soldiers talking was very well done in the radio version, with all sorts of overlaps, both in conversations and in memory and thought.

Another candidate in the audio category (a strong contender for ultimate Proust medium after text), is Neville Jason’s Naxos production. Here he writes about his Proust: Life and Work of Marcel Proust. Putting his and the BBC radio 6-parter in a head-to-head might be instructive. I haven’t listened to the Jason, but an extract in a radio interview he did a few years ago, shows he did all the parts himself. If you don’t like his voice, it will not save his version no matter however well filleted and done. The BBC radio serial with a great cast, is really beautifully done. Corin Redgrave as Charlus.

A personal note: I used to see Neville with his thick sheaves of paper when he came to his holiday home in Norfolk. I had no idea he was working on an audio abridgement. Nor that he took 6 years on the project. I knew he was an actor and I once said I was writing something. He volunteered to read my stuff. Maybe I should have overcome my fears and let him have a look. If he managed to abridge Proust satisfactorily he could have planned and organised the Normany landings in 1944 all by himself.


Emily Zants, a retired professor, has put online what she calls an adaptation of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, titled The Social Aquarium.

Those of you who know your Proust (again: by direct immersion or secondhand) will immediately lock into the Balbec restaurant scene in the Zants. Why, you might be asking, didn’t Pinter use that? Yellow screen? What’s the point of that? Aquarium. Now, that’s more like it: fish, different types, each analogs of people in the restaurant and, by implication, each exemplar radiating out, reflecting other characters and character types in the novel. What was Pinter thinking? How can he possibly have missed it? Well, he didn’t: there is section in which Marcel complains about the people in the restaurant, but we do not know how the film of Pinter might have presented this visually.

An answer to the problem of what to emphasis in a compacted, re-imagined Proust is succinctly explained by Claude Reich, a reviewer in the Amazon site of the new book on Proust’s art by Eric Karpeles’, Paintings in Proust (Thames & Hudson, £25), is:

[This book is all the more important to the understanding of Proust as] he himself acknowledged that “La Recherche” was a work whose theme was the birth of an artistic vocation in the narrator’s soul, the novel itself being the result of this birth. He {Proust} also wrote that ” my book is a painting”


Pinter read the book, read about the book, read the experts, debated with Proustians like Barbara Bray [pdf], {2} and then decided this was a book about art as much – no, more than – the ethology of French aristocratic society (and Dreyfus) at the turn of the 20th. century. And yet, his screenplay in dialogue concentrates mostly on Marcel, family and the elite! No way round it. So we are left only with the art being represented visually: both art and Marcel’s observation of things that he, in effect, tells us are indistinguishable from art, things that arise from within himself as a word expression of art itself.


Film: Proust: time-waster? tells us a little of the process Pinter went through which I have up till now guessed at.

“Working on A la Recherche was the best working year of my life,” Pinter later claimed. He had steeped himself in Proust, visiting the author’s old haunts and taking copious notes while reading the book. “For three months I read A la recherche every day … but was left at the end quite baffled as to how to approach a task of such magnitude.”

Nevertheless, the critics admired his adaptation. “It’s a beautiful working model in which Proust’s million-and-a-half words have been brought lucidly down to 455 shots,” enthused the New Statesman, but no financiers were found to bring that tidy model to life.

The article by Goeffrey Macnab, deals with Pinter in the context of films that have been made.


Though Farms, trees, and bell-towers: The “hidden meaning” of triads in Proust’s “recherche”, is just an extract, there is enough to see again Pinter’s script, to re-enter Pinter’s preoccupations with Proust. I will add here the script sections reiteration of the three trees, three spires, seen at different times, or remembered, when the book of the script arrives, which should be any day now.



Proust’s novel is about other things apart from memory, time and art such as photography (in the sense of mechanical capture and reproducibility), speed (he had a chauffeur driven car in which he whizzed hither and thither) and possibly film (though many say not, that he was not a great watcher of films, the book certainly reads like film). This summary of The Aesthetics of the Windshield: Proust and the Modernist Rhetoric of Speed, gives a hint of where that goes.


Returning, finally, to Pinter’s Proust – an encomium – it may seem the little patch of yellow was the thing on which he hung his whole adaptation. Not true. There are more little bells than yellow screens in the script. To see what he is doing, listening to the audio version is a clearer way of showing the whole process. In a clever Pavlovian trick, he links the yellow to the sound of the bell, then leaves the yellow behind, till, right at the end he brings it back.

The bells are the sound of the garden gate at Combray. This sound is in turn linked to

…Was not nature herself from this point of view, on the track of art, was she not the beginning of art, she who often only permitted me to realise the beauty of an object long afterwards in another, mid-day at Combray only through the sound of its bells, …

and Marcel’s (and Proust’s) bed-side bell.

Marcel at the end of Time Regained:

…I had jumped out of bed and had stood in my nightshirt
by the window through which the moonlight shone, until I heard M.
Swann go away. My parents had accompanied him, I had heard the door open, the sound of bell and closing door. At that very moment, in the Prince de Guermantes’ mansion, I heard the sound of my parents’ footsteps and the metallic, shrill, fresh echo of the little bell which announced M. Swann’s departure and the coming of my mother up the stairs; I heard it now, its very self, though its peal rang out in the far distant past. ‘Then thinking of all the events which intervened between the instant when I had heard it and the Guermantes’ reception I was terrified to think that it was indeed that bell which rang within me still, without my being able to abate its shrill sound, since, no longer remembering how the clanging used to stop, in order to learn, I had to listen to it and I was compelled to close my ears to the conversations of the masks around me. To get to hear it close I had again to plunge into myself. So that ringing must always be there and with it, between it and the present, all that indefinable past unrolled itself which I did not know I had within me. When it rang I already existed and since, in order that I should hear it still, there could be no discontinuity, I could have had no instant of repose or of non-existence, of nonthinking, of non-consciousness, since that former instant clung to me, for I could recover it, return to it, merely by plunging more deeply into myself. It was that notion of the embodiment of Time, the inseparableness from us of the past that I now had the intention of bringing strongly into relief in my work.

And let us not forget Pinter’s waiter’s spoon. And so marvel at his yellow screen. And bells.


Maybe Proust before the culture machine by Michael Naas [Culture Machine, Vol 1 (1999) ] will find itself a better niche in these notes later. For the meantime, let them rest here.


Asparagus leaves in autumn

February 7, 2009 Posted by | art, Literature, screenplay | , , , , | 1 Comment

Béla Tarr’s Long Takes (an education in film)

18 August 2008

If you are anything like me you will come across an extreme example or two of the cinematographic long take and end up doing an impromptu film course by default – a bit like coming across random pages of the text of a film school course blowing down the street.

I came to Béla Tarr by accident through a quote in Spurious of part of an interview with Tarr.

I have never watched any of his films. There are some extracts in Youtube.  The first one I came across was the opening sequence from Werckmeister Harmonies. Then the tango from Satantango: there is a short cut to a boy looking through a window which breaks this up.

Knowing nothing about Tarr’s work at this stage, I was put in mind of Tarkovsky : the later bar scene in Stalker goes on and on and on, though it is a pretty static shot, if I remember correctly: perhaps one zoom in.

The opening sequence from Satantango lasts for 7.54 minutes in the Youtube version. The first 60 seconds is static. Then the camera tracks slightly to the left (or pans a degree or two from the track position…..keep you eyes on the foreground puddles) to better frame building ends, perhaps, or to better group the cows as they begin to move leftwards across in the middle distance in front of  the buildings. This is documentary filming, though one knows it is the beginning of a fiction. One is becoming aware of the camera. This awareness would be broken if some serious action was introduced such as a cowman entering the shot calling out to his cows. But nothing happens except the camera tracking the cow’s movements. One becomes aware of thinking that the track has been laid out in advance, despite the cows seemingly acting on their own. If the camera stays fixed to the track there is a limited amount it can do.

One of the things I became aware of is that the cows were acting independently. In other words, whatever the director’s plan for this scene, he could not direct the cows. The plan had been for a long, slow take, whatever the action, without any rapid camera movement. When a few cows come into the foreground, one rather close (though it is not possible to judge from this how close it is to the camera – whether the track is much further back) one suspects the camera may be moved away from it. There seems to be an attempt to get the front cow out of the picture, but since the modus is ultra slow camera movement, it doesn’t happen. The curious cow and a few others further back wander off out of the frame to the left, the front one left half in the frame for a while.  What this amounts to is an awareness that the filming is ex tempore. No one knows what the cows are going to do. The director knows he cannot jerk the camera away from anything that doesn’t accord with his image. So what you see is mind of the cinematographer (or maybe the director himself might have been in the chair) as small adjustments are made to the scene.

Afterwards I read that it was believed amongst film theorists that this slow movement of the camera is seen an non-intrusive, not playing a part in creating what is filmed, unlike montage. I don’t think this is true. Though I don’t dislike the effect. I thought the length and slowness of the procedure in this Tarr take made it clear it was not just like something I might watch in real life (a single point- of view) but was obviously mediated through the camera. Though the idea – so the theorists say – is depth of focus is designed to let the viewers eye roam the scene much as it might in real life.

The arrangement of such a shot gives it limited possibilities. The camera is on a length of track set down in a specific orientation.  Within this there can only be tracking, panning and zoom. Tarr doesn’t use any zooming here. But the static 60 seconds turns into slow, narrow-angle left pan – or track and pan – which made me wonder if the beginning static shot had been started with the camera at an angle greater or less than 90 degrees to the buildings in the background.

I could almost see the crew pushing the camera on the trolley along the tracking as the scene unfolded. To me this is as intrusive as the narrator in a novel who interrupts his own story to make comments about characters in it: here in film is a kind of generic statement about film, rather than about this film, “This is being filmed”.

The effect of montage film can be unreal but mostly because of the rapidly changing point of view, changes of focal length, and so on, which don’t give you time to ponder about cameras and crews. In what is I learn called the normative style of film making (the one we see in almost every Hollywood film we watch) – short takes tightly edited to force the story through by compression – there is no time to mull over how the effect has been created through sheer momentum of a series of short shots. In other words, with fast cut action you must keep up with the action, whereas with a very long take, it’s inevitable the brain will drift off the viewing into private thoughts about how it was achieved as well as the content.

As the cows begin to move left, the camera  tracks very slowly parallel to the action.  The parallelness of the track becomes apparent as it passes puddles in the foreground and once it runs close to the wall of a  building (which is immediately in focus), till at last it arrives at a road/track at 90 degrees to the track, where the cows are seen walking away from view and out of sight.

Watching the sequence again, it seemed that the slight pan after 60 seconds was a correction to make sure when the final long track took place it was parallel to the long row of building in the foreground. So at the start the camera had been set on the track at an angle of about 100 degrees to make the view square to the background long building along which the cows ambled. At the end of this row is a building set on its own at a slight angle to it. It is to this that camera seems to use the slight pan to adjust to, before the long tracking right to the end of the sequence.

The way my brain works ( leaving aside the intended meaning of the scene with its eery soundtrack – I haven’t seen the film) I imagined the director had seen the cows move like this on many  occasions.  This is fiction but in documentary style. He can’t control the cows.  Interesting to see how many out takes there are of this scene.  I felt as if the cows were not pushed into moving by someone outside the frame. They did this every morning.

The tango dance from Satantango some say they find mesmeric.  It is not a continuous take – there is an intercut of a boy looking through a window. But it goes on and on, and on and on. The swirling dancers keep swirling as best as they can in between tripping and falling over. A distinct story line evolves  with the man, balancing what looks like a banana on his forehead, keeps on crossing the dancing traffic. The short loop of music adds to the effect. Its like an over-long music video in this respect.  But there is a lot going on in the action. Watch it a few times. It is a self-contained story.

There came a time, about 30 seconds into the dance, when I began to suspect it will go one much longer than I would like and could bear. It did. Having watched the whole scene again, there seemed to have been some point to the length.  Being able to re-watch one scene is not possible in a theatre viewing. It makes it possible to focus on things one might not have the first time around.  So there is already a question here in asking if the director expects the viewer to pick out all the detail or to drift in a mode which is saying, this is a dance sequence, I’ve seen plenty of these and pretty much know what goes on in them. But then, because of the sheer length what else can you do but start to pick out detail?

For me, the focus was on the woman in the light coloured pullover and her bespectacled partner.  Although this was said to be impromptu, and Tarr himself says the actors were tiddly, when you think of the whole thing afterwards you recognise a lot was going on in there. It was self-contained story.

There are many questions to be asked about such a film technique and viewer participation. Does the mind drop into a less attentive mode as it becomes apparent that the sequence is very much like a loop with its seemingly repetitive action?  Does the mind, once it loses attention and because of the sheer length of the scene, begin to recognise that a lot more is going on than first thought and become re-attentive?  And then regret not paying attention to begin with?

Most directors would structure a scene like the tango with several points-of-view and with cut-aways to people at tables watching the dancing and then back, close-ups of dancers head and shoulders, or to other secondary elements, such as someone leaving the room to smoking a cigarette outside, perhaps with the sound of music coming through the open door, or a cut-away to dancers through a window.  You can watch a dozen films with a dance-hall scene in it and find these elements. The audience is asked to fill in what is not shown. The construction of this scene assigns the audience one POV  while asking it to imagine the others.

Tarr seems to be saying, ” Look, this is what happened in its entirety. I am showing you everything that happened in that room in the ten minutes it happened. Nothing has been left out. I have shown it to you from one point-of-view only, but it was all there.” The assumption is that he knows perfectly well irritation and possibly lack of attention will set in.  This can happen when we watch real-life action such as the complicated movements across a station forecourt with people criss-crossing across the space. How many people idly waiting for a train would start to pick out specific faces, acts or categories of action from within the seeming samey mass of it?

Tarr knows that we are used to films with lots of short shots stitched together with jump cuts. Some commenters say they can’t watch the film (which lasts over 7 hours) without beginning to squirm quite early on.

At the beginning of the cow sequence in Satantango, the camera points unrelieved (a full 60 seconds) at the cow shed and the cows coming out. The viewers start to ask what can be learnt from this commonplace scene. They know what happens with cows.  But the moment this thought enters the head, when something only slightly different happens (a cow gets curious about the camera and crew) it is noticed.

It seems almost inevitable in any long film sequence like this that the mind wanders off the events being filmed to notions of film per se: that there is a camera in front of us, there, and in front of it is a scene being acted out.  Though it can be said this is realism because everything in a given time was included, unlike a similar sequence consisting of many edits, it becomes unreal because of its length and slowness.

Tarr specialises in shots of people walking off into the distance. There are a few YouTube examples. They walk and walk (along a road, say) and the camera follows or lets the walkers go. There is nothing much in the distance or to the left or right.  My question is whether, filmically, it is enough to say I have seen every second of the walk? Are we talking narrative or the Aesthetics of Shot ?

Film theorists like Tarkovsky and Andre Bazan argue for the long take by criticising montage. By doing so they are arguing for realist cinema.  Another thing I learnt after watching the Tarr sequences, is that realists saw Eisenstein’s montage techniques as novelistic: the cut being the full stop, etc.  One of the most useful texts here is the essay The Long Take That Kills: Tarkovsky’s rejection of montage by Benjamin Halligan. Might as well link here to pages in (1) Shots – The Aesthetics of Shot (2) Camera movement [ “The film critic Andre Bazin was one of the great champions of camera movement within long takes, believing that such shots had then potential to record the reality of the world in front of the camera more accurately than sequences constructed through editing.”](3) Realism – Theories of Realism (The whole realism section really). Haligan, referring to a scene in Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia, says:

“The speed of the tracking is of the utmost importance here; its slowness strips the camera movement of a narrative function., since the camera movement does not advance the narrative progression of the film [….]. So what does this slowness do to the aesthetic? Having removed it from the context of the film’s narrative, it reworks it as a meditative, perhaps hallucinatory, swell of mobile imagery.”

There is something called the Average Shot Length ( mentioned at the bottom of wiki: Long Take together with a table of  the highest ASLs of films starting with the one-take movie Russian Ark. Numbers two and three are Werckmeister Harmonies and  Satantango with ASLs of 223.7 secs and 145.7 secs. respectively.  It should be obvious to the the statisticians amongst you this is not greatly meaningful because a film with one very long shot and a mass of very short ones could end up with the same ASL as a film with a lot of slightly longer shots. It certainly tells you that one film may contain more long shots than another. It allows students of film to write about how things have changed over the years shot-wise.

Other views?

Darren Hughe in Long Pauses, Boring Art Films, October 4, 2005:

In the mad dash to build and resolve, build and resolve narrative tension, most movies use standard continuity editing to do the work for us. In the perfect genre film (Psycho, for example), we’re at the director’s mercy. We willingly surrender our freedom for two hours and go wherever the film leads. Boring Art Films, by contrast, are often elliptical. Instead of splicing together a perfectly coherent line of narrative development, they leave gaps. I like the words “parataxis” and “hypotaxis.” The former juxtaposes, the latter draws connections. “I left. She cried.” versus “When I left, she cried.” Boring Art Films typically use parataxis to force the viewer into a participatory role. We get to be creative when we watch. We get to fill the gaps.

Girish in a July 2006 post titled The Long Take, does Bazin but points out there is a view that the long-take can be put to non-realist purposes, citing Godard’s Weekend.

Fast cuts, Slow views by Richard Herskowitz (mentions a book by Kundera called Slowness) :

…..Antonioni, Ozu, Bresson, Kubrick, Rohmer, Malick… These slow-teurs have suffered some abuse for telling uneventful stories. Remember how some critics dubbed Antonioni’s leisurely films about alienated characters and their environments “Antoniennui?” How Gene Hackman in Night Moves passed on an invitation to watch an Eric Rohmer film by comparing it to “watching paint dry?” In response, I’ll quote Robert Bresson: “Condemned are the films the slowness and the silence of which are mistaken by the slowness and the silence of the audience in the cinema.” The action of contemplative cinema is latent in the mind of the viewer who becomes, in our featured guest Paul Schrader’s words, “an active participant in the creative process.” Schrader’s influential book Transcendental Style in Film, on Ozu, Bresson, and Dreyer, noted that the paring down of action and performance and spectacle liberates the viewer to soar imaginatively and spiritually.

There’s quotes from Bazin on deep-focus and realism in Screenville.

A blog calling itself Contemplative Cinema  has a set  of posts on Bela Tarr, including one with an awful lot of links to all sorts of things Tarr.

And finally a selection of sites dealing with Bela Tarr’s films :

The Melancholy of Resistance: The films of Bela Tarr by Peter Hames in KinoEye (New Perspectives on European Film) (subtiteld ‘suffering for your cinema’) does a review of Satantango.

Satantango: And then there was darkness by Donato Totaro in Offscreen.

Lateral Sculpture: Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó is a very long, interesting and well-written post by Ryland Walker Knight in  a  blog called The House Next Door, which introduces Tarkoky’s book, Sculpting in Time, and links to a dedicated Torkoky site, Nostalghia, which links to articles and essays  including The Long Take That Kills: Tarkovsky’s rejection of montage.

Prof. of film Studies David Bordwell’s post Tango Marathon.

A Place in the Pantheon: Films by Bela Tarr ( Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader)

A one-page review of Satantango in NYT.

Darren Hughe’s Long Pauses blog covers Satantango and Damnation in separate posts.

Short effective review of Satantango in Movie Habit by John Adams.

Waggish has two posts on Satantango.

Satantango by Rumsey Taylor in Slant Magazine.

Opening shots: Satantango ( out1 blog) – handy link to the opening sequence in Youtube.

Another version of the Nostalghia links on Tarkovsky.

Strictly Film School ( on Almanac of Fall, Damnation, Sátántangó, Werckmeister Harmonies

Hope Deep Within – Béla Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies by Gabe Klinger in Senses of Cinema.

August 19, 2008 Posted by | Bela Tarr, film [its techniques] | , , , , , | 3 Comments