cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

Glossary of film terms from

Film Term Glossary

March 20, 2011 Posted by | cinéma-vérité, cinematography, Classical American cinema, film analysis, film editing, film narrative, film narratology, film postproduction, film production, Film script/screenplay, film still, film techniques, film theory, film [its techniques] | Leave a comment

FILM Reflections and mirrors in film

Reminded of the classic uses of mirrors in film, such as those in Renoir’s Regle du Jeu, by looking at Darren Hughes’ clever ‘movie still’ in his profile page in the new version of Long Pauses. The page I was reading was his post on Fred Brakhage. {wiki:Stan Brakhage}

In Regle du Jeu, I thought there was a mirror shot within the complex tracking shot involving the opening and closing of a wardrobe door, a corridor and two rooms, but as yet can’t find it!

There is one like that in The Million Pound Note. Though according to this, there is one scene where the cameraman can be seen in the mirror.

In another shot in Le Regle du Jeu , a pan involving the Countess, Christine de la Cheyniest, played by Nora Gregor, coming out of one door and entering another on a landing, the mirror is used to extend the shot. There is no need to move the camera to do a shot of the maid: the maid moves into view in the mirror on the right as Christine moves towards the mirror on her left. Then her maid, Lisette, is seen with Christine on the landing without her reflection. Christine moves to a door with a flunkie standing outside, leaving Lisette with the dog in the foreground. She enters. As she does so, we can see the closed door of the room she has left.

At the end of La Regle du Jeu, Octave is getting ready to leave. Again Renoir uses a mirror to extend the shot, showing the door behind him through which he is about to leave. Within the shot he walks towards the camera to get his hat and returns to the set position. While he does, we can see him getting his hat in the reflection. Towards the end he can be seen looking at his own reflection in the mirror: staring in a sudden realisation, over the shoulder of Lisette.

Without the mirror, walking out of shot towards the camera won’t look right. With the mirror there is no need to set up another shot to show him unhooking his hat.

Came across this forum in MUBI [formerly Auteurs] with quite a few examples of stills and movie sequences sent in by the debaters. The topic is ‘reflections and mirrors’  which slightly widens it out a bit.  Please post in any films with reflections you like.

The one at the top is from Regle du Jeu.  One can always make obvious remarks and seem slightly naive about film-making, but I can see in my mind’s eye the image being noticed by Renoir as he looks for the first time at  the set up created for him by the cinematographer. He has asked for the maid (in black) to seem to be the reflection of the Contess, but when he sees what has been done for him, sacred blue, he is impressed.

Godard talked about guns and girls, but this is surely as much why men and women nearly kill themselves to make films.

O.k. this is Berman – you get the idea.  In fact you more than get it: you’ve seen films, or documentaries of films being made, in which directors look at the cinematographs set-up and start enthusing.

There is also that thing about a cinematographer catching a light effect while filming a shot which is seen by director for the first time in the rushes. “Wahddisdat? BriiilliaNt! Cut it in ” [THICK GUTTERAL GERMAN-AMERICAN  ACCENT]

A real chateau was used for Regle du Jeu. It would be interesting to know if the interiors were sets or chateau. If chateau, there would have been a time when, on arrival and initial shufti, the possibilities of the mirrors became apparent and were probably included in the working script. If he chose the chateau partly for its mirrors before the script was written, then he really was a clever chap.


Below a cut and paste of photo a quoter quoting a book:

Film noir often uses mirrors as symbols of a person’s dual nature.

Quote from Dev Anand: Dashing Debonair by Alpana Chowdhury (p.43).


P D Smith reviews what looks like a must have for the generally curious, film mirror lovers and narcissists:

Mirror, Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection
by Mark Pendergrast 404pp
Basic Books, £19.99

August 6, 2010 Posted by | cinematography, cognitive illusion, cognitive science, culture, director of photography, film directors, film narrative, film still, film techniques, Fred Brakhage, perception, Renoir | , | Leave a comment

FILM TECHNIQUE parametric narrative

Parametric Narration and Optical Transition Devices: Hou Hsiao-hsien and Robert Bresson in Comparison

by Colin Burnett [Senses of Cinema]

David Borwell’s Narration in Fiction Film {GoogleBook}:

Chapter 12 . Parametric Narration

Most of chapter

Chapter 13. Godard and Narration

Just the first page and a bit, but worth having.

Narrative in Fiction and Film by Jocob Lothe {GoogleBook}

Most of the first 36 pages of the introduction.

Defining Film Narrative


February 24, 2010 Posted by | film analysis, film narrative, film theory, Godard, Jean-Luc Godard | | Leave a comment

FILM FRENCH BRESSON The Devil, Probably {Le Diable Probablément} (1977)




“The movements of the soul were born with same progression as those of the body.”



The region 2 Artificial Eye DVD has a filmography but no extras.

This is my second Bresson. Though I’ve watched The Pickpocket on YouTube. I’ll probably get the lot for my collection, but Bresson’s use of amateur actors is still unsettling. Who hasn’t watched a Bresson imagining the parts done by professionals and been distracted from the film in the process? Having commented on his style after watching Au Hazard Balthazar, I feel a strong urge to do so for this film, in other words. And to make some progress in understanding Bresson’s purpose and meaning.

This time the word tableau(x) came to mind (if that is the right word…).  Yes:  tableaux vivant, which is sufficient to suggest where Bresson is coming from. He was a painter before becoming a photographer before becoming a film-maker. It is also interesting to learn how many other film-makers use/d tableaux vivant.

Maybe Bresson thought he could somehow ‘translate’ still tableaux into a moving ones. If so, I don’t think it always works because – as if a sort of phenomenological epoché** was required – the viewer is being asked to put away much of what exists in the real world. People cough, splutter, grimace, scratch, gulp, check on what others are looking at and saying, relive recent events by relating them to others.

Bresson’s characters are made to look into the middle distance even when talking to someone quite close-up.

The hardest thing to take in a Bresson film as a viewing experience is the artifice in the acting. But then again plays are often highly stylised and we don’t seem to mind that. Maybe it is all about what we expect and don’t expect about film, that cuts across Bresson’s purpose in many of his films. For me it does in Balthazar and The Devil, though not in The Pickpocket [YouTube ].

A problem – if one can call it one – is the intellectual pre-requisites these films seen to require, particularly the theology. Not dissimilar to needing a degree in art history in order to get the full benefit from looking at renaissance paintings. Maybe that’s just called having a proper education! Or is this leading inexorably to “some films are for a narrow elite” ?

Even a poor man’s guide through the wiki links shows that Jansenists were Augustinian, and Augustine didn’t believe an individual has the ability to chose to be good, so obtaining salvation without God’s assistance. I suspect – though what do I know? – Bresson is in the territory of the City of Man and the City of God. He places a character in the City of God in a film that is clearly in the City of Man.

The heresy of Jansenism, meaning here its denial of Catholic doctrine, is that it denies the role of free will in the acceptance and use of grace—that God’s role in the infusion of grace is such that it cannot be resisted and does not require human assent. The Catholic teaching is that "God’s free initiative demands man’s free response" (CCC 2002)[3]—that is, the gift of grace can be resisted, and requires human assent.

That came from wiki:Jansenism.

Eric Mahleb’s post The Absolute Realism of Robert Bresson, is a good stopping off point here, such as:

By his own admittance, Bresson never attempted to make realistic films (‘I wish and make myself as realistic as possible, using only raw material taken from real life. But I aim at a final realism which is not realism’). His aim was to reach a certain truth, a state existing beyond the simply visible and accessible. But in the process of aiming for this truth, Bresson necessarily proclaimed an interest in the real. This desire for reality did not constitute an end in itself, only the means by which to achieve this greater goal of truth.

Mahleb goes on to discuss whether Bresson was a Jansenist: he quotes Susan Sontag: “…all of Bresson’s films have a common theme: ‘the meaning of confinement and liberty’ “.

The last part of Mahleb’s paragraph containing the Sontag quote says:

Certainly, his films are very much about seeking freedom from our bodies, bodies that constrain and restrict us in an earthly way, bodies that are subjected, poisoned and influenced by the diseases of society. Deterministic and fatalistic, Bresson’s characters have little to hope for in life except to reach Grace and the salvation it brings. Yet, it would be misleading to interpret this determinism (if one can truly talk of determinism in the context of Bresson) as necessarily pessimistic since Grace represents the ultimate, the absolute state to be reached, and thus, a positive deliverance from a society morally corrupt. Bresson does offer a way out, a dialectical escape from negativity. While the subject matters of the films may leave one with a sense of gloom upon their initial viewing, the feeling of hope and joy that underlies most of his work should more than compensate for it, as long as one is able to reach and see beyond the initial layer of ‘surface’ negativity. For instance, suicide, which occurs in several of the films, should not be looked upon as a cowardly act that ends a life but rather as an acceptable means of deliverance that enables one to reach a state of betterment. Upon watching Mouchette, we are left with no choice but to accept Mouchette’s decision to end her life as the only logical step, one that provides us with a feeling of understanding and almost complicity.

I find that very useful. Charles too in The Devil, Probably, “commits suicide”. The best touch in the film is right at the end: his friend shoots him in the back with the pistol that Charles has given him, just as Charles is about to explain exactly when he wants it to happen. He is shot in mid – sentence. We never learn what he finally wants.


Ronald Bergan, author of Sergei Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict, wrote a fascinating article in The Telegraph (13 August 1999), The filmmaker’s filmmaker, in which he quotes Bresson :

An actor, even a talented actor, gives us too simple an image of a human being, and therefore a false image.

Bresson seems to have this the wrong way round. Great actors always put something extra into film which brings it to life, even if we sometimes recognise they are too good to be true. Art needing artifice? For the ethologists among you, an actor can almost act as a supernormal  stimulus.




And yet one sees what Bresson means. The robotic, two-dimensionality of the amateur acting simplifies the process, so that we watch (attend to) particular features of a story in a certain way dictated by the director. But as I watch Bresson I feel he does not really add anything by taking away as often as he thinks, as he must have felt so strongly he did.

To me Bresson is coming from an art aesthetic – as well as the ascetic – which he felt convinced would work in film. Though happy to watch his films because I accept his method, and want to understand his message, it never makes for comfortable viewing. It is possible to get the point of what he does without coming away with a sense of commitment: but that sense is what makes something a work of art. Who wants an exercise in film? And yet. Film is a broad spectrum. Indulging in an analogy: in the electromagnetic spectrum the human visual sector is very small. Bresson seems almost to be overlapping into the UV or infrared.





By some fluke, having two monitors and a good speaker system, there was during one viewing, a serendipitous, wildly just right juxtaposition of a FaceBookers video soundtrack running on one screen in synch with the final scene in The Devil, Probably on the other, in which Charles leads his friend to the cemetery he has chosen to die in. (In some Bresson films, there seems no point in worrying about plot spoilers, which says a lot about the style: documentary and yet not documentary; always an essay about film.) Putting a selection of popular music to the film as happened here by chance (a  5-minute short/music video by Mohamed Al Ajami accessible in FaceBook) would radically transform even what many watchers or re-watchers of Bresson are calling outdated, and without a single visual edit. Not Bresson, but interesting. It shows how the relative quiet in Bresson shows up the starkness of the amateur acting. Music, louder music, whether meant to be responded to the characters or diegetic, seems to take away some of this, and yet not detract from the story. Just make it more bearable.

Bresson can never be out of date despite this remark because he deals in universal themes.


Bergan begins his piece with:

Robert Bresson is among the few film directors who have an adjective named after them. Like Capraesque and Hitchcockian, a whole world is immediately conjured up by the epithet Bressonian.

which is true.

He continues:

One definition of Bressonian reads: "Derived from the films of French director Robert Bresson, to describe a pristine, formal photographic style of cinema in which expressionless, non-professional actors personify the Catholic themes of transgression, redemption and grace. "

Samuel Cooper in his blog, Boredom is Always Counter-revolutionary, writes of The Devil, Probably (8 February 2010)

Rewatching Robert Bresson’s Le Diable, Probablement (The Devil, Probably 1977) recently, it struck me that this is a film out of time; or, more precisely, a vision that is neither today’s prehistory nor a premonition of tomorrow. By which I do not mean so much that it is either ahead of its time or behind the times. Instead, having chosen to distance themselves from an immediate engagement with the corporeal present, the film’s characters are suspended between the past and the future. They reject the status quo, but also they reject any alternative or any action against the status quo, resulting in an unhappy limbo of nihilistic conservatism.

Metapsychology online review.

Richard Hell gave a pre-screening talk on 9 November, 2002, at the YMCA Cine-Club, NYC.

In it he says:

Speaking of God, you have to when talking about Bresson. His movies feel spiritual, in the least cornball way possible. My personal definition of God is "the way things are" and that’s what it seems to me Bresson’s movies are about, as is just about all interesting art one way or another. But once you start learning about Bresson, you discover that he’s a Catholic and much is made of his beliefs in that line. Of course most French people are Catholics and it’s said that once they get you for your first few years they have you forever. Rimbaud used to write "God is sh–" on park benches. Truffaut saw Hitchcock as a Catholic filmmaker. But apparently for at least a significant part of his life Bresson was what is called a Jansenist. I know hardly anything about Catholicism though I’ve been doing a little research. There are two things I’ve found mentioned most often about Jansenism. One is the belief that all of life is predestined, and the other is that it’s possible to achieve grace but the attainment of it, the gift of it, is gratuitous–grace doesn’t necessarily go to the so-called "good." Personally, as perverse as Catholicism has always seemed to me, at this stage of my life I don’t find those beliefs strange at all. Naturally Bresson resisted being classed as a Catholic artist in a way that pretended to explain his movies. There’s an interview with Paul Schrader where Bresson gets very impatient with Calvinist Schrader’s presumptions about him. But Bresson doesn’t make a secret of his belief that life is made of predestination and chance. At first glance to many this will seem impossibly strange, but I think it can also be seen as something simple and clear and ordinary, namely a kind of humility and mercy, a kind of forgiveness and compassion, and also as even obviously true. Look at history. Has all the talk, or rather all the doctrine, changed anything? No, people are who they are and things happen as they must. It’s nobody’s fault and it doesn’t change. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s God. Or the devil, probably. It’s just how things are.

Here is the pdf of the Interview Bresson gave to Paul Schrader in 1977:
Robert Bresson, Possibly. Schrader had written a book, Transcendental Style in Film. In 1972 Bresson wrote to Schader after reading it. The interview followed and was published in Film Comment.

* This a two-part interview with Tim Cawkwell, who wrote a book called The Filmgoer’s Guide to God. Tim Cawkwell’s Cinema is his own website for essays on a variety of films and directors. The interview is long and in two parts.

In part 2 they get on to Bresson proper. But it is worth reading the whole thing from the beginning.

One quote just to whet the appetite of those like me who ‘need to know’:

One of the most arresting things for me that Bresson said is in that famous Godard/Delahaye interview: He’s asked if he’s a Jansenist and he replies “Janséniste, alors, dans le sens de dépouillement…”, i.e. in the sense of “privation”. I think he means because he’s austere and not florid, not flamboyant. He’s a Jansenist in the sense that he has an austere, stark, subtractive style. If he wants to show someone opening a door, he shows a hand on the door handle. He doesn’t show the whole figure, or the whole door.
But immediately following that Bresson says Pascal is so "important for me". So he’s not really a Jansenist here. It’s Pascal who’s important for him. Then he adds “but he’s important for everybody” and you think, “Yes but how many people have read Pascal?”

The whole of the rest of part 2, at least a 1000 words, deals with Bresson, Jansenism, and Pascal. Which leads right back to what I said at the beginning of this post: a hunch from scant information that it was St. Augustine’s theology.

Cawkwell then goes on:

Pascal argues in favour of the theology of St Augustine. He rejects two groups, the Molinists — whom no-one’s ever heard of — who were followers of Cardinal Luis de Molina (1535-1600) and who argued that God has a conditional will to save all men generally. Pascal didn’t like this because it excludes God from free will. It makes it sound like all that humans have to do is to be good and deny evil and they’re saved, so why bother with God. And at the other extreme is Calvinism. In creating men and women, God made them by an absolute will without prediction of their merit. God sent Jesus to redeem those he wished to save and to give them his grace and salvation. And God deprives of grace all those he’s resolved to damn. Pascal calls this ’insupportable’ and he’s absolutely right. It’s dreadful. You couldn’t possibly go through the world thinking “I’m going to Hell, and there’s nothing I can do about it”.
Pascal follows the Augustinian position. Cutting a long story rather too short, he interprets this as God willing absolutely to save some people and willing conditionally to damn others; that salvation comes from the will of God and damnation from the will of man.

The rest of part 2 deals in detail both with the theology and an analysis of Bresson’s various films.


** page 45 of  Husserl’s Phenomenology by Dan Zahavi

explains epoché :


SNIP epoche explained

February 11, 2010 Posted by | art, film directors, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques], Robert Bresson, Ronald Bergan | | Leave a comment



Came across some of these Herzog documentaries before but reappeared in a surf on something not that related purely serendipitously:

Mein liebster Feind – Klaus Kinski

Notes:  wiki: my best Fiend

Little Dieter Needs To Fly

Notes: Wiki: Dieter Dengler

notes: wiki: Little Dieter needs to Fly

Extract from Denglaers’ Escape from Laos


There is no doubt a personality disorder called STBOS -BWNTBSTMTACAU*: I need to say about Herzog’s non-fiction that he films it in feature film style, which is in sharp contrast to the default style coming from cinema direct/cinema verite tradition. Even his colouration and mis-en-scene is big-filmic. This has a strange but satisfying effect, a kind of equivalent visual effect to the aspects of the contrapuntal in music.

With this in mind, I am a little bit disappointed with some of the music he uses, particularly in films like Lessons in Darkness. Though music can be used to almost poke fun at the cinematic. In the oily-boy story – which is as riveting as any he has made – the music is what can only call kitsch because of its relation to the visual: that is, it is not kitsch in and of itself, but becomes so when associated with the particular visuals he uses. I would be prepared to argue this one! But it does need a sort of reply that includes the details in shot (moment-by-moment) specific film terms to explain why my opinion is wrong.

The music in Dieter does work very well unlike that in Lesson in Darkness. One is reminded of Dr.Strangelove: I can’t give chapter and verse right now, but will add to this post when I re-look at some extracts of the Kubrick.

Even if one can see where Herzog is going with all the heavy music with its deeply ironic tone, it is not as one-to-one as one might think on first seeing/hearing the film. There are many layers to the symbiosis between the music and cinematography in Lost. Repeated watching highlights subtler colours within the, at first, seemingly bleeding obvious purpose to this particular set of sound backdrops.

STBOS-BWNTBSTMTACAU* = Stating The Bleeding Obvious – But Wot needs To Be Said To Make Things Absolutely Unambiguous

May 7, 2009 Posted by | film analysis, Film and psychoanalysis, film directors, film editing, film music, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques], free cinema, Kubrick, Music, narrative style, Werner Herzog | , , , | Leave a comment

FILM TRUFFAUT His Myspace page


You’d expect a man like that with the vision and energy for film to find a way to tap into the social networks beyond the grave!

Here Truffault’s Myspace page, which is full of interesting stuff  produced by Carletto di San Giovanni, whose own myspace is pretty fulsome too.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | film analysis, film directors, film editing, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques], francois truffaut, Truffaut | , , , , | Leave a comment

PHOTOGRAPHY FILM: Between four and nine pictures

Mogan Meis’s essay in The Smart Set, Quite Ripples – Capturing the moments indifferent to being captured, plucks a chord  for me: a harpsichord –and not clavichord or pianoforte — kind of moment. Meis moved from an idea from Thales to a quote from Hericlatus (‘You can’t step into the same river twice’), followed by Plato’s, ‘ if the nature of things is so unstable as that, you can’t even step in the same river fronting an explanation of a photographer’s art.

A clear litte expansion on the philosophical background from Siva Prasad might help at this point.

The photographer he looks at is Paul Graham: his exhibition, A Shimmering of Possibility, at MoMa, the perfect excuse for Meis to deliver two killer paragraphs:

..human beings have been trying to figure out what makes one thing one thing and another thing another thing. In very general terms, there have always been some people who are more comfortable with Being and some people who are more comfortable with Becoming. The Being people get excited about how identity remains stable, how a chair is always a chair, a table always a table. The Becoming people are fascinated by the gray areas, the things you can’t quite categorize, the fleeting, the indefinite.

Photography, since its invention in the 19th century, has always played the role of a double agent. On one hand, photography fixes time, a notoriously shifty and ever-changing phenomenon. But photography grabs time and sits it down. You could say that photography freezes moments of essence. This pleases the Being people. A photograph has a sliver of forever inside it.

and two killer sentences:

The old saying tells us that a picture is worth a thousand words. Graham, however, thinks you need somewhere between four and nine pictures.

Meis dissects the notions of  being and becoming a bit more, but it was something else that occured to me: somehow the great filmmakers are and were quite aware of this ‘between four and nine pictures’.

Recently I saw an interview with Truffaut in which he was talking about 8 frame freezes: the maximum was 12 frames: more obtruded into the movie shots either side: the viewer was aware it was a still. Somehow at the optimal 8 frames, the stillness of a face amongst action is more a psychological stop than a physical one. Is the 8-frame an artifical construct of film with no parallel in real life? Perhaps an equivalent; is the sensation of a person talking to you suddenly having her sound off as one’s concentration goes from the words to the expression, and suddenly back again as some process in the brain decides to switch the sound back on, which hasn’t been off at all (so to speak).

In film we are being shown this 8-frame phenomenon as a stylisation. It has been used time and again by many directors. So why are cinematographers like Truffaut obsessed with it? For me, it runs right back to the simple pleaure of a flick book:; bored in a school classroom on a hot summer afternoon, teacher droning on, we idly draw a matchstick man in the top corner of the text book and make him move: the 8-frame splice is a reverse flicker book. It is a little bit ‘because it was there’, but it has a serious purpose, noneless.

No film-maker gets over the way film works: 24 fps. Even a photographer who has run off a rapid set of shots of a face, now finds it possible, with digital technology, to make the head move up and down with a loop of two photographs. There is something mesmerising about creating movement from stills.

Many filmmakers use a sequence of photographic stills or frames from a movie shot – in lieu of tight montage sequences – because they come to the conclusion that these stills — simply a short set of consecutive frames — played slower than 24 fps by digitally chosing say 1-3 seconds which is the poor man’s; still creating the necessary movement both in cinematographic and perceptio-cognitive (narrative) terms.


In a short documentary I am making, after much playing around with one sequence of  someone arriving on a train, decamping, and walking back up the station to where I, the cameraman, am standing, I came to the slow conclusion it was more effective as film not just to show the sequence at normal speed (the edited shot with only a few seconds taken off each end), but also a repetiton of the same shot in single frames at an optimal fps to produce an inexorable slow movement forward, which at the same time was seen as a set of ever changing stills.

Such a design is always self-reflexive: that is so much what the fun of filmmaking is. In some cases, the auteur seems to be almost solely concerned with cinematographic  reflexivity. No crime. The medium itself has it built into its DNA. The films such people make are as much about the pressure and satisfaction in the making as any subsequent viewing by a third party. True of all creative art.


In the process of running a sequence of screen grabs, one is consciously aware that this is what it must have been like for the first filmmakers – and their enchantment with the new medium – as they ran their celloid through a projector. The movie made of stills or screen grabs, though often run quite slow, is smoother than the flickering of those films at less than otpimum speed. One is fully aware, as all this happens, that one is watching how movie works, but also fully conscious immediately, or in slow stages, what it can and can’t do.


If I was teaching film (not likely) these are aspects of film-making I would emphasise: practical exercises with HDV cameras, each student would be told to go out and film and bring to class to work on: a few tricks to encourage the enjoyment of the filming such as how to film continuously, panning and zooming at the places where they envisioned cuts for example, to prevent them wasting too much time switching the camera on and off (and missing some of the action in the process) in the attempt to create ready made and editable shots.


Creating movie sequences from stills is quite a laborious process, involving grabbing maybe as many as 50 – 100 digital ‘frames’ for a 20-30 second shot. It is only when the slow motion sequence is played and replayed that it can become apparent how other elements such as music can subtly but radically alter the images.

In this specific case, I found quite quickly – almost by chance – a backing track from music site Jamendo that moved forward at the same speed as the slow movement of the stills. This sequence lasts about 30 seconds, which would be considered incredibly long by some ‘default’ filmmakers. But the slow pace of the figure moving up the station platform, facial expression slowly changing, physical actions – the posture of the body in relation to limbs – is enhanced by the perfect matching of the pace of the film with the music.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | cinéma-vérité, cinematography, cognitive illusion, cognitive science, consciousness studies, documentary, film analysis, film directors, film editing, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques] | | Leave a comment

FILM BLOG The Seventh Art

Srikanth‘s Film blog The Seventh Art is is a good film blog by a film enthusiast, and ought to be highlighted.

The world cinema page tabulates films he has written about, and is where I would recommend you look for writing by him on film.

April 15, 2009 Posted by | film analysis, Film and psychoanalysis, film directors, film editing, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques] | Leave a comment

FILM Film as an act of Love {by Sukhdev Sanhu}


Film as an act of Love

by Sukhdev Sandhu

Fifty years ago, François Truffaut’s Quatre cents coups
heralded a revolution in cinema. Sukhdev Sandhu salutes
a modern classic

NewStatesman 2 April 2009

April 15, 2009 Posted by | Antoine Doinel, Cahiers du cinéma, criticism, culture, film analysis, film directors, film editing, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques], Truffaut | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FILM Mindfukc Movies

Well it’s Mindf**k Movies, but who wants the whole world arriving at your door on Google searches?

The word itself (mindf**k, not movies…) came into my ken during a brief doomed relationship. The two separate words ought to hint at what it means. Make it a compound and as the urban dictionary demonstrates, disparate definition happens. Seven here.

Number 5:
A concept or argument which is fraught with contradictions, and is used as a control tool.


“The way men can appear to both worship and objectify women is the ultimate 20th/21st century mindf**k.” [uc, ed.]

Knock me down with a feather. Puzzle and puzzled. I was having a reverse no. 5 perpetrated on me. It was the resistance which evoked the accusation: a clever trick to bamboozle the resister (who would do so by instinct if not on moral and ethical grounds) by suggesting resistance is the mindf**k itself.

I don’t like the expression: it clearly originated from the the U.S. : probably find something much more British in Shakespeare.

If this topic seems interesting follow it up with a quick look at NPD (narcissistic personality Disorder).

April 13, 2009 Posted by | film analysis, film directors, film editing, film narrative, film [its techniques] | Leave a comment

FILM Showing what can’t be filmed {post by David Borwell}

From Film Studies For Free:

Observations on film and Film Art: showing what can’t be filmed.

David Borwell, 4 March 2009, on David Borwell’s website on cinema.

March 22, 2009 Posted by | André Bazin, Bazin, cinéma-vérité, film analysis, Film and psychoanalysis, film directors, film editing, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques] | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FILM music

I’ve chosen these four from Film Studies for Free‘s selection of music and film related essays and books.


What The Sound Is Saying

What the music is saying in Bertolucci

from Bright Lights


The Sound of Sentiment: Popular Music, Film, and Emotion
Murray Smith


Music in Films: A Critical review of Literature, 1980-1996



Robynn J. Stilwell


Film Music and Narrative Agency pp. 248-82, Ch. 12 of

Post-theory: Reconstructing Film Studies editied by David Bordwell and Noel Carroll.


Jerrold Levinson

which looks pretty o.k. as a whole.

Missing pages in this review:






The last two are in the end notes.

March 17, 2009 Posted by | David Bordwell, film analysis, Film and psychoanalysis, film directors, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques], Noel Carroll | , | Leave a comment

FILM ESSAY TRUFFAULT A certain tendency of the French cinema


Catherine Grant does Truffault in her latest post in Film Studies for Free. This link to Truffault’s essay, A Certain tendency in French cinema [pdf file], comes from there. A footnote in the essay mentions it was first published in Cahiers du Cinema in 1954.

March 10, 2009 Posted by | cinéma-vérité, cinematography, film analysis, film editing, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques] | Leave a comment

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

Concentrating on Kieslowski: An essay on narrative by Jacek Ostaszeweski

A paper/essay : Comprehension of Film Narrative, by Jacek Ostaszewski examines film narrative through the study of film student exam papers.

Ostaszewski was the pavement flautist in Three Colours: Blue.

My main interest is the section on Three Colours:White beginning:

In the case of the third film – Kieslowski’s Three Colours: White (1993), one of the most characteristic and at the same time, most frequent biases was overinterpretation (in Umberto Eco’s understanding) According to Eco, overinterpretation is seeking in a film the elements of minimal meaning and assigning them with maximal consequences so that they match a prior premise (or premises). The viewer’s initiative in the top-down processes is aimed at seeking confirmations for his/her hypothesis. Overinterpretation is, therefore, not the excess of interpretation, but actually, “underinterpretatation.”  Thus, we might suggest that overinterpretation is reading a film in a paranoid and obsessive pursuit that the viewer takes up.

What is symptomatic of the examined papers is the viewers’ relatively poor interest in the actual contents of the film. On the other hand, their attention is focused on the figure of Krzysztof Kieslowski as the representative of a quality art cinema. Although the viewers understand the story itself, they quickly abandon analysis in favour of judgment (valuation). As a result, they often fail to see the interesting aspects of the story itself. Few of them have noticed that the film deals with such issues as struggle for love and understanding, or that it is extremely packed with action in comparison with other films made by Kieslowski.”


It seems a weakness of the cognitive approach to film not to take account of the unreliability of the witness.

Eyewitness testimony research in psychology is well-established.

wiki: eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness testimony and memory

Eyewitness testimony from Simple psychology for A level


The trouble with films like Kieslowski’s is there is no way of knowing if white dresses, white chickens, white pigeon droppings or white milk have great symbolic importance in the film or are quotidian images and sounds used as aesthetic props, linking devices, homages or jokes.  This is not made easier for students of Kieslowski’s films when they realise milk appeared in Dekalog 1 (left out overnight to freeze), Decalog 6 and A Short Film about Love (delivered/collected/ spilt), Camera Buff (poured down sink) and Three Colours:White.

The Double Life of Véronique: Through the Looking Glass by Jonathan Romney:

Kieslowski denied that there were any metaphors in his films: “For me, a bottle of milk is simply a bottle of milk; when it spills, it means milk’s been spilled. Nothing more.”

This surely is the joy, excitement,  puzzle, and burden of film over prose: by their very nature images (still or moving) are both arresting, distracting and often prone to ambiguity.

The other element in film, sound, evokes Bresson’s, “A locomotive’s whistle imprints in us a whole railroad.”


The  limits of film are simply yet clearly put in Requiem for Kieslowski by David Winner:

In one of his last interviews, Kieslowski told the English critic Geoff Andrew about the frustrations of exploring the spiritual: Film is very materialistic. All you can photograph, most of the time, is things. You can describe a soul, but you can’t photograph it; you have to find an equivalent. But there isn’t really an equivalent. Film is helpless when it comes to describing the soul, just as it is in describing many other things, like a state of consciousness. You have to find methods, tricks, which may be more or less successful in making it understood that this is what your film is about.

Kieslowski became progessively more frustrated with what he felt was film’s inability to completely express what the filmmaker intends.

If I make a film, I can obtain maybe 30 or 40 per cent of what I tried to achieve.


Photographs have a high level of correspondence to the reality they record, so we tend to trust them.  For example we may know the person who has been photographed.  That is not to say a photograph reliably tells a story: a photograph of a real-life object or event can obfuscate as much as clarify, lie as effectively as tell the truth. One of the fascinations of photographs, any photographs, is the recognition that the surface  may bear no relation to the depths.  The smiling lady in a family group may not be happy, but mortified by the knowledge of her impending death from cancer which she alone knows about.

Debate goes on about whether indexicality is applicable any more with digital photo-manipulation.  It all gets a bit complicated. Is film indexical in the way a photograph is said to be? The basis of our ‘trust’ in a photograph is our belief we can draw many imaginery lines between fixed points on a photograph to their source on the object.  We don’t have to have seen the Pavilion in Brighton in person to feel confident that the photograph of it in front of us represents the building itself.  It doesn’t matter if the lens used was wide angle, created a large depth of field or was fish-eye, or whether a red filter was used to highlight the clouds and sky behind it.


The technical argument that film is a trick of the eye and therefore not to be ‘trusted’, is not helpful. Film is made up of frames or frame equivalents in digital video. We can trust the indexicality of individual frames in a strip of celluloid as much as we can a photograph.  It is often only when, during editing, we examine individual frames in celluloid film or the virtual frames of digital film, truths are exposed. When the footage is watched in slow motion the miniscule  movements of body or face of the person walking towards the camera can be seen clearly for the first time.  How long did the face turn to the right?  was this looking at something off-screen or aversion  of the gaze? When did the smile appear?  What was the reaction of the other person when the bottle was snatched of of his hand? Did he look at the person doing the snatching or at the cameraman doing the filming?

The strangeness of all this is that when the final cut of a film is presented at normal speed (24 fps or its digital equivalent) – which is usually all the viewer gets to see unless the editor decides to slow sequences down or use stills – the very things missing are those the director and editor have seen and found intriguing and beguiling !


Dan Schnieder slams Truffaut’s Day for Night because it fails in narrative terms. A poor script told poorly.  But part of the point of a film about film is to play tricks with the audience. One of those tricks is to be asking whether how the film was made overpowers the story. When the crane soars over the set, exposing the workings of the set, after repeated showings of failed shoots that we seen only in frame, nobody cares about story!  Truffaut has achieved his objective, we love film more than we love the story (or life) at that moment, as he does, but it doesn’t last. The story then takes over again and we forget the cinematography. If  it’s a good script well filmed.

January 18, 2009 Posted by | film analysis, film directors, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques], Kieslowski, Krzysztof Kieślowski | , | Leave a comment

Concentrating on Kieslowski: Bernard Hemingway reviews Three Colours

Bernard Hemingway on Three Colours  in Cinephilia:

Kieslowski’s reputation depends as much upon the interpretive enthusiasm of his devotees as it does upon the intrinsic merits of his films which are distinguished by high-end concepts and aesthetically-attractive conceits but in affect are remarkably dull, something which doesn’t seem to bother their exegetes but will leave most people wondering what’s all the fuss about.

Maybe read Jacek Ostaszewski  Comprehension of Film Narrative to go with this.

January 18, 2009 Posted by | film narrative, film [its techniques], Kieslowski, Krzysztof Kieślowski | | Leave a comment