cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

TV NORWAY The world’s most boring television

TV NORWAY Thomas Hellum 1

TV NORWAY Thomas Hellum 2

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

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

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

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

Bela Tarr Satantango [bar boy] 1

Bela Tarr Satantango cows [3]

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

FILM BELA TARR The Prosaic Sublime of Béla Tarr [essay by Rose McLaren]

PHOTO FILM Bela Tarr [Werk -whale eye]

The Prosaic Sublime of Béla Tarr

Rose McLaren, The White Review, 2013

September 14, 2013 Posted by | Bela Tarr | | Leave a comment

FILM VIDEO Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma

stills from the opening seconds of Chapter 1A – Histoire[s] du Cinema

Cinema is a sign, and its signs are amongst us

Jean-Luc Godard
In JLG by JLG vol II, edited by Alan Bergala

The cinema is not an art which films life: the cinema is something between art and life. Unlike painting and literature, the cinema both gives to life and takes from it, and I try to render this concept in my films. Literature and painting both exist as art from the very start; the cinema doesn’t.” –

Jean-Luc Godard

I need a day to tell the history of a second, a year to tell the history of a minute, a lifetime to tell the history of a day.

Jean-Luc Godard

….a history of cinema and a history of the twentieth century, each inside the other.

John Howe

My Histoire(s) du Cinema starts with a chapter called ‘Toutes les Histoires‘, a lot of small stories in which signs can be seen. It then goes on to say that this story is alone – the only story that has ever been. Then – you know my immoderate ambition – I say: not only is it alone, but it is the only one that will ever be and that has ever been (after, it will not be a story but something else). It is my mission to tell it.”
Jean-Luc Godard

Histoire(s) du Cinéma 1988–98 is a powerful and visually stunning critique of cinema and its relationship to the other arts, as well as a reflexive analysis of the director’s life and work. Originally commissioned for European television, the production spans ten years and includes eight episodes (of a proposed ten) in four chapters.

The project began in 1988 and emerged from a series of lectures Godard delivered at the University of Montreal in 1978. In these lectures, Godard presented an analysis of his own films alongside others, juxtaposing imagery with additional references to painting, newsreels and television. The project also bears the marks of Godard’s early film criticism published in Cahiers du Cinéma. Central to the project is Godard’s ongoing concern with the politics and materiality of filmmaking — for example, the process of editing, which Godard conceives as analogous to the act of lying. Godard reacts against the simple conventions of editing, continually juxtaposing and superimposing images in montages that search for truth and meaning in cinematic imagery. Godard famously asserted, ‘If directing is a gaze, editing is a heartbeat’.{}


Cinema : The Archaeology of film and the memory of a century
Jean Luc Godard, Youssef Ishaghpour, John Howe

Undeniably a work of enormous scope, Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoires du cinéma eludes easy definition. An extended essay on cinema by means of cinema. A history of the cinema, and history interpreted by the cinema. An homage and a critique. An anecdotal autobiography, illuminated by Godard’s encyclopedic wit, extending the idiom established by JLG par JLG. An epic – and non-linear – poem. A freely associative essay. A vast multi-layered musical composition. Histoires du cinéma is all of these. It is above all, a work made by a man who loves and is fascinated by the world of film.

from DVD review at

Histoire(s) du cinéma is Jean-Luc Godard’s most devastating accomplishment as filmmaker/critic/artist/poet/historian. Produced over a period of ten years (1988-1998), Histoire(s) has been heralded as a work of tremendous significance to the practice of both cinema and history; most famously by Jonathan Rosenbaum, who declared it to be “the culmination of 20th century film-making” (1). Whilst not technically a film, Histoire(s) undoubtedly represents the ultimate labour of cinephilic love, an intensive audio-visual retrospective ruminating on the multiple incarnations of cinema, its vital intersections with 20th century history and ultimately, its immanent death, as projected by the medium’s most studied, critically devoted and playfully intellectual independent figure.

Alifeleti Brown in Senses of Cinema

It is possible to hate half or two-thirds of what Godard does – or find it incomprehensible – and still be shatered by his brilliance

Pauline Kael

For any one interested in film, Godard is important; for any one interested in Godard, Histories(s) is important.

Who said that?


Two sets of YouTubes of Chapter 1A and 1B:

Histoires[s]du Cinema Chapter1A – Toutes les Histoires (All the Histories) -1/6

Histoire[s]du Cinema Chapter1B – Une Histoire seule 1/5


wiki: Histoire(s) du Cinema
– lists the individual programmes and films mentioned.


La « partition » des Histoire(s) du cinéma
Jean-Luc Godard

by Céline Scemama

A tabulation of Histoire [s]. E.g. page 1:

Open the graphic in another tab – it will be a easier to read.


“I always begin with ideas and that doesn’t help with the audience.”
Jean Luc Godard interviewed by Scott Kraft – Cigar Afficianado Magazine sept/Oct 1997


These five short essays/reviews summarise succinctly what is going on in this video series:

After the Movies Michael Wood, London Review of Books, 4 December 2008

Histoire(s) du cinéma by Alifeleti Brown in Senses of Cinema

Despite the diffuse gesture of Histoire(s), it might be argued that its central motivation is to collapse the cinema from within by way of an exhaustive process of reflexive audio-visual evocation and deliberation, a post-cinematic montage that implicitly situates the cinema as an archive of a bygone era.

Histoire(s) du Cinéma
By David Pratt-Robson
(2007 review of the Region 2 DVD in Stylus Magazine)

The Man With The Magnétoscope – Jean-Luc Godard’s monumental
Histoire(s) du cinéma as SoundImageTextBook

by Alexander Horwath/ Translation by Aileen Derieg

-Written in 1998 to mark the arrival of CD / book of Histoire[s] with audio of filmtext in German, French and English and a selelction of stills.

The Histoire(s) are always everything at once: moving image, photography, catalogue of paintings, pixel mutation, music, noise, fragment of film sound, speaking voice, writing in the image, literature quarry, essay text. They are sensation and knowledge, information and emotion, theory and practice of the cinema, writing the history and telling the stories. The Histoire(s) are less and, at the same time, more than a Gesamtkunstwerk, because they were never intended to be “a totality” and never “only” an artwork.

For Ever Godard #31 Srikanth Srinivasan in The Seventh Art


Notes in Histoires[s] du cinema Chapter1A – Toutes les Histoires (All the Histories) -1/6 put up by ‘pimpimbulldog’ (aka maths teacher Bogdan from Romania). Pasted here in full (hope he doesn’t mind):

Histoire(s) du cinéma is a video project begun by Jean-Luc Godard in the late 1980s and completed in 1998. Histoire means both “history” and “story,” and the s in parentheses gives the possibility of a plural. Therefore, the phrase Histoire(s) du cinéma simultaneously means The History of Cinema, The Histories of Cinema, The Story of Cinema and The Stories of Cinema.Is an examination of the history of the concept of cinema and how it relates to the 20th century; in this sense, it can also be considered a critique of the 20th century and how it perceives itself. The project is considered the major work of the late period of Godard’s career; it is alternately described as an essay and a poem.

If one wants to be up to the minute about cinema, there’s no cause to be concerned that Histoire[s] du cinéma has been in production for at least nine years — after having been sketched our rather differently, in the form of an illustrated lecture series given in Montreal, a decade prior to that. (2) After all, James Joyces Finnegans Wake, the artwork to which Histoire(s) du cinéma seems most comparable, written between 1922 and 1939, was first published in 1939, but if one read it for the first time this year, one would still be ahead of most people in literary matters. For just as Finnegans Wake figuratively situates itself at some theoretical stage after the end of the English language as we know it — from a vantage point where, inside Joyces richly multilingual, pun-filled babble, one can look back at the 20th century and ask oneself, What was the English language? Godards babbling magnum opus similarly projects itself into the future in order to ask, What was cinema?

Joyce’s province was the history of mankind as perceived through language and vice versa, both experienced and recapitulated through a single, ordinary night of sleep — that is to say, through dreams. Only superficially more modest, Godards province is the 20th century as perceived through cinema and vice versa, both experienced and recapitulated through technology — that is to say, through video. Clips and soundtracks are examined and juxtaposed — partly through the ordinary operations of a video watcher (fast forward, slow motion, freeze frame, muting, and programming) and partly through more sophisticated techniques like editing, sound mixing, captioning, and superimposition. Finnegans Wake considers both the English language and the 20th century as something thats over, and in the same way Histoire(s) du cinéma treats both the 20th century and the history of cinema as something thats liquidated, finished. (This isn’t entirely a new position for Godard. In January, 1965, responding to a questionnaire in Cahiers du cinéma which inquired, What do you think of the immediate and the long-range future of the French cinema? Are you optimistic, pessimistic, or do you have a Lets wait and see attitude?, he replied, I await the end of Cinema with optimism. This is one of the reasons why, to my mind, the fact that Histoire(s) du cinéma is a video is of enormous importance, because video in certain respects is the graveyard of cinema, and its also the graveyard of the history of the 20th century — or at least of the popular perception of that history. (Cogito ergo vidéo reads a title at the beginning of chapter 1b.)


Ph.D. thesis:
Jean-Luc Godard and the Other History of Cinema


Douglas Morrey

University of Warwick Department of French Studies (2002)

Morrey runs through Histoire[s] in detail as one would for a thesis. But quotes are in the original French, untranslated in footnotes.

This is the second PhD linked to from the long list in Film Studies for Free.

Morrey p. 9 :

Godard’s argument in Histoire(s) du Cinema is this that, if montage granted a new way of seeing, it should also have led to a new way of thinking, yet somehow failed to do so.

Other writing by Douglas Morrey

GoogleBooks, Jean-Luc Godard [2005], from A Manchester University Press series, French Film Directors, and an essay, Bodies that Matter, reviewing a book of essays, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture by Vivian Sobchack [2004].

Academic papers/reviews/essays/blog posts on Historie[s]

Tony McKibbin in Experimental Conversations, Cork Film Centre’s Online Journal: The Butterfly Effect: High Mimetics in Godard’s Histoire[s] du Cinema.
5 stars for usefulness. if you were wondering what this death of film was all about, this at the end of the essay is reassuring:

As Nicole Brenez astutely noted in her contribution to a piece called ‘Movie Mutations’, printed in Film Quarterly and elsewhere, “the death of cinema merely represented a grand melancholy theme that certain filmmakers needed in order to make their films”. Perhaps this is true of no film more than Histoire(s) du cinéma. But does its death not give birth to poetry, perhaps rather like a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly?

Trailer for Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma Jonathan Rosenbaum

Le Vrai Coupable: Two Kinds of Criticism in Godard’s Work

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma
“Memory of the world” (a lecture)

Laleen Jayamanne August 2007

Histoire[s] du Cinema by Gray Daisies

[1] Introduction à une véritable histoire du cinéma: lectures given by Godard at Montreal Film School before Histoire[s] was completed.
[2] Histoire(s) du cinéma

Histoire(s) Du Cinema: A Requiem for Cinema

Histoire(s) du Cinema (1988-1998, Jean-Luc Godard)
Post from Brandon’s Movie Memories. Brief comments on chapters 1-4 under headings, with a beautiful still in each which help to remind us that films are primarily about the excitment of the visual. And yet Godard’s Histoire[s] is loaded with words!

Difficult work in a popular medium: Godard on ‘Hitchcock’s method’
Rick Warner
First Published in Critical Quarterly Vol 51, Issue 3, pages 63-84 October 2009

On Painting and History in Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma (1)
by Sally Shafto

More Montage Necessary John Lingen – Review of Richard Brody;s Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard

…..the progression of Godard’s anti-American rage has the all the overextended illogic of a scorned lover. In his six-hour series Histoire(s) du Cinéma, completed throughout the 90s, he proposed his thesis that cinematic history be divided into two periods: pre-1945, when the art form was honest; and post-1945, when America (and by proxy Hollywood) became the arbiter of cultural taste, subsequently squandering the opportunity to address the concentration camps in an aesthetically honest way. For Godard, no movie properly addressed Auschwitz when it was most necessary, and therefore the art form was doomed.

Other sources

Critique of Godard by Rancière mentioned in Morrey’s Ph.D. thesis:

The Saint and the Heiress: A propos of Godard’s: Histoire(s) du cinéma
Jacques Rancière

Discourse; Winter 2002; 24, 1; ProQuest Education Journals

Mundane Hybrids: Rancière Against the Sublime Image
Ted Kafala

– Explains Ranciere of Godard in part.

The French film critic Serge Daney plays a part in Histoire[s] and has written about Godard in general. There are a few translations into English such as this selection, The Godard paradox, taken from the Book Forever Godard. Blog: Serge Daney in English.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Myspace page has a many Godard photographs and Craig Keller’s essay on Godard originally in Senses of Cinema.

Cinema : The Archaeology of film and the memory of a century
Jean Luc Godard, Youssef Ishaghpour, John Howe
GoogleBook (Intoduction by John Howe)
2000. English translation 2005

From La Nouvelle Vague to Histoire[s] du Cinema – History in Godard, Godard in History
Colin Nettelbeck

An Audio Visual Brain: Towards a Digital Image of Thought in Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoires[s] du Cinema
by Pasi Valiaho

Le Gai Savoir: Godard and Eisenstein—notions of intellectual cinema
by Ruth Perlmutter
from Jump Cut, no. 7, 1975, pp. 17-19
Although dealing with a specific other Godard film, this adds to our understanding of what we have with Histoire[s].

Images in Spite of All – 4 Photographs from Auschwitz
George Did-Huberman
(English translation: Shane B Lillis)

Eisenstein’s Montage Theories

Editing: The Heart of Film – An Introduction To Film Editing
Click on Theory.

Sergei Eisenstein and the Montage [pdf]

Wiki: Soviet Montage Theory

Brakhage and the Theory of Montage – Victor Grauer

Introduction to Montage – a post from blog Understanding Media

Bigue’s Editing Notes

The Challenge of the Vertical Montage -Essay by Henrik Juel

Film editing and Montage pages from
Awfully set out, old-fashioned mixed font, mixed colour pages the way How to Design Good Website manuals say not to do it, but there is simply explained basics in there.

Battleship Potemkin by Christian Blauvelt, Slate Magazine, 19 April 2010
Andrew Sarris is quoted:

“The totalitarians of the Left embraced Eisenstein and montage as the first step toward brainwashing humanity, but the cinema quickly lent its manipulative social powers to television. The cinema returned to formal excellence, abandoning the salvation of mankind as the criterion of cinema.”

Wiki: Room 666

YouTube of Godard’s Room 666

La Geo-politique de l’mage dans les Historie[s] du cinema de Jean-Luc Godard
by Junji Hori

– 19 page .pdf, arguing Godard’s take is arrogantly Euro-centric. Others have said the same thing. He also dismisses British film.

Jean-Luc Godard – Short biography and filmography

Jean Luc-Godard page in They Shoot Pictures, Don’t Thye?

The Misery and Splendors of Cinema – Godard’s Moments Choisis des Histoire(s) du Cinéma

– Review by Robert Kesler of the 87 minute version of Histoire[s]

Soft and Hard: Intimations insinuations implications

Rod Stoneman in Kinema relates his collaboration with Godard and Anne-Miéville in the making ofA Soft Conversation between Two Friends on a Hard Subject (1985), a film commissioned by CH4, in which he quotes some of the dialogue (Mieville comparing his work and approach to hers, for example) and shows how ideas in Histoires[s] were already there. But more importantly describes Godard’s imperatives and a little bit about the man himself.

Moments Choisis des Histoire(s) du Cinema
by Keith Uhlich

The director himself has suggested that every cut is a lie; Godard’s approach, then, is the continual juxtaposition and superimposition of “lies” in an ongoing search for truth. Thus, Moments mimics the workings of its creator’s mind: one thought, one reference leads inexorably to others, sight and sound mirroring the inherently questioning nature of the human soul.

when speaking of television’s detrimental effects on cinema, Godard lives down to the disheveled old fuddy-duddy persona that he physically embodies on-screen. Making grand pronouncements from his back-alley soapbox, the director panders to the death-of-cinema acolytes, those faddish doomsday prophets who latched onto the kernel of a good idea (for television has certainly had its adverse effects) and perverted it into an infallible truth of Leviticus.

“The film we had imagined”, or: Anna and Jean-Luc Go To the Movies

by Adrian Danks

Deals with films within films in Godard and generally, though doesn’t mention Histoire[s]

Methods of Détournement by Guy-Ernest Debord

Détournement as Negation and Prelude Situationist International 1959

For a Revolutionary Judgment of Art Guy Debord 1961
Really only for this:

“….an alteration of “the present forms of culture” depends on the production of works that offer people “a representation of their own existence.”

M.A. Thesis by Farris Wahbeh:

Forget Godard: The Cinematic Abductions of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Guy Debord

{1} Intro

{2} Chapter 1: Pasolini’s Lingua X

{3} Chapter 2: Becoming-street: In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni as cinematic dérive

There have been dissenting voices from the beginning of Godard’s career as a film-maker, as exemplified by the ‘statement’, The Role of Godard, issued by The Situationist International in 1966. Clearly they hadn’t got the whole of his film and video oeuvre at that time, but you get the idea with such phrases as “…the Club Med of modern thought”.

‘No Trickery with Montage’: On Reading a Sequence in Godard’s
Pierrot le fou
Daniele Morgan – Film Studies Issue 5 Winter 2004

Between Sound and Space blog review of ECM soundtrack of Histoire[s]

October 8, 2010 Posted by | Alfred Hitchcock, André Malraux, film [its techniques], French cinema, Godard, Jean-Luc Godard, Pudovkin, Rancière | , , , , | Leave a comment

How to watch Béla Tarr’s Werkmeister Harmonies

Dan North kindly linked to my paltry effort to write about understanding film through an examination of the long take in Béla Tarr. ( I haven’t seen the films. It was just YouTube clips.)  He has written a wonderful post titled How to watch Werkmeister Harmonies in his blog Spectacular Attractions,  to which I have added ‘Béla Tarr’s’ for my post. His latest wonderfully long  post is on Tati, one of my favourites.

I’m going to tag and categorise his site here for easy access to his long film blogroll.

November 14, 2008 Posted by | BLOG FILM Spectacular Attractions, film [its techniques] | , , | Leave a comment

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

18 August 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other views?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A one-page review of Satantango in NYT.

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

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

Waggish has two posts on Satantango.

Satantango by Rumsey Taylor in Slant Magazine.

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

Another version of the Nostalghia links on Tarkovsky.

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

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

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

Film: Paul Schrader on Robert Bresson (two part Youtube)

Paul Schrader ( famous scriptwriter of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver) sheds light on Bresson in a two part Youtube.

I learnt about Bresson a few years ago and bought the DVD of Au Hasard Balthazar as a start.   It is possible to hate a film’s style but understand what the creator was getting at and so really not quite hate it just be annoyed by some of the ways it was made.  A very common reaction amongst viewers is to to say the donkey was the star: it was, without a doubt.

Schrader going through Bresson’s Pickpocket was a highly instructive.  I made myself watch  Balthazar again, overcoming the feeling that I could not bear to watch the suffering one more time.  The stylised wooden acting still jars. But this time I thought of masks in a Greek play. But it doesn’t work for me as I would like it to. One can get the point of a film while not enjoying the experience of it.

There is a lot of meat in the interviews: at one point Schrader says Bresson’s is saying with Pickpocket (and presumably the rest): “I am going to recede from you ever so slowly till you start coming towards me.” Schrader later goes on to discuss  his view that film is not a spiritual medium.

A second film post will tackling the cinematographic long take after an experience with some Yuutubes of samples of the Hungarian director Bela Tarr.

August 15, 2008 Posted by | film [its techniques], Robert Bresson | , , , | Leave a comment