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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Gus Van Sant on Bela Tarr

My notes on Gus Van Sant's text "The camera is a machine", written for the 2001 Bela Tarr retrospective at the NYC MoMA. Published in French in Trafic #50 (summer 2004)

Upon viewing Damnation (1988), Satantango (1994) and Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), Gus Van Sant reconsiders the cinematographic grammar and the influence of History (industrial revolution age) on the birth of cinema.

The films of Bela Tarr follow one of many singular paths that Cinema could have adopted if the mainstream hadn't been formated by industrial necessities. His work shows a new genuine and fruitful orientation, a cinema radicaly new starting over at its point of departure. And this cinema could only be born outside our western culture.
Bela Tarr seems to be influenced by the stationary views of steam engine machines from the XIXth century. [Reference to the famous Lumière brothers' seminal film : L'Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat (1895)]
He learnt cinema from its origin as if Modernist Cinema never existed.


In Werckmeister Harmonies there is a 5 min long shot of a mob storming down a street to go burn down a hospital. A spectator asked Bela Tarr why this shot had to last so long and he replied sincerly :
  • "because the street to cross was that long"

[Which is the same answer Tsai Ming-liang did about the length of the opening shot of The Wayward Cloud, where we watch two women cross an underground tunnel, end to end, in wide angle.]

Without the shortcuts and ellipsis of the conventional vocabulary that would tell us : "The crowd moves forward", instead with emphasis on the lyrism and poetry, by sharing ideas his long take says : "The protesters progress, grimacing, raising high up their torches, some marching in synchronized rhythm, some not, sometimes turning round and movnig around, and once arrived they had come a long way."


Bela Tarr's work has an organic and contemplative approach rather than truncated and contemporary. We couldn't find this manner of contemplating life in an ordinary modern film. His films are so much closezr to the daily life rhythms that it appears we witness the birth of a new cinema. Bela Tarr is one of the few filmmakers truly visionary.
Cross-posted from Screenville by HarryTuttle

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