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Monday, February 09, 2009

Satantango at 15

Yesterday, was the 15th anniversary of Béla Tarr's greatest masterpiece, Sátántangó, which world première was held on February 8th 1994 in Hungary.

Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote an article on this occasion for a Hungarian newspaper and it is published on his website too. Read it online here.

According to IMDb, it has been screened in only 7 countries (at festivals), of which only 3 gave it a (limited) commercial distribution. Hungary and The Netherlands in 1994, and France in 2003. I hope this info is incomplete. I believe there was a couple of exceptional screenings in NYC a few years ago.

Let me know where and how you could discover this rare and epic film yourself, if you had the chance to experience it.

15 comments:

Carson said...

I had to purchase it, it never would play anywhere near me. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, aside from Werckmeister Harmonies.

weepingsam said...

It's played around - it played at Harvard, 2 years ago now - it's a crime it doesn't play theatrically more often: it's an utterly immersive experience on film, in a room full of fellow enthusiasts... I should buy it, for the reference, but I'm almost as desperate to see it again as I was to see it the first time....

AD!!! said...

I hope they open a release in ASIA, especially here in the Philippines. I really want to watch a BELA TARR film, especially this one. Anyway, Happy 15th anniversary to Satantango!

Matthew Flanagan said...

As far as I know, it has only screened once in the UK: on a Sunday in NFT2 during the Tarr retro in 2001. I hadn't the faintest idea that movies like Sátántangó even existed at that point, so was (regrettably) elsewhere at the time...

The brave souls at the Cube in Bristol tried to rectify the situation this month though, pencilling in a screening for next Sunday. However, Tarr drives a hard bargain, and asked for (take a deep breath) £1400 for his 35mm print! The Cube (which only seats about 100) tried to meet the price, but haven't been able to... Tarr also (rightly, I think) refused the rights for it to be screened on DVD. Fortunately I hadn't booked my train ticket before I heard the bad news!

I've watched the film twice on DVD (the UK release from AE): once on a video projector, and again on a (woefully) small screen in order to take a shot length and notes. I don't regret it, but am determined to see it on 35mm - as soon as there's a screening which I can feasibly get to, I'm there...

HarryTuttle said...

Just for one screening? How can an exhibitor make money that way? How much is the regular price though? The film duration makes the number of reels equates to 5 films of 90min.
In France they charged the 3 intermissions like if it was 3 movies, 3 times a regular ticket price.
Actually there was a screening in Paris last weekend (which I didn't have time to attend), maybe you could have jumped in the Eurostar... ;)

Matthew Flanagan said...

Yes, just one screening. The analogy of 4/5 "regular" films certainly accounts for Tarr's asking price, but it's still comparatively very steep... Interesting to hear that it was done that way in France. I have a feeling, though, that even if the Cube had increased their usual £3/4 ticket prices (within reason) it would still have been out of their range... Just on a side note - when they screened Warhol's amazing/gruelling The Chelsea Girls, the proceeds from a full house managed to cover both rental and shipping costs for MoMA's print...

As for hopping on the Eurostar, it may well come to that in the future!

HarryTuttle said...

Well that's what I was talking about at the Epilogue '08 roundtable.
The cost of 35mm exhibition is so expensive that only successful commercial movies can dilute it with a long theatrical run and an intensive screening schedule. For independent auteurs, who are denied a normal theatrical run to cover the upfront investment with the first screenings and then make some profits when the audience picks up, face this kind of absurd situations.
I don't know if the price you mention is right or not, but it definitely falls into the "art gallery" niche, like, say, a Matthew Barney Cremaster... And it's unfortunate, because Satantango is not an experimental film that most regular audience would have a hard time understanding, it's just a slow paced drama that deserves a wider distribution.

P.S. is Chelsea Girl as long as Satantango? The main difference I see is that Warhol's film is past it's theatrical run by now, so it probably already had a chance to cover its budget. While I doubt Béla Tarr has made money with his film... which is critically acclaimed as a masterpiece all around the world, but nobody wants to screen it commercially...

Matthew Flanagan said...

I agree - it's pretty much a no-win situation!

What I know about the cost of the print came from the horse's mouth, so I think it's safe to say that it's correct.

The Chelsea Girls runs for about 3-and-a-quarter hours (can't remember whether my ok Italian DVD suffers from PAL speed-up, but I don't think it does)...

HarryTuttle said...

When I said "the right price" I meant a price that corresponds to normal market prices, comparatively to the footage length. If you divide it by 5 it's only £280 for a 90min long film. Which is easily recouped with £4 admissions, even more if you can screen it several times in the week.
The main problem is that it is only screened once at the time. It's like renting a car, if you don't drive it, it feels very expensive.

It is probably one of the reason why Tarr gives up on trying to keep making films in such unprofitable conditions...

weepingsam said...

The only way to get around this, usually, is either depend on the festival/university crowd (which is usually subsidized somewhere), or take the show on the road, a la Soderburgh/Del Toro and CHE, or David Lynch with INLAND EMPIRE or, I think, Albert Serra and Mark Peranson with BIRDSONGS and WAITING FOR PANCHO. (I'm not sure if they are touring with it or just making appearances...)

Of course all four of those films are shot on DV, with minimal crews (CHE being the biggest), all of them quite explicitly adapting to contemporary technology and marketing - much as one wants to see films continue to be made on film outside of Hollywood, it may be necessary to adapt to the times. DV changes things: cuts costs, frees the camera and performers in a host of ways, and - judging from BIRDSONGS at least - can be nearly as gorgeous looking as film...

HarryTuttle said...

Yes you're right. But it's sad that the "system" is suited to the commercial fare, and that "unconventional" films can't fit in, and must go a long way to have the same opportunity to meet an audience.

Movies aren't equal in rights before the distribution circuit. Artfilms are second-class citizens.

What I like about cinema over other arts, is that the admission fee is always the same, whether you watch a $100M budget movie or a $100,000 budget movie.
However, visibility in the press and accessibility on the public screens depends on Box Office potential format (before even screening them) instead of letting the audience vote with their money AFTER all films are offered to public projection.

Choosing between 35mm and DV shouldn't be dictated by economy but by an artistic decision because it corresponds to what the filmmaker wants to do.

weepingsam said...

Unfortunately, the cost of film and DV are different - almost all filmmaking is expensive, which certainly drives the types of films that are made, and creates serious problems for films like Satantango, a very long, challenging, narrative film, made on film - I hope films like that continue to be made... but one thing that DV does is offer ways to make films like that - long, challenging, adventurous narratives, say - for a lot less money. CHE isn't as long, and (though I think it's a very good film) not as good - but it's a good example: the technology makes it possible to make a film like that for a lot less money, enough less to possibly make it back.

I do think that there will be sources of money to make films like Satantango (not that there are a lot of films like Satantango - but narrative, fiction films that are formally challenging and divorced from the mainstream, say), and I definitely wish there were more chances to get them screened - DVD obviously helps, but it's not a film I'd want to watch in the living room exactly... What is interesting is that alternatives are emerging - films like Che and Inland Empire and Ballast and What is It? (the Crispin Glover film) and Brand Upon the Brain! and possibly Birdsongs are all working out new ways to make films (with DV, with or without crews or actors or scripts or whatever) and then distribute them and exhibit them - most of them have been promoted at some point by the filmmakers more or less taking them on the road, turning them into performances... It seems like what passes for a market for art films has changed utterly - it's interesting to see filmmakers trying to reinvent it. Though it's like they're going back in time 100 years, more - traveling exhibitions, and even the return of the aura of the unique artifact (or performance.)

I think what I hope most is that people continue to make narrative fiction films of a certain length and exhibit them on large screens in public places. I want that kind of artwork to survive. And I don't want to only be able to see that kind of art (new and old) on a DVD, at home alone.

HarryTuttle said...

Che is a mainstream movie, in its form as much as in its making. Soderbergh had to beg money in Europe just because of the commie theme. The 4h length is just like a sequel released simultaenously, like Eastwood's Flags of our fathers/Imo Jiwa.
Soderbergh is full of cash, I don't worry about him.

What represent what you say is Lav Diaz and Raya Martin in The Philippines who are on a production frensy even without a commercial audience. They are able to make with digital filmmaking films over 10h long for the former and trilogies for the latter. This is the advantage of digital production right there. But their subject goes well with the digital aesthetic too. Though Encantos would look great on 35mm, he would have had much more pressure to keep the camera rolling in long takes.

David Lynch fell in love with the digital cam, so it's all good. But if they didn't let him make 35mm films that would be a shame, because however experimental he is, he's got a wide fanbase, contrary to most artfilm auteurs...
But what he's forced to do, to go door to door to sell his movie, because he distribute himself is silly. If you're a director and you spend half of your time distributing your films, you can't work on your next film. We can't ask people who are good at making films to dedicate their creative time to distribution business. That's what independent distributors are there for. Why should Lynch exhaust himself on the road, while commercial directors have teams of people doing all the work for them?
This doesn't give freedom to indie directors, it ensalves them to the profit of their films.

I agree with your Birdsong has a somptuous digital photography, this is what gives hope for filmmaking under these conditions.

I enjoy extreme-length movies. It's a category that should continue to develop and be studied too. But it will never be destined for a wide audience, much less for a mainstream audience. Just because people don't have that much time to spare for "just" a movie.

André Dias said...

The first time I've saw SÁTÁNTANGO was probably around 1997 or so. My cinephilia was just starting, so it was a good test. The Cinemateca in Lisbon, Portugal, made a Béla Tarr retrospective as one of the "Filmmakers for the XXI century" series. It seems that then only two of Cinemateca's programmers managed to stick to it till the end! I've seen it another time in a 35mm print, and once I've even manage to get inside the room just to see the cat scene I much appreciate for a third time. Back then I've also liked KÁRHOZAT/DAMNATION (1988), but later WERCKMEISTER HARMÓNIAK, which I've hated so much, made me very afraid to watch any Tarr, old or new, again...

weepingsam said...

That's what independent distributors are there for.

But less and less. Another one gone today, right, New Yorker films? For good or ill, films cost money to make, and to get the money back, people have to see them and pay money for them. It does seem the old systems are breaking down (insofar as they were ever all that effective at getting films seen), and filmmakers (and distributors, exhibitors, critics, everyone) need to look around for new ways to get them seen. I guess I'm looking for a bright side - for the possibilities for something new to appear out of these problems. Some of the roadshow things that have come out have been pretty interesting in themselves - Guy Maddin's interactive showings of Brand on the Brain; Lynch's multimedia publicity for his works...