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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 8:43 pm 

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I saw Satantango at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was shown over a single session with two fifteen-minute breaks. It was certainly an extraordinary experience, as well as a rather exhausting one. Bela Tarr makes Antonioni seem dramatically fast. Any experience that lasts this long is transformed by the actual passage of time. In retrospect, the first 2.5 hour session seemed like an overture to the full saga. The second third was the most intense, shocking, and tragic. The last third oscillated between cynicism, mordant humor, and metaphysical interludes. There is no question that the film demands extra-ordinary stamina. Only four showings were planned, and the entrance was free, still New York city did not convince 200 people it takes to fill the auditorium to attend. Of those who attended, many left after the first intermission. Observing this, I wonder how commercially viable the DVD of this work is going to be.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 8:52 pm 
Perhaps its best to view it on DVD although not the ideal way of seeing the film. Spending seven hours at home, sitting on a sofa is much easier than sitting in a theatre for seven hours. Having said that, I saw all 6.5 hours of The Cremaster Cycle in one day with two intermissions and I wouldn't swap watching it in a cinema to viewing it at home.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 12:54 pm 
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Let's talk about the film a little.
Forgive me while I think aloud. What surprised me about this work is that I wasn't bored by it. What makes Tarr's ultra-long takes so utterly compelling? After the first third I was convinced the film is essentially driven by narrative: we want to know what has happened, is happening and is going to happen. The film puts the viewer in the position to conjecture past events and to reconstruct the present occurences from the multiple viewpoints provided. The overlapping episodes serve this purpose beautifully and there is great satisfaction in the piecing together of the events. This is one part of what makes watching a film enjoyable: the narrative.

Ok, but the narrative of this film could have been edited down to 2 hours, easily. So why am I and so many others willing to sit through 7.5 hours? What is it that makes real-time sequences with little or no plot-significant events so powerful? Is it how they're filmed? That is, they look great. Well, they do, but that doesn't seem to me to be all that makes them "work."

Take the penultimate episode, which is probably the funniest in the entire film. Here two beaurocrats are engaged in typing up the detailed report on our cast of characters. Their back-and-forth and very clever euphemization of words and phrases in the report are hilarious. If I remember correctly the first half of the scene is an uninterrupted take--the camera circles and circles around these two as they do their work (the circling camera is a motif of sorts, and one might want to read this formal device symbolically). About half way through the scene they take a break. One of them reads the newspaper, the other eats a small snack. Very little is spoken in this sequence. We get a real-time take of one man reading (we don't know what, exactly) and the other removing a pickle from a jar, cutting a bit off and eating it, getting out some bread and eating it. Now, the narrative necessity of this is zero. Especially since we soon find out that the two men will be heading straight home to have dinner with their families. Why eat only 10 minutes before leaving the work day? No narrative information is provided by the sequence. It's totally strange and utterly absurd, especially since it's in real-time. Why, however, is it so interesting? When I intellectualize it, I can say that it's because it's absurd, and that this works into the themes and form of the film. But at the moment of viewing I wasn't intellectualizing anything--just sitting there, befuddled and enraptured.

There are many, many more sequences like this, all of which could have been edited or edited out. I'd like to try and articulate (and here I'll need some help) why these narratively inessential, fundamentally action- and plot-less sequences are so important to Tarr's creation.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 3:05 pm 
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denti alligator wrote:
There are many, many more sequences like this, all of which could have been edited or edited out. I'd like to try and articulate (and here I'll need some help) why these narratively inessential, fundamentally action- and plot-less sequences are so important to Tarr's creation.


How about when Irimias and Petrina are sitting in the hallway for about ten minutes, neither of them talking much, and the camera certainly not doing anything? Or the--what is it? thirty? forty?--minute dance sequence? Or the sequence with the noise of the cart as they travel to the manor house? Or the sequence where (I don't remember who) stands in the corner for five minutes? Or that slooooooooooow pan toward the owl.

My friend and I were talking about this afterwards, this same idea of this being a two-hour film blown up to seven and a half, and how mesmerizing the film was, regardless of scenes taking ten or fifteen or even fifty times longer than they would if all Tarr was after was to convey some narrative information. I talked about how during the first part of the dancing scene, when it's the lively accordion number (before the tango), how those same dozen or so bars are replayed over and over and over for so long, and how when it finally stopped--when Halics? I believe, showed up--there was a profound sense of sadness that this song had stopped. We had heard it for must have been twenty minutes already, so how was it possible that Tarr had roped me in so much that not only was I not bored by a half hour of drunken dancing, but that I was sad to see it stop?

Or another example: when we see Estike walking all the way around the barn, and climbing into that hole, a sequence which takes a little while, I was sort of sad that after she came out and into the house and went back that same shot wasn't repeated--the movie had established that that was what was expected (repeating long bits already seen). So why was I let down by this?

Is it possible to feel that this film still isn't quite long enough? I mean I was starving and I was glad it was over so I could go eat something, but I had also been so engaged that it really didn't feel like the eight hours I had been sitting in that chair. I've seen eighty-minute films that felt longer than this one (Naruse's Not Blood Relations comes to mind).

What a towering, colossal masterpiece; one of those films which you can talk about endlessly.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 7:33 pm 
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When it was over, I will have to admit, I was glad it ended. It was a long journey and I was ready for some rest. Now, however, only a day later, I'm already itching to see it again.

It seems that reviewers fall back on the (imo) weak and all-too-easy interpretation that these long scenes of no action somehow express or evoke the "transcendental" or something "purely aesthetic." I can see why these terms come to mind, but I feel there's something else that can be said, more precisely, about why this technique of filmmaking works so well in Satantango. I mean, there is a reason why Tarr filmed it this way: these scenes have an incredible effect. I'm just at a loss to pinpoint, to articulate what exactly that is, since it's not a force of narrative, it's not "just visually stunning," and though it may seem to be "transcendental," this word doesn't help us understand--formally, structurally, in terms of an aesthetic effect--what's really at work here.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 8:09 pm 
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I agree with your unease with the word 'transcendent' in relation to Tarr's work. That just seems like knee-jerk critical laziness. It's been a long time since I've seen Satantango (and now I'm itching to dig out that old VHS), but a lot of the impact of those long shots for me was anti-transcendental, if anything. I felt like Tarr was rubbing my nose in the materiality of his world, not trying to rub it out.

I mentioned somewhere around here that I feel like Satantango operates quite differently from a lot of other extremely long films. It doesn't use that extra space to convey more narrative, or get deeper into the characters or historical context (as is the case in Berlin Alexanderplatz, for example), but nor is he eschewing narrative in favour of the merely pictorial or aesthetic. The story of the film is reasonably elaborate and complex, and the storytelling is inventive (as with those multiple points of view). The drawing out of those elements, however, creates a unique, hypnotic storytelling rhythm that mysteriously transforms a clever, beautifully made drama into something wondrous and unique. It's as if Tarr is using real time as a drug, and once our bodies and minds adapt to it we suffer withdrawal symptoms of the sort identified by Elephant in its absence.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 8:23 pm 
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The drawing out of those elements, however, creates a unique, hypnotic storytelling rhythm that mysteriously transforms a clever, beautifully made drama into something wondrous and unique. It's as if Tarr is using real time as a drug, and once our bodies and minds adapt to it we suffer withdrawal symptoms of the sort identified by Elephant in its absence.


So, zedz, you would still identify these long takes as functioning on a narrative level, albeit a sustained, protracted one? "Rythm" is a word that I find useful, though you, zedz, also resort to the word "mysterious" in trying to articulate how that rhythm works. It's hard, isn't it. But it's very important, I think. I don't think I've experienced anything similar to this in film before, with maybe Tarkovksy being an exception, though with his films I'm more likely to use the (admittedly lazy) word "transcendent." Angelopoulos also likes long takes, but I feel that in his last film, Weaping Meadow, these just didn't work (I'll save the "why"s for another thread.)
So is it just a pace? A sense of temporality?


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 8:58 pm 
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Yeah, I feel that the pacing and 'empty' shots / scenes in this film are an intrinsic part of the narration, rather than being extra-narrative stylistic flourishes. (Oh god, this is already sounding like a critical dead-end.) But I don't know exactly how this works or how to articulate the very unusual and specific filmgoing experience this creates. (I find it quite different from what's going on in Tarkovsky or Jansco, two blindingly obvious reference points for Tarr).


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 11:11 pm 

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I'll bet this feeling you're having difficulty describing is partly a product of the fantastic ambient soundtrack. I haven't seen the movie, but I've watched about 15 minutes of my abysmal bootleg DVD.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 11:26 pm 
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Yeah, I feel that the pacing and 'empty' shots / scenes in this film are an intrinsic part of the narration, rather than being extra-narrative stylistic flourishes. (Oh god, this is already sounding like a critical dead-end.)

I think you're right here. This is what I kept circling around in my first post: it's ostensibly non-narrative, but not just "stylistic" or shots that are simply stunning visually. I resisted calling it narrative, but perhaps you're right, though it's an utterly different kind of narrative. Yikes, see the circular argument coming here? I just can't fix this in concepts or with theoretical language (which I don't really have at my disposal anyway).

Can you describe in more detail how you feel this differs from Tarkovsky's work (I don't know Jansco's work, sadly). Perhaps this will help us.

And yes, obloquy, the soundtrack is crucial. Mihály Vig's score is hypnotic (what is that, a bandoneon? accordian? organ? -- I suspect the first, a quintessential tango instrument) and comes at important junctures in the film. The rest seems to be buzzing with an ambient drone (or is that in my head).


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 18, 2006 12:03 am 

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Been a long time since I've seen the film (though I've rewatched Damnation and Wreckmeister recently, so Tarr's style is still fresh in mind), but my reaction to the picture's pacing was that it lulled me into a numbed emotional stupor of sorts. The hypnotic longshots, drab environment, and ambient soundtrack combined to put me in a similarly dulled emotional state as the characters that populate the picture, forcing me to implicate myself in their plight and their flaws. This is counterpoint to Tarkovsky, whose style suggested something divine--Tarr's tone seems to be closer to a subdued, purgatorial oblivion (Rosenbaum aptly described Tarr's later work as "despiritualized Tarkovsky"). It's quitely angry, but almost begrudgingly nihilistic.

Zedz, I think you hit the nail on the head when suggesting:
Quote:
Tarr was rubbing my nose in the materiality of his world, not trying to rub it out.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 18, 2006 12:08 am 

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Can you describe in more detail how you feel this differs from Tarkovsky's work (I don't know Jansco's work, sadly). Perhaps this will help us.

In my view the single most important difference between Tarkovsky's work and "Satantango" ( I do not say "Bela Tarr" because Satantango is the only one of his works I have seen, and I am not sure how representative it is of his oeuvre) is that one is profoundly spiritual the other is not. Satantango is bleak. Humor emphasizes the absurdity of these lives and this world. There are stylistic similarities, the most obvious being the pace of their films, but they are used to produce quite different effects.

One can talk about the similarities of style and similarities of spirit. In spirit I found the closet kin of the famous 30-minute dance sequence in Satantango to be the highly stylized dance in Kurosawa's "The Lower Depths".


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 18, 2006 12:18 am 
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denti alligator wrote:
Can you describe in more detail how you feel this differs from Tarkovsky's work (I don't know Jansco's work, sadly). Perhaps this will help us.

Well, Tarkovsky doesn't rely so exclusively on long sequence shots, so when they come along they're automatically signaled as 'special', and it's generally not hard to see what 'special' function they serve within the narration. It's clear why the long take of Andrey carrying the candle at the end of Nostalghia needs to be a single shot, for example. In Stalker, long takes (among other things) are employed to imply (but only imply - the ambiguity is crucial) that time and space in the Zone operate differently from what we experience in 'our world'. Tarkovsky's long takes are rarely dedicated to 'dead time', as well. We may think "Why are we spending so much time looking at this?", but we're probably not going to ask why the material in question is included at all.

Tarkovsky's 'sculpted time' aesthetic probably sheds some light on Tarr (real time captured on film having a special quality that can't be approximated by anything else), but I think that Tarr's take on that idea (if he shares it) is very different. Tarkovsky is clearly striving for transcendence in at least some of his uses of real time (that candle sequence in Nostalghia, the disappearance of the ghostly condensation on the table in Mirror - in both cases the very materiality of the shots implies a supernatural presence - the bird landing on the boy in Mirror strives for the same effect, but, being faked, isn't as successful), but I don't get this from Tarr.

It's also clear why Jansco wants to capture his elaborate choreography in long, uninterrupted takes: that's the point of his aesthetic. Everything's in motion, it's a cinematic juggling act, and it would lose its magic if cut. (This reminds me of probably the dumbest piece of film criticism I've ever heard, after a screening of Sokhurov's Russian Ark: "I don't see why he couldn't have done it with one or two cuts")

Jansco composed entire films out of long sequence shots, and outdid Tarr in this respect (Elektreia, for instance, has only 13 shots, if I recall correctly, to Werckmeister Harmonies' 37). Although Tarr takes a lot from Jansco (that obsessive circling, for one thing), the focus on banal, everyday incidents is not one: Jansco is pretty consistently dramatic and spectacular, and his historical concerns and deliberate lack of intimacy make for quite different end products.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 18, 2006 12:25 am 
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Thanks, zedz and others. Does anyone know how many shots/cuts there are in Satantango?


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 18, 2006 12:55 am 
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denti alligator wrote:
Does anyone know how many shots/cuts there are in Satantango?

Masochists: this is your homework.

I only know the number of shots for Werckmeister H because it's part of my theory about the structure of the film.

Briefly (and from a very shaky memory):

The title is a reference to the reconfiguration of western harmony by Werckmeister and this is alluded to in the (fifth?) scene of the film by reference to the black and white notes on the piano keyboard and the value of the semitone.

The alternation of dark and light (to which our attention is drawn in the first scene) and exterior and interior (initially synonymous) from shot/scene to shot/scene (as every scene is a single discrete shot the terms are interchangeable for this film) relates to Werckmeister's harmonies and is modelled on the chromatic scale. The film itself consists of three chromatic scales (12 notes / shots apiece) plus the concluding repetition of the tonic = 37 notes / shots.

The strict alternation of interior / exterior in the first 'scale' of twelve shots represents the old, uninflected harmony. Tarr represents the changes wrought by Werckmeister by overlaying a light / dark pattern which matches the pattern of black and white notes in the chromatic scale on a piano keyboard (e.g. WBWBWWBWBWBWW). Initially the first pattern (interior / exterior) matches the second (light / dark), but they soon go out of sync. He cleverly arranges this by coinciding the arrival of daylight (at which point exteriors become light and interiors become dark) with the film's sixth shot. (These shots would be the notes E and F if the chromatic scale was C).

This would be pure speculation (especially as the strict dark / light pattern is not followed in the second and third 'scales' of the film) were it not for a couple of pieces of corroboration.

Circumstantial: the fact the the film is 37 shots long - the same number as there are notes in a 3-octave chromatic scale - and that the film breaks conveniently into three sections that correspond to the three octaves (shots 1-12; 13-24; 25-37). The title of the film otherwise bears little relevance to the content of the film, and it doesn't come from the source novel.

Pretty convincing: After the first twelve notes of the chromatic scale, you begin again with the thirteenth note (i.e. return to C and begin the scale again an octave higher). Tarr begins the thirteenth shot of the movie with the same image that he began the first: a fire in a grate.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 18, 2006 10:15 am 

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Interesting - we just showed it recently in Hong Kong. We had 90% attendance. About 80% of the people who bought tickets stayed, which is great! I specifically wrote in our catalogue that it's a very difficult film, and I'm glad they came and saw it anyways. The Bela Tarr retrospective was one of our best retrospectives yet, box-office wise, which is really something. I literally spammed my friends to death for them to go ;)


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 18, 2006 8:35 pm 

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Interesting take, zedz, I've never heard/read that interpretation before (or any in a similar vein, for that matter). Supposing one were to run with that reading (and there is a loose precedent in Tarr's work of this sort of thing, as Satantango was structured to formally resemble the tango--but this is considerably more abstract)--what exactly is the thematic conceit behind it? The premise seems obfuscated by the fact that, as you mentioned, the latter two sections of the film don't adhere completely to the chromatic scale, and also the ambiguity in individual scenes regarding whether they can be labeled as B or W (for example, in the third scene at his uncle's house, Janos would leave one darkened room and enter into a blindingly bright adjacent one). Given the difficulty to deduce such a formula, one would expect the payoff to be of a profound nature--or do you think it's just a strange structural preoccupation of Tarr's?

I've always considered, somewhat off-handedly, the title to be a cautionary metaphor for the danger of man-made (or man-manipulated) systems (possibly a political analogy, though Tarr generally scoffs at such accusations), but perhaps it deserves to be scoured over more attentively.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 11:18 am 
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In his book The Story of Film, Mark Cousins says this about the structure of Satantango:

"Satantango is a film in twelve sections; like Pudovkin in the 1920s, Tarr used a musical structure. In a tango, the dancers take six steps forward, then six steps back. Cultural critic Susan Sontag called the film 'Devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours," adding, "I'd be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life.'"

Of course, SS tangoed off this mortal coil in Dec 04, so she'll never know the benefits of owning this movie on DVD.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 7:49 pm 
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Titus wrote:
Given the difficulty to deduce such a formula, one would expect the payoff to be of a profound nature--or do you think it's just a strange structural preoccupation of Tarr's?

One would hope for a profound payoff (haven't found one yet!), but that's not necessarily the case in other obsessively structured films (form isn't always intertwined with content), or in Satantango, as far as I can tell. Six steps forward / six steps back would imply that the protagonists end up back where they started, but haven't they undergone some pretty drastic changes?

It could be just an organising principle for Tarr, like the 1-100 on-screen count iin Drowning by Numbers.

As for the difficulty of deducing the structure, Tarr does give two big hints at the start of the film: the opening dark/light speech and the discussion of Werckmeister's theories (which is slanted towards the keyboard illustration, if I recall correctly, and is pretty selective in its content). And many artists who go to the trouble of structuring their works in such specific, esoteric manners go out of their way not to draw their audiences' attention to their manipulations - they want to preserve the surprise of discovery - e.g. Nabokov's The Gift, Tarkovsky's Mirror.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2006 2:20 am 

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zedz, very interesting theory about Werckmeister, thanks for sharing that. what do you make of the Facets site claiming there are 39 shots in the film? just a mistake?

"In Bela Tarr's celebrated film, the arrival of a couple of bizarre circus attractions - the stuffed corpse of a huge whale and a mysterious character with magnetic powers called The Prince - sparks unrest in a provincial Hungarian town. Although composed of only 39 shots, the mesmerizing camerawork of this complex allegory creates subtle suspense and a lingering sense of dread. "A work of bravura filmmaking." In Hungarian with English subtitles."


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2006 2:13 pm 
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I posted this on another forum, and it bears repeating

Facets' WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES is a disaster: non-anamorphic, burnt-in subs, obviously a lazy PAL transfer (the running time is the same as on the Artificial Eye disc).
No extras, of course....what'd ya expect from Facets?

Let's hope they don't release SATANTANGO in R1.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2006 3:21 pm 
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tavernier wrote:
I posted this on another forum, and it bears repeating
Facets' WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES is a disaster: non-anamorphic, burnt-in subs, obviously a lazy PAL transfer (the running time is the same as on the Artificial Eye disc).
No extras, of course....what'd ya expect from Facets?

Let's hope they don't release SATANTANGO in R1.

i already posted in the "other" satantango thread, like weeks ago...

godardslave wrote:
dont know about region 2 and AE, but it looks like the region 1 release will come from...facets.
lets hope they dont fuck it up.

Quote:
Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr's 7-hour, black-and-white epic based on the novel by Laszlo Karsznahorkai took two years to film. The complex story follows a group of people living in a dilapidated village in post-communist Hungary. Tarr examines their standstill lives through a series of episodes told from each person's point-of-view. Winner of the Caligari Film Prize and the Ecumenical Jury Prize Special Mention at the 1994 Berlin International Film Festival. In Hungarian with English subtitles.

ITEM NO. PRICE QTY
DVD-DV86935 - Multi-disc boxed set.
$79.95

Bela Tarr Hungary 1994 450 mins.

by the way this forum is turning into a fucking mess, duplicate threads everywhere. Having 2 threads running parallel is just stupid. Do we even have a moderator(s) anymore?


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2006 3:31 pm 

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I started this thread. I believe the intended distinction between this thread and the other one is that this focuses on the film itself, while the other one on the DVDs of the film. I concede that this idstinction is not always respected by the contributors. I thought starting a thread here was appropriate given the recent opportunity to see the film in a theater in New York city. Having said that, I have no problem if the moderator merges the two threads.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2006 1:57 am 
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Did anyone else catch the visual reference to Satantango in Van Sant's Gerry? Just watched this one tonight and was struck by it. Tarr is also thanked in the credits.[/i]


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2006 2:22 pm 
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denti alligator wrote:
Did anyone else catch the visual reference to Satantango in Van Sant's Gerry? Just watched this one tonight and was struck by it. Tarr is also thanked in the credits.[/i]

I've seen both but just saw Satantango -- where's the reference in Gerry?


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