Posted by: kfugrip | March 5, 2007

Satan and Western Civilization

I’ve got two (#31-32) for this post.

Allow me to explain my 3 star rating of Satantango, by Bela Tarr the Hungarian auteur. First, a bit of background information. Satantango is a 7 hour film, which I just saw in the theater (Anthology Film Archives, thank you very much)with about 30 other people. It had two intermissions. Before this film I had seen only Werckmeister Harmonies by the same director. I like Werckmeister Harmonies a lot. I like the director’s style. He uses the long take, . There are very few cuts in both of the films. The frame is also more active in Werckmeister Harmonies which is one of the big factors in my rating for Satantango. But let’s go back to the background, I knew that this was going to be a marathon experience but I suspected that it would be better than when I saw the entire Tulse Luper cycle of films by Greenaway.

Long takes… I like them. When I make my own films there will be some long takes used. When you use the long take you must keep the modern audience interested by making the frame active. In Werckmeister Harmonies there were only 3 shot that I felt went on too long. This was due to the fact that something interesting, and relevant to the drama, and furthermore, a level on tension was present in the shots. Satantango lacked many of these things. There were interesting, and bleak things going on in the film. People being swindled and little girls killing cats as two examples of interesting subject matter. However, the action in the frame was static most of the time.

The story itself was less interesting in Satantango. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the two in this manner because Satantango was made before. I’m powerless to do anything else.

The characters were three dimensional and there was an artistic purpose behind all the choices but it couldn’t elevate it above my three stars. I wouldn’t recommend this film to anyone who wasn’t familiar with Tarr’s work. If you like anything else then you have to see this one.


Next is The Decline of Western Civilization, by Penelope Spheeris. This is the first in what turned out to be a series (currently at 3 films) about the Los Angeles music scene. The second part, I’ve seen before and mentioned in my Spinal Tap post, and I really liked it is subtitled “The Metal Years” and is about the hair-metal bands from the 80’s. The first one is about the punk scene from around 80-81. It centers on Black Flag, X, Fear, Alice Bag Band, Germs, The Circle Jerks, and Catholic Discipline. Perhaps it speaks to my ignorance of punk music but I had only heard of 4 of these bands and wouldn’t have been able to sing any songs that weren’t from Black Flag’s catalog, or “Beef Baloney” by Fear.

The documentary does a fantastic job of capturing the mentality and attitude of the scene at that time (not that I was there). Lots of “pogo dancing” and fighting and a heaping dose of spitting involved in all the concerts. I would have liked if Fear had gotten the behind the scenes treatment that some of the other bands received. All in all an important documentary for the culture of music and punk. Wish I had seen it when I was 18 and not 29.

3 stars.



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