Written for a Persian collection about Béla Tarr, published in May 2016. — J.R.
My first encounter with the work of Béla Tarr was Damnation (1987), seen in 1989, followed soon afterwards by Almanac of Fall (1984), but the point at which I became an acolyte rather than a mere fan was Sátántangó (1994), which remains for me the towering pinnacle of his work. Other favorites include The Turin Horse (2011) and his nearly impossible-to-see short film The Last Boat (1989), but I know plenty of other viewers who were first won over by Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), and another good starting point might be Tarr’s 1982 production of Macbeth (1982), made for Hungarian television in only two shots.
Most of his films qualify as black comedies filmed in black and white, spiritual without being religious and peopled most often by grubby and not especially honorable individuals who are followed with lengthy takes and elaborately choreographed camera movements that implicate the viewer in their activities and thwarted destinies. Starting with Damnation, they are mostly written by the great Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai, whose endless and labyrinthine sentences in his novels are as relentless and as passionately serene as Tarr’s camera movements. Read more
From American Film (September 1979). –- J.R.
Academic film conferences in the United States seem to be growing more plentiful every year. But there’s only one that can properly be called a theory conference, where theorists congregate, report on works in progress, and generally talk shop. It takes place in Milwaukee, at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Twentieth Century Studies, usually when there’s still snow on the ground. A few avant-garde filmmakers also traditionally turn up to show their latest wares and join in the discussions.
For academics, the conference functions as a combined brainstorming session, trade fair, and social gathering. For an interested outside observer, it can offer still another way of keeping up — by serving as a kind of barometer of intellectual currents in both films and film studies.
Last year the topic was “The Cinematic’ Apparatus: Technology as Historical and Ideological Form,” and the main attraction was papers by and discussions with many of the reputed superstars of film theory, ranging from Jean-Louis Comolli and Christian Metz [see below] to Stephen Heath and Laura Mulvey. This year the title was “Cinema and Language,” and although there was a lot of both to be squeezed into four days, it was the movies shown that left the strongest impression. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 1988). — J.R.
In this strictly routine second sequel to Poltergeist, directed by Gary Sherman from a script by Sherman and Brian Taggert, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) is now happily living in Chicago with her uncle Bruce (Tom Skerritt), aunt Pat (Nancy Allen), and cousin Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle). But during a session at school with a therapist (Richard Fire) something nasty starts to happen when she looks in a mirror. Most of the action is confined to a single brand-new skyscraper, and the moves are both standard and predictable: periodic jolts from the other world that seem almost arbitrarily spliced into the action, setting up the rational-minded therapist as the major fall guy, and never paying much mind to plot or coherence, meanwhile cribbing from everything in sight (The Exorcist, The Shining, the first two Poltergeists). (JR)