Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
July 21
Bela Tarr July 21, 1955
Bela Tarr born

In the world of contemporary art cinema, certain director names have a kind of talismanic power, signifying more than just a specific person, a specific body of work, and even a specific style. One such name at the moment is "Bela Tarr." Born July 21, 1955 in Hungary, Tarr is known for deep, meditative films, often shot in black-and-white and employing very long takes. For many cineastes, he is a devout practitioner of a the kind of transcendental style favored by directors like Andrei Tarkovsky, a style in which subject matter, editing rhythms and camera choreography reach for cinematic meanings beyond traditional realism.  Of course, this style is antithetical to the preferences of television buyers, and it dismisses any idea that audiences' ability to focus on and commit to long-take cinema is on the wane, which makes Tarr a visible champion of a style many fear is being lost. Ironically, Tarr did not start off with this brand of cinema. His early films were documentaries, and his first feature was documentary-inspired realism. But for a TV version of Macbeth, Tarr filmed most of the play in a single shot. Several years later came Satantango, an adaptation of Laszlo Krasznahorkai's novel, which is one of the longest features in modern times — seven hours. The film shifts between multiple point-of-views and narrative strands as it chronicles the shutdown of a collective farm in a small Hungarian town just after the fall of Communism. Wrote J. Hoberman in the Village Voice (http://www.villagevoice.com/2006-01-03/film/b-la-tarr-s-marathon-masterpiece-casts-a-devilish-spell/), "With fewer shots than the average 90-minute feature, Sátántangó is a double tour de force—for the actors, as the camera circles them in lengthy continuous takes, and for Tarr, who constructs his narrative out of these morose blocks of real time.... Because each cut is an event, the most banal incident can be expanded into something epic. " Satantango went on to excite many critics, including Susan Sontag, who famously wrote that she'd like to see it every year for the rest of her life, and the director Gus Van Sant, whose "long take" style in Gerry and Elephant was inspired by the film. Tarr's most recent film is The Man from London, an adaptation of a George Simenon novel.  He is currently at work on The Turin Horse, a dramatic feature inspired by a story of a horse that philosopher Frederic Nietzsche tried to save from whipping while living in Turin.


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