DID YOU READ

On DVD: “Satantango,” “Eagle Shooting Heroes”

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07212008_satantango.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

The behemothic, almost impossible to see, hardcore-critic-exalted art film legends keep coming at us on DVD — will there be any Holy Grails left? — but it’s likely that no movie has been awaited as intensely and with as high expectations as Béla Tarr’s “Satantango” (1994). Finally, after literally years of rumors and broken promises and restoration troubles, Facets has brought this cathedral of a movie to disc, and we can all explore its frontiers at will. Not that we all will — “Satantango” is one of those films that, because of its size (nearly seven hours), form (long-take extremism) and weighty thrust (ambiguous Hungarian existentialism), has always worn the mantle of being a cinephiles’ test case, an experience that separates the apostles from the pretenders. Maybe Tarr made it with that in mind — by its very nature, the film intends to be an immersive trial. You don’t just watch “Satantango” — you live it, your biorhythms adjust to it, and the upshot is not what you’d call a walk on the bright side of the street.

That’s not to imply that Tarr’s movie is dull or even minimalist — it’s one of the richest films I’ve ever seen, brimming with visual courage, narrative duplicity, stark moody beauty, puzzles, satire, lurking drama, off-screen mysteries, and inexhaustible metaphoric readings. The setting is as important as the story, and in the end, more informative: a tiny collective-farming village somewhere in the endless Hungarian flatlands, so constantly beset by driving rain that the ground is endless mud, the buildings are rotten, and the outside world is permanently kept at bay by the overflowing bogs and washed-out roads. Tarr patrols this landscape so thoroughly — following his actors on interminable slogs, or tracing the wanderings of farm animals looking for food — that by the end of the film you feel as if you’ve just finished a six-month sentence on the worst work farm in the world. What happens here isn’t, ironically, terribly clear: As the farm’s desolate and soul-wasted denizens skulk aimlessly about in the Communist-era ramshackle digs, a previous farm inhabitant, rumored to have died, is now said to be returning in a Messiah-like fashion. Once he does, walking in from the rainy wasteland, he is both considered suspect and accepted as a kind of savior; he cons the wary collective to hand him their savings in the service of some plot that will release them from their dire landscape. Meanwhile, old hostilities arise, a teenage girl lives out a perhaps universal scenario of cruelty (to a cat) and victimhood, and the dead dreams of Communism and the new fantasies of wealth keep getting floated like lead balloons in the grim kitchens and bars and barns that alone disrupt a relentless horizon. Working in twelve ill-defined chapters (like a tango — six forward, six back), the film is so elusive about its narrative you can still be not sure by its end which large chunks of the film uncoiled in film-time simultaneously with other chunks.

07212008_satantango2.jpgWhew. Shot in profound and serotonin-depleting black and white, “Satantango” forces you to take long walks in its particular hell, and Tarr’s fluency with moving-camera compositions (and with the behavior of nature and animals) seems at the same time to be almost superhuman. I don’t seen any reason not to consider the film (co-written by novelist László Krasznahorkai) a folly-of-man parable on the devastation of Communism followed by the ethical rot brought on by capitalism, even if Tarr has preferred to consider the film’s agenda to be “cosmic.” (Such a reading would, after all, suggest that the Messiah complex that constructed the Christ story also created the idolatry around Lenin and the free market-capitalist cult figure of your choice.) But Tarr’s movie is a spectacle, too, even as seen on DVD (you are forbidden to touch your remote), in ways that almost define film as an art form. Holding the ground of the great plan sequence tradition forming Kalatozov to Jancsó to Tarkovsky to Angelopoulos, Tarr sets a high bar here for the use of motion and off-screen space, not settling for filling the frame and carrying us along with story, but managing instead to invoke a separate world.

There is also, once again, the issue of extreme length. Cinephiles fall to their knees for gigantic auteurist films for a reason: They are not efficiently manufactured and absorbed artworks so much as life events, subject to accident, ambiguity, boredom, anticipation, empathy, resentment, dissipation, meditation, epiphany. Lifestuff accumulates with the hours, so we are forced to regard the movie as a real-time event that may, indeed, have no end. (Once a movie passes the 200-minute mark, it might as well not have an ending, which was in effect the point of time-bandits Andy Warhol and Jacques Rivette.) In any case, the culmination of a four-or-more-hour film cannot help but have cataclysmic impact compared to a climax arriving after an orthodox hour-and-a-half. It’s an aesthetic of abandon, not concision. Extraordinary length requires complete surrender — established narrative parameters are rendered impotent and viewers’ expectations are irrelevant. One of cinema’s great and secret subjects is the drift of time, despite the fact that ordinary film syntax has always worked to sublimate and abbreviate it for brisk entertainment purposes. Time is the long movie’s black box, a silent, naturally occurring entropic action that impresses upon us as ordeal memory, as overwhelming love and fear, as an unshakable reality. Films like “Satantango” may not necessarily change your life, but they cannot help but become a part of it once they are experienced. What more could we want from a movie?

07212008_eagleshootingheroes.jpgAfter all that vital expenditure of brainwork, will, patience and attention, you might see yourself as deserving of Jeffrey Lau’s “Eagle Shooting Heroes” (1993), a Hong Kong self-parody that’s as utterly goofy and bubbly and schticky as any Keystone Kops two-reeler, but packed with ordinarily stoic stars (Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Leslie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Tony Leung Ka Fai, etc.) making ridiculous hay of their screen personas and the entire wuxia pian genre. The story is typical genre hooey (based upon the same novel as producer Wong Kar-wai’s “Ashes of Time,” though you’d never know it), but the Sammo Hung-choreographed action is hectic, free-flying craziness, in the way real martial arts epics were before the advent of digital imagery. It’s a plan I’ve tested for you: Follow up the unforgettable seven-course banquet dinner of deeply resonant goulash with a fruity-gingery umbrella drink, and relax.

[Photos: “Satantango,” Facets, 1994; “Eagle Shooting Heroes,” Kino, 1993]

“Satantango” (Facets) and “Eagle Shooting Heroes” (Kino Video) are now available on DVD.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.