clyfford still, pastorale
Today I've been in a state of awe most of the day. A few days ago I came upon by chance an interview with Hungarian director Bela Tarr. It was a ten minute or so interview that held my attention every word he said. By the time it was over, I needed to see his films. Found I already had his film Damnation in my netflix Q. I ran it to the top of the Q and a couple days later it was in the mailbox. That would be today. I was fired up with the beginnings of a new painting, Edwin Lacy banjo, Scott Freeman mandolin, from waist up, focus on faces, instruments and fingers. This one is to be like they're standing in front of a yellow Barnett Newman painting. When I'd had enough of painting, I put the disk in the player and sat back to see what was next. In the first scene I knew for a certainty I was in the presence of art unfolding before my face. Severe black and white, high contrast, bringing David Lynch's Eraserhead to mind, though only for the stark white and black.
It wasn't long before I was seeing Eastern European Existentialism in the raw. I am no stranger to existentialism in that I first read Camus' The Stranger at age 21, in awe that I was reading a novel that seemed like I might have written it. I identified with it so much, the writing indeed felt like I wrote it. I knew nothing about Camus or existentialism at the time. Somebody I'd recently met handed the paperback copy to me the day before I set out by plane for Norfolk, Virginia, to start my two years of involuntary servitude. Camus' writing resonated with me like nothing I'd read. At the base library I found several paperbacks by Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, essays, plays. I devoured them, every one. It all resonated with me like it came from my mind, though a far more intelligent mind than mine, but he carried my own thinking that much. He articulated for me elements that were floating around in the stew inside my head and ordered my own thinking, at least a good start. All through the time in the Navy I read novels by Simone deBeauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre on the French resistance in WW2, identifying with my resistance to military mind, a continuation of daddy mind. In that time of my life I felt like a black teenage boy in the back seat of a patrol car, hands cuffed behind my back.
As my reading progressed, I went beyond existentialism to the place that I look back and see that line of thinking limited to the human mind. Eventually, I transcended and don't identify with the philosophy like I used to. It is a word I never liked to use, because it was so pretentiously used on the whole. It almost always sounded pretentious when somebody used the word. Yet, in Europe it was taken seriously. It meant the same as intellectual used to mean. This may be why wherever I go in Europe I'm told by somebody, "You're not like other Americans." I don't know many existentialists among people I've known along the way in America. It's a foreign way of thinking. America is about smiling a lot and making a good impression, selling self with attractive personality. Hopelessness? Deny it. Prozac, Zoloft and a host of other aids help make life more like television where actions are devoid of consequences.
Bela Tarr's film Damnation put me into a trance of Awe. I didn't realize I was actually in a kind of trance overwhelmed by awe. Directly after finishing it I drove to town to go to the wine-tasting at the coffee shop. I was not there. I walked into a big place jammed with the suburban middle class that I came to the mountains to get away from. I stood there, in effect frozen in place, unable to enter the crowd and start talking politically correct suburban-speak, smile like I'm on tv, a commercial for myself. Why? What am I selling? Nothing. Then why put on the dog? Why be there? After visiting with a couple of friends, I exited and came home. The only thing I wanted to do was watch Tarr's film again. I was in a place inside my head that didn't have room for anything else. I put on my house clothes and settled for another couple hours in Bela Tarr's mind, a fascinating place to go, the mind of a pure artist. The man is a serious thinker. I heard him say in an interview that he makes a film as he sees life. I've an idea he and I see life very similarly. I have my own that is not his and he has his that is not mine. In this film he was dealing with hopelessness. I think I've transcended my own hopelessness. In this world, living by mind, hopeless is the only way there is. It's all in how we adapt to it. In America we tend to deal with hopelessness by denial. I'd guess that's fairly universal.
The visuals in Tarr's film are there with Fellini visuals, von Trier visuals, Kurosawa visuals. I see it with Fellini's 8 1/2, Pasolini's Oedipus, Kurosawa's Rashomon, von Trier's Medea, Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman In The Dunes, in Tarr's own way, as each of these films is made uniquely in the director's own way. Tarr will hold a scene for a long time. Somebody walks through a still scene from one end to the other until out of sight. This was how he ended it too, the man just walked into the frame from the right and walked through the scene and out the left side. A point was made during the film that characters in a story disintegrate when the story is over. The man going through the story has problems with egomaniac mind, his need to destroy women, eventually ends up in the slag heap of his self. A couple times people told him he would come to no good end. In his debasement, he left the people he was among and walked into the netherworld of slag heaps where he came face to face with a dog. He went down to all fours and barked back at the dog. They barked and danced around each other until the man eventually cowed the dog that went away whimpering. He'd told a woman, another man's wife, that he would do debased things for her. She still wasn't interested. He explained how and why he had murdered his previous girlfriend. Seduction was not his talent.
He walked away in hopelessness after learning he had no support from anyone who knew him. In his world he was a self-centered waste of fresh air. I felt like what story there was watched this self-absorbed man, who couldn't connect with anyone authentically, walk out of the story into disintegration. And the visuals were jaw-droppingly incredible. It was a visual abstraction from start to finish. Vertical lines, horizontal lines, squares, rectangles, angles, light and dark. His scenes were long and still, with a little bit of motion, like steam rising from something on a stove, fog outside. He'll have a scene with nothing moving except all the way to the right in the background a small fan turning slowly. In an interview he said that he puts light on the part of a given scene that is the focus of attention. The rest is context. I went to youtube to see trailers to some of his other films. Went to netflix and put them all at the top of my Q. A Bela Tarr film festival will be happening here next week. It's kind of like falling in love to discover an artist whose work satisfies me all the way and leaves me in a trance of awe. It was something like when I first discovered Steve Reich's music. I hear Music For Eighteen Musicians in awe every time I've heard it over the last thirty-five years. It's music I listen to like watching a movie, sit back and let if flow by.