Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 45 (Art Spiegelman)

Maus I
Spiegelman, Art
Maus: A Survivor's Tale
1 My Father Bleeds History

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

The first year I was in charge of "If All Of Buffalo Read The Same Book" (2003, I think), I wanted to do something different. One of the books we considered for the project that year was this one. I think Just Buffalo bought the set and we passed it around the office for everyone to read. Somehow I only ended up with Part I. I have no idea what happened to Part II.

I remember asking Creeley if he knew how to contact Spiegelman. I think he got me Spiegelman's mailing address. I wrote a letter, but he never replied. A few years later I noticed that he had been picked up by a speaker bureau, which would have made it a whole lot easier for me in the beginning.

We never pursued it, but the Buffalo Public Library brought him as part of a year-long celebration of graphic novels. I remember them telling me something about him having a clause in his contract which demanded he be allowed to smoke on stage, and that he would not perform unless he could do so.

On a completely unrelated note, the Literary Outlaw Richard Deming, now my neighbor, came by last night to watch my recently purchased blu-ray copy of The Turin Horse, supposedly the final film by Hungarian director extraordinaire Bela Tarr (I think his Satantango and especially Werckmeister Harmonies are two of the greatest films I have ever seen).

The Turin Horse begins after a legendary incident involving Frederich Nietzsche, wherein he walks into town and sees a man beating a recalcitrant horse. The philosopher stops the man and becomes so upset he throws his arms around the horse's neck and begins to weep uncontrollably. A neighbor has to take him home, where he lays in bed for two days, descending into the final madness of his last years.

Nietzsche does not appear in the film, which follows the man and the horse home, presumably after the incident. The man lives a hardscrabble existence with his daughter on a bleak farm in a barren landscape, very similar to the one depicted in the apocalyptic Satantango.

My immediate response to the film was that I didn't like it.

Tarr is always serious, but his best films have a comic touch and a kind of visual lyricism that overcome some of the existential horror they depict. The Turin Horse, however, is relentlessly bleak. The soundtrack threads together a windstorm howling outside throughout the film and a droning score a la Philip Glass, and very little happens.

Over the course of seven days (each one a "chapter), we watch the pair, dress, eat, pull water from the well, drink brandy, feed the horse, clean out the stable, etc. We live in their world in almost real time, to the point that we become aware of a series of small, yet potentially catastrophic changes taking place around them: the horse refuses to eat and threatens their livelihood, the well runs dry and threatens their well-being, finally, the oil lamps refuse to light after darkness descends..

All of this rolls past in what often feels like real time. It's an endurance test to be sure, one I wasn't sure was justified in the face of the bleakness of the film. But then I woke up this morning still thinking about it. It may actually be a great film. I'll need to think about it some more. Maybe RD would like to chime in?

1 comment:

rdeming said...

Hey Mike,

well I think it achieves just what it set out to do: make the viewer experience in some way the tedium and ponderousness of the life of these two people--it doesn't transform it, though there is an aestheticized version since the cinematography is often quite breathtaking, albeit bleakly stunning. In other words, it seems that BT set out to create something closer to an experience of art rather than the kind of experience that so much cinema tries to create. In that way I admire it. Of course one need not enjoy that experience. But of course, I would imagine BT would see that feelings of boredom and frustration and even resignation are what the film is trying to achieve.

Of course, there is an issue that the film only does what it sets out to do and that there isn't anything more to carry away from it besides some 143 minutes of that experience. At some level BT could say that the sense memory of that boredom in the face of repetition, etc could create empathy for people who live that way.

So like it? No, but I'm glad that I watched it and went through that--though it was much more enjoyable with friends. Alone, at home, I might not have sat through it.

It reminded me a lot of late Beckett in that way.

It also was the exact opposite of Total Recall, which I saw the day before.