Tag Archives: Bela Tarr

Test Dept’s Film Jukebox

UK tour brett T BW
Test Dept photo by Brett Turnbull

Prompted by cultural and political developments, influential 80s industrial music collective Test Dept have recently resurfaced and are currently touring their film DS30 (2014) along with other archive film material. Their book Total State Machine has just been released by PC-Press and is available from Rough Trade East and from the PC-Press website. There will be a number of re-issues of their recorded material soon on PC-Press/Forte Distribution. Test Dept: Redux will be playing live at the Wroclaw Industrial Festival, Poland, on 7 November and at TPO in Bologna, Italy, on 14 November. They will be appearing at the Cambridge Film Festival (4-12 September) on 12 September as part of the Microcinema event programme curated by James Mackay and William Fowler, DARK PICTURES: Industrial Music Culture. Below, Test Dept founding member Graham Cunnington picks his ten essential films, some of which have a personal significance while others have influenced the work of the group.

1.Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
A seminal moment of inspiration and one of those films where you look at the world differently once you emerge from the darkness of the cinema into the light. The landscape of ‘The Zone’ in the film, where one’s deepest dreams can perhaps be realised, somehow reflected the desolation of the former docklands around New Cross where we lived at the time; mile upon mile of derelict and ruined industrial buildings and forsaken empty wasteland. The film raises philosophical questions about the nature of reality and about the existential battles of science and logic vs art and creativity, religion and belief, about right and wrong, good and evil, and it made me feel there were much deeper levels of understanding to explore in the world around me. It also heavily influenced our film Cold Witness starring the great Ken Campbell.

2. Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass (Dziga Vertov, 1931)
Vertov’s film Man with a Movie Camera could be in this list as it was a huge early influence on our visual director Brett Turnbull and of Test Dept’s filmmaking style, especially during the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike. But Enthusiasm is here as it was the first sound film. The first to use sound recorded on location, and then to use those sounds, cut up into a sound collage for the soundtrack. A technique that we have developed throughout our career, using found sound in creating film soundtrack and music composition.

3. Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, 2000)
The opening shot of the young main protagonist choreographing the drunken inhabitants of a bar in a small town in rural Hungary to act out the movement of the heavenly bodies of the solar system is a beautifully arresting scene. Béla Tarr’s customary ultra-long takes create a dreamlike metaphorical meditation on the fall and failure of the machinations and corruptions of power and the willing blindness of people to accommodate such things. A constant struggle between dark and light around prophesies of doom in a world on the brink of disaster. This film produced another jolt of a creative spark for me.

4. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
The adaptation of Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, the script, the cinematography, the soundtrack, the characters, and the surreality and unexpectedness of some of the scenes and scenarios. In every aspect an astonishing and ground-breaking film that really resonated with us, not least because the Vietnam War was a constant background noise on the news when we were kids. Some sonic material of this was inevitably extracted and used in early TD work, and many others’ too. Someone said of our original installation of DS30 on the river Tyne in Newcastle last year that approaching it by boat was like one of the scenes from this film. A compliment indeed.

5. Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977)
Although Blue Velvet, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive are brilliant films, Eraserhead was the first Lynch film and the first one I watched. More surreal and strange than anything I had ever come across before, it knocked me sideways. It was always on late night screenings at The Ritzy in Brixton and that was the best time for it. The strange main character of Henry, the black and white cinematography, the sound design and the atmosphere of alienation have lingered in my creative cloud, and, as a reference for being out there, doing your own thing and not giving a shit what people think, it’s pretty unsurpassed. A disturbance of the psyche that textured and coloured some of mine and Test Dept’s very early work.

6. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
The fact that this had been banned and could only be watched on illegal VHS video tapes created the initial intrigue. As a punk in South London in the late 70s, violence was a part of my teenage years. The streets were a dangerous place where gangs of Skinheads, Teddy Boys, Casuals, Hells Angels and Bikers were out to get you. This film reflected that reality – Alex and his Droogs wear their identifying uniform and commit ‘ultra-violence’ much as some in those sub-cultures did – but it also made such an impact on me through its depiction of a government using psychological conditioning to control its citizenship, fanning the flames of my own young anti-establishment tendencies. The design of a near-future, much like our own but strange and alien too, helped by the invented language of Nadsat, appropriating words from other sources, and the incredible soundtrack by Walter (later Wendy) Carlos, transplanting Beethoven’s Glorious Ninth Symphony onto the Moog synthesiser; all an inspiration which would come back to me years later when me and the other members of TD came to work on the Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket as extras.

7. No Mercy, No Future (Helma Sanders-Brahms, 1981)
Incredibly difficult to watch, but this is an enormously powerful work and, along with Sanders-Brahms’s other film Germany, Pale Mother, had such an influence on me, coming out of both in tears, absolutely drained and devastated. A story about a schizophrenic young girl in West Berlin, under the shadow of the Wall, alone and alienated in a brutal city, looking for god. It was an eye-opener that such a powerful emotional effect could be got through a story so uncompromising, uncomfortable and disturbing. It sparked an interest that would eventually lead me to have the courage, many years later, to develop and tell my own story in the solo play Pain.

8. Mad Max II: The Road Warrior (George Miller, 1981)
Another future dystopia, it was a toss-up between this and Blade Runner, even though that is undoubtedly the better film, but MMII gets in due to the mutated vehicles and repurposed materials giving an obvious link with TD and our choice of scrap-metal instrumentation. What drew me in was the lonesome road warrior with his dog and his souped-up car, concerned with doing the right thing, but only just, something I identified with completely in my imagination. Also, the opposing tribes: the bad biker-punk gang so much more beguiling than the boring hippie goodies inside their oil-well encampment (except for the cool wild kid narrator with the boomerang). A high-octane-powered roller coaster ride. As TD, we later hooked up with the Mad Max-inspired Mutoid Waste Company, who were living at the time in a quarry in Italy, mutated their own vehicles and could have been characters straight out of the film. We went on convoy with them around Italy and felt as though we actually were.

9. Ghost Dog (Jim Jarmusch, 1999)
I just love this film with Forest Whitaker’s depiction of the eponymous lone hitman who communicates by pigeon and constantly refers to the Hagakure: Book of The Samurai, trying to interpret its code as a spiritual guide; his character here resonates with my own conflicted struggle for a spiritual understanding, beyond religion, in a harshly unspiritual time. He moves through the city unnoticed by most except the few who really see him, accompanied by RZA’s great score, and when you come out of this film you want to do the same, in that lazy, slouching walk that he has, just to be as cool as him – even though he kills people.

10. Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)
Really three films in one post. This, along with Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation and Naqoyqatsi: Life as War introduced another element into my creative perspective. Film as documentary and as art with a powerful societal message and without words (except those spoken or sung in the soundtrack). The mixture of breath-taking imagery depicted in slow motion or time-lapse with the modernist minimalist repetitive looping soundtrack by Philip Glass created a gloriously vibrant and addictive mix. The films depict the human impact on both the developed and developing worlds, starting from untouched natural landscapes through human intervention to the urban and built environments and beyond to the technologically driven world we inhabit today. Astonishing works, of which maybe a little influence trickled through to our film DS30.

The Turin Horse: Interview with Bela Tarr

The Turin Horse

Format: Cinema

Release date: 1 June 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Directors: Belá Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky

Writers: László; Krasznahorkai, Belá Tarr

Original title: A Torinó;i ló;

Cast: János Derzsi, Erika Bó;k, Mihály Kormos

Hungary/France/Germany /Switzerland/USA 2011

146 mins

An austere film, and a hard watch in some respects, Belá Tarr’s The Turin Horse is also extremely rewarding. The film is an oblique take on an anecdote about Nietzsche, which recounts how the philosopher protested at a man who was beating his horse in Turin. The story has inspired many interpretations; Tarr chooses to focus on the horse, the man who owns it and his daughter. Set in a bleak, constantly wind-swept landscape, it is a soberly apocalyptic tale, a sort of creation story in reverse, as the characters’ world is gradually diminished and restricted over the course of six days until total darkness engulfs them. Tarr has said that it was his last film, and the disappearance of light at the end makes it a particularly poignant farewell to cinema.

Virginie Sélavy talked to Belá Tarr at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June 2011 about slowness, simplicity and Nietzsche.

Virginie Sélavy: The constant wind in The Turin Horse made me think of Victor Sjö;strö;m’s The Wind. It makes everything very claustrophobic. Was that the effect you wanted to create?

Belá Tarr: No, we just wanted to show you something about the power of nature. Since The Damnation, I’ve always thought about the questions: what is the power of humanity, what is the power of nature, and where we are, because we are a part of nature.

The Turin Horse has a very minimal set-up: a man and his daughter in hostile nature.

We were thinking, if God created the world in six days, what is happening now, and how we should destroy the world during those six days. We just wanted to say something about the six days, about the horse, and what is happening with the coachman if he doesn’t have a horse anymore. He will die, like his horse, because he has no work, he has no money, he has no life.

You said in the Q&A that it was the reverse creation of the world, the end of the world: every day the two characters have to give something up. There is an ominous, apocalyptic feeling about the film.

For me, the apocalypse is a big TV show, it’s a lot of things happening, it’s a really big event. And the way I see it, the end of the world is very simple, very quiet, without any show, without fireworks, without apocalypse. It’s just going down and getting weaker and weaker and by the end it will be over. The problem is, we have just one life, and when you get to my age you will see very clearly how the rest is shorter than what is behind you, and in this case you have to think about what you have done and what will be and what else you can do.

There is very little dialogue in the film and the longest speech in the film is made by a neighbour who comes round to get more pálinka. What he says is quite oblique, but he repeats, ‘they’ve debased everything’ and seems to be connecting ‘debasing’ and ‘acquiring’. Is that something that reflects your personal feelings about the world?

No, he’s an alcoholic guy, he’s run out of alcohol and he needs some more, and while he’s waiting he’s talking and this is his vision: how we touch something and how we can make it dirty because we are dirty. He’s repeating the words in a crazy way and saying nearly the same thing but it’s not the same.

You said in the Q&A after the screening, and this is something that emerges from your other films too, that there’s something that has gone wrong with the world.

It’s not as simple. At the beginning, when I was 22, I had a lot of power and I had big ambitions, I wanted to change the whole world. I was not just knocking but beating on doors and my first movie was full of energy, like a hurricane or a big storm. And it was absolutely against society. As I grew up, step by step, film by film, I had to understand that the world is a little bit more complicated. And the problems are deeper, maybe they’re not just social problems, maybe they’re ontological problems. And then I had to understand that it doesn’t only depend on people, maybe they are cosmic, universal problems and the shit is much bigger than I believed when I was 22. And I understood that it’s really hard to say something about the world and I learnt I have no right to judge anything. I cannot say anything is good or bad because I have to accept the world, and of course I have to accept and respect people. And that’s what we created, this is the world, it’s our world. And if we want we can change, but if we don’t want, nobody will change. That’s why it’s so complicated. And I’m just a poor filmmaker. We just wanted to show you something, some pictures, just some human eyes, something that is close to you.

Is it because the world is so complicated to talk about that you’ve made your film as simple as you could?

Yes, sure. I learnt and I wanted to make a very simple movie without judging, just to show really clearly what could happen and what has happened with the horse, because that is the main question.

Apart from the horse, are there other connections with the Nietzsche anecdote?

The Nietzsche story tells me very clearly about our limitations. We create some theories, or we create something, it doesn’t matter what, maybe just a table, and we believe so much in our creations and then we are faced with something like Nietzsche was, faced with the horse and the coachman beating him. And all of his theories were gone, he just stood next to the horse and he was protecting him with his body and hugging his nape, and that’s it. And you should see very clearly that all of our theories may be fake, may be wrong, and we have to understand and get closer to the real things. Of course, I was reading Nietszche and I know his theories very well. And the main issue when he says that God is dead is quite clear and really simple. I understand why he’s built this übermensch theory but we just wanted to show you that the world is maybe simpler, maybe richer.

Why do you prefer to work in black and white?

Because it’s very stylised. When you see a black and white film you don’t think you’re seeing reality. It’s not. You see immediately that it is a creation. I really don’t like colour movies because every colour is too naturalistic: on the one hand totally fake, because the green is too green, the blue is too blue, the red is too red; and on the other hand, you get a very naturalistic picture at the end. It’s far from you, it’s not my style.

Your work is also characterised by a very slow pace.

In the last 20 years, what I did was I was just destroying the stories and I tried to involve some other element like time, because our lives are happening in time, like space, natural elements – rain, wind – animals – street dogs, cats, horse – and lots of things which are a part of our lives. And when I go to the movies and I watch some real movies, what I see is a really simple thing. They are following the story line – information/cut/information/cut/information/cut, or action/cut/action/cut/action/cut. But what do we call information? What do we call action? Maybe dying is also information. Maybe a piece of wall, or when you are just watching the landscape and it’s raining outside, is also a part of time – and also part of our lives and you cannot separate that. And when we only give information, which just connects human action, we are in the wrong. I wanted to look at things and say this is also information, and if somebody is listening this is also information. And if I just see someone’s eyes, it’s also information, and not everything has to connect the primitive story line together, because anyway, the stories are not interesting anymore. If you read the Old Testament, everything is in there: how it started, Cain kills Abel, and then someone fucks their mother, and then there’s the holocaust and the mass murders, everything is in there. You cannot create new stories, it is not our job to create new stories. Our job is very simple, just to try to understand how we are doing the same old story; because we are repeating the same old story but of course everybody is different and everybody has some power to influence their own lives, and this could be interesting – because the differences are always interesting.

You show similar scenes day after day but with small variations, and it seemed to me that the film was about the incremental, almost imperceptible way in which things change.

Yes, it was very important to show the differences. Daily life is always monotonous, you wake up in the morning, you get up, etc. But every day there is always some difference.

You co-wrote the screenplay with László; Krasznahorkai, on whose novels your films Sátántangó; and The Werckmeister Harmonies were based. Can you tell me more about the way you work together?

We met in 1985. A friend of mine gave me the manuscript of Sátántangó; and I immediately fell in love with this book. I called László; Krasznahorkai and we met at Easter and from that day until the end of this movie we had a strong relationship. He didn’t come to the locations, sometimes we showed him some rushes, or the rough cut, but in our case the rough cut is nearly the ready movie. It was simple because we never talked about art, we always talked about life and real human situations, what happens to different people in reality. I had to find a way to make a movie about his novel, because if I missed anything I’d be in the wrong. I had to understand his novel and then I had to go back to reality and find the same thing that he was watching when he was writing the book. And this way I can have my point of view, which is mostly the same as the book, and then I will make a movie about this reality. I’m not working from the book directly, I have to go back to his reality and then I have to build up the film language, because literature is one language and film is another, and you cannot do a direct translation.

Interview by Virginie Sélavy