Five must-see lo-o-o-ong films | Bleader

Friday, February 9, 2018

Five must-see lo-o-o-ong films

Posted By on 02.09.18 at 06:00 AM

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click to enlarge Erika Bók in Bela Tarr's Satantango
  • Erika Bók in Bela Tarr's Satantango

The University of Chicago is the place to be for long films over the next two weeks, with Lav Diaz's 3-hour 46-minute (short for him) Filipino film The Woman Who Left (2016) showing today (February 9) at Logan Center for the Arts and Wang Bing's 14-hour Chinese documentary Crude Oil (2008) showing over two days (February 16-17) at Gray Center for the Arts and Inquiry. Inspired by these showings, we've selected five more bottom-numbing masterpieces to spotlight. (Out of mercy, we limited our choices to films available on DVD/Blu-ray or streaming services.)


Star Spangled to Death
Initially shot in 16-millimeter between 1957 and '59, periodically expanded and updated over the following decades, and completed last year on video in a six-and-a-half-hour final version, Ken Jacobs's magnum opus of political protest is made of the same basic ingredients as the rest of his oeuvre: beautifully shot scenes of cavorting friends and comrades (including Jerry Sims, a pre-Flaming Creatures Jack Smith, and some recent anti-Bush protesters) and found footage (including most of Nixon's “Checkers” speech, campaign propaganda for Nelson Rockefeller, a fatuously racist documentary about Africa, and Al Jolson in blackface). Semi-indigestible by design, this nonetheless steadily builds in political and historical resonance. 402 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Les Vampires
Louis Feuillade's extraordinary ten-part silent serial of 1915, running just under eight hours, is one of the supreme delights of film—an account of the exploits of an all-powerful group of criminals called the Vampire Gang, headed by the infamous Irma Vep (Musidora), whose name is an anagram for “vampire.” Filmed mainly in Paris locations, Feuillade's masterpiece combines documentary with fantasy to create a dense world of multiple disguises, secret passageways, poison rings, and evil master plots that assumes an awesome cumulative power: the everyday world of the French bourgeoisie, personified by the hapless sleuth hero, during the height of World War I is imbued with an unseen terror that no amount of virtuous detection can ever efface entirely. (Significantly, as in many of Feuillade's serials prior to Judex, the villains are a good deal more fascinating than the relatively square hero, though a comic undertaker and the leader of a rival gang are periodically on hand to help him out.) One of the most prolific directors who ever lived, Feuillade is arguably a good deal more entertaining than Griffith, and unquestionably much more modern: his mastery of deep-focus mise en scene is astonishing, and its influence on Fritz Lang as well as Luis Buñuel and other surrealists remains one of his major legacies. 421 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Satantango
How can I do justice to this grungy seven-hour black comedy (1994), in many ways my favorite film of the 90s? Adapted by Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr and Laszlo Krasznahorkai from the latter's 1985 novel, this is a diabolical piece of sarcasm about the dreams, machinations, and betrayals of a failed farm collective, set during a few rainy fall days (two of them rendered more than once from the perspectives of different characters). The form of the novel was inspired by the steps of the tango—six forward, six backward—an idea reflected by the film's overlapping time structure, 12 sections, and remarkable choreographed long takes and camera movements. The subject of this brilliantly constructed narrative is nothing less than the world today, and its 431-minute running time is necessary not because Tarr has so much to say, but because he wants to say it right. In Hungarian with subtitles. 431 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Shoah
Claude Lanzmann's extraordinary nine-and-a-half-hour documentary (1985) is constructed as a series of approaches—through language, memory, and landscape—to a subject that can't be depicted: the Holocaust. Speaking with witnesses to the events, interpreting the apparent trivia of German train schedules, or (most powerfully) allowing his camera to roam the now-peaceful fields and forests of Poland where the exterminations took place, Lanzmann does not build his film chronologically but through patterns of repeated images. There is no historical footage in the film; the past emerges wholly through the present. In searching for the most vivid possible presentation of his subject, Lanzmann has been led to reinvent many of the principles of modernist and structuralist filmmaking, which here acquire a new kind of nonacademic urgency and justness. More than a treatment of a great subject, the film itself is a great achievement in form. In French with subtitles. 566 min. —Dave Kehr

Out 1 (Out 1: Noli Me Tangere)
An eight-part serial running about 12 and a half hours, this 1971 comedy drama is Jacques Rivette's grandest experiment and most exciting adventure in filmmaking. Balzac's History of the Thirteen, about a few Parisians who hope to control the city through their hidden interconnections, inspired its tale, dominated by two theater groups and two solitary individuals. Some of the major actors of the French New Wave participated (Juliet Berto, Francoise Fabian, Bernadette Lafont, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Michel Lonsdale, Bulle Ogier), creating their own characters and improvising their own dialogue, and Rivette juxtaposes their disparate acting styles; acting exercises dominate the first episodes (including one 45-minute take) until fiction gradually and conclusively overtakes the documentary aspect. What emerges is the definitive film about 60s counterculture: its global and conspiratorial fantasies, its euphoric collective utopias, and its descent into solitude, madness, and dissolution. In French with subtitles. 775 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum


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