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April 10, 2010


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I suppose that's not a suprising reaction. But how does one even SEE "Not Reconciled" or "Too Early, too Late?" Not every cinephile lives in a city with five million people or can easily visit one on the off chance a retrospective shows those two films.

Glenn Kenny

@ Partisan: Things are getting a little easier if you've got a multi-region DVD player. The set I'm reviewing next week for the Auteurs, from the British label New Wave, has a transfer of "A.M. Bach" that beats the old New Yorker version, and very handsome renderings of "Sicilia!" and "Louvre," all with English subs. The German Edition Filmmuseum label has a really great edition of "Class Relations," also with English subs. Editions Montparnasse has two multi-disc volumes of their work, containing "Not Reconciled," "Machorka-Muff," "Moses und Aron," and a lot more; all are in their original languages and those not in French have French subs but no English...

New Yorker Video was preparing a disc of "Moses und Aron" when the company went under, and it promised to be something of an upgrade from its not-so-good "Bach," who knows if the revived label is gonna put it back on its docket...


I'd be curious to know how you think the conversation with YLW would have continued had you attempted to make a case for Straub/Huillet. I have to confess that, even after reading all of Manny Farber's commentary on them and after reading interviews with them and seeing them in documentaries, all of which really made me want to like their films, I still can't see what the elusive deal with them is either, and I've watched a handful just to be sure. (Maybe not the right ones?) I'd say I came closest to seeing what the deal was in a short, En rachâchant (probably small potatoes for the diehards). Maybe, just maybe, Jean Marie would have smiled making it.

D Cairns

Cash on Demand = A Christmas Carol with added bank heist. Would've been even better if they'd kept the ghosts, but still...

Jason M.

I think that part of the issue here is very much watching the Straub/Huillet films at home, as opposed to in a theater.

There are certain films that simply don't play well when one is watching them at home, but come alive in a theatrical viewing context. A few of these may be huge 70mm spectacles (Lawrence of Arabia, Playtime, etc), but I've found that many of these play pretty well at home. Frankly, the ones that don't play well at all are usually the ones that Lovely-Significant-Others-who-aren't-insane-cinephiles-in-quite-the-way-that-oneself-might-be are going to label "boring" or perhaps "difficult." Maybe on a good day, the films are "a little slow moving," but at the wrong time, a non-cinephile might comment that elective dental surgery will seem far preferable to watching these movies.

Anyway, there's something about the concentrated, focussed viewing experience that a theater space brings to the mix that seems invaluable for these sorts of films. There's often very subtle, slow rhythms built up by the filmmakers that in a home viewing context are lost by surrounding distractions, or by the fact that one can pause the film and get up, grab a drink, go to the bathroom, etc. which effectively wrecks the flow of the film. Maybe this is just my distractability speaking, and maybe you guys have better self discipline than I do when watching a movie at home. But it certainly helps to have the viewing experience out of my control and distraction free in order to give myself fully to the viewing.

To clarify, it's not that I get nothing out of the home viewing experience in these cases, but it is still a greatly diminished experience. It's not as bad for films I've seen before in theaters, or films I know well, but I suppose that's not too surprising. Also to note here: this isn't necessarily a DVD vs. Film thing, though watching these on a good film print certainly only enhances the experience. It's really more about the focussed viewing space, distractions, and the control issue.

Of course, as Partisan mentioned above, it's difficult in another way to see many of these movies theatrically, even in NYC. Not exactly as if "Not Reconciled" or "Death of Empedocles" is playing much in the city these days. Or maybe I'm just hanging out at all the wrong obscure film venues here.

Regardless, a list of a few movies that I've found don't work too well on DVD, or have worked immensely better on film, as examples of what I'm talking about:

Most every Straub/Huillet film I've seen.
Dreyer's Gertrud
Most all of Tsai Ming-liang's films, though "Goodbye Dragon Inn" in particular.
Most Tarkovsky, though I know his films well enough by this point that it's not a huge deal for me.
Some late Bresson.
Various structural Avant-Garde films (not that there are too many of these floating around on DVD anyway, but still).
Bela Tarr.
Hou Hsiao-hsien, particularly the Puppetmaster and Good Men, Good Women (lousy DVD edition is almost definitely part of the culprit as far as the Puppetmaster goes, but I'd imagine that even with a great Blu-ray edition of the Sadness Trilogy, it would still not work as well at home. Also, I would love to see a great Blu-ray edition of Hou's Sadness Trilogy. Ditto all of the above mentioned films, even if home viewing is sub-optimal).

Jason M.

Also brought up in your post, Glenn: The Cinematic Chaser. That's a fascinating topic, and one that deserve much more thought on my part. But yeah, just to affirm here, there are definitely certain films that go down particularly well after a more difficult viewing experience. Will try to think of some.


This post makes me wonder if there is such a thing as useful boredom or an engaged boredom. The impression I have of Straub/Huillet is that they don't want you to be able to lose yourself in their films at all. Rather, they seek to encourage a sort of "mindful" viewing, one where the viewer gives his total attention to the act of watching the film and takes the time to really contemplate the experience once it is done. As Jason suggests, this does not particularly lend itself to home viewing, with all the potential distractions. Nor does it lend itself to the sort of "binge" viewing of multiple films in a row that cineastes often engage in.


"Burial at Ornans" is rather depressing and unexciting outside of an art history context. Now if the filmmakers had chosen perhaps another Courbet, say, "Origin of the World" - well, let's just say hanging yourself would not be the first thought.


I think, first of all, that the theatre is the more uncontrollable environment when it comes to distractions (I remember watching Cul de Sac in unremitting irritation sitting beside a person who literally couldn't stop himself from speaking every 20 seconds). Secondly, if conditions have to be laboratory-like, if an interruption or a moment of human inattention is going to upset the balance and render the film unworkable, or if only .000001 of the world's population gets anything out of the film at all, I start to question its hardiness as art. I think I understand the virtues and effects of slowness in films - there are films in which it's had a powerful effect on me. but I'm not going to say that 1000 sleepers must be wrong and Straub/Huillet unarguably right. and I don't like the idea of snoozers as measuring sticks for cinephiles. I'm reading some comments that sound a little like excuses for the films - useful boredom, viewing conditions, not cinephile enough - but neither Mr. Kenny nor anyone else has said a word about what it is that's to be gotten out of the films when everything is just right. I have my own idea of what's in them, or what Straub/Huillet thought was in them, and it was garnered mainly from outside sources, from some of the interesting ideas in their interviews, and from my own partial, imperfect viewings (and, like I said before, I haven't watched some of the ones that I've heard good things about - Not Reconciled and Too Early, Too Late); but I don't think it should be heretical to say that what's actually there is less than what we want to be there.

Glenn Kenny

@ d.a., et.al.: I inadvertently got the conversation started early. My intention was just to relate some domestic drollery...instead I got the ball rolling on Straub/Huillet, and got some folks questioning MLW's cinephilia. "Mr. Kenny...[has not] said a word about what it is that's to be gotten out of the films when everything is just right." True. But as they say, wait for it. That's (part of) what the upcoming piece at the Auteurs' is for. Not that I expect everyone to be satisfied...


Looking forward to it. As I say, reading about Straub and Huillet's films has always been satisfying. :)

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