Tag Archives: Tyler Harris

The Circle Closes: Béla Tarr’s Satantango

Bells echo from a tower that doesn’t exist. The bellowing and snorting of cattle reverberates from the inside of a factory. It starts with one of many dirty, consumerist livestock, as they begin to pour from the opened gates of the dilapidated, crumbling building like blood seeping from a wound. They mingle with the outside world in the way that same wound’s blood might wisp about and spread after dripping into a glass of milk. Moaning, searching, the cattle skitter about slowly but surely, some attempting to graze, some mounting one another in excitement. Around them is a barren, sodden environment of muddy, wet road. There doesn’t seem to be a blade of grass in sight. The piercing cold, grey skies have eliminated any and all greenery. The trees are bare, coated only in wet, freezing rain. The cattle continue to roam, further and further away, until finally they turn a corner and disappear. The circle closes. 

Satantango was shot in the anemic fields of Hortobágy directly after János Kádár, the longtime communist leader of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, had finally stepped down. Béla Tarr returned to his homeland to begin working on the film, which he had been planning for years prior. The quickly crumbling infrastructure of Eastern European communism sets the stage for an otherwise languid, slow-paced affair.

NYFF57_Revivals_Satantango_01-1

This is a film, first and foremost, about time and its relation to humanity. Whether it’s about how time slowly chips away at us, or how we slowly chip away at it, I’m not sure, but Tarr meticulously pieces together this constricting, plodding experience with the confidence and expertise only a cynically depraved Hungarian of his stature can. Scenes play out in full, tinged with harsh, bleak environs, creating a completely realized atmosphere of existential disquietude. The camera is always lingering, always present, roaming about the lives of the villagers at the heart of the narrative, coercing the audience into a similar struggle of existence. We are constantly both moving and staying stagnant, all at the behest of our coercive god-like auteur. We end up much like the characters, facing an indifferent, harsh reality, merely trying to scrape out a meaningful existence amidst an ever-shifting matrix of influence.

Watching a movie at this length, a monolithic 432 minutes, both exhausts and exhilarates. It promotes a feeling of invincibility, as if you’ll never need to watch another movie again, or that you can watch literally any movie ever now… which is extra ironic, given the lack of invincibility embedded within the subtext. Either way, Béla Tarr has made me stronger.


Tyler Harris is a film critic, English teacher, and former theater manager from Louisville, Kentucky. His passionate love for cinema keeps him in tune with his writing.

On Andrzej Zulawski’s On the Silver Globe: The Greatest Film Never Made

“Don’t forget what we escaped, just to repeat with impunity what we believe in.” 

The life of man in nature, as Hobbes tells us, is brutish, poor, and short. Cruelty seems to be our only virtue. Violence is inherent. Built into our being is the all-pervasive need to tribalize, to colonize, and to kill. The principle of human exceptionalism holds humanity in the highest regard and, of course, human exceptionalism is a concept created by… you guessed it… humans. Selfishness emanates from us; our species is forcibly meant to be the galaxy’s shining hill. With On the Silver Globe, Zulawski crucifies any remaining notion of human exceptionalism that may remain within your naive soul.

onthesilverglobe3-1600x900-c-default

Notoriously difficult in production and known for being, unfortunately, an unfinished product due to Poland’s government shutting down the film’s creation mid-stroke, Zulawski’s sci-fi sand punk philosophical scribe is a daunting, exhausting experience. About 1/5 of the film was unfilmed as the Vice Minister of Poland’s Cultural Affairs forced production to a halt and had the sets and props destroyed. Ten years later, Zulawski would return to The Silver Globe and finish it, inserting into the missing sections a narration of what otherwise would have taken place in the narrative. Where it suffers from being unfinished, it benefits in acting as an enigmatical, broken transmission from the cosmos beyond.

The film is split between a deeply subjective, POV-oriented narrative of a new Eden and an omniscient, wandering grotesquerie of the dark ages in a newfound world. This new world is founded by a group of astronauts who have left Earth, presumably to escape man’s political constraints and form a colony of freedom. These astronauts postulate philosophies about freedom for the majority of their young time on this new planet, which drives home even further the restrictions of humanity’s abilities, the fact that we, collectively, are trapped in this hellscape because of ourselves. Zulawski posits the question at the beginning — can humanity be successfully restarted without our very worst qualities hindering the species from further development and evolution? With the rest of the film, from the entrance of Marek, our new world’s fated messiah, Zulawski answers his own question with a resounding, haunting display of war, organized religion, death, and destruction. You already know the answer. So does he.

You can watch On the Silver Globe as part of Exmilitary’s current Eastern European Apocalypse series here.


Tyler Harris is a film critic, English teacher, and former theater manager from Louisville, Kentucky. His passionate love for cinema keeps him in tune with his writing.

Apocalyptic Mania: Briefly Interpreting Zulawski’s Possesion

Warning: light spoilers ahead.

Chaos. Order. Chance. Faith. It’s enough to make one go mad. 

The apocalyptic mania at the heart of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) is rooted deeply in both ontology and cosmology. This is a film, in the end, about our end. With that comes a frightening acknowledgment of life and death. Much like Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011), the audience is subjected here to two branching, reactive states of hysteria in regards to an exacting, lingering proposal of death. It’s a hysteria emanating from the devastation of all we find to be good and right. In Zulawski’s diegesis, God — or what we’re led to believe is God — can be discovered in the corner, or on the bed, in various stages of rebirth. He has been oozed into the world, forced from a virginal birth of blood and slime. He is an assimilation, perhaps even an expulsion, of hate, the failure of love. As Mark and Anna’s marriage disintegrates into madness, the disease of life, manhood, womanhood, and death is slithering its grip on finality. It isn’t a coincidence, then, that Anna’s other lover notes for us that the only way to find God is through disease. Indeed, in life we find death; through death, we find life. But what kind of life? 

Possession_4

There is much posturing to be found online and in cinematic circles about Possession and what religious or social subtexts Zulawski implanted within it. I would argue it’s quietly political, more than anything, similar to Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (1986), wearing a devilish smirk as the film’s finale drops its bombs… quite literally. As Mark’s double, God himself, has fully formed himself, so has our end. And wouldn’t you know it — chance, or faith, chaos, or order, has granted him the ability to hunt down Anna’s double, who’s taking care of a child smart enough to know when not to answer the door and when to hide in the tub of water, just as the sirens begin to ring their earth shattering song of ruin.

Many Polish people born in 1940, as Zulawski was, can attest that just because the sirens are ringing, just because the bombs are dropping, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end. The climax of Possession actually posits a new beginning, perhaps the same beginning that can be found after death. One where God is hovering just behind the frosted glass of the front door, a doomed silhouette bringing with him the unknown.


Tyler Harris is a film critic, English teacher, and former theater manager from Louisville, Kentucky. His passionate love for cinema keeps him in tune with his writing.

An Irishman in Hollywood

Two films, one year, three histories. Altering history isn’t easy, but leave it to the power of Martin Scorsese and the retro-fitting of Quentin Tarantino to formulate an indelible mark that sets into question our very own notions of the past. We are, of course, talking about The Irishman and Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, a pair of 2019 films that are today still immensely popular fodder for cinephiliac conversation, but are somehow overlooked in their entwining subtexts.

hug

The Irishman begins with a title card — I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES — which foreshadows a conversation between teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa and budding gangster Frank Sheeran, future friends fated for tragedy. The film is bifurcated with two performances, one indulgent and one deeply understated. Pacino’s indulgence allows the veteran to fall into his iconically shouty, spastic gruffness, but because he brings an emotional dignity and devastating gravitas to each scene in which he stars, he’s able to effectively steal the film. At the heart of the movie, though, is Robert De Niro’s soft-pedal portrayal of Sheeran. He’s unemphasized and unmoved, capitalizing on Sheeran’s lack of empathy, penchant for sociopathy, and ultimate isolation. Frank kills his best friend, his only friend, Jimmy, at the top of the last third of The Irishman, granting us a peek into the “what if?” of history, spiraling both the audience and Sheeran into a purgatory of regret. Scorsese utilizes these performances in dual fashion to tell the sprawling story of an American dream — all that individuality, familial responsibility, and work ethic America is meant to represent — left for dead, devastated, and ruined in a nursing home. 

buddies

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood also features two male leads, one equally showy, one equally downplayed. DiCaprio is hilarious and fantastic as Rick Dalton, an aging TV star of the 60’s who is coming closer and closer to being booted into character actor territory from his place in stardom. Whereas he used to hold his own against the heavy in Bounty Law, along with his guest spots on Hullabaloo, he now finds himself a “sexy, evil Hamlet” on the set of the Lancer pilot. His stunt double, long-time friend, and gopher, Cliff Booth, is the yin to his yang. Pitt, who won an Oscar for his role, plays it cool — and, yes, he is very, very cool in the role, sporting a Champion t-shirt, enjoying episodes of Mannix, fixing roof satellites, killing Manson cultists… all in a day’s work. Yes, history is also altered here by Tarantino, albeit in a more extreme, brutal, perhaps even hilarious way. 

It would’ve been really easy for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to wade into that morose pitfall of discovery — that our favorite movie stars bleed red just like we do and that it’s up to the nastiness of the world to prove it to us with a knife — but the film has just a little more to say than that. It presupposes all the above and then asks, “What’s the point in living in a world like that, when you don’t have to?” Tarantino understands the power of film, the world-building that comes with a movie camera. If he wants to live in a world in which Sharon Tate’s murder was halted by an acid-trip-experiencing stuntman, then by God, who’s to stop him? It’s the same for Scorsese’s work — a career of examining Catholic guilt through the lens of street urchins, disturbed protagonists, and gangsters. If Scorsese wants to alter the past, provide a fate for Jimmy Hoffa that’s otherwise nonexistent, in order to examine grief and remorse, then he should be allowed to do so. Why should history be followed by these men?

The Irishman does for Jimmy Hoffa what Once Upon a Time in Hollywood did for Sharon Tate — not just giving us a self-proposed alternate look at history, but also attempting to provide some categorical sense of closure. The emotional punch that stems from the hindsight and understanding of what took place in real life is overwhelming by the end of both films. The tragedy at the heart of The Irishman is almost Shakespearean, not just in length, but in the elegiac, time-turned way it looks at aging, empathy, loyalty, friendship, and loneliness. It also reveals an exacting blood relation with Tarantino’s film, in that the joy of each movie revolves around the machismo energy of the male stars, but the heart is revealed in two subtle, heartbreaking female performances by Anna Paquin and Margot Robbie (and it’s no surprise that both movies have been criticized for the lack of female characterization by the reactionary public — can the point of either movie fly any higher over someone’s head?) The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may take place on opposite sides of the country, but they both reveal a whole lot about where we’re from as a country, east to west, and where we are likely (or, unlikely) to go. 


Tyler Harris is a film critic, English teacher, and former theater manager from Louisville, Kentucky. His passionate love for cinema keeps him in tune with his writing.

Capone Film Review: Fonzo’s Haunted House Spectacular

In the heart of downtown Louisville, Kentucky there’s a famed hotel called The Seelbach with a poker room located deep within the confines, tucked away in a claustrophobic corner. It’s known simply as The Al Capone Room. On our wedding night, well past midnight, my wife and I skulked about the hotel as the floors were rattling with the sounds of thumping music and laughing guests. A fundraiser in the ballroom was raising hell through the night. We stumbled upon this obscure room while hunting down the mezzanine in which Paul Newman and Jackie Gleeson had played pool for Robert Rossen. In the Capone Room, there were two chairs, a window lined with white ruffled curtains, and a mirror stretching across the opposite wall — the mirror was purportedly used by Capone, who’d sit across from it while playing cards, to watch his own back. I sat down in one of the chairs and was seized by the quietness of the room. I could hear the clanking of the heat turning on, the vague notions of capital bleeding through the walls from downstairs, but the room itself was incredibly hushed, almost stilted in nature. There’s an immense feeling that can overcome one when sitting in that room, the feeling that royalty, personified and bonafide history, was breathing down your neck. This feeling of immensity is both startling and pacifying. One feels the power Capone held, while also experiencing a sliver of his intense paranoia. In that way, it’s relieving. Sitting in the Capone Room, you realize you are not Capone and you would never want to be Capone. I looked up, only to find myself across the room within the mirror, staring back. 

?format=1500w

I think that gets at the heart of what Josh Trank is going for here. The monstrosity of greed, collapsing into itself like a cavernous mistake, eating away at itself in an ouroboros of pain. On the one hand, I understand the negative reviews CAPONE is receiving. It teeters on the brink of being experimental and not being experimental enough. It feels too normal and straightforward and, yet, not normal or straightforward at all. Trank plays with the temporal in a disorienting way that’s both subtle and forthright, as Fonzo’s life deteriorates away. The audience is held into question as you ponder upon what’s real, what’s not real, and even if Capone is faking it all. The subjective nature of the way the narrative is told quickly escapes any notion of a bluff. We recede deep into the strange, haunting corners of Capone’s mind. Is this whole thing taking place within his psychosphere? Perhaps. 

In that way, it’s like a haunted house movie set within a crumbling ether with the ghost of Tom Hardy, dressed only in a diaper and a robe, growling, grunting, defecating, drooling, and gutturally yelling his way into a stupor of lucid reality. Everyone else — Linda Cardellini as Fonzo’s wife, trying to hold things together; Matt Dillon as an old mobster friend, returning to help Fonzo with his dementia, but bringing with him eyeless demons of past violence; Noel Fisher as the suffering son; and Kyle MacLachlan as an ill-advised doctor — all help in the lifting, but it’s Hardy who’s doing the heavy stuff, smothered in Black Mass-esque make-up, scarred and barred, eating away at the screen as furiously as Capone would chomp on his cigars. 

So, I see all your one-star, thumbs down recitations that you had pre-loaded before going into this thing. But, I’m sorry, I can’t just not give the film credit where credit is due. Is it perfect? Hardly. Did I love it? You bet.


Rating: 4/5