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Tarr's 'Harmonies' Is Involving Puzzle

The tale of a man's encounter with irrational forces will get three showings at LACMA.

May 30, 2002|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bela Tarr's beautiful and confounding "Werckmeister Harmonies," which screens at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., generates remarkable tension between its sheer visual power and its implacable elusiveness. As wearying as the film becomes in its long, bleak sequences, its uniquely cinematic and emotion-charged experience makes the effort worthwhile.

It opens in a drab workingman's bar in a drab Hungarian town as it is about to close for the night--but not before a saintly young man, Janos Valuska (Lars Rudolph) leads the men to act out, in a dirge-like dance, the workings of the cosmos during an eclipse, after which he assures everyone that "the sun will rise again."

Janos makes himself useful to others around the clock, helping care for a frail musicologist, Gyorgy Eszter (Peter Fitz), who has banished his despised--but not to be underestimated--wife, Tunde (a deglamorized but ever-commanding Hanna Schygulla).

While delivering the local paper late at night, Janos encounters an immense truck rumbling into the town's huge open square. It contains the stuffed remains of "the world's largest giant whale," attended by a barker called Prince, who has developed into a Hitler-like rabble-rouser, attracting hundreds of discontented men to the square. The crowd grows more restless, especially with the nonappearance of both the whale and the Prince, ever closer to raging out of control. By the end of this harrowing work, Tarr suggests there's nothing to be done when irrational forces overtake society but to try to survive and endure until they pass, like an eclipse. (323) 857-6010.

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As part of the Museum of Contemporary Art's Andy Warhol retrospective, the facility is presenting the first of a three-part Warhol film series that is by far the most comprehensive ever assembled in Los Angeles. The first part (Friday through July 26) will screen at the Pacific Design Center; the second, in cooperation with the American Cinematheque, at the Egyptian (July 31-Aug. 28). The third is composed of three programs of screen tests, which are running continuously in MOCA's Ahmanson Auditorium beginning at noon each day. Approximately two-thirds of the films have never been shown locally.

Warhol's earliest films, virtual home movies shot in grainy black and white, are by and large extended put-ons and travesties; yet on occasion they attain the level of camp pathos. They feature the denizens of Warhol's famous Factory and celebrate a languid, sometimes druggy sexuality that in tone are alternately outrageous, striking and sometimes just plain tedious. Warhol's work was part of an underground cinema emerging in the '60s that offered a jolting contrast to the mainstream movies of the time.

The first program, Friday at 7 p.m. in the SilverScreen Theater at the Pacific Design Center, opens with the three-minute "Elvis at Ferus" (1963), in which Warhol pans the camera around La Cienega's Ferus Gallery, capturing the artist's reprocessed and repeated life-size images of Elvis Presley in a gunfighter pose and in front of them the gallery's Irving Blum, who was the first to show Warhol's work on the West Coast in 1962. It will be followed by the 35-minute "Eat" (1964), featuring a young man wearing a hat and eating an egg--interminably. With the amusing 47-minute "Soap Opera" (1964) Warhol intercuts hilarious '50s commercials and infomercials with a series of silent romantic encounters and their travails, focusing primarily on Warhol superstar Baby Jane Holzer tossing her blond mane a lot, and including a couple of moments that wouldn't be allowed on daytime drama even today. Screening Saturday beginning at noon is "Empire" (1984), an eight-hour portrait of the Empire State Building. (213) 621-1745.

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Kim A. Snyder's "I Remember Me," which begins an open-ended Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. run at the Monica 4-Plex this weekend, is a consciousness-raising documentary about the mysterious debilitating disease called chronic fatigue syndrome, which strikes people with varying intensity and varying lengths of time. At its worst people can be rendered too weak to get out of bed, sometimes for years on end. As she began to recover from the disease, although at times confined to a wheelchair, Snyder decided to investigate it. Chronic fatigue syndrome, whose onset is similar to an extremely bad case of flu, tends to occur in clusters, such as one in the Lake Tahoe area, where over 300 people were stricken between May 1984 and late 1986, yet no virus has been identified. The elusiveness of the disease has made it much tougher for sufferers to get a positive response from the government; indeed, Snyder discovers that $13,000 intended for its investigation was diverted to other diseases by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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