Monday, July 10, 2006

notes on Red Psalm

Miklós Jancsó's Red Psalm (1972) is a quintessential Jancsó film. The 81-minute film is composed of 28 shots, all of which, as in his earlier films, occur outdoors in exquisitely choreographed long-shot long-takes, with a highly mobile camera which moves intricately through space in relation to the constant movement of the performers. This is the first of the filmmaker's more 'extreme' 1970s films that I've seen, and there seems a more deliberate (yet still discreet) shift towards surrealism, which were only hinted at in some of his earlier films. The evolving plan séquence shots (built around the simultaneous use of zooms and pans/tracks/cranes) actively blur individual perspective and, along with the endlessly processional movement of the singing-dancing-chanting-preaching-protesting performers (who seem to move cyclically from being a prop to an individual to part of a procession, then back to a prop), beautifully complements Jancsó's Socialist agenda. At times the film gives the impression of being 'merely' a literary text, but there is genuine sensuality in the movement of the performers (much like Straub/Huillet's The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach).

The thirst for liberation and displacement is felt everywhere - from the fluid movement of the camera through space (which is essentially an endless landscape disturbed only by agitated bodies) seemingly adding another dimension, to the variety of sounds, words and music colliding at once (like in an Altman film), subtitles unfortunately giving predominance to just one speaker. Also, there's the female nudity expressing a physical liberation (women usually representing some sort of a vessel or idea of freedom in his films) and blood representing perhaps a mortal liberation? One of the film's surreal touches is when blood is magically transformed to a flowery red ribbon between shots, and the position of the blood/ribbon on the shoulder seems to channel a glorified revolutionary martyrdom. And finally, there's an inherent sadness, a yearning for liberation in the landscape itself - moreso here than in either The Round-up or Silence and Cry or The Red and The White, I believe - because history is directly recalled by specific names and the music (among other Hungarian references, most, if not all, I can't even begin to understand) and it is this very past which has moulded this landscape, which connects these figures engaged in this dance.

Some quotes on the film follow.

Robert Kolker in The Altering Eye:
"(Jancsó) expresses these events dialectically, indicating the intricacy of relationships between opposing sides; the shifts, changes in balance, movements, and negations of ideological attitudes; and generating of ideas and events out of their opposite. When Eisenstein confronted the problem of creating dialectical structures in cinematic terms, he solved it through montage, the conflict of shot against shot, so that the elements within one shot contribute to the other, creating a perception that is greater than the conflicting parts. Jancsó works in the opposite manner. He avoids montage, cutting only when it is necessary to change an angle, move to a different area, or replace the reel of film in the camera. For him, the dialectical process is fluid and continuous and must be perceived as such. Rather than presenting it as the collision of discrete entities (shots), he develops it as the movement of forces, manifested within shots in the activities of his characters."

Raymond Durgnat in Rouge:
"The mise en scène interweaves six kinds – or dimensions – of space, movement and change. 1. Most unusual, of course, is the ‘walking choreography’, with its changing body-language (heads bowed thrustingly, impassivity ... ), its changing rhythms, its shifting vectors. 2. There’s also a strong ‘pictorialist’ dimension – the landscape ‘pictures’, often revealed gradually, by the camera shifting around them. 3. The camera movements themselves become a focus of attention, with their own kinesis, as does the apparent movement of the zoom. They’re ‘calligraphic’ in the true sense: the camera lens seems to ‘move across’ the scene as a pen moves across a piece of paper. (Most calligraphic camerawork doesn’t quite do this; unless its movement is especially intricate and persistent, it simply changes the shape of the scene.) 4. The meticulously wrought soundtrack, as when overlaid sounds add ‘aural space’ to visual space, or add a new texture. 5. The words (sparse, piecemeal, oblique), and their ideas, which ‘enlarge’ these local actions to wider patterns of history. Finally, 6. The music, with its moods, suggestions and kinaesthetic tensions."

And kinda related: Straub, Jancsó, and others engage in discussion.


Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Great write-up--I really need to see some more Jancsó (The Red and the White is my only one so far). I once read an article about an American living in Thailand (for the food, among other things), which anecdotally mentioned that this guy learned Hungarian solely to better understand the works of Bela Bartok. Perhaps some enterprising person will do the same for Jancsó's sake?

2:13 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

He's strangely ignored these days. Many of his films are actually available on subtitled-DVD, but there's very little talk about them. I'll keep it in mind to send this one over to you next time we do an exchange, although you might get a chance to see it on the big screen before that happens, an opportunity that shouldn't be missed!

1:48 PM  

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