What would Béla Tarr would think of your damp?’, W. says. ‘What would he make of it?’ W. has become obsessed with Béla Tarr. He’s a genius, says W. He says he only makes films about poor, ugly people. The ugly and poor are his people, that’s what he says, says W.
Béla Tarr was going to be a philosopher. But when he started making films . . . No abstraction for him, says W. He’s completely devoted to the concrete, says W. To what he sees in front of him. He’s not like us, W. says. He doesn’t float nebulously into the most general and most confused of ideas, into our clouds of unknowing.
‘Béla Tarr doesn’t believe in God’, says W. ‘He’s seen too much to believe in God’. A little later, ‘He takes years over each film’, says W. ‘Years! Every kind of obstacle is placed in his way. His producers die of despair. His cinematographers leave in disgust. He runs out of money’. And then, ‘His films are full of drunks. Full of drunk, aggressive people like you’, says W. ‘And mud. His films are full of mud. That’s where you belong’, says W., ‘in the mud’. Béla Tarr made his first film when he was sixteen, W. says. Sixteen! Sixteen! That’s when he started, says W. ‘When did you know’, says W., ‘when did you know you’d never amount to anything?’ When did I take refuge in vague and cloudy ideas that have nothing to do with the world?
There’s something absolute about my yard, W. says. You can’t get beyond it. Some great process has completed itself there. ‘What did you do to those plants? Desecrate them?’ and then, ‘What’s hung over your washing line? What was it, before it started rotting?’, and then, ‘Were those once bin bags? My God, what have they become?’ Béla Tarr would discern what is absolute about my yard, W. says. He’d register its every detail in a twenty minute tracking shot. The sewage, the concrete, the bin bags and rotting plants … the yard would mean more to Béla Tarr than all our nonsense.
Béla Tarr said that the walls, the rain and the dogs in his films have their own stories, which are much more important than so-called human stories. He said that the scenery, the weather, the locations and time itself have their own faces. Their own faces! Yes, we’re agreed, the yard, the horror of the yard, is the only thing around here in which Béla Tarr would be interested. (pp.58-60)
W. has wheedled £2,600 from some academic fund or other. It’s time to give something to the world, he says, rather than taking. Because that’s what we always do, he says, we take from the world.
We should send the money to Béla Tarr! Send it all to him! Béla Tarr’s our leader. How long have we been waiting for a leader? But there he is, working in Hungary, on the central plain, a long way from us. No doubt his producers have deserted him. No doubt he’s lost another cinematographer … We’re agreed: he needs our support, and we need his leadership.
But how are we going to get the money to Béla Tarr? Should we go to Hungary ourselves? My God, says W., what would he make of us? Two buffoons on the central plain! What would he think? Isn’t life hard enough for him as it is? He uses non-professional actors, says W. of Béla Tarr. We talk of the great speech in Damnation about coal scuttles and suicide. It’s the best scene I’ve ever seen in a film, I tell him.
He agrees. And the bit in the mud with the dog, with Karrer on all fours barking at the dog. Nothing better. Because that’s where we’ll end up—in the mud, covered in mud, barking! At each other, if no one else! Barking—in the mud! (pp.67-8) …
As we cross Mutley Plain, looking out of the window of the bus, W. speaks of his obsession with the great Hungarian plain. Béla Tarr spent six months visiting every house and every pub on the plain, W. notes. He said he discovered mud, rain and the infinite, in that order. Mud, rain and the infinite: nothing to W. is more moving than those words. (pp.158) Lars Iyers, “Spurious”