“Down By Law”, “Sátántangó” & “Blow Out” : Three Essential Films To Treasure

Folks, why watch films? I think we all have some kind of ambiguous, personal or no answer at all to this question. How to watch a film? This is another absurd question. I think no one can or should entirely guide you how to watch a film. Yes, you obviously can read important books on film art, discuss a film time to time with people and that will certainly perk up your taste and observation as a serious film buff. Well, what to watch folks? Yes, there are some kinds of answer to this question. As an audience, as a film critic, as a director, as a human being we all have some kind of recommendation about films. Well in this writing I am not going to tell you like a strict teacher “Hey Kids, YOU MUST WATCH THAT GODDAMN FILM!” I would like to whisper in your ear with intense love and passion and say “Friend, you can treasure that piece of work of art, creation of love. It is not just a film; it is life, it is poetry, it is you. It is the sound of your loneliness; it is the color of your dream, it is not essential for the hungry stomach but the soul of a human being. Friend, experience it!”

“Down By Law”

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Down by Law is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Jim Jarmusch is one of the most serene, utterly dark, comical, wittily observant directors I have ever faced. He is one of those influential, inspiring figures that any independent filmmaker will admire and can learn from.

Down by Law was released in 1986 and since then it remains as a gem of deadpan and dark comedy. The story, on a simple basis, revolves around three individuals. One is Jack (John Lurie), a big-talking small-timer unimpressive pimp who seems to have no interest at all in what other says. Other one is Zack (Tom Waits), a roaming disk jockey with a curl of messy hair and pointy-toed shoes who doesn’t seems to have any interest in life except blabbering weather updates. And the last one is Roberto ‘Bob’ (Roberto Benigni)-an Italian who perhaps mistakenly came to America and deliberately noting down English phrases in a small notepad he carries. And, guess what, these three individuals are end up in the same Louisiana jail cell and here the fun begins.

We go through almost hysterical, quirky, matchless journey of these 3 individuals who are somehow different and alike at the same time. Jarmusch leads us to a funny, interesting, comical and meditative study of human nature and gives us a space to question about our activities. The journey, cinematographed in stark and smart black and white, reveals a swamp jungle you should experience. This journey tells us something about you and me, about the world about human nature, about all of us.

The film focuses on the little trifle funny moment rather than any grand incident. I was constantly reminded of “La Grande Illusion” (1937), a Jean Renoir masterpiece, while watching Down by Law. The ending of this genius film remains somehow surprising, funny, sad, quiet and ambiguous at the same time. It peeps in your vision after you have finished it. The music and the pacing of the film are very apt and show you the marks of a mastermind, the mind of Jim Jarmusch. And, take my world after watching this film you will shout out loud, “You scream, I scream, we all scream for Ice-cream”. And, don’t forget to check out Robert Frost’s or should I say “Bob” frost?

“Sátántangó”

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Bela Tarr once asked the question that why everything is so slow in his film. He answered that, a shot had to respect many protagonists, not just the characters: “Scenery, the weather, time, and locations have their own faces and they are important.”

Yes, this is Bela Tarr. Sátántangó is a 1994 Hungarian film. Wikipedia reveals the plot of it like that:

“The plot deals with the collapse of a collective farm in Hungary near the end of the Communist period. Several people on the farm are eager to leave with the cash they will receive for closing down the community, but they hear that the smooth-talking and charismatic Irimiás, who had disappeared over two years ago and whom they thought to be dead, is returning. Much of the film’s plot concentrates on the impact and consequences of Irimiás’ return through multiple POVs as the communards must cope not only with Irimiás’ scheming, but that of each other.”

I think for this 450 minutes masterpiece, which is more talked than viewed among the moviegoers, this little plot description is not quite suitable. Sátántangó or Satan’s Tango is a meditative, quiet, thought provoking work of art. If you consider yourself as a serious film audience you must devour this film. Obviously it is a slow paced film but more interesting and thrilling than any regular piece of action extravaganza. Sátántangó is an involving and intense film.

 The painting of black and white cinematography, tightly choreographed uninterrupted long takes, heart touching landscapes will make you a silent, perhaps more humanistic observer of life. Apart from all those superficial ad commercials, mind numbing TV serials, Bela Tarr has created one of the finest, peaceful, full of meaning and humanistic piece of films. We need films like Sátántangó not only for mending our paranoid materialistic heart but also for loving the world; the sad and beautiful world. The death of the children in Sátántangó is something I will never ever forget and you also won’t. Take your time, relax yourself, question your life and experience the poetry, thoughts, nature, rain, meditation, cruelty and life of Sátántangó.

“Blow Out”

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 “De Palma has sprung to the place that Robert Altman achieved with films such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Nashville and that Francis Ford Coppola reached with the two Godfather films—that is, to the place where genre is transcended and what we’re moved by is an artist’s vision…. It’s a great movie. Travolta and Nancy Allen are radiant performers.” -Pauline Kael

 Blow Out is an essential film created by Brian De Palma. Though it seems a bit of mystery to me that why Blow Out is not as popular among the audience as De Palma’s other works- “The Scarface” or “Mission Impossible”. If you haven’t watch Blow Out it means you are missing the artistry and exciting labyrinth of a master director.

 It wouldn’t be wise to explain the plot here. Let me put it like that- Blow Out is one of the rare political crime thrillers you will watch again and again time to time. It is an essential NOIR (dark films). It will fulfill your demands of entertainment, suspense, anticipation and at the same time it will lead you into film history. Blow Out will reveal many amusing cinematic technique so uniquely and involve you in its time and space. It has the rare involving quality of Alfred Hitchcock’s work, essential personal outlook on films of Antonioni and the rage and horror of a Coppola film.

 This film is referential to Antonioni’s dark masterpiece “Blow-Up” and an inheritor of Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation”. De Palma created metamorphosis of image and sound in this film. The word personal filmmaking equals with Blow Out in my mind.

 Apart from all technical and philosophical achievement, Blow Out remains everlasting for THE JOHN TRAVOLTA. Yeah, the “Saturday Night Fever Show” staying alive hero is a jewel here. Quentin Tarantino loved De Palma as a rock star in his days. Tarantino casted John Travolta in another masterpiece “Pulp Fiction” as a gift of love for the role of Travolta in “Blow Out”.

 Blow Out is a colorful, haunting, sexy film I love most. You will scream, you will palpitate and you will love- “Blow Out”; “Blow Out” the sound of guilt, crime, fear and composition of love.