Nothing Counts: shot and event in Werckmeister Harmonies

Steven Marchant, 2009. New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film Volume 7 Number 2.

Werckmeister Harmonies, dir. Bela Tarr, 2000.

On Antonioni’s Red Desert:

“For Antonioni disappearance is the event. To occur is to disappear…” (p. 140)

“…the emptiness in question is not a property of the thing seen; the emptiness here is in occurrence; it is indivisible from the event of looking. Giuliana looks, and as soon as she looks she isn’t there; the shot’s emptiness is her own absence, her own void.” (p. 140)

“The cutting thus situates the absent field as void (there is no one there) while at the same time equating the absent field, the void, with a human position.” (p. 141)

On L’Eclisse:

“The human subject is not a substantial thinking, perceiving and acting machine; the subject is empty…” (p. 141)

On Werckmeister:

“Tarr grants no organizing role to the seeing which sees as a whole; instead what his sequence shot captures whole is the event in the void of its being. His shot is not something seen, not an act of seeing, it is an event – an event which, in its being, is nothing.” (p. 151)

“[Werckmeister] does not align itself with the protagonist’s conditions of vision. It models the shot not as a look but as an event and with that implicitly rejects the redemptive possibilities contained within the neorealist inheritance. In the cinema of the seer moments of being are presented in the richness of their self-revelation to one capable of seeing, while in Werckmeister beings (the whale in particular) are presented whole and empty, as beings indifferent to any consciousness which would contemplate them.” (p. 151)

“The Werckmeister shot swallows up human actions; they fall into the void, without significance, without recognition; and yet it is in this sense precisely that there is great respect for the human in the film – a respect for these humans, who will fail, who it’ll end badly for.” (p. 152)

Quoting Jean Wahl:

I myself am nothingness; I am the one who introduces the idea of nothingness into the world. The world itself is plenitude, or rather it would be plenitude were it not for the for-itself, were it not for man. Man is a kind of gap, an empty and vicious duration; it is man that brings absence into the world. (Wahl 1969. 72) [Philosophies of existence (trans. F.M. Lory), London: Routledge]” (p. 152)

(my emphasis throughout)

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