Bonus Episode: Giving Thanks for 'TÁR'
BETH ACCOMANDOIt's that time of year.
CLIPHow about a short beer? Nothing? Thank you. Thank you. Oh, dr. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
BETH ACCOMANDO That's right, it's Thanksgiving, and it's time to be thankful for movies.
BETH ACCOMANDOWelcome back to a bonus edition of KTBS Cinema Junkie podcast. I'm Betha Camondo. Thanksgiving always makes me think of two things sharing a huge meal with family and friends and remembering what I'm thankful for. So with that in mind, I ask you to consider the recent film Tar. This is a meeting substantial film that will fill you up and give you ideas to chew on. So for today's Thanksgiving bonus podcast, I'm going to discuss the film Tar with movie Wallace Yasi Peppera. In fact, he's the one who suggested we discuss the film because there was so much to talk about and so many layers to peel back. Tar centers on Conductor Lydia Tar, played by Kate Blanchett. The role was created for her by filmmaker Todd Field and is a showcase for the actress. We meet Tar at the pinnacle of her career and then watch her spiral out of control along the way. The film asks us to consider the relationship of an artist to their work, how power and privilege can be dangerous, and look at the role cancel culture can play. All of this happens without ever telling us what to think or how we should feel about Tar.
CLIPPlease, please, you must watch. It's gotta be like just one person singing their heart out.
BETH ACCOMANDO I will admit, not everyone is appreciative of this film. It provokes people. But it also gives you something to discuss and debate. And that's so much better than walking out of a movie and just being consumed by a discussion of where to go to eat and 10 minutes later, you can barely remember the film you saw. Pita is a film that gives you a lot to talk about, even if you hated it. But Yasdi Patavila shares my appreciation for this film. In fact, he texted me to say that he wanted to do a discussion on it and said he just loves films that are so unapologetically cerebral. So before we start our discussion, here's a clip from the opening scene of the film. And this is simply two people talking. It's adam Gopnik interviewing Lydia Tar. So here's a bit of the scene.
CLIPTime is the thing. Time is the essential piece of interpretation. You cannot start without me. See, I start the clock. Now, my left hand shapes, but my right hand, the second hand, marks time and moves it forward. However, unlike O'clock, sometimes my second hand stops, which means that time stops now. The illusion is that, like you, I'm responding to the orchestra in real time, making the decision about the right moment to restart the thing or reset it or throw time out the window altogether. The reality is that right from the very beginning, I know precisely what time it is and the exact moment that you and I will arrive at our destination together.
BETH ACCOMANDOSo this is just two people talking. Now, it's very simple on a certain level, but on another level, this is kind of like a radical challenge to what people expect from a movie. So let's just begin by talking about how effective this opening scene is.
YAZDI PITHAVALAIt's always show, don't tell. And the director just uses this wonderful device so that by the time that opening scene is done, 10 minutes in, you know so much about the central character. It allows him an opportunity to introduce her to this audience for The New Yorker. But at the same time, he's introducing the character to those who are watching the film and it allows us to see her in her glory when she's reigning. And you can get such a good sense of her as a character.
BETH ACCOMANDOAnd what's great is you are getting so much information about her. She's talking in these eloquent sentences that are designed to sound spontaneous. But as we watch this play out, we know she has rehearsed this like a hundred times because her assistant is reading the words along with her lip syncing to it. So there's just so many elements to the visual style and the editing and the scripting that give us so much more information about her than what the surface of the scene tells us.
YAZDI PITHAVALAYeah, she's really commanding the room. She is in control of that conversation. And it does seem like it's spontaneous, but it's not, because it's all rehearsed. And it's all, again, demonstrating how much confidence and control she has over what she's purviewing, which is this orchestra.
BETH ACCOMANDOAnd she's got it down to the clothes she wears, her gestures. Everything feels carefully rehearsed to appear absolutely natural.
YAZDI PITHAVALAYes. Yes. There is a cadence to how it all comes off seeming totally superior.
BETH ACCOMANDOShe's depicted as this incredibly talented, arrogant person who is willing to crush anyone in her path to get what she wants. So after the screening, a number of people came up to me and said they actually resented having had to spend time with a person that they felt was so horrible. But I found her character absolutely riveting and I'm just wondering how you feel about how she is presented and whether it really matters if she's sympathetic or likable.
YAZDI PITHAVALAThe major reason why I love it is precisely because this movie has you play this game at every minute of you judging her as the viewer and deciding if she is a bad person, bad morally, bad, criminally. I mean, there's no question about it. She's very arrogant. She's totally at the top of her form in terms of her talent and she's using her status and her privilege to get things done. And the movie asks you, is that necessarily a bad thing? And like, you bet I could have watched her for another 3 hours. This is a long movie, but I found it so revealing because we are used to seeing complicated, flawed male characters, but we so seldom see women characters who are allowed to be all of these things that this movie allows Tar to be.
BETH ACCOMANDOYeah, I think there's a lot of focus sometimes on presenting women in a positive light because there aren't as many representations. But part of what I really want to see is women depicted in this very complex, flawed, vulnerable way where they're not role models, but that's what makes them so interesting. I mean, to me, personally, perfect characters or ones that are too good or too nice are kind of boring. I don't learn from them. I learn from the characters, from things like Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, rupert Pupkin or Travis Bickle or any of these films. Uncut Gems is a recent one. But one of the things I really love about this film is it never tells you what to think. It never really explains anything to you. It presents her life and allows you to make determinations about what we're seeing and what's happening, and whether she's guilty of things she's accused of or whether she's committed some of these acts. And I just love a film that doesn't condescend to the audience to say that, no, figure it out yourself.
YAZDI PITHAVALAYeah, like, you bet. I think this movie is so unrepentantly cerebral. It is presenting things intellectually to you and presenting this character, and it's not going to fill all the gaps for you. And I love that the movie is very masterly in its script, but it's also very masterly in terms of how it's put together, because, like you said, you are not given all the information, and you are constantly, again, trying to figure out link all the pieces together in real time and kind of make your own judgment. And your judgment is kind of changing as we find out more and more about her, but you never find out everything. And I think that's what makes the movie special, because that's how the real world is. You will never know a person completely. You are always exposed to half truths or limited truths, and we have to make our judgments based on that.
BETH ACCOMANDOToddfield is controlling this film with an absolutely meticulous style. Everything that's in this film is there for a reason, just like everything that Tar has that she wears or her gestures are all placed there for very particular reasons. And I think it's great that the instructions from the publicist were very clear on how to spell the title. It has to be all caps. The A has to have an accent on it. I love the fact that before you even step into the theater, you've already been given this kind of instructions and parameters about how to just write the title. And that immediately sets you up for, I think, who Tar is.
YAZDI PITHAVALAYeah. I love that the movie is a very it's almost a very sensual experience because it's playing with sound constantly. One of the themes in the movie is about how she's very sensitive to sound, and she has to be, being this very acclaimed conductor of a large, wellknown orchestra. But she's constantly hearing sounds which make her wonder if she's going a little insane. And at the same time, how the peripheral sounds that she hears around her kind of almost in spite of her, kind of blend into what she's composing. So there's something altogether masterly about this movie because even though it's holding back information, what it's showing is so well thought out, so premeditated. There's almost like a surgical precision to it. There's a coldness to it. And I just appreciated that level of craft. And it's one person's vision, and we seldom get to see that because everything often gets so diluted by studio oversight and so forth. And this is just something so unique.
BETH ACCOMANDOYeah, and I think that coldness reflects that sense of objectivity. The filmmaker doesn't want to bias how he's showing her. He doesn't want to give her a close up where she doesn't need it, or a music cue that tells us to sympathize with her or any kind of cues like that that would reveal his particular point of view. And again, I like the fact that it challenges people, but I think that makes it harder for a lot of audiences.
YAZDI PITHAVALAYeah, definitely. I mean, I'm not giving anything away by saying that a good portion of the movie is watching Tar in free fall as everything is kind of crumbling away from her. And when the film is doing that, it does it with a cruelty. It's almost gleefully watching things fall away from her. And it's not gleeful, it's just being very objective and cold and seeing this was her at the peak of her powers and this is what's happening to her now. And like you, I appreciated that distance it's creating, even while being very precise. And I think that probably does turn off some audience members because they want that subjective look. They want somebody telling them, like, this character or presume that this is going to turn out for this character. And this filmmaker is no interest in telling you how you should think about.
BETH ACCOMANDOThe film or that it's okay to hate her. It gives you mixed signals in the way it depicts her. Now, you mentioned she has this free fall, the catalyst that kind of triggers this is cancel culture to a degree. And there's been a lot of talk about the fact that there's cancel culture in the film. There's the MeToo movement. I think it's wrong to kind of define the film as a film about cancel culture, but it definitely plays a part in this. And do you think it's kind of pushing the audience's buttons by bringing up those issues and making that the catalyst that starts or fall?
YAZDI PITHAVALAI think the movie is a lot more sophisticated than that, but it's definitely pushing your buttons. The very first thing you see in the movie and the very last thing you see in the movie is the view of somebody's phone, which is capturing some information. And the movie is making it very clear that once you're a celebrity, you are going to be judged and you are going to be judged by the rules of social media and everything else that's happening around you. And I think, again, one of the reasons this movie triumphs is because it's not interested in the tired, you know, cliches of this such and such person is being canceled or such and such person is a victim of me, too. The movie kind of makes the point how the system is also complicit in this. I mean, her free fall happens by virtue of many things, but one of them is a pretty much doctored video which gets made. So the people who are perpetuating this are just as complicit as she is. So I think the whole system, in a way, is flawed and it's kind of corrupted. And I like the sophistication with which the director is looking at all of those things.
BETH ACCOMANDOThe key moment that you're talking about is she has a class at Juilliard and a student of hers says, I'm never going to play Bach because he's an old white dude and I disagree with everything he stands for.
CLIPCome next. Indulge me. Let's allow Bach a similar gaze. Now, this is an old filigree, right? How many could be a firstyear piano student or Schroder playing for Lucy or playing Wool for that matter? Now changes. Get inside of that. You hear what it really is. It's a question and an answer, which begs another question. There's a humility involved. He's not pretending he's certain about anything because he knows that it's always the question that involves a listener. It's never the answer. Now, the big question for you is, what do you think, Max?
YAZDI PITHAVALAYou play really well.
BETH ACCOMANDOShe reprimands him very severely, chastises him in the class, ridicules him almost to say, look, I don't care who the person is, it's the music. If the music is brilliant, it doesn't matter who creates it. And there's so many things going on in this scene because I think it's done almost as a single take where it plays out. You're seeing everything happening exactly how the scene is playing out. Her interaction with him, the video that brings her down, is a heavily edited reconstruction of what happens. And on a certain level, that is what the film is about. This notion of, like, I'm not telling you what to think, but look what can happen if something is manipulated by somebody else to have a point of view.
YAZDI PITHAVALAYeah. If anybody is sitting on the edge, whether they should watch this movie or not, I think that scene alone is worth the price of admission. And like you, I was in awe because it did seem like a single, unbroken 20 minutes shot. Maybe it's not. Maybe it's made to seem that way, but the whole thing transpires, you know, seemingly in real time. And before I watched the film, from what I'd heard about it, I thought that that's what the movie was only about, which is trying to separate the art from the artist and how people sometimes say, oh, such and such person has done this. So I'll never watch the movie, or such and such person. And this is such an intelligent way of looking at this, where essentially she's saying that if you start doing this, then you will never be able to appreciate art at all. And she does take down the student. I mean, there's this dichotomy in power. She's the instructor and this is the student. And she is, you know, pretty ruthless in terms of bringing him down for his view, saying that Bark was too patriarchal, and so I want no part of his music.
YAZDI PITHAVALAAnd I think what you face as a viewer kind of furthers this discussion of art versus artist. And again, so masterful.
BETH ACCOMANDOYeah. And it's one of those scenes, too, where on a certain level, I was agreeing with a lot of what she was saying. As a film critic, I don't want to be responsible for vetting every filmmaker or every actor to find out what they are in their personal lives so I know whether or not to like their art. I want to be able to look at their art and judge it for what it is. But on the other hand, as somebody who has been in the educational system, I also feel like, wow, that is really a brutal way to make your point. So, again, there's all these layers to it of which of these things do I prioritize in terms of what I'm responding to? Is it what she's saying? Is it how she's saying it? Is the effect it has on the student? Like, there's so many ways to interpret that scene.
YAZDI PITHAVALAYeah, that scene is such a litmus test for an audience member because you could watch that scene and be completely sympathizing with that student because he's been cut down to size. Or at the other end of it, you could be exactly aligned with what she's saying, which is that how can you just strike everything off by saying such and such person was bad? And so I'm going to just erase this person from consideration and ignore the historical context. So, again, like you said, there are so many layers to this. And, you know, I want to sit down people I love and watch their reaction to that scene because I think it could be ten different things.
BETH ACCOMANDOWell, I hope this discussion has inspired a few people to go check out this film. It's not often that you get a movie that you can sit and talk about for potentially hours and still not even scratch the surface of some of what it's doing. So thank you, yasdi for talking about Tar.
YAZDI PITHAVALAMy pleasure. And we haven't even talked about the great acting or about the need to aspects and exactly, I can talk about this for another hour with you, but I really do hope that people seek out this film. It's something else.
BETH ACCOMANDO That was movie.
BETH ACCOMANDO Yazbekathabala. Thanks for listening to this bonus Thanksgiving edition of Cinema Junkie podcast. And I've got something big coming to Cinema Junkie next. Okay, I'm not actually talking to Godzilla, but I will be talking to author Graham Skipper about his new definitive book on Godzilla. Please remember to subscribe to the podcast and leave a review if you've enjoyed what you heard. And what's even better is telling your friends to take a listen because your recommendation is the best way for us to grow the audience. So here's to all the movies that we're thankful for and we'll be watching this holiday season.
Thanksgiving always makes me think about the films I feel grateful for and one of the movies I am most thankful for this year is "TÁR."
There are quite a few films this year that I am thankful for: "Mad God" for Phil Tippett's meticulous and gorgeously bleak stop motion animation; "Speak No Evil" for a slow burn horror; and "Everything Everywhere All At Once" for the glory of Michelle Yeoh.
But "TÁR" is a film that I wanted to highlight because it just became available streaming and because it's a provocative film that has also received a lot of hate.
What I love is that it never tells us what to think or how to feel so that means there is a lot that is open for interpretation and a lot to discuss.
Moviewallas' Yazdi Pithavala shares my love for the film so we decided to get together to share our appreciation for the craft with which filmmaker Todd Field and actress Cate Blanchett have put into "TÁR."