The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Andrei Tarkovsky Day

 

‘It is 1423, in Russia, and the Black Death has laid waste to a village where a master bell-founder and his family reside. When emissaries representing the Grand Prince of Moscow arrive to commission a new bell, they find that only the founder’s son—a gaunt, sullen teen-ager named Boriska—has survived. As the prince’s men turn to leave, Boriska says, “My father knew the secret of copper for bell-casting. When he was dying, he passed it on to me.” Reluctantly, the men take Boriska along with them: if they return empty-handed, they will face the prince’s wrath.

‘The work begins outside the walls of a monastery in Suzdal, northeast of Moscow. Boriska picks a spot for the casting and digs furiously with his hands, pulling up a root from a nearby tree. Rainstorms create an elemental landscape of earth, water, fog, and mud. When Boriska finds the right clay for the bell’s mold, he writhes ecstatically in the mire. Aware of what might happen if the project fails, Boriska chews his nails, mutters prayers, and sleeps in the casting pit. At times, though, he exudes a demonic fury. A diffident boy becomes an aesthetic tyrant, rejecting inferior materials and demanding more from the prince’s coffers. When the furnace fires are set, he grins with savage joy, and bends over the molten metal as though to listen.

‘The bell is cast, and an army of townspeople gather to raise it on a scaffold, for a test. The monastery grounds become an industrial camp of ropes, cranks, and pulleys. Boriska directs the operation by raising his fists and then bringing them abruptly down, like a conductor. By the time the prince comes to witness the test, however, the boy is cowering under the scaffold, his confidence gone. The prince sneers to an Italian ambassador, “Look at what kind of people we have overseeing things here.” A worker begins swinging a massive clapper back and forth, in an ever-widening arc. It croaks on its joint, and a gruelling minute passes as the ambassador chats with his translator: “I wouldn’t venture to call that thing a bell.” “Have you heard that the Grand Prince beheaded his brother?” Boriska sinks to the ground. When a tone finally booms out, a monkish man is looking on in wonder—the icon painter Andrei Rublev. Boriska remains slumped while the crowd surges exultantly forward. We look down from an increasing remove, as if through the eyes of an angel soaring backward.

‘From a high angle, with bells pealing all over, the scene resembles a pageant of Russian glory. Yet Boriska is distraught. When Rublev tries to comfort him, the boy shrieks, “My father, old serpent—he never passed on the secret.” Rublev replies, “And you see how everything turned out—all right, it’s all right. So we will go together: you will cast bells, and I will paint icons.” Suddenly, a black-and-white screen is filled with color, as we see icons that the real-life Rublev painted in the early fifteenth century. Their damaged surfaces, seen in extreme closeup, resemble modernist canvases that were painted five centuries later, when other terrors stalked the land.

‘Some art works impress us so deeply on first encounter that they become events in our lives. So it was for me with Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic film “Andrei Rublev,” which ends with the story of Boriska and the bell. I first saw it in 1987, twenty-one years after it was made and a year after the director’s untimely death, at the age of fifty-four. I was no older than the actor Nikolai Burlyayev had been when he played Boriska, and I identified with this unhinged adolescent who conjures a masterpiece from mud. I had the sensation that I was seeing the raw matter of history filtered through an artistic imagination. The bell sequence unfolds like a gritty documentary about some heroic Soviet-era project, like the building of a dam. At the same time, the camera roams with a subjective eye, zeroing in on anguished faces and zooming back out to revel in the Romantic sublime. Ingmar Bergman might have had that capaciousness in mind when he wrote, in his memoirs, “When film is not a document, it is dream. That is why Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all.”

‘In college, I devoured Tarkovsky’s other films in quick succession, convinced that I had come into the possession of a cultural secret. But I was hardly alone in my conversion experience: the cult of Tarkovsky had grown to considerable size by the end of the eighties, and has not stopped growing since. When he left the Soviet Union, in 1984, he became, unwillingly, a symbol of dissent; when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, in 1985, he acquired a martyr’s aura, working from his sickbed to finish his final picture, “The Sacrifice.” The posthumous publication of his diaries amplified his suffering-genius image. Prophetic powers were ascribed to him: the post-apocalyptic landscapes of his 1979 film, “Stalker,” spookily presaged the Chernobyl disaster, and in 1986 the Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, was assassinated on the Stockholm street where a crazed crowd stampedes in “The Sacrifice.”

‘Among directors, Tarkovsky has become a godlike figure, his signature motifs imitated to the point of becoming clichés. He is the chief exemplar of what is sometimes called slow cinema, in which the camera lingers in long takes on austere landscapes and scenes of minimal activity. (The average shot length in Tarkovsky’s final three films is a minute or more; in a modern action movie, it’s usually a few seconds.) In the journal Sight & Sound, Nick James wrote, “If there are grasslands swirling, white mist veiling a house in a dark green valley, cleansing torrential rains, a burning barn or house, or tracking shots across objects submerged in water, a Tarkovsky name-drop is never far away.” Terrence Malick, Claire Denis, Shirin Neshat, Béla Tarr, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Christopher Nolan, and Lars von Trier, to name a few, display Tarkovskyan traits. Admirers have proliferated in other realms as well. Elena Ferrante reveres him, and Patti Smith has a song called “Tarkovsky,” which includes the line “Black moon shines on a lake, white as a hand in the dark.”

‘The long pandemic months seemed a good time to burrow back into Tarkovsky’s world. Life was moving at a neo-medieval pace, and the aesthetic of slowness was all the more welcome in an age of frantic digital scissoring. I watched the films again—including Janus Films’ luminous new restoration of “Mirror” (1975), streaming via Film at Lincoln Center—and plowed through a dense analytical literature, which includes two recent additions: Sergey Toymentsev’s essay anthology “The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky” (Edinburgh; part of the “ReFocus” series) and Tobias Pontara’s “Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sounding Cinema” (Routledge). I emerged with my admiration undiminished but my idolatry somewhat tempered. Tarkovsky had a reactionary streak, and in the era of Vladimir Putin his drift toward nationalist mysticism can take on an ominous tinge. I was crestfallen to learn that Nikolai Burlyayev, the erstwhile Boriska, has become a cultural-religious apparatchik, spewing homophobia.

‘When I returned to “Rublev,” I found that the film had somehow anticipated its maker’s ambiguous legacy. Neither of its two principal artist figures, the antic bell-founder and the monkish painter, can elude the cold eyes of earthly authority. Rublev remains a reserved enigma; Anatoly Solonitsyn, Tarkovsky’s favorite actor, plays him with sad, watchful stillness. Tarkovsky himself was much more of the Boriska type; Burlyayev modelled the character’s fidgety mannerisms on the director’s. The bell sequence is, finally, a parable of the creative process: great art rests on some murky mixture of luck, lies, and witchcraft.

‘No self-made phenomenon, Tarkovsky arose from an extraordinarily fertile cultural environment that the Soviet system never succeeded in bringing under total control. He was born in 1932, into the Moscow intelligentsia. His father was the poet Arseny Tarkovsky, who wrote in a ruggedly lyrical style, in the mold of Anna Akhmatova. Four years after Andrei was born, Arseny had an affair and abandoned the family. Andrei’s mother, Maria Tarkovskaya, also a poet, went to work as a proofreader at a Moscow publishing house. She pushed Andrei toward the arts, paying for music and art lessons with her meagre resources.

‘Stalinism shadowed Tarkovsky’s childhood, and the clammy atmosphere of the era is palpable in “Mirror,” his most autobiographical statement. In one sequence, a character based on Maria Tarkovskaya convinces herself that she missed a catastrophic typographical error. We don’t find out what it is, although, as Vida T. Johnson and Graham Petrie reveal in their comprehensive 1994 book, “The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue,” Soviet audiences were primed to think of a story about Stalin’s name being misprinted as Sralin (“shitter”). By the time the proofreader discovers that her fears are unfounded, she is a quivering wreck.

‘Tarkovskaya’s attempts to encourage artistic inclinations in her son met with a spell of rebellion. After the young Andrei fell into the ranks of the stilyagi—nattily dressed, jazz-loving hipsters—she dispatched him to Siberia, to take part in a geological expedition, which he later described as the happiest experience of his life. His yen for beautifully barren landscapes may have stemmed from this period. Tarkovsky returned with the idea of becoming a filmmaker, and, in 1954, a year after Stalin’s death, he enrolled at the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography, now known as the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (V.G.I.K.).

‘In the later fifties, the Khrushchev thaw gave rise to a cinematic renaissance. Tarkovsky was a part of a formidable V.G.I.K. cohort that included the directors Andrei Konchalovsky, Larisa Shepitko, Elem Klimov, Kira Muratova, Vasily Shukshin, Otar Iosseliani, and Giorgi Shengelaia. In school, Tarkovsky also met his first wife, the actor Irma Raush. (He later married Larisa Kizilova, an assistant on “Rublev.”) This group took encouragement from breakthrough films like Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1957 drama about the Second World War, “The Cranes Are Flying,” which makes mesmerizing use of a handheld camera, blurry editing, and jumbled compositions. As Zdenko Mandušić points out in the “ReFocus” anthology, filmmakers were applying documentary techniques in an effort to distance themselves from the ponderous pomp of the Stalinist era.

‘At the same time, the new generation absorbed postwar European and Japanese cinema. Tarkovsky revered Bresson, Antonioni, Buñuel, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and, especially, Bergman, whose deliberate pacing and stark compositions affected his work from the start. He also paid heed to the radical legacy of early Soviet film, even as he professed to reject Eisenstein’s influence. A classic Soviet practice was to avoid scene-setting establishing shots, instead plunging viewers into the action and forcing them to piece together what was going on. The bell episode in “Rublev” begins with Boriska resting against a house, gazing at melting snow. We hear the prince’s men and see the tails of their horses, but are given a vista of the surrounding steppe only when they leave for Suzdal.

‘Tarkovsky, despite his avant-garde leanings, ultimately gravitated toward nineteenth-century Romanticism and its fin-de-siècle mystical offshoots. His diaries channel Goethe (“The more inaccessible a work is to reason, the greater it is”) and Schopenhauer (“We are all dreaming the same dream”). He displays a misogyny that is retrograde even by nineteenth-century standards; a woman’s real purpose, he writes, is “submission, humiliation in the name of love.” He pictures himself as a messianic artist beset by “lies, cant, and death,” in quest of a “hieroglyphic of absolute truth.” The aim of art, he declares, is to “prepare a person for death.” — Alex Ross

 

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Stills

























































 

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Further

Andrei Tarkovsky Site
NOSTALGHIA: AN ANDREI TARKOVSKY INFORMATION SITE
Andrei Tarkovsky @ IMDb
The Drenching Richness of Andrei Tarkovsky
Tarkovsky @ The Criterion Channel
Where to begin with Andrei Tarkovsky
‘Sacrifices of Andrei Tarkovsky’: A Precious Insight into the Life of the Man to Whom We Owe So Damn Much
Andrei Tarkovsky on Why Film Enchants Us and What a Great Director Should Aim to Do
The Films Of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Retrospective
Andrei Tarkovsky. The captured masterpiece paintings
Deconstructing Andrei Tarkovsky’s Magic Realism
Book: ‘The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue’
INTO THE MYSTIC
AT @ Letterboxd
10 facts about film director Andrei Tarkovsky that you should know
Revisiting Andrei Tarkovsky’s Cinematic Icon Solaris at 50
THE POLAROIDS OF ANDREI TARKOVSKY : THE MYSTERY OF EVERYDAY LIFE
Andrei Tarkovsky: Cinematic Genius
Nature as “Comfort Zone” in the Films of Andrei Tarkovsky
The Sculptor of Time
ANDREI TARKOVSKY: FILM POET IN AN ALIEN WORLD
Tarkovsky’s Mirror Continues to Reflect Intergenerational Trauma

 

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Extras


The Andrei Tarkovsky Retrospective


The Exile and Death of Andrei Tarkovsky (1988)


Andrei Tarkovsky and the Weight-of-Time


A Message to Young People from Andrei Tarkovsky


Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky: “Cinema Is A Mosaic Made Of Time” (Engl. Subs)

 

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Interview
from HIGH ON FILMS

 

Q: In Mirror you have presented us your biography. What kind of mirror did you use? Is this a mirror-like Stendhal’s, a mirror which travels down the road, or is it a mirror in which you have found yourself, learnt something about yourself that you didn’t know previously? In other words: is this a realistic work or a subjective auto-creation? Or perhaps your film is an attempt to put together pieces of a broken mirror and frame them within the cinematic image, to compose a complete whole from them?

Andrei Tarkovsky: Cinema in general always creates a possibility of putting pieces together into a whole. A film consists of all of the separate shots like a mosaic — of separate fragments of different colour and texture. And it may be that each fragment on its own is — it would seem — of no significance. But within that whole it becomes an absolutely necessary element, it exists only within that whole. That’s why cinema is important to me in the sense that there is not, there cannot be any fragment in the film which wouldn’t be thought through with an eye for the final result. And each individual fragment is coloured so to speak with a common meaning by the entire whole. That is, the fragment does not function as an autonomous symbol but it exists only as a portion of some unique and original world. That’s why Mirror is in a sense closest to my theoretical concept of cinema.

You are asking: what kind of mirror is it? Well, first of all — this film was based on my own screenplay containing no invented episodes. All the episodes were really part of our family history. All of them, without exception. The only made up episode is the illness of the narrator, the author (whom we do not see on the screen). By the way, this very interesting episode was necessary in order to convey the author’s spiritual crisis, the state of his soul. Perhaps he is mortally ill and perhaps this is the reason for the recollections that make up the film — as with a man who remembers the most important moments of his life before he dies. So this is not simple violence done by the author to his memory — I remember only what I want — no, these are recollections of a dying man, weighing in his conscience the episodes he recalls. Thus the only invented episode turns out to be a necessary prerequisite for other, completely true recollections.

You are asking whether this kind of creation, this creating of one’s own world — is this the truth? Well, it is the truth of course but as refracted through my memory. Consider for example my childhood home which we filmed, which you see in the film — this is a set. That is, the house was reconstructed in precisely the same spot where it had stood before, many years ago. What was left there was a… not even the foundation, only a hole that had once contained it. And precisely at this spot the house was rebuilt, reconstructed from photographs. This was extremely important to me — not because I wanted to be a naturalist of some kind but because my whole personal attitude toward the film’s content depended upon it; it would have been a personal drama for me if the house had looked different. Of course, the trees have grown a lot at this place, everything overgrew, we had to cut down a lot. But when I brought my Mum there, who appears in several sequences, she was so moved by this sight that I understood immediately it created the right impression.

One would think: why was such an elaborate reconstruction of the past necessary? Or not even the past but what I remembered and how I remembered it. I didn’t try to search for a particular form for the internal and subjective memories, so to speak; on the contrary — I strived to reproduce everything the way it was i.e., to literally repeat what was fixed in my memory. And the result turned very strange… It was for me a singular experience. I made a film with not a single episode composed or invented in order to interest the viewer, to attract his attention, to explain anything to him — these were truly recollections concerning our family, my biography, my life. And despite the fact — or perhaps because of it — that this was really a very private story, I received a lot of letters afterwards in which the viewers were asking me the rhetorical question: “How did you find out about my life?” And this is very important, very important in a certain inward sense. What does it mean? I mention it as a very important fact in a moral, spiritual sense because if someone expresses his true feelings in a work of art, they cannot remain secrets to others. If the director or the author is lying, makes things up artificially, his work becomes entirely…

Q: “Sophisticated”…

Andrei Tarkovsky: Yes. In Italy they say cervellotico, troppo cervellotico, it means “artificial, contrived.” Such work does not move anyone. So a mutual understanding between the author and the audience, without which work of art does not exist, is possible only when the creator is being honest. Which doesn’t imply an honest author automatically means an outstanding work, ability and talent remain the basic prerequisites, without artist’s honesty, however, true artistic creation is impossible. I believe if one tells the truth, some kind of inner truth, one will always be understood. Do you see what I’m saying? — even when the problems shown are most complex, the sequence of images, formal structure of the work most complicated — for the creator the fundamental problem will always be honest.

Concerning its structure, Mirror for me is, in general, the most complicated of my films — as a structure, not as a fragment considered separately but precisely as a construction; its dramaturgy is extraordinarily complex, convoluted.

Q: Just like the structure of dreams or reminiscences. After all, this is not just a regular retrospection.

Andrei Tarkovsky: Right. This is not a regular retrospection. There are many such complications there which I don’t even completely understand myself. For example, it was very important for me to have my mother in some scenes. There is one episode in the film in which the boy, Ignat, is sitting… not Ignat… what was his name? — the author’s son, he is sitting in his father’s empty room, in the present, in our times. This is the narrator’s son although the boy plays both the author’s son and the author himself when he was a boy. And as he is sitting there we hear the doorbell, he opens the door and a woman enters and she says: “Oh, I think I’ve got the wrong place” — she was at the wrong door. This is my mother. And she is the grandmother of this boy who opens the door for her. But why doesn’t she recognise him, why doesn’t the grandson recognise her? — one has completely no idea. That is — firstly, this wasn’t explained by the plot, in the screenplay, and secondly — even for me this was unclear.

Q: Not everything in life is understandable and clear…

Andrei Tarkovsky: No, for me it is — how can I put it — coming to terms with various emotional bonds. It was extremely important for me to see the face of my mother, this is a story about her after all, who enters the doorway uneasily, kind of timidly, a bit à la Dostoyevsky, à la the Marmyeladovs. She says then to her grandson: “I think I’ve got the wrong place.” Can you imagine this psychological state? It was important for me to see my mother in this condition, to see her face when she is confused when she feels timid, ashamed. But I understood it too late to compose some precise subplot, to write the screenplay in such a way as to make it clear why she didn’t recognise him — whether it was because her eyesight was bad… It would have been a very easy thing to explain this. But I simply said to myself: I’m not going to invent anything. Let her open the door, enter, not recognise her son [sic] and the boy won’t recognise her, and in this state, she will leave and close the door. It’s a state of the human soul which is particularly close to me, a state of some kind of despondency, spiritual restriction — it was important for me to see this. It’s a portrait of a human being in a state of certain humiliation, a certain feeling of being brought down. And when one puts this side by side with the scenes of her youth — this episode reminds me then of another one: when as a young woman she comes to that doctor to sell her the earrings. She is standing in the rain, she is explaining something, talking about something, why in the rain? What for?

Perhaps it would be much better if there were no riddles of this sort. But there are several episodes like that completely with no explanation, incomprehensible, we just have no idea what they mean. For example, people would say: “and who is this older woman sitting over there asking him to read the letter from Pushkin to Chaadayev? What woman is this? Akhmatova?” — Everybody says that. She, in fact, does look a bit like her, she has the same profile and she could remind her. The woman is played by Tamara Ogorodnikova, our production manager, she was in fact already our production manager for Rublov, she is our great friend whom I photographed in almost all my films. She was like a talisman to me. I didn’t think this was Akhmatova. For me she was a person from “there” who represents a continuation of certain cultural traditions, she is attempting at all cost to tie this boy to them, tie them to a person who is young and lives in this day and age. This is very important, in brief — it’s a certain tendency, certain cultural roots. Here is this house, here is the man who lives in it, the author, and here is his son who somehow is influenced by this atmosphere, those roots. After all, it is not precisely delineated who this woman is. Why Akhmatova? — A bit pretentious. This isn’t any Akhmatova. Simply put, it is precisely this woman who mends the torn thread of time — just as in Shakespeare, in Hamlet. She restores it in a cultural, spiritual sense. It’s a bond between modern times and the times past, the time of Pushkin or perhaps a later time — it doesn’t matter.

A very important, most important experience I gained with this film was that it turned out to be as important to the audience as it was to me. And it didn’t matter that it was a story only about our family and nothing else. Thanks to this experience I saw and I understood many things. This film proved there was a bond between me as a director, as an artist if you will, and the people for whom I worked. That’s why this film turned out to be so important to me because when I understood that, nobody could complain to me that I did not make films for people. Although everybody complained about it later anyway. But I couldn’t make this complaint to myself anymore.

Q. When we talked about your heroes we called them wanderers, pilgrims. And here is a question: for your hero, wanderer, pilgrim, is there any chance to break through the threatening him chaos of events? Time is merciless in your works, it turns everything into ruin: time and events harm and annihilate the characters, everything material. Do you believe in the permanence of values such as faithfulness, a sense of one’s dignity, the right to individual self-realisation?

Andrei Tarkovsky – Hmm. It’s difficult to call this a question, it’s more like a multitude of various problems you’ve listed. It’s very difficult for me to answer such a broadly formulated question. On the one hand, you mention the merciless time which annihilates the characters — and then you say: “and everything material.” That’s not very clear to me. After all those characters are not exclusively “material.” Everything material undergoes destruction but these characters are not only matter — first and foremost they are spirit.

Q: Of course.

Andrei Tarkovsky – That’s why I always thought it important — to the extent human spirit is indestructible — to show matter, which is subject to decay, destruction — as opposed to spirit which is indestructible. You won’t find it in Rublov yet; although we obviously are dealing with destruction, annihilation there but this is in a sense moral destruction, not the opposition of the spiritual against the physical. While in Stalker or even, say, already in Mirror — we have for example this house which doesn’t exist anymore and perhaps a touch of the spirit of the place which remains forever.

The mother, when she goes outside — remember that? — always remains the same. It was important for me to show that this figure or soul of the mother was immortal. And the rest undergoes decay; this is, of course, sad — as a soul feels sad sometimes watching itself leaving the body.

There is some nostalgic longing in it, an astral sadness. It is also self-evident to me that this destruction does not concern the characters, only objects. That’s why it was important to obtain this contrast — so as to present reality from the perspective of transitoriness, if not for its having grown old, outliving its time, and its existence at a particular time in general — while man always remains the same, or more appropriately, does not remain the same but develops, to infinity.

You talk about dignity. Obviously, dignity is very important, most important. And you talk about the path, the journey. If we are to talk about a journey, also metaphorically, then one has to say that it is, in fact, unimportant where one arrived, what’s important is to embark upon a journey.

Q: In Stalker, for example…

Andrei Tarkovsky – Always, under all circumstances. And in Stalker? Perhaps, I don’t know. But I wanted to say something else — that what is important is not what one accomplished after all but that one entered the path to accomplish it in the first place. Why doesn’t it matter where he arrived? Because the path is infinite. And the journey has no end. Because of that, it is of absolutely no consequence whether you are standing near the beginning or near the end already — before you, there is a journey that will never end. And if you didn’t enter the path — the most important thing is to enter it. Here lies the problem. That’s why for me what’s important is not so much the path but the moment at which a man enters it enters any path.

In Stalker, for example, the Stalker himself is perhaps not so important to me, much more important is the Writer who went to the Zone as a cynic, just a pragmatist, and returned as a man who speaks of human dignity, who realised he was not a good man. For the first time, he even faces this question, is man good or bad? And if he has already thought of it — he thus enters the path… And when the Stalker says that all his efforts were wasted, that nobody understood anything, that nobody needed him — he is mistaken because the Writer understood everything. And because of that, the Stalker himself is not even so important.

Something else is interesting in this context. I wanted to make another film, a sequel to Stalker in which… — This was possible only in Russia, in the Soviet Union, it’s impossible now because the Stalker and his wife would have to be played by the same actors. Something else is important here: that he changes, he doesn’t believe anymore that people could go to this happiness, towards the happiness of self-transformation, an inner change. And he begins to change them by force, he begins to force and kidnap them to the Zone by means of some swindles — in order to make their lives better. He turns into a fascist.

And here we have how an ideal can — for purely ideological reasons — turn into its negation; when the goal already justifies the means man changes. He leads three men to the Zone by force — this is what I wanted to show in the second film — and he does not shy away even from bloodshed in order to accomplish his goal. This is already the idea of the Grand Inquisitor, those who take on themselves sin in the name of, so to speak…

 

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Andrei Tarkovsky’s 11 films

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The Killers (1956)
‘Tarkovsky was fortunate to enter the VGIK when he did. As he arrived at the school in 1954 (after first spending a year at the Institute of Eastern Studies and another year on a geological expedition in Siberia) the Soviet Union was entering a period of liberalization known as the “Krushchev Thaw.” Joseph Stalin had died in 1953, and the new Communist Party First Secretary, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced the dead dictator and instituted a series of reforms. As a result the Soviet film industry was entering a boom period, and there was a huge influx of previously banned foreign movies, books and other cultural works to draw inspiration from. One of those newly accessible works was the 1927 Ernest Hemingway short story, “The Killers.”

‘Tarkovsky’s adaptation of Hemingway’s story (see above) was a project for Mikhail Romm’s directing class. Romm was a famous figure in Soviet cinema. Tarkovsky worked with a pair of co-directors on The Killers, but by all accounts he was the dominant creative force. There are three scenes in the movie. Scenes one and three, which take place in a diner, were directed by Tarkovsky. Scene two, set in a boarding house, was directed by Gordon. Ostensibly there was another co-director, Marika Beiku, working with Tarkovsky on the diner scenes, but according to Gordon “Andrei was definitely in charge.”

‘The filmmakers scavenged various props from the homes of friends and family, collecting bottles with foreign labels for the cafe scenes. The script follows Hemingway’s story very closely. While two short transitional passages are omitted, the film otherwise matches the text almost word-for-word.’ — Mike Springer


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There Will Be No Leave Today (1959)
This short film is a stylishly constructed thriller that tells the story of a small Soviet town that finds a stockpile of lost WWII bombshells during routine roadworks. While the town is evacuated, a group of soldiers work to safely disable the explosive shells under tense conditions. You’ll be biting your nails halfway through.

‘For many the appeal of this movie is viewing one of Andrei Tarkovsky’s first works while he was a student. Interestingly enough, there’s very little of the Tarkovsky we know and love from his feature films in this, though. The cinematography and editing are quite traditional for Soviet films (and Hollywood movies as well) of the period.’ — Russian Film Hub


the entirety

 

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The Steamroller And The Violin (1961)
‘In his study of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films, Peter Green remarks, “Had it not been made by Tarkovsky, The Steamroller and the Violin would probably be of little consequence in the history of film”. While it is true that without Tarkovsky’s international reputation his diploma film would now be languishing, unwatched, in the depths of a Russian archive, Tarkovsky’s tendency to denigrate his own early work (most notably the sublime Ivanovo detstvo/Ivan’s Childhood [1962]) has encouraged critics and theorists to follow suit and pass over the formative phase of his career. Only Maya Turovskaya has argued about Steamroller that “for all that it is a short film, and a film for children, [it] deserves to be regarded as an integral part of Tarkovsky’s oeuvre”.’ — John A. Riley


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Ivan’s Childhood (1962)
‘Andrei Tarkovsky’s directorial debut, Ivan’s Childhood (1962), is perhaps his most experimental and personal cinematic achievement that would define his approach to the medium. Throughout, he portrays an elusive yet sober visualisation of the impact of war. With its strategic cinematography and metaphysical narrative, Tarkovsky subtly meditates on the psychological damage of World War II through the subjectivity of the young protagonist, Ivan (Nikolai Burlyayev).

‘The historical impact of Tarkovsky’s anti-war directorial debut is clear to see. The cinematography alone enchants and disturbs, constantly increasing and reducing the tempo to produce a visual maelstrom that mirrors Ivan’s existence. At the same time, Tarkovsky’s tendency to leave behind symbolic visual motifs, littered throughout Ivan’s voyage, highlights his attempt to find some escape in a world that is regurgitating pain and suffering. The application of dreams knitted together with reality is Tarkovsky’s introspective toolkit to pose questions that are innate to our everyday lives. Ultimately, what Tarkovsky created was the first example of his sculpting in time. Refining this through unique time-distortion methods and his long-take minimal cutting reinforced his message that war not only occurs in reality, but it destroys our most intimate dreams.’ — Matthew Walker


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Andrei Rublev (1966)
‘Tracing the life of a renowned icon painter, the second feature by Andrei Tarkovsky vividly conjures the murky world of medieval Russia. This dreamlike and remarkably tactile film follows Andrei Rublev as he passes through a series of poetically linked scenes—snow falls inside an unfinished church, naked pagans stream through a thicket during a torchlit ritual, a boy oversees the clearing away of muddy earth for the forging of a gigantic bell—gradually emerging as a man struggling mightily to preserve his creative and religious integrity. Appearing here in the director’s preferred 183-minute cut as well as the version that was originally suppressed by Soviet authorities, the masterwork Andrei Rublev is one of Tarkovsky’s most revered films, an arresting meditation on art, faith, and endurance.’ — The Criterion Collection


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Solaris (1972)
‘Similar to Tarkovsky’s other films Andrei Rublev (1966) and The Sacrifice (1986), Solaris is an unsettling portrait of man’s inequitable, often destructive interaction with his environment. Inherent in the tenets of the Solaris mission is a preconceived theoretical filter that accepts only those phenomena that can be logically explained or physically proven. Some scientists have hypothesized that the Solaris ocean is a thinking substance, a primordial brain, capable of realizing thought. However, lacking concrete evidence, Berton’s deposition to the Solaristics board is met with skepticism and calls for the immediate termination of the program. A mission scientist, Dr. Messinger, eventually succeeds in dissuading the board from canceling the project by exposing their innate fears, which lead them to impose artificial barriers to conceal Truth, and proposing that the strange phenomenon, itself, is cause for further study, and not an excuse for an apprehensive retreat. In reality, it is not the failure of technology that impedes the attainment of Truth, but humanity’s own inertia and myopic vision.

‘The theme of self-created boundaries, similarly explored in Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), proposes that there are no real impediments in the search for Truth, only a perceived fear of the unknown, and a sanctity in oblivion. The appearance of Hari on the space station elicits the same instinctive response from Kelvin, preferring to send her away in a crew escape vehicle, rather than confronting the difficult issues surrounding her suicide. Similar to the board presiding over Berton’s deposition, Kelvin initially chooses to abandon the mission and destroy that which he cannot understand. However, after arriving at the space station, Kelvin, shown literally stumbling onto the mystery of Solaris, realizes that it is a reluctant journey that he is compelled to take. In essence, by beaming x-rays at the surface of the Solaris ocean, the crew has unwittingly crossed the threshold of the board’s artificial exploratory boundaries: the point of no return. Through irradiation, the cosmonauts have performed a figurative cerebral probe into the recesses of the primordial mind of Solaris, which is answered with a reflection of their own subconscious.’ — Senses of Cinema


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Mirror (1975)
‘While each of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films are singular experiences in their own right, Mirror is by far the most experimental movie and, almost paradoxically, the most personal in the legendary Russian auteur’s body of work. Essentially a loose autobiography of its creator, Mirror flows effortlessly between the scattered memories of its protagonist Alexei, spanning his childhood in the countryside, his war-torn adolescence, and his troubled relationships between Alexei’s spouse, child, and mother in the present. Each memory is connected by surreal hallucinatory interludes, dreams by Alexei that then feed into his mother’s own dreams and memories, in addition to newsreel footage that span the length of modern Russian and World history as a whole. While the film is rooted in the memories of Alexei, writer-director Tarkovsky ties his main character’s emotional experience into his own, as well as a more collective national and global identity that is just as fractured and in need of recollection. To cap this off, the modern-day Alexei goes unseen throughout Mirror’s runtime, reframing Mirror as a first-person experience, one that Tarkovsky encourages us to take in as our own. Mirror boldly erases the formal and metaphysical boundaries between director, subject, and audience, creating a film about memory that feels as much lived by its viewers as it was by its creators.’ — Julian Singleton


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Stalker (1979)
Stalker is not a desperate film. I don’t think a work of art can be inspired by this sort of feeling. Its meaning must be spiritual, positive, it should bring hope and belief. I don’t think my film lacks hope. If this is true—it is not a work of art. Even if Stalker has moments of despair, he masters them. It is a kind of catharsis. It’s a tragedy but tragedy is not hopeless. This history of destruction still gives the viewer a glimmer of hope. It has to do with the feeling of catharsis. Tragedy cleanses man. Every image, even the most expressive one (and this is precisely what it ought to be) possesses a very significant and very distinct intellectual content. I like Stalker the most. He is the best part of myself and at the same time the least real one. Writer—who is very close to me—is a man who has lost his way. But I think he will be able to resolve his situation in the spiritual sense. Professor… I don’t know. This is a very limited character and I wouldn’t want to seek any similarities between him and myself. Although despite the obvious limitations he does allow a change of opinion, he has an open, comprehending mind.’ — Andrei Tarkovsky


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Nostalghia (1983)
‘Andrei Tarkovsky’s unforgettably haunting film, his first to be made outside Russia, explores the melancholy of the expatriate through the film’s protagonist Gorchakov, a Russian poet researching in Italy. Arriving at a Tuscan village spa with Eugenia, his beautiful Italian interpreter, Gorchakov is visited by memories of Russia and of his wife and children, and he encounters the local mystic who sets him a challenging task. Nostalgia is filled with a series of mysterious and extraordinary images, all of which coalesce into a miraculous whole in the film’s final shot. As in all Tarkovsky’s films, nature, the elements of fire and water, music, painting and poetry all play a major role.’ — ICA


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Voyage in Time (1983)
Voyage in Time with English Russian Spanish Italian Romanian Turkish Portuguese Arabic Persian Chinese subtitles is a 63-minute feature documentary that documents the travels in Italy of the director Andrei Tarkovsky with the script writer Tonino Guerra in preparation for the making of his film Nostalghia. In addition to the preparation of Nostalghia, their conversations cover a wide range of matters, filmmaking or not. Notably, Tarkovsky reveals his filmmaking philosophy and his admiration of films by, among others, Robert Bresson, Jean Vigo, Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman.’ — Soviet Movies Online


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The Sacrifice (1986)
‘While the director’s previous film, Nostalgia (Nostalghia, 1983), had reflected his feelings of exile away from his native Russia, it’s impossible to watch The Sacrifice and not feel that Tarkovsky knew he wasn’t long for this world. With the mounting tensions of the Cold War, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust looming in the balance, he left us with a meaningful message of hope and a stern warning about the corruption of materialism. The evil and darkness that exists in the world was something brought about by our own actions. It also wasn’t the first time the director addressed how warfare affects the human experience.

‘The conclusion of The Sacrifice is truly something that encompasses both beauty and tragedy all at once. As Tarkovsky’s cameras slowly pan back and forth like a spectator surveying a work of art, Alexander sets fire to his house and it slowly burns to the ground. With little to no dialogue, the scene firmly illustrates that material possessions have built a prison for humanity. By destroying them, we have a chance to start a new. In short, rip it up and start again. As per his visual style, the scene consists of one long unbroken take, allowing the entire sacrifice to be observed and taken in. It’s a powerful moment, and one that would reduce anyone to tears and bring about introspection. In the final moments of the film, everything comes full circle. Little Man sits under the tree from the beginning, and recites the opening passage from the book of John: ‘In the beginning there was the word…’ In this moment, Tarkovsky reveals to us that we can change destiny, and while eternal recurrence is very real, there is always a chance for a new beginning.

‘Over thirty years later, the emotional response that Tarkovsky’s last film invokes is just as powerful now as it was in 1986. A good story is timeless; and a parable of self-sacrifice will always smash nihilism and apathy into bits. A remarkable final statement from one of cinema’s most influential figures, The Sacrifice isn’t just a great work for its time, it’s a masterpiece for all time.’ — Jerome Reuter


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*

p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Yep, coming up soon, all credit to d.l. T.J.’s nudge. Blossom Dearie, I could almost have included her in the post on her name alone. ** Svartvit, Hi, Svartvit. Welcome, good to meet you! Fantastic, I will look up Anya Gallaccio’s work straight away. Thanks! What museum do you work at? Is working there interesting for you, or, well, dumb question, I mean inordinately interesting? ** _Black_Acrylic, I too was surprised by that Leger. I wish you had a smell-o-vision camera (re: your mum’s garden). Right, right, you’ve got a lot on your plate, as they say. Makes sense. ** Misanthrope, You can buy insane, huge mansions for a crazily ‘affordable’ price if you’re willing to live in Idaho or somewhere. That’s always the rub, and it’s a big rub, at least if you’re cultured city folk like me. I’m not on Twitter, but, based on what I know, I don’t think I would believe anyone saying anything on Twitter. Yep, sugar and starch, the worst culprits. The food prices haven’t gone up here, at least not yet, which is weird since we surely import more Ukrainian food stuffs than you guys. ** Dominik, Hi!!! I think it’s nice and sweet that your first thought upon receiving such a huge gift from love was not a capitalist thought. I coaxed them out, but they did shit generously on their way, even though I was trying to be as non-scary in my coaxing as possible, but it’s all back to normal now, whew. Thank you for the precious art, or, thank your love, which is, let’s face it, you. Love giving you a flying kiss, G. ** Bill, Yes, and yes again! Ha ha, I’m wracking my memory banks, and I too can’t think of a gay bar that’s ever used free jazz as boner fuel, which is strange since it’s such an obviously great idea! ** Florian, Hi! Thank you! Everyone, The honorble and wonderful artist/composer Florian Ayala Fauna contributes this floral add-on to yesterday’s array. ** Matthew Simmons, Hi, Matthew! Wow, what a pleasure to have you here! Oh, yes, amazing, the Kitano thing. How did I miss that. Thank you a lot. Everyone, … and the fantastic writer Matthew Simmons popped in here to hip us to another exciting flowery addition, namely the flower-headed paintings from Takeshi Kitano’s movie ‘Fireworks’. Go here. Yeah, thanks so much. How are you? What’s going on in your head, work, world? ** Nick Toti, Hey, Nick. Oh, that’s interesting. I will definitely see if I can be in proximity to a show of hers. I can imagine. Thanks a bunch. ** gregoryedwin, Wow, hi, buddy! It’s so, so, so good to see you! I will look up Anna Shuleit’s piece, and I wish I had found it in time for yesterday. Are you good? Are you working on any prose or anything? Take really good care, maestro! xo, me. ** Steve Erickson, Your guess is likely the same as mine would have been. Ah, Gisele and Adele were just telling me about ‘Petite Mamman’ not two days ago. Everyone, Steve has reviewed Céline Sciamma’s newest film PETITE MAMAN right here. ** RyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyAyn (rand?), Hey, hey! Hopefully not Ayn Rand. No big, I can only imagine your current busyness. Everyone, Want a taste of a new piece of sound and music by the mighty sonic destroyer/enlightener Angusraze? Here’s your chance. Okey doke. Great continuing luck with everything! ** Aaron N, Cool beans, man. It’ll be great to see you with or without. ** Right. Here’s another one where it’s, like, the blog hasn’t done a Tarkovsky Day before? Nope. To be honest, I’ve never been that high on his films, but most people who know my tastes think that’s weird, so I’m trying again. Have mystical fun. See you tomorrow.

 

10 Comments

  1. David Ehrenstein

    Tarkovsky is a filmmaker i respect, but I can’t say I’ve every really enjoyed his work. “The Mirror” and “Stalker” are the ones I like most.

    If he were around today I wonder what he’dhave to say about Russia turning into Nazi Germany 2.0

  2. Bernard

    Funny I left Tarkovsky out of the list I made. Actually, it’s a list I had on the computer because having taught film studies for so long, I’d have people ask for favorites (not “bests,” I hope). A lot, like “The 5000 Fingers of Dr T,” are ones I know are not going to show up on a lot of other people’s lists; but they really are movies I admire very much as well as obsess over for more personal connections. I probably have Mirror, Ivan’s Childhood, and Nostalghia on that list somewhere. I know so many people into Bresson, Ozu, Dreyer who also vibe with Tarkovsky that I see why some are curious why AT hasn’t gotten under your skin. I think he is also someone whom cinéastes like to read as much as to view; and the remarks you’ve reprinted here on the suture of diverse elements in cinema are always very resonant for me, especially in opposing (without polemic) the dulling influence of realism. For similar reasons, I really loved The French Dispatch (as well as Waking Life on my list and incidentally Everybody Wants Some!, which I admired especially for fitting stylistically and technically subversive elements into realism). And that extends to movies that are big favorites that I think I left off my list, like Hausu and God Told Me To and An Actor’s Revenge. Mostly the stuff that really excites me for formal etc innovation these days is in limited series–Landscapers, The Lost Daughter. I’m excited to see Everything Everywhere All at Once–just saw that Mr Neil Gaiman loves it.
    I think I told you I’m doing a talk on the Sandman in July, and that’s kind of on the design of co-existing Dreamworlds That Are One Dreamworld; but maybe didn’t say I’m also doing a program on dream sequences–kind of a typology, what they’re used for. Working on that in Paris some.
    Well, I seem to be back at the blog with a vengeance (so to speak). Getting ready to switch into inspired-by-Dennis mode for the summer, I guess, I hope.
    I spoke with John Domini the other day (we were in grad school together) and he said to say hi, and now I see he’s gone and done it himself. I should have known he’d show up for Gaddis Day.
    Also see Grosse Freiheit mentioned. Someone sent me a copy; if I’d known it featured free jazz in a gay bar I’d have gotten to it sooner. I have an insanely long list of films to get to (coming across the sea with me on an external), and I dunno, maybe I might actually watch some.
    xo as ever

  3. Misanthrope

    Dennis, Exactly! Who wants to live in the middle of fucking Wyoming or whatever? I mean, it’s gonna be 62 degrees today and I’m complaining…no way am I living all isolated in sub-freezing winters in the middle of the country. Fuck that.

    I believe everything and everyone I read on Twitter. 😀 Nah, I like all the different opinions I see on there. And some of the memes. I find a lot of the stuff hilarious. I also get some good news from there that I don’t see elsewhere. Yes, real news and real reporting. Otherwise, I can take it or leave it. It’s just fun for me for the little bit I’m on there.

    So much goes into the inflated prices too, like the higher gas prices and stuff. Also, there’s been an avian flu epidemic that’s killed over 24 million chickens and turkeys. Think of all the foods that have some sort of by-product of those things in them. And on and on.

    We had chicken parmesan Sunday. A Kayla request. I always buy a little triangle of parmigiano-reggiano to grate over it. It was $7.49 a month ago. Now, it’s $12.99. Seeing that in all foodstuffs. Ugh.

    Time to switch to crackers and rainwater.

  4. _Black_Acrylic

    I did go through a Tarkovsky phase when I was much younger, and do remember Stalker making an impression. I always took him to be a serious and earnest artist, which can only be a good thing. This day is a chance for me to flesh out my meagre knowledge, so thanks!

    Saw an Icelandic film called Lamb the other night which was a rarity in that me and Mum both enjoyed it. Treads this really fine line between fairytale, horror and deadpan comedy. It’s director Valdimar Jóhannsson’s debut and is recommended.

  5. ryan (definitely not ayn)

    dennis!

    omg never ayn rand, a ghoulish woman who never climbed out of her pit of untamed individualism. i would rather read mishima tbh, and besides he’s honestly more fuckable. hahahaha, im a marx lenin parenti type guy, thatcher can burn in hell etc etc

    and thank you for sharing! i’m excited to keep planning this festival performance, got into a twitter argument yesterday with this person i know on there who was trying to give me anti vax medical advice even though he uses sunbeds, and is entirely on a personality level just an emalgimation of gay bimbo culture, with non of the camp qualities, non of the self awareness. a shell, and for once i snapped and told him about how ridiculous it was that he was attempting to convince me of his point despite the fact he used shitty uv sunbeds, so he called me an incel, and then said he didn’t care because he was going to tan his beautiful body, so i ignored him and he left the group chat 1 day later after his friend in there told him to chill. i just find the whole situation funny, and facinating, i never thought i would encounter vapid LA like bimbo twinks in my life but alas…

    anyway
    be a smart self aware himbo instead..like me

    lots of love

    ryan (definitely not ayn rand bleh)

  6. Bernard

    Actually, I meant to ask if you were at all onto this: https://www.poetscritics.org/2022/04/12/inaugural-meeting-of-the-network-for-new-york-school-studies-nnyss-alice-notley-poets-critics-symposium-april-20-22-universite-gustave-eiffel/
    I had a thing I was going to do on Tim Dlugos, but the date turned out to be a little too early for me. I am planning to read one “poem” at the John Ashbery celebration in Hudson NY July 31.

  7. Dominik

    Hi!!

    Ivan’s Childhood is one of my mom’s favorite movies, but she always says she’d seen it once, loved it, and never wants to see it again.

    Haha, I don’t know whom I feel more sorry for – you or the pigeons. All of you, probably, in this order. I’m glad you managed to coax them out in the end.

    Wooow, I don’t know if I had the courage to actually get such a flying kiss, but now I’m tempted – I mean, it’s from love. Thank you! Love telling his friends he can’t go out tonight because he already has other plans, but in reality, he’s only planning to watch old-school Disney movies and eat cereal from the box all night, Od.

  8. Sypha

    Hey Dennis, sorry I’ve been a stranger. To be honest this has been a hell of a month. First one of my brothers got COVID, then I got it, then everyone else in my house did. That was like 2 weeks ago and I’m still getting over the damn thing. Then a few days ago one of my longtime online friends died suddenly in his sleep from a heart attack (he was only 51), which I’m still kind of processing… and all this before one of my younger brothers is getting married (the ceremony is on Saturday). Whew!

    I have been making progress (very slow progress) on the updated Ligotti day, though probably won’t be done until the autumn months.

  9. Steve Erickson

    How much of an audience did Tarkovsky’s films have in the US in the ’70s and ’80s? I first became aware of him when the uncut version of SOLARIS was released here for the first time circa 1990. He’s slowly become as iconic as Bergman or even Kubrick, but J. Hoberman’s writing about him from the ’80s suggests that he really struggled to find an audience during his lifetime.

    My mom is having her second visit from a physical therapist today. My father saw a nurse this morning, and unfortunately she told him it’ll be several months before his leg fully recovers from last week’s fall. I worry a lot that my mom will be housebound due to chronic pain for the rest of her life – she seems bored, spending all day watching TV.

  10. Jeff J

    Hey Dennis – Nice Tarkovsky day. I was never a fan until I caught his films projected on the big screen. For me, there’s no director whose work loses more in translation to a different size/medium.

    My friend Ross had trouble with Tarkovsky for ages. Reading about Bela Tarr’s admiration , he found his way in through Tarr’s films – which strip away the mystical trappings admirers have attached to the work like barnacles and focus on Tarkovsky’s formal qualities. What have been your problems with Tarkvosky?

    I’ve been making progress on the new novel project, though wishing I had more free time to devote to it. How are the short fiction pieces coming?

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