Tarkovskynalia

100 posts, whoo!

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[This is all i have to show for an ambitious post i wanted to make based on my reading of Tarkovsky’s memoir/manifesto SCULTPTING IN TIME and a very readable and thorough work of criticism that spans his entire output subtitled A VISUAL FUGUE. The plan was to quote liberally from Tarkovsky’s text and do a little blurb for each of his seven films. i ended up being too lazy to watch all of them, and i couldn’t find a copy of NOSTALGHIA with English subs. im having a hard time these days watching films, as i get distracted by guilty thoughts that i ought to be writing or at least reading since im taking an MFA. Needless to say i didn’t give the proper thought or attention, let alone rewatches, to do the films any justice.

SCULPTING was a fascinating text, encapsulating some grand statements on art, ambition, philosophy, and spiritualism. Some of his ideas were daringly out of fashion, such as a totalising mastery of reality. There was also some pragmatic notes about avoiding sentiment. His bits on directing performances illuminated fundamental differences between theatre and film. The text is interrupted by his dad’s poetry. VISUAL FUGUE reminds us that Tarkovsky tends to exaggerate his persecution by the Soviet film bureaucracy. It wasn’t trivial, but producing five films was still not bad, when many extremely promising artists only got one before being exiled or killed, which, damn, that’s horrible.

Everything below is this post’s draft as it was before i gave up on it a couple of weeks ago.]

IVAN’S CHILDHOOD

Loved the dream imagery, which made me wish the pacing was even slower so I could drink it all in, especially the apple cart on the beach with all the horses. The scene with Masha and the guy in the birch forest is iconic but i was underwhelmed bc the guy’s motivations were unclear and skeevy. The whole film is stylistically vigorous, with dynamic staging and expressionist shots that show the kind of cheap symbolism he eschews in SCULPTING. There’s also archival footage. A great sequence however is when Ivan is alone in the bell room and enacts a fantasy of stalking Germans with a knife, involving the cries of young Russian victims about to be shot, and “Avenge us” carved into a wall. It’s done in a brazen style with swish-pans and blackness, a heightened soundtrack, the appearance of his mother’s body.

From VISUAL FUGUE:

This adaciously shot scene conveys more powerfully than any other in the film the terrible paradox of Ivan’s situation: a lonely and frightened child, still with many of a child’s responses and emotions, yet thrust into a brutal environment that twists and distorts his feelings in a way that he can neither comprehend nor escape.

ANDREI RUBLEV

This was awesome. i watched that first generation Criterion print which is in really poor quality and the subtitles are inadequate compared to the dialog translated in VF — this deserves a restoration job and a re-release. And my comprehension would no doubt have been aided by some knowledge of Orthodox Christianity and medieval Russia and icon painting and Byzantine art. All the same this is one enigmatic and enchanting piece of film, my favorite artist biopic along with EDVARD MUNCH by Peter Watkins. We get a mosaic of fleshed out episodes, full of dialogs about art under institutions of power, be it Church or State, and sinuous camera movements over trees and dirt and water. There are strange shots of horses.

There are some films that seem to inspire the entire aesthetic of a younger filmmaker. i feel like Wes Anderson’s style was in no small part grown out of Godard’s TOUT VA BIEN. This is groundless speculation, but i wonder if Angelopoulos, another director im interested in at the moment, saw ANDREI RUBLEV and was influenced by it. The meditations on history and violence, the Brechtian staging (a Christ figure enters the landscape in the background of one dramatic scene), the emphasis on long fully-rendered moments taken in isolation rather than a smooth-running narrative — there seems to be a resonance. i love period films that are decidedly anti-spectacle: no colors, no flashy costumes or sets, no conventionally beautiful screen actors.

For Tarkovsky Roublev is the first true Russian artist and his “Trinity” the first original Russian work of art, born of the hopes, struggles, and suffering of the times. All the episodes and all the events in the film are connected by “the poetic logic of the need for Rublyov to paint his celebrated ‘Trinity'” (Sculpting 35). The film’s composition is circular: Roublev leaves the Holy Trinity Monastery as a young man, to witness and share the suffering of the Russian people and lose and regain his faith, in order to return to hat same monastery and paint the “Trinity” icon in honor of his spiritual guide, St. Sergius of Radonezh, whose ideals of “brotherhood, love and quiet sanctity” the icon embodies (34). He may also have been attracted to an icon painter as his hero in the light of his frequently stated view that all great art is in the service of something beyond itself and does not exist (as he felt too much modern art did) “to affirm the value of the individual for its own sake.” For “in artistic creation the personality does not assert itself, it serves another, higher and communal idea.” (Sculpting 38). The creation of an icon, as such critics as Kovacs and Gauthier point out, had traditionally been seen not as an act of individual artistic aggrandizement, but as a “window on the absolute” (Gauthier 34) that literally contained the divine within it. Its beauty derived from the beauty of the eternal archetype it recreated, and its inner essence could be understood only if there was a corresponding inner enlightenment within the person contemplating it (37). This idea relates suggestively to Tarkovsky’s concern with what the viewer/reader/listener contributes to the “joint creation” of meaning in a work of art.

SOLARIS (re-watch)

i always liked the sequences on earth the best: the still life of the rain on the outdoor china set, the plants in the stream, and that five minute phantom ride through the streets of Tokyo a futuristic city with wild electronica on the soundtrack. We know Tarkovsky didn’t like 2001 and was making a sort of counter SF work that re-asserts nature humanity and spiritualism; i like to think of the driving scene at this film’s beginning as the response to the Stargate flight in that film’s ending. You could be cynical that the first things we hear about the planet’s strangeness is just Berton’s verbal testimony bc of budget constraints but i was hooked on my first viewing, although honestly i get kind of bored once Kris is on the station.

 Tarkovsky’s film follows the basic outline of Lem’s novel quite closely, including the elements of Kris’s mission to the planet, the strange behavior of the scientists, their — somewhat different — “visitors,” the reappearance of the dead Hari (Rheya in the novel), Kris’s failed attempts to rid himself of her, their rediscovered love, and her final disappearance — leaving Kris to hope, against all reason and evidnece, that “the time of cruel miracles was not past” (195) and that she might yet return. Yet, while doing this, Tarkovsky alters the meaning of Lem’s novel almost beyond recognition, and some consideration of the way in which this happens will illuminate what is particularly “Tarkovskian” about the film. The book, which is set totally on the space station, is — like much of Lem’s other work — essentially a critique of anthropocentric thinking, focusing on the limitations of human knowledge and human intellect (75-76). For Lem the love story is basically a means by which he can explore what happens when — inevitably and inescapably — we “try to stay human in an inhuman situation” (147). Despite the glimpse of hope in the reference to “cruel miracles” which ends the book, the main theme is Kris’s realization that the human values we cherish, such as love, along principles that we can never even begin to understand. These philosophical and moral ideas are explored within a solid and scientifically convincing speculative framework.

Tarkovsky’s film, by contrast, is a celebration of human values and of the power of love in an indifferent or hostile universe, and it is little wonder that Lem took such exception to the results. Almost the first third of the film is taken up with a lovingly detailed presentation of the natural beauty of the Earth that Kris may be leaving behind forever, and family and personal relationships have a central significance totally absent from the novel. Although this section provides background information about Kris’s mission, what really matters is our sense of the tense and yet loving bond between him and his father, the importance of friendship and loyalty, and the contrast between the fragile beauty of the landscape around the father’s dacha and the aural and visual ugliness of the city to which the visiting ex-astronaut Berton returns.

Although the events that follow Kris’s arrival on the space station parallel, with some changes of detail, those in the book, the emphasis here too is altered. Tarkovsky works within a humanist/scientist dichotomy that is characteristic of his work as a whole, and shows virtually nothing of the respect for scientific thinking that is evident in Lem. Of the two scientists on Solaris, Sartorius becomes much more of a coldly impersonal, almost antihuman figure than in the book, while Snaut is a well-meaning intermediary between the increasingly antagonistic viewpoints of Kris and Sartorius. Kris, who had been reproached by Berton and by his father for his readiness to separate “pure” scientific investigation from its potential moral consequences, learns by being forced to confront his past behavior, and from Hari herself, that, as Berton had told him, “knowledge is valid only when it is based on morality” — a concept that has no place within Lem’s novel. Hari herself embodies the idea, familiar elsewhere in Tarkovsky’s work, that love finds its fullest expression in sacrifice (Sculpting 40), and as the film proceeds, the basic divergence between Lem’s concerns and Tarkovsky’s becomes virtually irreconcilable.

MIRROR

Well this was just gorgeous to look at. Even ordinary objects on a windowsill would be arranged to make a precise still-life composition. The color scenes out in the snow looked just like the Bruegel painting in SOLARIS.

STALKER (re-watch)

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