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Tarkovsky's depictions oj cinematic worlds, his use 0/mise'en'Scene; further discussions of Tarkovsky's motifs beds; for...


T h e Sacred Cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky Jeremy Mark Robinson


CRESCENT MOON PUBLISHING P O Box 393 Maidstone Kent, ME 14 5XU United Kingdom

First published 2006 © Jeremy Mark Robinson 2006

Printed and bound in Great Britain Set in Goudy Modern, 9 on I4pt, Gill Sans and Helvetica Designed by Radiance Graphics

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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced, stored in . retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, nechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without permission from the mblisher

British Library Cataloguing in Publication data

'The Sacred Cinema oj Andrei Tarkovsky 1 Tarkovskii, Andrei Arsencvich, - Criticism and interpretation 1 Title 791.4'3'0233'092

ISBN 1-86171-028-3


ISBN 978-1861 71-028*4 (Pbk) ISBN 1-861 71-096-8


ISBN 978-1861 71-096-3




Acknowledgements Abbreviations



Illustrations: Andrei Tarkovsky At Work









The Poetry oj Cinema



Religion and Cinema


Andrei Tarkovsky and the Religious Film


The Film Image


The Mysteries oj Space and Time


Symbols and Motijs


The Worlds oj Andrei Tarkovsky


Sound and Music



75 105

123 137

155 1 75




Andrei Tarkovsky and Painting


Philosophy and Religion in Andrei Tarkovsky's Cinema



Structure and Narration


Childhood, Family and Character


Love, Qender and Sexuality









Ivan's Childhood


The Passion According To Andrei Rouhlyov Andrei Roublyov





Beyond the Mirror Mirror



In to th e Wa s tcla nd: Faith and the Qties t in Stal ker


The Angel Under the Water Nostalghia



The Ultimate Act The Sacrifice


Critical Responses to Andrei Tarkovsky's Cinema











495 525









The Poetry of Cinema

The poetics oj cinema, cinema as poetry; Tarkovsky's theory oj 'poetic cinema', Tarkovsky and the history oj poetry, haiku


Religion and Cinema

Types oj religious cinema; filming the divine, scUji, fantasy and horror cinema, also, a section on the European religious art film (Pasolini, Bunuel, Bergman, Dreyer, etc), and a section on Pasolini's The Gospel According to St Matthew, Tarkovsky and Bergman, Tarkovsky and Dreyer


Andrei Tarkovsky and the Religious Film

A survey oj religious cinema, from the early days oj cinema to the present day, including discussions oj historical and Biblical epics, lsword-and-sandalf


and so on, including Ben^Hur, Cleopatra, and The Last Temptation of Christ


The Film Image

Camerawork in Tarkovsky's films; Tarkovsky and Antonioni; the tracking shot; slow motion; colour and black'and'whitc,


Tarkovsky and


The Mysteries of Space and Time

Time in myth and religion; the portrayal

of space and time in cinema, and in

Tarkovsky's films; Tarkovsky's concepts oj 'sculpting in time'; space and abstraction


Symbols and Motifs

Tarkovsky's use oj symbolism; a survey oj Tarkovsky's symbols and motif's rain; water; fire; snow; flight; wind and air, mirrors, birds, horses and dogs


The Worlds of Andrei Tai kovsky

Tarkovsky's depictions oj cinematic worlds, his use 0/mise'en'Scene; further discussions of Tarkovsky's motifs beds; forests; houses and dachas; churches, costumes; language


Sound and Music

The use oj sound and space in Tarkovsky's cinema, sound in The Sacrifice; silence, sound fix, music, classical music; Bach



Production methods and techniques in Tarkovsky's films; Tarkovsky's methods compared to other filmmakers'; scriptwriting; compared to Hollywood,

budgets, the Soviet film industry, and

Tarkovsky's unmade film projects; Tarkovsky the exile;

Kristeva, Lacan, the look, and Tarkovsky's cinema


Andrei Tarkovsky and Painting

Painting and cinema, painting in Tarko\>sky's work, Julia Kristeva on painting,

Tarkovsky and Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo's Adoration of the Magi, Tarkovsky and Piero del la Francesco; Tarkovsky and the Renaissance, Tarkovsky and modern art.


Philosophy and Religion in Andrei Tarkovsky's Cinema

Aspects oj religion and philosophy in Tarkovsky''s cinema, including discussions oj faith, the quest, truth; religious experience, rebirth, divinity; Qod and the bomb, the supernatural in Tarkovsky*.s cinema, mysticism and Christianity,

Tarkovsky as

saint and prophet


Structure and Nar ration

Modes oj narration and types oj cinema, endings; cultural and political discussions, Tarkovsky's narrative devices


Childhood, Family and Character

The family, childhood, relationships and characters in Tarkovsky's films; Tarkovsky's actor s


Love, Gender and Sexuality

Issues oj love, gender, sexuality and emotion in Tarkovsky's cinema, with examples from his films





Ivan's Childhood

Discussion oj Tarkovsky's first feature film, with shot breakdowns oj some key scenes


The Passion According To Andrei Roublyov Andrei Roublyov

A detailed exploration oj Tarkovsky's historical epic, with shot breakdowns oj some key scenes



Tarkovsky's science fiction film is analyzed in depth, with shot breakdowns oj some key scenes


Beyond the Mirror: Mirror

A detailed, scene'by* scene analysis oj Mirror, including a synopsis oj the film, and a shot-by-shot breakdown of some key scenes; critical response to the film


Into the Wasteland: Faith and the Quest in Stalker

A detailed, scene'by* scene analysis oj Stalket, and a shot'by-shot breakdown of some key scenes


The Angel Under the Water: Nostalghia

A detailed, scene-byof-view, motion and editing. But Hollywood's filmic spaces can appear as mainly superficial gloss, and the characters are too often cardboard cut-outs Tarkovsky's cinema, meanwhile, achieves a sense of depth on every level: the visual, temporal, symbolic, kinetic, personal, social, narrative and spiritual Critic Herbert Marshall located Tarkovsky's films as part of a number which appeared in the Soviet Union following Sergei Paradjanov: Tengiz Abuladze's Prayer, L Osyka's The Stone Cross, Georgi Shengelaia's Pirosmani, Ivan Drach and luri Ilenko's On the Eve of Ivan Kupala, Pomegranates

and Paradjanov's The Colour of

These 'New Wave' films were seen as 'difficult', poetic, abstract,

painterly, drawing on folk and fairy tales, religion, history and poetics

In these films every shot: represents a self-contained part of the total composition; every shot is a painting in itself; every shot, even if it has an inner movement, freezes in its graphic expressiveness At the same time speech and commentary also disappear i The Soviet New Wave, said film critic Mikhail Bleinman in O Kino (On Cinema), 'returns cinematography to the source of its natural quality of spectacle . It returns not only beauty to the screen but poetry and painting' (1973, 527) Soviet critics such as Bleinman and T Ivanov noted how important painting was for the 4diffi* cult 1 , poetic films, especially those of Sergei Paradjanov (such as The Colour of Pomegranates and Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors)

This also applies to

Andrei Tarkovsky's films In an essay, "With Perestroika, Without Tarkovsky", Peter Shepotinnik, zhkusstvo

kino editor, wrote:

At the moment, not all is well with our film geniuses We are still living with the gradually fading light following Tarkovsky's death Until recently his unique presence set the standard of spirituality (a purely Russian notion!) toward which all our directors tended, for they had before their eyes an example of supreme craftsmanship, philosophic profundity and artistic obsession 2 Andrei Tarkovsky studied film at VGIK (the All-Union State Cinema Institute,

Andrei Tarkovsky

3 4

formerly GTK and GIK), founded in 1919 by Vladimir Gardin, Lev Kuleshov and others Many of the great names of Soviet cinema studied or taught at VGIK, including: Sergei Bond arc link, Nikolai Batalov, Alexander Dovzhenko, Mikhail Romm (one of Tarkovsky's teachers), Sergei Yutkevich, Marlen Khutsiev, Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin and Grigori Kotzintsev At film school (VGIK), Tarkovsky saw many films as part of his course: Citizen Kane, The Little Foxes, Jean Renoir, Jean Vigo, John Ford, the Italian Neorealists, Andrzej Wajda and Andrzej Munk When Tarkovsky was offering advice to young filmmakers about w h i c h filmmakers to study, he suggested five masters: Dovzhenko, Buiiuel, Bergman, Antonioni and Dreyer (D, 361) At film school, students should watch lots of films, Tarkovsky recommended, and should also read lots of books (and not just the set texts) At VGIK Tarkovsky made a short TV film (Segodnya vvol'neniya

ne budget/

There Will Be No Leave Today [1959]) and his graduation diploma piece, The Steamroller

and the Violin (1961) (Maya Turovskaya reckoned that Mikhail

Romm was a significant influence on Tarkovsky's career, and many of his contempt oraries too: Romm helped his students, lent them money, and defended their films against the authorities Romm was 'the most lively and adaptable of the older generation of filmmakers' Turovskaya said [21]) Tarkovsky sometimes discussed fellow Russian filmmakers who had gone to Hollywood Though wary, he must have been tempted After all, one of Tark* ovsky's important collaborators, Andrei Mikhalkov'Konchalovsky, went to Holly' wood and made some terrific movies: Runaway Train is a film any filmmaker would have been proud to have produced, and The Odyssey is a superb reinvention of Homer Konchalovsky (born in Moscow in 1937) was also at VGIK, under Mikhail Romm, graduating in 1965, four years after Tarkovsky. Konchalovsky's older brother, Nikita Mikhalkov, was a director; his father was a writer; Konchalovsky's films included adaptions of classic authors (Anton Chekov's Uncle Vanya, 1971, Ivan Turgenev's A Nest oj gentlefolk,

1969); the epic


Konchalovsky's Western (American) films included Maria'.» Lovers (1984), about a Russian soldier returning to Pennsylvania after the Second World War, with John Savage, Robert Mitchum and Keith Carradine as the men surrounding Nastassja Kinski, Runaway Train (1985) scripted by Akira Kurosawa, with Jon Voight, Eric Roberts and Rebecca De Mornay, a lean, mean and superlative Existential action

Andrei Tarkovsky


drama about prisoners on the run in Alaska (it's one of the very best American action-adventure films), Duet For One (1986), with Julie Andrews, Alan Bates and Max von Sydow, about a violinist coping with multiple sclerosis, Shy People (1987), with Jill Clayburgh, Barbara Hershey and Martha Plimpton, a melodrama set in Louisiana, Homer and Eddie ( 1 9 8 9 ) , and Tango and Cash (1989), with Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone as buddy cops in Los Angeles in a Hollywood action* adventure movie I99I's The Inner Circle, an Italian-Russian co-production, was a disappointing view of Thirties Stalinist Soviet life, starring Tom Hulce and Bob Hoskins One would not have imagined that Tarkovsky's friend and collaborator, who worked with him on Ivan '$ Childhood and Andrei Rouhlyov, would have gone on to make mediocre (but solid) Hollywood fare such as Tango and Cash, working with Hollywood stars such as Sylvester Stallone (best known as Rambo), Tom Hulce, Jack Palance and Kurt Russell (but the lure of Hollywood is immense) It was unlikely (at the time) that Tarkovsky would take such a route, and while MikhailKonchalovsky was making his first American films {Maria's Lovers and Runaway Train), Tarkovsky was still in Europe, making a slow, elegiac and intense chamber piece about religious faith and sacrifice, in Swedish, with (relatively) little known actors Tarkovsky was born in Zavrazhye, near Yuryevets, on the River Volga His early life was spent, in the country, when his parents moved out of Moscow (but the Tarkovskys moved back to the city fairly soon) Tarkovsky would later poeticize his early life near Yuryevets in Mirror, but he spent far less time there than in Moscow During WW2, the family moved into the countryside around Yuryevets while Arseny Tarkovsky fought in the war Vida Johnson and Graham Petr ie call the 'major trauma' of T a r k o v s k y ' s youth the break-up of the family and Tarkovsky's father being absent (JP, 18) In his youth, Tarkovsky worked in the far east of Russia, in the Turukhansky region and the Kureika river, making sketches and conducting research for a scientific institute The year he spent exploring the taiga in Turukhansky was an important time for Tarkovsky A lesser-known fact about Tarkovsky's career is that he worked in the mid-Sixties at the All'Soviet radio station He directed a radio play based on a William Faulkner short story Tarkovsky's mother worked at the First State Publishing House in Moscow as an editor (some of that life finds its way into Mirror)

Andrei Tarkovsky

Maria Ivanovna was a major


force in inspiring Tarkovsky to become an aitist; she was also "a very strict disciplinarian' (JPr 19) Tarkovsky said that his mother 'obviously had a very strong influence on me - influence is not even the right word — simply the whole world is for me connected with my mother' Tarkovsky's first wife, Irma Ranch, had been his class mate at VGIK; they wed in 1957 Tarkovsky's first son, Arseny, was born in 1962 (Commentators have noted how Tarkovsky junior followed his father in leaving his first wife and child ) As echoed in Mirror, Tarkovsky grew up surrounded by women Tarkovsky found the emotional environment oppressive as well as inspiring. Tarkovsky married Larissa Pavlovna Yegor kina, his second wife, in 1970 (they had met and romanced during the shooting of Andrei Rouhlyov)

They had a son,

Andrei (born in 1970) Larissa worked on Tarkovsky's films on set (she was assistant director on Mirror, for instance) Since Tarkovsky's death in 1986, Larissa was increasingly the guardian of Tarkovsky's flame She helped to edit Tarkovsky's diaries, w h i c h were published in 1991 zsTime


Time (Marty log in

Germany) Much of Tarkovsky's private life was excised from the diaries, as well as his personal comments on his contemporaries and friends. By most accounts, Larissa Tarkovskaya was a formidable personality, and was keen to shape the Tarkovsky cult as it grew after the director's demise Larissa in particular fell out with Tark* ovsky's sister Marina (and she often fought with Tarkovsky too) Tarkovsky didn't know he had cancer while he was shooting The Sacrifice; he was diagnosed in December, 1985, when the film had already been shot After Nostalghia,

Tarkovsky wasn't granted permission to continue to work

outside Russia, and in 1984 he announced his decision to stay in the West His wife, Larissa, had been allowed to join him in Europe, but not his son Andrei While he lived in the West, Tarkovsky attended film festivals (such as Telluride), directed operas (Boris Qodutwv), and gave lectures. Too old to be a hippy, really (he was 28 at the start of the Sixties), Tarkovsky's films do exhibit some of the traits of hippy culture An obvious one is the exaltation of the natural world, and the urge to escape the city for nature Like J R R Tolkien and Thomas Hardy, Tarkovsky is a bit of a tree'hugger (people embrace trees in his films: Masha in Ivan's Childhood, Alexander in The Sacrifice, and trees play a significant role in every Tarkovsky film) Lesser'known aspects of Tarkovsky's personality include his biscxuality, and his sadomasochism (Few critics have approached Tarkovsky's films from a gay, lesbian

Andrei Tarkovsky


or queer perspective The sexuality in his films appears to be resolutely heterosexual (but open displays of homoeroticism are still rare in Russian cinema — and society) Though if one wanted to approach Tarkovsky's oeuvre using gay and queer theory, it would be easy (consider the brotherhoods in Andrei Roublyot* or Stalker, for instance, the groups of men travelling together The Stalker, for example, seems to have a more significant relationship with the Writer and the Professor than his own wife and daughter) Lay la Garrett remarked that Tarkovsky 4 was a very complex, difficult man1. There's a disturbing element of the lecherous old man and voyeur in Tarkovsky's cinema, too The eroticized red-haired girl with the chapped lip in Mirror, for instance, is a teenage object of sexual desire for both the middle-aged military instructor and the middle-aged narrator (and she was played by Tarkovsky's own step'daughter). Then there's the young woman Martha in The Sacrifice, seen naked in Alexander's dreams (with hints of incestuous desires); and Alex sleeps with a much younger woman G Petrie and V Johnson see the lovemaking between Alex and the 'witch' as 'devoid of all eroticism' (JP, 249) True, it does seem somewhat chaste, and it is meant to be a spiritual union, a life-affirming act But it is also presented specifically as lovemaking In his diaries, Tarkovsky contemplated a film about an old man and a young woman. While art movies of the 1960s and 1970s regularly featured gorgeous young women in relationships with far older men, some of those films now take on a creepy, dubious edge (Last Tango In Paris, Woody Allen's Manhattan,

The Story of O, and anything by Walerian Borowczyk are

obvious examples that come to mind).

Andrei Tarkovsky


0 :2


There's already a wealth of of information about Andrei Tarkovsky Documentaries on Tarkovsky include Andrei Tarkovsky Directs Nostalghia,

a. k.a Un Poeta nel

Cinema (Donatella Baglivo, 1983, CIAK, Italy), Moscow Sokurov, 1987, USSR), Directed By Tarkovsky Sweden), and In Remembrance oj Things Past



(Michal Leszcylowski, 1988, The Exile and Death oj Andrei

Tarkovsky (Ebbo Demani, 1987, Germany) Chris Marker directed a 55 minute documentary on Tarkovsky, entitled One Day in the Life oj Andrei Arscnevich in 2000 Donatella Baglivo also produced // cinema e un mosaico fatto di tempo (Cinema Is A Mosaic Made Up Of Time) for CIAK (Italy) in 1984, and Andrey Tarkovsky

A Poet in the Cinema (1984)

Then there's a Russian documentary on Andrei Roublyov (Andrei Ruhlov How it Came into Being, 2000), including interviews with many of the cast and crew A BBC Arena programme about Tarkovsky (Tarkovsky's

Cinema, 1987) A Channel

Pour documentary on The Sacrifice (Behind the Scenes on The Sacrifice, Jeremy Isaacs, 1987) Stalker's Dreams (1998, Evgenii Tsymbal) was a Russian docii' mentary about actor Alexander Kaidanovsky. After Tarkovsky

(2003) was a

Russian documentary made by Peter Shepotinnik, and included interviews with people who had worked with Tarkovsky A Japanese documentary, Tarkovsky


Journey to His Beginning, appeared in 1996 The Recall (1996) was a 25 minute documentary made by Tarkovsky's son Other documentaries and films which discuss Tarkovsky include: a documentary on Tarkovsky's father: Arseny Tarkovsky

Eternal Presence (Viatcheslav Amirkh^

anian, 2004, Russia) Student Andrei Tarkovsky (Galina Leontieva, 2003) Reman* bering Andrei Tarkovsky (1987, Moscow) At the shooting oj the film Andrei Ruhlov (1965, USSR) The Three Andicis (DinsLMxismtovik, 1966, USSR) Qroup oj Friends (M. Lakhovetsky, 1988, USSR) Paradjanov: The Last Spring (2004) has a section on Sergei Paradjanov and Andrei Tarkovsky The Reflected Time (1998, Eugene Borzo, Russia) Screenshot

I Lighting (Kerstin Eriksdottcr, 1988, Sweden),

which featured Sven Nykvist shooting The Sacrifice Tarkovsky had appeared in a Dutch TV documentary on Bresson (The Road To Bresson, 1984) There is a Friends of the Andrei Tarkovsky Institute, which produces a news* letter. A book of Tarkovsky's polaroids (Instant Light) which also toured as an exhibition. A concert tour. Imaginary

Offering (2005), inspired by Tarkovsky's

Andrei Tarkovsky

3 9


A play of Solaris was directed by Martin Wuttke in 2004 There were

'Tarkovsky committees' campaigning on Tarkovsky's behalf in Iceland, Italy, Prance and England Tarkovsky and computer games? Yes The video game Stalker.' Oblivion


(designed by Ukranian Sergiy Grygorovych) was based on Tarkovsky's Stalker, as well as the Strngatskys' book Roadside Picnic, and the Chernobyl disaster Erland Josephson wrote a play about shooting The Sacrifice, A Night in the


Summer, which was staged in Sweden in 2002 Tarkovsky's version of the opera Bon's- Qudunovvras

revived three times in

London by 1994; it was part of the repertory of the Kirov Theater in St Petersburg, and was performed by Vienna Opera in 1991 i A stage play of Tarkovsky's script Hoffmanmana was performed in Paris in 2003 Tarkovski

A radio programme, Andrei

ou le son de la terre, was co'produced by the Tarkovsky Institute and

Atelier creation radiophonique There is a Museum of Tarkovsky, opened in 1996, situated 500 kilometres from Moscow, in Yuryevets (it was Tarkovsky's mother's home during WW2) There are also various websites on the internet devoted to various aspects of Tarkovsky's ceuvre, some with links to other sites, such as 2001

A Space Odyssey and sci'fi

films. Some websites do come and go all too rapidly For years the Tarkovsky site at w w w sky walking com was excellent Probably the best site for research material is: w w w There is also a Czech site ( w w w nostalgia cz), a Hungarian site ( w w w, a Korean site ( w w w nostalgiya com) and a Spanish site ( w w w Pages can be found in many of the cinema websites (such as at Senses of Cinema: w w w sensesofcinema com) There are also websites dedicated to Sergei Paradjanov: w w w parajanov com Manufacturers and distributors of Tarkovsky's film on DVD and video include the Russian Cinema Council (Ruscico), Kino Video, Artificial Bye, Fox Lober, Criterion, Image Entertainment, and Facets Video Home DVD and video distrib­ ution have brought new problems in Tarkovsky studies - with the quality of prints, of transfers, of audio quality, of soundtracks, and 'restoration' Issues such as the director's "intentions', "director's cuts', and sound remixes are confronted yet again


In Time ( 1 9 8 6 and 1989) is the major prose work Tarkovsky

produced. It contains his thoughts on a wide variety of subjects, and is referred to

Andrei Tarkovsky

4 0

throughout this study Tarkovsky collaborated with Olga Surkova on the book Sculpting In Time She was a fellow student at VGIK, and had worked on Andrei Roublyov. Sculpting In Time started out as a series of interviews between Surkova and Tarkovsky, but when it was eventually published in the West, Surkova's contribution was largely cut out Thus, Sculpting

In Time is not w h o l l y

Taikovsky's work, though it looks that way (Surkova doesn't share a credit on the cover or title page, and isn't mentioned on the copyright page of the revised British edition from Faber & Faber) The Diaries and the screenplays Tarkovsky wrote are further secondary sources for this book (Perhaps the book Tarkovsky fans and critics would most like to see is an edition of his letters A book of annotated scripts, storyboards and notes on production would also be nice) In criticism, most of the work on Andrei Tarkovsky has appeared in essays and articles, published in the expected film studies arenas [Cahicrs du Cinema,


Iskusstvo kino, Journal oj Religion and Film, American Film, etc) Special numbers of journals have also been dedicated to Tarkovsky, as well collections of essays. Fulllength studies have appeared by Maya Turovskaya, Mark Le Fanu, F Borin, Tatyana Elmanovits, Balint Anrdas Kovacs and Akos Szilagyi, V I Mikhalkovich, M Zak, Peter Green, Vida T Johnson and Graham Petrie (Johnson's and Petrie's The Films oj Andrei Tarkovsky is undoubtedly the best of the bunch in Tarkovsky studies that's available in the West) But the primary texts employed in this study are the films The seven features are available on video and DVD in the West, though you may have to hunt around a bit to find them, even in big stores Tarkovsky seems to have a dedicated but relatively small following. One can't imagine his films being consumed in large quantities in the home entertainment sector like mainstream films coming out of Hong Kong, Bollywood, Paris, Rome or Hollywood On the plus side, it's not difficult obtaining the collected works on home entertainment formats: there are only seven features and two shorts to buy {The Steamroller and the Violin and There Will Be No Leave Today)

The documentary by Michal Leszczylowski about

the making of The Sacrifice is a must-have, as is the documentary Tarkovsky made in Italy, Tempo di Viaggio (Some other documentaries are also available, including one on the making of Nostalghia)

But there are no different editions or 'director's

cuts' of the films to collect (though the different versions of Andrei Roublyov would be great to have, though it's highly unlikely they'll appear, given Tarkovsky's

Andrei Tarkovsky


relatively small sales) Some of the DVDs and videos of Tarkovsky's films come with documentaries, some specially shot (valuable interviews w i t h , for instance, Tarkovsky's cameramen, Vadim Yusov and A Knyazhinsky, production designer R Safiullin, composer Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, or actors E Zharikov and Natalia Bondarchuk) In global cinema terms, Tarkovsky's films are a difficult sell They have none of the selling points or marketability of entertainment cinema: no stars (and few well' known actors), no recognizable source material, and they're not in English (or French, or German, or Spanish, or Chinese, or Japanese, but the more *difficult' languages, Russian and Swedish) They're known as 'difficult', long, tedious and pretentious (Tarkovsky recognized that poetic cinema could turn into pretentious* ness; it was a pitfall he was conscious of (though plenty of viewers and critics have felt that Tarkovsky's films are pretentious).) Even among passionate film students and fans, Tarkovsky's films are not to everyone's taste Many viewers don't seem to 'get' Tarkovsky; his films aren't as approachable as, say a Jackie Chan or Jet Li martial arts flick, or a Hollywood actioner Tarkovsky is popular among some filmmakers and critics - he's a 'filmmaker's filmmaker' in that respect But it's hard to imagine Tarkovsky's films increasing the size of their audience, despite the development since his death of the newer home entertainment formats like DVD, or the increase in the number of cinema screens globally Herb Slocomb, from Miami, reviewed Andrei Roublyov on the internet (in 2002) as 'one of the worst best movies ever made':

slow moving, ponderous, little character development, with chaotic plot detours to what little plot there is, and the final payoff after 3 hours of this is that you get the "reward" of viewing some static images of Russian orthodox icon art Stuart Hancock's account of the first time he saw a Tarkovsky film reads like something out of a Woody Allen film:

I will never forget the first time I saw Andrei Rublev A friend had told me about a Tarkovsky retrospective at the Film Forum, which at the time was just off Varick Street in lower Manhattan I had never heard of Tarkovsky, and when I arrived at the theater, I was surprised to find hundreds of Soho types lined up around the block, all dressed in black, smoking Egyptian cigarettes and looking like extras from a Fellini film It was then that my friend informed me, 'The movie is in black and white, is three-and-a-half hours long, and in Russian with

Andrei Tarkovsky

4 2

subtitles ' I entered the theater expecting the worst film, I was hopelessly lost (1986)

Thirty minutes into the

Another obstacle is that Andrei Tarkovsky doesn't offer an easy way in for audiences There isn't one Tarkovsky film one could recommend as being representative and easy to watch The obvious choice would be Mirror (being 106 minutes long and not one of the two-and-a-half-hour-plus films) But Mirror has a complex structure, three time zones, and the same actors playing characters in different historical periods. Maybe Ivan \v Childhood or The Sacrifice would be good starting-points (Ivan's Childhood has a strong through-line and a character that's easy to identify with; The Sacrifice, while Tarkovsky's most accomplished work in many respects, is probably too dense, too intense and too downbeat to recommend as the First Tarkovsky Film) Not Solaris (probably too slow for some contemporary audiences - like the remake, which was wrongly marketed as a sci-fi flick when it's really a psychodrama about marital breakdown) Perhaps Andrei


although a masterpiece in every possible respect, is too complicated, too long, and too obscure (and it's a period piece in black-and-white about a painter little-known in the West). Maybe if Andrei Rouhlyov had Kirk Douglas, Charlton Ileston or Yul Brenner in it audiences might find it amenable. Stalker was the first Tarkovsky film for many Tarkovsky fans and, in a way, it might just be the one to put forward (if only it was half the length for the impatient folk!) 2 But it's just not the same as considering a film director like, say, Orson Welles With Welles, you just say: look at Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Amber sons and the genius should be fairly clear Even a filmmaker like Werner Herzog, who can be as obscure and 'difficult' as Tarkovsky, has approachable films: Dracula remakes (Nosferatu),

megalomaniacs in the Amazon (Fitzcarraldo),

crazy Klaus

Kinski chewing the scenery (Aguirre Wrath oj Qod), and dwarves running riot in Even Dwarves Started Small (1969), which even Bart Simpson, with the attention span of an average TV viewer, might find amusing But Herzog can be wilfully obtuse too: Heart oj Qlass (1976) is a truly strange film: set in rural Germany in perhaps the 18th century, the actors were hyptnozied (by Herzog himself) before shooting, resulting in bizarre, s-l-o-w, somnambulistic performances Dreamy and mystery, yes, but far more eccentric than any of Tarkovsky's films Indeed, every film viewer can probably remember films far weirder or more unwatchable than a Tarkovsky film (Personally, I find plenty of

Andrei Tarkovsky

4 3

stuff in cinema and TV that's excruciatingly difficult to watch I'd rather watch a three hour Tarkovsky film than even five minutes of a Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, James Cameron or Guy Ritchie film)



This present study concentrates on Tarkovsky's seven feature films, with a more detailed reading of Mirror, Nostalghia

and The Sacrifice, which illuminate Tark'

ovsky's art This book does not discuss Soviet/ Russian cinema, nor Tarkovsky's relation to Russian filmmakers Dziga Vertov, Lev Kuleshov, Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Boris Bar net, Mikhail Kalatozov, Sergei Paradjanov, Alexander Dovzhenko, Sergei Bondarclink and Andiei Mikhalkov^Konchalovsky are not the focus of this book There will be too few references to Russian history, culture or life for some critics The effect of Russian culture on Tarkovsky's life and art has been dealt with in other books (for example, V Johnson & G Petrie, 1994; M Turovskaya, 1989; M Le Fanu, 1987) Tarkovsky's life is not analyzed via a reading of his films The scene by scene analyses of Tarkovsky's films here are not discussions of every single scene in each of the films Rather, scenes have been grouped together into sequences in some of the chapters When film critics (and fans) talk about particularly scenes, they often mean sequences or groups of scenes Tarkovsky's films contain so many lengthy shots, and he only made even feature films, it wouldn't take up too much space to list every shot in every Tarkovsky film Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie have reminded readers that it's easy to misinterpret Tarkovsky's films, to miss what's going on in the films, or recall them incorrectly (JP, xiv) Tarkovsky's films do demand careful readings - their ambiguity and complexity can confuse viewers, and some film critics have invented events and images that do not occur in Tarkovsky's films

This study uses a rjosi-auteur theory approach, a development of la politique des auteurs of Alexandre Astruc and Francois Truffaut The autcur critical methodology

Andrei Tarkovsky

4 4

is out of date and limited in its possibilities, but it is useful in analyzing Tarkovsky and his cinematic output His films are also considered as cultural artifacts, financial, ideological or historical objects Tarkovsky's films are placed within the 'art cinema' tradition here — that is, a (mainly European) tradition (of Ingmar Bergman, Luis Bunuel, Werner Herzog, Federico Fellini and Robert Bresson) rather than a Russian or Soviet film tradition. It is with the (European) art cinema tradition that Tarkovsky identified himself (throughout, for example, his major written text, Sculpting in Time) Some of the hallmarks of European art cinema - most of which can apply to Tarkovsky's films - are: (I) Open forms, (2) Ambiguity, (3) Expressionism, (4) Non^ linearity, (5) Psychology, (6) Digressions, (7) Subjectivity and (8) Revision of genre All through the Diaries and Sculpting

in Time, Tarkovsky mentions a group of

filmmakers he admires, and they are all art cinema auteuis: Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson, Federico Fellini, Alexander Dovzhenko, Akira Kurosawa, Luis Bunuel, Kenji Mizoguchi and Michelangelo Antonioni' This is the central group in the Tarkovsky pantheon of cinematic gods Other directors Tarkovsky admired included Jean Cocteau, Charlie Chaplin, Jean Vigo, John Ford, Jean Renoir and nearly every filmmaker's favourite, Orson Welles Tarkovsky was impressed by Andrzej Wajda, Andrzej Munk, and the Polish school, which he had seen at film school in the Fifties Tarkovsky said that Ashes and Diamonds

had been a

revelation These were the filmmakers w h o didn't work in any particular genre As Tarkovsky put it in Sculpting in Time: 'Bresson is Bresson He is a genre in himself These directors were one-offs, as Tarkovsky remarked of Chaplin: 'he is Chaplin, pure and simple; a unique phenomenon, never to be repeated' (Sculpting In Time; hereafter as ST, 150) Bresson amazed Tarkovsky: he was 'serious, profound, noble', 'his concentration was extraordinary', all of his films were high art (ST, 189)

When I am working, it helps me a lot to think of Bresson [Tarkovsky confessed] Only the thought of Bresson! I don't remember any of his works concretely I remember only his supremely ascetic manner His simplicity His clarity The thought of Bresson helps me to concentrate on the central idea of the film Bresson was perhaps the only filmmaker whose finished films corresponded closely with the script, Tarkovsky maintained (ST, 94) For Tarkovsky, 'in the

Andrei Tarkovsky


poetry of film, Bresson, more than anyone else, has united theory and practice in his work with a singleness of purpose, consistently and uniformly1 (95) I think you could also add Bergman and Kurosawa Tarkovsky admired Federico Fellini's 8 1/2,

and Casanova, and t h e Toby

Dammit section of Spirits of the Dead. It wasn't the story of Casanova Tarkovsky appreciated so much as the formal qualities Casanova is an eccentric, sometimes wilfully obscure movie, with a highly stylized performance from Donald Slither* land, but for Tarkovsky 'the formal aspect is of an extremely high level, its plasticity is incredibly profound' However, Tarkovsky was dismissive of Fellini's Roma, which was shown at Cannes in 1973 Tarkovsky remarked at Cannes that Roma pandered too much to the audience The inner rhythm of a film, which Tarkovsky regarded as vital, was rejected in Roma in favour of a commercial product As Tarkovsky put it, 'the editorial rhythm is so slick that one feels offended on behalf of Fellini' Most of the filmmakers Tarkovsky admired were European, or from the Far East (and Japan in particular) Few American directors were regularly cited by Tark' ovsky, and hardly ever an American director working after Orson Welles None of the 'movie brats' or filmmakers of the 'New Hollywood' were mentioned (Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovitch, Francis Coppola, Brian de Palma, John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, George Lucaset al

Spielberg was noted once or twice by

Tarkovsky) Note the omission of Sergei Eisenstein, perhaps the most influential Soviet filmmaker of the 20th century, from Tarkovsky's favourites. Tarkovsky disliked the intellectual flavour of Eisenstein's films, but, whether he was aware of it or not, Tarkovsky used some of Eisenstein's ideas (such as Eisenstein's 'dynamization of space', and theory of montage) Eisenstein's historical epics, Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible, inevitably influenced Tarkovsky's films, in particular Andrei Rouhlyov, w h i c h covers similar late mediaeval periods in Russian history Personally, I'm with Tarkovsky on Eisenstein: his films are extraordinary on many levels (formally, socially, politically), and are classics of world cinema, but they're not films to return to many times. (And the ideological aspect of Eisenstein's cinema - its alignment with Stalin and the Soviet regime - is problematic Tarkovsky's cinema is also compromised by its links with the Russian authorities, but nowhere near as much as Eisenstein's films) A questionnaire published in Tarkovsky's Diaries lists Pushkin, Dostoievsky,

Andrei Tarkovsky


Mann and Maupassant among writers; Bresson among directors; Bach among composers; and 'dawn, summer, mist' as his favourite landscape (D, 89) There's also an answer to 'what is a woman's driving'force?' which feminists won't like at all: "submission, humiliation in the name of love'. If, as some critics have suggested, that Tarkovsky didn't really like the sci'fi genre, he spent a significant pait of his film career on sci'fi projects: two feature films (and The Sacrifice, with its nuclear war scenario, has affinities with sci'fi). The musician Eduard Artemiev remembeied that Tarkovsky had a box of sci'fi books at his home As genre films, Tarkovsky's are some of the most accomplished in cinema. As science fiction films, Stalker and Solaris have no superiors, and very few peers Only the greatest sci'fi films can match them: Metropolis,

King Kong, Close Encounters

oj the Third Kind and 2001. A Space Odyssey. Tarkovsky happily and method' ically rewrote the rules of sci'fi genre: Stalker and Solaris are definitely not routine genre outings They don't have the monsters, the aliens, the visual effects, the space battles, the laser guns, the stunts and action set'pieces of regular science fiction movies No one could deny that Andrei Roublyov is one of the greatest historical films to explore the Middle Ages, up there w i t h The Seventh Seal, El Cid, The Navigator and Pier Paolo Pasolini's 'Life' trilogy If you judge Andrei Roublyov in terms of historical accuracy, epic spectacle, serious themes, or cinematic poetry, it comes out at the top Finally, in the religious film genre, The Sacrifice and Nostalghia are among the finest in cinema, the equals of the best of Bergman, Bunuel, Bresson and Dreyer (In a way, it was partly the timing of the release of Tarkovsky's religious films that has made them appear as anomalies: had The Sacrifice and Nostalghia been released during the 1950s and 1960s, they'd be regarded as instant classics, and placed beside the great religious films of the era: The Seventh Seal, Viridiana, Diary oj a Country Priest and The Qospel According To Matthew

But by the time of the 1980s, with

the 'Hollywood Renaissance' of the 1970s and the European New Wave over, films like The Sacrifice and Nostalghia seemed out of step with the drift of contemporary cinema )

No particular school of film criticism is used in this study (although some of the methodologies of semiology, (post)structuralism, feminism and psychoanalysis are employed, with a view to exploring the deep structure of Tarkovsky's films). Some

Andrei Tarkovsky

4 7

post'Jungian, posoLacanian, posoKristevan psychology is used to explore Tark' ovsky's recurrent motifs Michel Foucault dreamt of 'a kind of criticism that would not try to judge, but to bring an ceuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life.

I'd like a

criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination" (326) 'The cinema does not just present images, it surrounds them with a world 1 wrote Gilles Deleuze in 1985 2 In an interview in Directed By Andrei Tarkovsky,


during The Sacrifice, Tarkovsky said there were two kinds of filmmaker: those who try to imitate their world, and those w h o create a world The latter kind, Tarkovsky said, are poets As examples, Tarkovsky cited 'Bresson above alP, and also Mizoguehi, Bunuel, Kurosawa and Bergman. It's clear that Tarkovsky identifies himself with the filmmaker^as^poet Ivor Montagu called Tarkovsky a 'realist poet in images', who digs underneath the narrative structure of his films to layer it with 'overtones and undertones, hints, symbols suggestive of and reflecting on the theme* (1973, 92) In some ways, Andrei Tarkovsky is one of the last of the auteurs, the last of those filmmakers who were formed in (and by) the Sixties, like Michelangelo Antonioni, JeaU'Luc Godard, Bernardo Bertolucci and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who made large-scale personal films, films full of big ideas and passions, in the art cinema tradition. Tarkovsky lamented the passing of the 'greats*: on June 6, 1980 he wrote in his diary (while in Italy):

In the evening I watched Cocteau*s The Return of Orpheus [Le Testament d'Orphee, 1960, France], on television Where have all the great ones gone? Where are Rossellini, Cocteau, Renoir, Vigo? The great - who are poor in spirit? Where has poetry gone? Money, money, money and fear . Fellini is afraid, Antonioni is afraid the only one who is afraid of nothing is Bresson (D, 256) Feminist Camille Paglia would agreed with Tarkovsky in lamenting the decline in cinema since the New Wave days: *[o]n the whole, film has fallen off in artistic quality from the high point of European art film in the late fifties and sixties* -? Krysztof Kieslowski, a filmmaker with many affinities with Tarkovsky, said that all the great film personalities and films were in the past, were dead or retired (1993, 33) For some critics, cinema is dying if not dead How so? Tarkovsky asked 'where as the cinema greats?* Where is the great cinema being made in the years since the 1980s? Raul Ruiz believed that cinema wasn't in its death throes -- it had already gasped

Andrei Tarkovsky

4 8

its last (107) For Gilles Deleuze, cinema in the mid-Eighties was dying from its 'quantative mediocrity' which Deleuze related to the demands of late capitalism and its over-production, and also to the degeneration of cinema into 'slate propaganda and manipulation, into a kind of fascism which brought together Hitlei and Hollywood, Hollywood and Hitler' (1989, 164) Godaid would say cinema's been dying for decades, and many agree that cinema was declining with the end of the silent era. Meanwhile, Mr Qodfather (Francis Coppola), is evet'Optimistic and reckons that cinema is still in its infancy, and will develop beyond anything that can be imagined at the moment Technologically, maybe, but the humanists and leftliberals cling to the notion that cinema must have something "to say', that it should 'deal with' social issues, that it can be an 'artistic statement'

The question of feminism is pivotal to this leading of Tarkovsky's cinema Can art, can cinema, be 'feminist'? No, if one agrees with the French feminist Helene Cixous that it is impossible to create a truly 'feminine' text « As Laura Mulvey has shown, the look in cinema is distinctly patriarchal ' The whole of cinema, its plots, characters, themes and images are thoroughly patriarchal, produced and consumed in a patriarchal context Creating 'feminine' or 'feminist' cinema, in opposition to masculinist cinema, is fraught with problems Can there be a 'women's cinema' when the texts, discourses, history, production modes, ideologies and images are so ruthlessly patriarchal and embedded in the masculinist view of life? It is not simply a case of having women writing and producing their own films because, as Luce Ir igaray and Helene Cixous have shown, texts are patriarchally contextualized The sexuality of cinematic textuality is predominantly male or masculine Tarkovsky's art, as will be apparent, does not engage with radical feminist politics, and is disappointingly mundane, ultimately, in its portrayal of women on screen My first encounter w i t h Tarkovsky's art was seeing Mirror, w h e n it was broadcast on British television in 1982 I was struck by the image of the trees blowing in the wind at night This is intensely poetic - about as deeply poetic as cinema ever gets It is one of the starting points for the film, for the childhood scenes It is scene four: the boy is in bed; night noises are heard - a bird; cut to some trees and bushes: the camera tracks slowly, laterally, to the left; a breeze rustles the trees; cut back to the boy; he leans up in the bed and says 'Papa'. The yearning in this sequence is immense It's so simple: just a shot of a boy in a bed and some trees Yet Tarkovsky's sacred cinema manages to imbue it with such richness, such power,

Andrei Tarkovsky

4 9

such mystery. One is not sure exactly how he does it. The elements appear mundane, viewed individually One can recognize the language, the signs and symbols, and so on, but none of this knowledge explains the mystery. Tarkovsky's ait transcends ordinary cinematic approaches Few filmmaker's works are so sparse, so economical, yet so rich and subtle (one thinks of Ingmar Bergman, Yasujiro Ozu, Robert Bresson). Tarkovsky's films contain many elements the hungry devotee demand from a film: ( I ) intensely sensuous images; (2) great acting; (3) subtlety; (4) religious and mythic themes and allusions; (5) poetic treatment and subject matter; (6) use of classical and folk music; (7) singular (natural) sounds; (8) magic and mystery; (9) clarity and complexity; (10) multiple layers; ( I I ) multiple viewpoints; (12) eidetic details; (13) acknow^ ledgemcnt of the past (personal, historical and cultural); (14) use of the history of art and painting; (15) use of symbols; (16) non-linear narration; (17) a deep sense of the family, of childhood and parents; and (18) an extraordinary sense of space, design, props and colour « But Andrei Tarkovsky's cinema is also in another realm from Western European (British, Italian, Spanish, French and German) cinema. It has perhaps more affinities with what used to be called East European cinema. In Tarkovsky's art, the European art film is fused w i t h the majesty, tragedy and infinity of Eastern European and Russian culture (why is that phrase Mother Russia so potent, even if ideologically, politically and culturally suspect?) Tarkovsky's sacred cinema is suggestive; he shows things, but not completely; Tarkovsky is didactic, but not analytical or comprehensive (sometimes he's wilfully intellectually anti-intellectual); his cinema shows the viewer events, but doesn't give them only one interpretation. One sees things, but mystery is still there. In Hollywood/ international (dominant) entertainment cinema, w i t h its stolid camerawork, incessant swelling music underlining every gesture, routine dialogue, by-numbers plots, rampant materialism, pro-militaristic ideology, and immovable (monoscopic) viewpoints, the viewer always knows exactly where t h e y are There is no room to manoeuvre, no ambiguity In Tarkovsky's cinema, one can move about, because his films are spacious Andrei Tarkovsky's images excite enormously: an angel under clear running water; a room full of rain; a glass bottle; a Leonardo da Vinci or Piero della Francesca painting; a house on fire (the whole house, not just the roof or a window, as in conventional films, but the whole structure)

Andrei Tarkovsky

These images can be seen as

5 0

rapturous and radiant An image from a Tarkovsky film is easily identified as a Tarkovsky image, although the production crew, the script, the setting, and the actors are different As an example of Taikovsky's stunning imagery, take the birds flying out of the Madonna's body at the beginning of Nostalghia,

for example

Many other filmmakers have excelled at slowly and carefully establishing a seemingly ordinary scene and having something bizarre happen in the middle of it to stun the viewer Tarkovsky achieves cinematic wonder without all the techno* logical wizardry mainstream cinema can muster And there are still many more and more surprises with every viewing of a Tarkovsky film. Ingmar Bergman was reported to have seen Andrei Rouhlyov ten times (D, 248) Tarkovsky was one of Bergman's favourites: the Swede saw Andrei Roublyoi* at Svensk Filmindustri in 1971, in a print without subtitles It made a big impression on Bergman Bergman said that he had spent his 'entire life knocking at the door leading to the space where he moves with such obvious naturalness'.7 Of Tark' ovsky, Bergman said he was 'the greatest, the one who invented a new language' «

Andrei Tarkovsky




ONE The Poetry of Cinema

I : I


Certain autews — Ingmar Bergman, Rainei Werner Fassbinder, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Jean^Luc Godard -often instil hallowed awe and unswerving devotion among film buffs There are writer's writers (Francesco Petrarch, Andre Gide, James Joyce) and poet's poets (Arthur Rimbaud, Robert Graves, John Keats, Priedtich Holderlin) Similarly, there are filmmaker's film' makers: Orson Welles is one of the most oft'Cited ones, like Frank Capra, Claude Chabroi, Roberto Rossellini and Alfred Hitchcock (the darling of the Cahiers du Cinema crowd of the French New Wave) These are the kind of filmmakers that constitute the core of the religion of cinema They are the saints and martyrs, the theologians and philosophers, the priests and mystics of the cult of cinema To extend the analogy: D W Griffith is like an Old Testament patriarch — Moses or Abraham, perhaps Georges Melies, Thomas Alva Edison, Edwin S Porter and the Lumiere brothers are regarded as the founding Fathers, Old Testaments kings, the writers of the gospels of cinema, looked upon with respect and indulgence, and lost in the mists of time G W Pabst, Erich von Stroheim, King Vidor, Raoul Walsh, Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford, Ernst Lubitsch, Jean Renoir, Walt Disney,

Andrei Tarkovsky


Josef von Sternberg and Fritz Lang form the Golden Days, the Middle Ages of film Availt garde and abstract filmmakers are like the Gnostics and heretics — sects and subsects growing underneath the mainstream religion of cinema (Dziga Vertov, Luis Bunuel, Michael Snow, Maya Deren, Stan Biakhage) Leni Riefensthal, Walerian Borowczyk, Kenneth Anger and Russ Meyer are extraordinary one-offs With Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Kenji Mizoguchi, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Roberto Rossellini, Anthony Mann, Robert Siodmark and Billy Wilder, one reaches film's Renaissance era, where the God of the cinema is still believed in but cynicism is rife The nouvclle vague and Neo-realist filmmakers are like the scientists, psycho' analysts and artists who destroyed the traditions and conventions of pre-20th century history They are the Freuds, Marxes, Nietzsches, Einsteins and Darwins who ushered in the modern era Jean^Luc Godard is a Freudian psychoanalyst, a gangster genius who questions the religion of cinema right down to its powerbase Rainer Werner Fassbinder is a post-Marxist heretic, exposing the hypocrisies of urban civilization Alain Resnais is cinema's metaphysician Pier Paolo Pasolini reinvents cinema as mythic realism Werner Herzog is a latter day mediaeval vision' ary, difficult, wayward, ambitious Federico Fellini is the t*fti£'CU It's clown, indulg­ ed and despised In this pageant of cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky fits in as a late mystic and martyr, born in the wrong age, on the wrong side of the Renaissance He was at first tolerated, like Walerian Borowcyzk or Werner Herzog, as an erratic and obscure modern age mystic Now Tarkovsky is joining the ranks of the glorified: he has been canonized and beatified as a latter-day saint of film passion

I :2


In Jean-Luc Godard's wonderful film Pierrot le fou (1965, France), director Sam Fuller defines cinema in 'one word . Emotion' Emotion (feeling, desire, affect) is important to the success of most artforms - whether painting, music, dance or drama The American painter Adolph Gottlieb noted: '[p]aint quality is meaningless if it does not express quality of feeling' i Cinema is emotional Or in post'Freudian, Lacanian terms, cinema is pure desire Or, to put it another way, at its best cinema

Andrei Tarkovsky

5 6

works on a number of levels, of which the emotional is perhaps the most powerful It is this gut'respouse that Hollywood cinema exploits, from D. W Griffith to Steven Spielberg. Movies are marketed as 'experiences', like the theme park or heritage centre; in theme parks history is presented as a fairground attraction, complete with hidden voices, slides, models, lighting effects, moving dummies, animatronics, computers, video monitors and "hands on' machines and toys. In terms of a sensory experience, the modern museum or heritage centre is far more sophisticated and varied than the cinema In postmodern, post'everything philosophy, the search for meaning has been replaced by experience; no authorship, just effect Not 4 what does it mean?1 or 'who's the author?' but 'what does it feel like?' or 'does it feel good?' A cinema of spectacle, visceral thrill, sensory overload Art's effect is emotional, Tarkovsky always said. It works first on a person's emotions, not their intellect, their mind, their thoughts (ST, 165) A film is an 'emotional reality', Tarkovsky claimed, and the audiences perceives it as a 'second reality' (ST, 176) The audience of a film, for Tarkovsky, always thinks of the events being depicted on the screen as something real, something truly there; whereas a painting, say, was always taken as an 'image of reality', a construct (ST, 178) Since the Fifties and its battle with television (by using colour, widescreen, 3*D and stereo sound) cinema has built itself up as a major provider of visceral experiences (that's one view of entertainment history; another has the Hollywood studios not 'fighting' TV at all, but hungrily and efficiently incorporating it and exploiting it as another market for distribution and product) Films such as 2,001 A Space Odyssey, Cleopatra,

Jurassic Park and Apocalypse

Now were intended

from the outset to be (consumed as) giant spectacles that overwhelmed the viewer (Stanley Kubrick and Francis Ford Coppola have spoken of this ambition) But the same can be said of much earlier products, such as D W Griffith's Intolerance and Fritz Lang's Metropolis, films from cinema's infant years Spectacle in the cinema is nothing new Cinema traded on spectacle from the beginning, when the vaudeville, funfair, circus and theatrical experience became absorbed in the cinematic experience Here the cinematic sublime, as in Romantic visions of William Wordsworth, Caspar David Friedrich or J oh ami Wolfgang von Goethe, is of the epic scale, where the human scale view is blown up to gargantuan proportions When applied to religious subjects, this o vermin flat ed, pompous style often fails as spiritual cinema (in the films of Cecil 15 DeMille, King Vidor and

Andrei Tarkovsky


George Stevens). The most successful religious filmmakers - Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson, Luis Bunuel and Pier Paolo Pasolini — have made smaller scale films which are charact' erized by intense, lyrical moments Tarkovsky is of the Robert Bresson School of Sacred Cinema - quiet, introspective, controlled (why shout when you can whisper just as effectively?). Yet both Tarkovsky's and Bresson's films are highly emotional, and as manipulative as DeMille or Spielberg (but all art is manipulation: great art is just better at hiding how much it's manipulating the audience) Art critic Christopher Hussey defined seven aspects of the sublime (in painting), derived from Edmund Burke's Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas oj the Sublime and Beautiful (1757): (I) obscurity (physical and intellectual); (2) power; (3) privations (such as darkness, solitude, silence); (4) vastness (vertical or horizontal); (5) infinity; (6) succession; and (7) uniformity (the last two suggest limitless progression) 2 ('Society seeks stability, the artist - infinity* said Tarkovsky |ST, 192]). These tenets of the sublime in art can be applied to cinema — to films such as 2,001

A Space Odyssey, Citizen Kane, Contact, and Apocalypse Now (as well as

Tarkovsky's films), films which consciously encourage notions such as obscurity, darkness, vastness and infinity In its grander moments it's easy to see how Tarkovsky's cinema echoes the gestures of High Romanticism -• its Blakean, Wordsworthian, Goethean, Turnerian gestures The marks of late 18th / early I9th century European Romanticism include: exalting nature; going to extremes; the cult of solitude; the predominance of subjectivity; rebellion; the artist as outsider; infinity; the sublime, and so on Edmund Burke wrote:

The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment: and astonishment is that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror* * (Among film critics, Scott Bukatman has written most lucidly of awe, wonder, spectacle, sight and the sublime in modern cinema ) Andrei Tarkovsky and his cinema embodies so many of the marks of High Romantic culture: (I) the cult of the artist as sacred creator (something Tarkovsky and most of the Romantics believed in); (2) the sovereignity of the artist; (3) the holy aloneness of the artist (the artist as outsider, marginal, apart, different); (4) the artist as rebel and romantic rebellion (the artist or individual versus the mob or

Andrei Tarkovsky

5 8

establishment, such as Percy Bysshe Shelley, or Mary Shelley's Or Frankenstein; one recalls Tarkovsky's long-running disputations with the Soviet authorities); (5) the Romantics' awe of the natural world (Friedrich Holderlin's beloved Swiss Alps or William Worthsworth's Lake District); (6) going to extremes; (7) nostalgia and romanticizing the past (a recurring passion for Tarkovsky); (8) a love of the exotic, the far-off, the Oriental; (9) wildernesses, deserts, oceans, forests, mountains; (10) beauty; heightened sensuality; ( I I ) synscsthesia and magical correspondences (a la Charles Baudelaire); (12) magic and the occult (as in Novalis or Goethe); (13) shamanism and religion; (14) mythology and history; (15) intensity; (16) horror and the Gothic (Romanticism has many links with Gothic literature, and there's a strong Gothic strain in Tarkovsky's cinema - not least in his Hoffmanniana script); (16) the urge towards the infinite and the eternal; (17) the visionary, spectacular and sublime; and (18) barely disguised spiritual longing and mysticism Tarkovsky's debt to or links with Romantic culture are no surprise, really, because the Romantic definition of the artist pretty much describes the modern artist Tarkovsky and Tarkovsky's cinema would disagree, however, with post' modern and contemporary artists who exalt playfulness; irony, coolness and distance; surface not depth; objectivity not subjectivity; and the death of the author

I :3


In all these ways the ordinary commercial cinema maintains something at least oj the fullness oj the primal myth, blending, in various permutations, fact, drama, the 'Surreal', dream, magic and the supernatural powers oj their play Perhaps we too readily assume the mass media's lack of, and antagonism towards, poetry. Raymond Durgnati

Cinema poeticizes reality and the real The filmmaker may not intend poetry, but, as in Eisensteinian montage, the effect, as far as the viewer is concerned, can be poetic The images, the colours, the textures, the manipulation of time, the multiple

Andrei Tarkovsky

5 9

viewpoints, the metaphors and connections made - all these can be made poetic Certainly the films of Charlie Chaplin, Milos Forman, Atom Egoyam, Ermanno Olmi, Douglas Siik and Li Shaohong, six very different filmmakers, contain moments of intense poetry. When the subject is bleak, such as poverty-stricken childhood (as in Bill Douglas's trilogy), or cannibalism (as in Jean-Luc Godard*s Weekend [1967, France] or in Marco FerrerPs Blow Out [La Qrande Boufe, 1973, Italy]), the results can still be veiy poetic. If lyricism is in the perception of the beholder, then any (and every) film can be poetic Often it is the films that strive self-consciously to be lyrical that fail: the mythopoeic experience can be elusive Like poetry, cinema is full of rhymes, of dissonances, assonances, cross-references, plots and sub-plots. Like poetry, cinema uses images, motifs, metaphors, allusions, allegories, repetitions, fables, refrains, subjective viewpoints, lyricism and so on Many filmmakers, like most poets, have their own vocabulary, full of their own words (or shots), their own phrases (or camera movements, lighting styles) and their own quotes (or hommages, as the French New Wave filmmakers called them) A platitude of the academy is that writers have to establish their own 'voice \ that the most successful artists have personal vision Each of cinema's ant curs has her/ his own 'voice* — Tarkovsky has his long watervfilled takes; Bergman has his ensemble playing, Expressionist camera and alienated winterscapes; Eisenstein has his mon­ tage, and so on. In a 1964 essay, Tarkovsky said he wanted cinema to fuse the subjective and the objective, to be both facts and feelings, to have its own poetic logic, to have its own form, separate from literature or theatre, and to express the "poetic concreteness' of dreams Poetry, Tarkovsky asserted in Sculpting In Time (21), is 4an awareness of the world, a particular way of relating to reality. So poetry becomes a philosophy to guide a man throughout his life*. For Tarkovsky, poetic thinking (intuitive, subjective, associative) may be closer to life, and to thought itself, than the narrative logic of traditional drama (and cinema), w h i c h was the only model used for expressing dramatic conflict. It was cinema's task, Tarkovsky reckoned, to convey some of the impressions, the associations, the memories and subjective states of life (ST, 23) Jean Cocteau, whom Tarkovsky admired, wrote that poetry has the ability to reveal things to people as if they're seeing them for the first time: '[i]n a flash we see a dog, a cab, a house for the first time What is special, mad, ridiculous, beautiful in them is overwhelming

That is the role of poetry. It unveils, in the full meaning of

Andrei Tarkovsky


the term' 2 Cocteau is the classic case of the poet who became a filmmaker, the cine * poet, and the subject of his films, Orpheus, is one of the icons of the whole history of poetry, like Sappho or Taleissin T.S Eliot's The Wasteland is regarded by some critics as the first 'cinematic poem', with its collage of images cut up from the detritus of post-war culture (but Arthur Rimbaud's incredible Illuminations,

which is far superior to Eliot's cine*

poem, precedes it by fifty years) Eliot's massively overpraised poem influenced Federico FellinVs Satyr icon (1969, Italy), and Eliot was Michelangelo Antonioni's favourite poet Both cinema and poetry foreground form, and probably the closest cinema comes to poetry is in its ability to present the spectator with a cluster of images which create poetic magic. True poetry, said British poet Robert. Graves, should make the hair stand up on the back of one's neck Graves spoke in The White Qoddess of poetry in terms of its ability to sing praises to the Goddess:

Sometimes, in reading a poem, the hairs will bristle at an apparently unpeopled and eventless scene described in it, if the elements bespeak her unseen presence clearly enough: for example, when owls hoot, the moon rides like a ship through scudding cloud, trees sway slowly together above a rushing waterfall, and a distant barking of dogs is heard; or when a peal of bells in frosty weather suddenly announces the birth of the New Year (25) These are the sort of poetic moments cinema can conjure up (a shot of trees rustling in the wind at night, from Tarkovsky's Mirror, or the snow falling at the end of Nostalghia)

Tarkovsky made such suddenly thrilling evocations one of his

specialities The Tarkovsky shock moment was a set-piece that often revelled in the self-conscious fakery of cinema But it is the images that do the talking, that stay in the mind, that creep in under the mundane architecture of dialogue, characters, action and plot Pier Paolo Pasolini's 'cinema di poesia', as expounded in his "Cinema of Poetry" essay, corresponded to an ideal, primitive, raw cinema which existed underneath cinema It was a cinema of a pre'Symbolic, pre'lingual realm, a cinema of poetry before signification and language, a realm between reason and unreason, the objective and subjective, the real and the ideal It was an ideal, not a reality, however: even in his own films the cinema of poetry remained a theoretical ideal ' In March, 1961, Michelangelo Antonioni said: 'I think its important for cinema to turn toward

ways of expression that are absolutely free, as free as painting which

has reached abstraction; perhaps cinema will even construct poetry, a cinematic

Andrei Tarkovsky


poem in rhyme' « In an interview in Cahiers du Cinema (October, 1965), Godard remarked: '[i]n my opinion the cinema should be mote poetic — and poetic in a broader sense, while poetry itself should be more opened out'.* Tarkovsky would agree with such sentiments But by 1961 cinema had long been poetic Classics of poetic cinema (to cite some of the obvious examples) include: Kenneth Anger's Fireworks (1947, USA), Maya Deten's Meshes oj the Afternoon (1943, USA), Jean Cocteau's Orphee films, The Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929, Russia), Sunrise (F W. Mutnau, 1927, USA) and Un Chien Andalou (Luis Bunuel, 1929, France). One might also cite the works of James Broughton, Stan Brakhage, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Walerian Borowczyk, Michael Snow, George Landow, Malcolm Le Grice, and much of abstract, formal film Andrei Tarkovsky's religious cinema goes beyond the poetic cinema of Alexander Dovzhenko and Lev Kuleshov: Tarkovsky says, repeatedly (in Sculpting in Time) how he hates the manipulative and artificial effects of Eisensteinian montage cinema (*I am radically opposed to the way Eisenstein used the frame to codify intellectual formula?. . Eisenstein makes thought into a despot' are two typical Tarkovskyan criticisms of Eisenstein [ST, 183]) Yet Tarkovsky employs poetic montage many times - in Mirror, for example, which is (really) one long poetic montage There are sequences of montage in Tarkovsky's poetic cinema as manipulative (or overly 'intellectual') as anything in Eisenstein or Vertov, or in Russian 'poetic cinema', abstract and formal film, and American 1940s avant garde cinema. Tarkovsky is not a filmmaker who employs movie references in his films Indeed, he studiously avoids any shot or sequence that looks like the work of another filmmaker « Some filmmakers load many allusions to the history of cinema into their films Jean-Luc Godard is always discussing cinema in his films, either through his characters, his voiceovers, his mhe^en-scene, or his quotations Some filmmakers delight in producing hommages to films or filmmakers (Woody Allen to Ingmar Bergman, for instance, or Francis Coppola to Orson Welles or Akira Kurosawa, or Peter Bogdanovitch to John Ford), while others can't resist spoofing movies (Mel Brooks, Jim Abrahams, the Marx Brothers) Some movie franchises are built almost entirely on references to movies and popular culture: Shrek, Scary Movie, Scream, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and don't seem have any 'centre' or 'substance' if you take away the quotes, allusions and jokes Tarkovsky's films are the polar opposite of that kind of playful, multi-allusive postmodernity Tarkovsky's films mt>ir wink at the audience Tarkovsky really

Andrei Tarkovsky


means it, maaan A movie is never 'just a movie' for Tarkovsky, as it is for so many filmmakers Just a film! The idea is absurd in the Tarkovsky universe And Tarkovsky's films haven't yet entered popular culture in the West like, say, the figure of Death in Ingniar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, who crops up in Monty Python, The Simpsons and Bill & T
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