Saturday, 27 November 2010

Top Ten Pieces Of Art: 3 - 'Stalker' by Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky is (probably) my favourite director, certainly within the realm of ‘the art movie’. He is one of very few ‘auteur’ directors whose artistic vision - and the realisation of that vision - rivals the greatest literary figures, painters and composers. When you watch a Tarkovsky film, you know that every visual element has been considered and controlled, from the beautiful cinematography to the smallest gesture of the actors. At times, it seems that even the elemental forces, such as wind, rain and snow, obey the director’s voice.

I love all Tarkovsky’s films, so it is difficult to choose just one to represent him in this Top Ten Pieces Of Art. Stalker (1979) has left a long-lasting impression upon me and is the film that I think of as ‘pure Tarkovsky’. It is not the most accessible of his films, I would recommend starting with his earlier film, Solaris (1972), his final Sacrifice (1986) or, if your love cinema and relish a challenge, see his autobiographical tour-de-force Mirror (1975).

There is no point in going into plot details or describing key scenes – the content of Stalker cannot be conveyed by any other vehicle than the film itself. This is cinema, pure and true. It is a long, slow-paced film that uses simple poetic clarity to achieve philosophical complexity. Stalker is filmed in ‘Tarkovsky time’ – hypnotic and dream-like. After experiencing one of his films, you remember them as if they were your own dreams… and I think the dream would be different for each viewer and it subtly alters with each viewing. Every time I have watched Stalker, it seems to be a slightly different cut. Sometimes I do not notice the transitions from colour to sepia to monochrome, sometimes there is a scene or passage of dialog that seems to have been changed or re-edited. This is a film that grows and changes with the viewer, and perhaps causes the viewer to grow and change. In this way, Tarkovsky uses cinema in the same way that a shaman uses dream-sharing and his films work as mystical, magical and metaphysical meditations.

Stalker seems to be bleak and stark, on one level, yet it is also one of the most uplifting films I can think of. Its themes are heavy and something to do with personal goals, hopes, the material world and the spiritual realm. It seems rich with metaphor, though Tarkovky maintained that, although some of his films contain the ambiguous and inexplicable, there were no ‘hidden meanings’ in his work. Even so, their interpretation still caused consternation amongst the Soviet State censors and most of the films he made in Russia were either banned, censored, restricted or delayed for years whilst their meanings were discussed and analyzed by an elite few. Far from being angry and negative about this, Tarkovsky pointed out that at least in Russia he could make such films, whereas he thought it highly unlikely they would have ever have seen production in any other nation’s movie industry. He later went to Italy to film Nostalghia and then to Sweden, where he made his final film, Sacrifice.

All of Tarkovsky’s oeuvre are beautiful to behold, every frame could be isolated and presented alongside the very best photography, and each of his films contain moments of absolute, simple yet breath-taking poetic genius. He was a being of light.

Geoff Dyer wrote a good personal appraisal of Stalker for the Guardian - read it here.

This work also features in the book Evolution of Western Art

There is also a brief overview of The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky...

... and biographical info at Wikipedia

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