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Ron Reed

Stalker (1979)

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MLeary wrote:

: I would argue that as Stalker is one of his more approachable films, one need "get"

: this film to "get" Tarkovsky.

Wow, I found this film one of his LESS approachable ones.  Unless you and I are operating from different understandings of "approachable".

[nod]

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While my tastebuds were officially certified by the Bresson Taste Test, I've clearly flunked the Tarko Test! (Except on my first visit to the clinic, I was assessed 20/20! Just look at the files, under "Sacrifice." See! And that's a really hard one...)

Well, I must confess that part of my predilection for the film comes from my addiction to post-apocalypse. I don't know what that says about me, but that is neither here nor there. In the British system we grade on content and interpretive skill rather than the rote recital of long-held critical beliefs, so based on your subsequent posts I would pass you anyway.

I did find the sheer longevity of certain shots, sequences or scenes to become galling: gorgeous image, or compelling composition, or glorious juxtaposition, but where thirty seconds would suffice, I found three minutes simply tiresome.

Okay, understandable. I find that Tarkovsky is really pushing the viewer in this film, he is almost outdoing himself in a few sequences so that reaction is probably what most of us have. It is worth pushing back though and sticking with his rhythm, I enjoy the way the film unfolds over time. It isn't like one of those puzzles that you have to cross your eyes at for a long time to see it, it is more like a scented candle in a large room. It just takes time for the subtlety to actually permeate your experience.

I felt real disappointment: this seemed almost juvenile, the opposite of the kind of subtlety I so appreciated in SACRIFICE and RUBLEV.

I like your argument here, but maybe I could just respond from a different angle. In its generic context, that being the science-fictional/post-apocalyptic one, this film passes for incredibly subtle. I may be reading the film from this direction and finding it a helpful corrective to the need to strip mystery from visions of the future, making them narratively and symbolically relevant to the ever-present "now".

I also thought it came out of nowhere, and that its force might derive at least partly from the contrast to what I - and, I suspect, at least a few other viewers - found annoying about too much of what had gone before. "At last! A real human being! Saying something that makes sense!" (I'm overstating my point here, but you'll get the jist?)

I get this feeling as well from The Mirror and Nostalghia. While as a whole Tarko's films are organic if taking as a massive lump of imagery and sound, they are often packed with what seem to be disparate elements. Specifically in Stalker, I like the way the introduction is almost stacked on itself as a series of unexplained blocks. The film almost teeters until we reach that long smooth scene that takes us into the Zone itself.

It's not really a parable or allegory although it's close to both; I'd say it's more fable than myth.

I don't want to belabor this one Doug, but FWIW I would still want to think of the Zone as this opaque arena which the story keeps butting up against. It takes place in the Zone (as a fable), but the Zone itself is really this inaccessible block of metaphor that its characters keep stumbling over it. Like the whale in Werck. Harm., it just sits unblinkingly at the center of the film. So this feature at least would be less fable than myth. Maybe we could find a word that would relate the two poles together more coherently. It just seems to defy typical structuralist labeling.

"The first time in my life I have my own screenplay."

Great anecdote.

Brooke expands on this point with the example of the three-minute scene on the trolleycar as they approach the Zone: "It sounds unbearably tedious, and yet in practice the sequence is curiously gripping..." Is it? I'd refer back to his previous insight, that this entirely depends on the experiential reality of one's engagement with the film: if it doesn't entirely command one's attention, if the hypnosis doesn't kick in, this sequence (and many others like it) don't only sound like they'll be unbearably tedious, they actually will be unberably tedious, in practice.

I can't figure out how to respond to this. This is the moment in cinema that officially made me a film junkie. I remember sitting back for the first minute, sitting forward expectantly for the next minute, and then standing up right in front of the telly for its denouement. And then I rewound it a few times in spite of the fanatical eye-rolling of my wife. So while I understand your response to the tedium, I have a personal stake in this particular scene which may color my response to it. Are there other intances of tedium in other films that have struck you the same way? Because I do like how you have stated this:

"I'm going to conject (verb form of conjecture?) that Tarkovsky plays a risky game when he endeavours to sculpt time. When it works, when he pulls it off for a particular viewer on a particular night (or, for many particular viewers, every night), he works wonders. But his effectiveness is uniquely predicated on elements of human perception that are particularly volatile: the experience of time, the capacity for sustained attention, etc."

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Brooke expands on this point with the example of the three-minute scene on the trolleycar as they approach the Zone: "It sounds unbearably tedious, and yet in practice the sequence is curiously gripping..." Is it? I'd refer back to his previous insight, that this entirely depends on the experiential reality of one's engagement with the film: if it doesn't entirely command one's attention, if the hypnosis doesn't kick in, this sequence (and many others like it) don't only sound like they'll be unbearably tedious, they actually will be unberably tedious, in practice.

I can't figure out how to respond to this. This is the moment in cinema that officially made me a film junkie. I remember sitting back for the first minute, sitting forward expectantly for the next minute, and then standing up right in front of the telly for its denouement. And then I rewound it a few times in spite of the fanatical eye-rolling of my wife.

It's interesting to note the different responses to this particular moment in the film. I'm short on time these days, but I am keeping up with this thread. The discussion prompted me to pull out my Stalker DVD last night

Edited by Diane

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I think you're the only person I know who has read Roadside Picnic before seeing the film, solishu! (And I'm a SF reader, too. I take it you'd recommend the story?)

I love the character of the Stalker.  He contains so many fascinating contradictions; I think my favorite is his combination of power and helplessness.  He has power over the Zone.  He know how to survive inside of it, but to do his job he is completely dependent on the people who come in with him obeying him.
That's a great observation. I also like how he "leads" by insisting that they take the initiative. He'll tell them where to go, but they have to do it themselves. He may not be a "strong leader" in terms of imposing his will and command on everyone, but that could also be a sign of insecurity and weakness that would reduce the volition and personal investment of his clients. His leadership style empowers those he leads. I think this is why their final rejection is so painful for him...the freedom and trust he offers in the service of truth and beauty is utterly discarded; pearls cast before swines.

I'm fascinated by wear and rust and decay.  During a study abroad in France, I went on a 10 km kayaking trip down a river, and as we were going down this river out of nowhere ruins just began to appear in the forest along the banks.  I can't explain what I find so beautiful about broken land, but it just pushes all my aesthetic and emotional buttons.

Wow, thanks for this image--I can just picture it. I'v erecently been having a discussion with someone about what he calls "rubble art," stories or films that involve ruins. ("I've been absolute bonkers for anything that fills me with that sense of ruins, or stirring in the ruins. . . . Something about struggling through the ruins appeals quite deeply to me.")

Tarkovsky just revels in the brokenness of his landscape in Stalker.  And he even treats us to two variants: the urban decay in the beginning (the first shot, I believe, is full of the detail of the decay of the Stalker's bedroom), where man's creations overcome man, and the ruins of the Zone, which take on an ancient aura and imply the triumph of nature over man's creations.  And then there is even the decay of nature within the Zone, so you have the supernatural overpowering nature.  When you see man at the bottom of all this, it's no wonder that experiencing the Zone traumatizes the Stalker as much as it does.
Brilliantly put--there's the beginning of very good essay here...

Thanks for the links.

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That does it... I need to see this movie again. It's been several years since I saw it last, and I liked it - but I'm eager to watch it again with these additional insights.

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Well, I must confess that part of my predilection for the film comes from my addiction to post-apocalypse. I don't know what that says about me, but that is neither here nor there....

Curiouser and curiouser. I, too, am a fan of post-apocalyptic stuff, and can often enjoy even a truly bad p-a film just because of its genre. Heck, I even found ways to like THE POSTMAN! So you'd think that would have helped me out here. But alas...

(By the way, my fascination with the genre has led me as far as writing two p-o plays. The stage is not a place where this genre usually shows up, but they worked pretty well, actually...)

In the British system we grade on content and interpretive skill rather than the rote recital of long-held critical beliefs, so based on your subsequent posts I would pass you anyway.

graduate.gif

Ron: I did find the sheer longevity of certain shots, sequences or scenes to become galling: gorgeous image, or compelling composition, or glorious juxtaposition, but where thirty seconds would suffice, I found three minutes simply tiresome.

Mike: Okay, understandable. I find that Tarkovsky is really pushing the viewer in this film, he is almost outdoing himself in a few sequences so that reaction is probably what most of us have. It is worth pushing back though and sticking with his rhythm, I enjoy the way the film unfolds over time. It isn't like one of those puzzles that you have to cross your eyes at for a long time to see it, it is more like a scented candle in a large room. It just takes time for the subtlety to actually permeate your experience.

Nicely put. And indeed, it is also helpful for me to realize that you see Tark "really pushing the viewer in this film," that STALKER in some way goes further than some other Tarkovskys (Tarkovskies?) in pushing the limits here - and indeed, that plenty of viewers (even those who like the film) experience similar reactions to it.

Your simile about the candle is interesting, in that the sense of smell is also very subjective, not only varying widely from individual to individual, but also in the same individual from day to day or hour to hour. One day the smell of frying foods appeals - you've just arrived at the midway, you're hungry and all of a sudden you're thinking "Funnel cakes!" - where a few hours later the smell sickens - it's a hot summer night in the inner city, you're full from dinner and the smell rising from the fast food joint into your crowded apartment makes you physically ill. (Whereas the smell always appeals to your twelve year old daughter, and never entices your healthy-eating wife.]

And speaking of wives, mine regularly buys those scented candles that come in a jar. And sometimes they enhance the room so much. And sometimes they're just too much - kind of overbearing and sickly sweet. (And sometimes I don't even notice them.)

I'm extending the metaphor simply to explore (perhaps to belabour) this idea that some of Tarkovsky's experiments with time are perhaps inevitably going to succeed or fail for a given viewer on a given day based on the perceptual state of the viewer, as determined by factors completely outside the film. Of course, I'm convinced that such factors influence all of us on all films more than we sometimes acknowledge, and that our dislike of a given film sometimes should be attributed more to an undigested bit of beef than to the film's own merits or failings. But I guess I'm suggesting that this may be particularly true for Tarkovsky, all the moreso in films where he takes his time-dabbling to extremes - specifically because the perception of time, the ability to sustain close attention, the pleasure or discomfort involved in sustaining close attention regardless of "ability" to do so, are particularly likely to vary sporadically, unpredictably, not only from viewer to veiwer, but from viewing to viewing.

Nuff said about that. But I am finding this an intriguing idea to consider. (Others, however, may happen to be in a subjective state which renders such a protracted discussion of such a small and insignificant point utterly tedious and redundant. I suggest that such readers avoid a viewing of STALKER in their present state.)

Brooke expands on this point with the example of the three-minute scene on the trolleycar as they approach the Zone: "It sounds unbearably tedious, and yet in practice the sequence is curiously gripping..." Is it? I'd refer back to his previous insight, that this entirely depends on the experiential reality of one's engagement with the film: if it doesn't entirely command one's attention, if the hypnosis doesn't kick in, this sequence (and many others like it) don't only sound like they'll be unbearably tedious, they actually will be unberably tedious, in practice.

I can't figure out how to respond to this. This is the moment in cinema that officially made me a film junkie. I remember sitting back for the first minute, sitting forward expectantly for the next minute, and then standing up right in front of the telly for its denouement. And then I rewound it a few times in spite of the fanatical eye-rolling of my wife. So while I understand your response to the tedium, I have a personal stake in this particular scene which may color my response to it.

Fascinating. And the fact is, I don't find that at all hard to accept: it's a risky gambit on the director's part, but your overall sensibilities and perhaps your specific subjective state on that particular night meshed with his, and the payoff was there. Sweet. I had something like that happen when I saw THE SACRIFICE, if not on quite as unprecedented / life-changing a scale. When those "clicks" happen, we must count ourselves blessed. You were the audience the artist created the work for in the first place.

Hmmm... Now I'm remembering an experience about three years ago, when I worked with a group of actors to do a real experiment, theatrically. There is an actor training process which I had undergone at theatre school, a mask characterization process which creates extraordinarily vivid characters and which had been hugely significant in my own training twenty years before. I had always wanted to lead a group of actors through that process, just for its own sake, but then to extend the work and create a piece of theatre using the characters and backstories the actors had come up with, and interweave the character story-lines into a real play, not just a performance piece.

It was an experiment. And, once it reached the stage, it is fair to say the experiment mostly failed. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that we failed the experiment: that it could have worked far better, but we didn't manage to pull it off. The vast majority of the audience found the production very flawed, and I honestly had to concur: I could see all the ways that we had failed to render onstage what we had discovered in the creative process. BUT, there was a small minority of the audience who were utterly captivated by the production, who didn't even see the flaws once they were pointed out to them, whose sensibilities happened to line up with the piece and who counted it one of their all-time favourite theatre experiences ever. Which taught me that the more you stick to what you know, and what an audience knows, in terms of form and structure, the more likely you are to succeed for the greater percentage of your audience. But the more you mess with basic, understood theatrical principles, the more you will diminish the number of people who will enjoy the piece, AND the more you may increase the level of their enjoyment. it's as if there's a certain amount of audience enjoyment available, and you compress it into a smaller and smaller percentage of people the more you depart from known forms.

I bet that's something of what's going on with Tarkovsky.

I'll also venture to add that this isn't about elitism. There were plenty of very sophisticated, even adventurous, viewers who were put off by MERCY WILD, and plenty of people who raved the piece who were Just Plain Folks, not necessarily aesthetes. There was something else going on besides a good taste / bad taste dichotomy, or an adventurous / cautious split.

Like with Tarkovsky.

Are there other intances of tedium in other films that have struck you the same way?

It's very erratic. The sustained, elongated shots in SACRIFICE astonished me, transported me. RUSSIAN ARK so provoked me that I felt like I was being tortured. THE SON had me practically holding my breath, so intense was the suspense, so rapt my attention, while others find the lack of story development tedious. I've seen ERASERHEAD several times: early on I thought the film a marvel, eventually I started realizing that it really was certain sections I loved and that I could hardly stand watching others, they seemed to excruciatingly prolonged and pointless - and indeed, I realized that that had been my experience all along, but that previously I had suppressed my feelings of exasperation and focused on my feelings of fascination, but now had come to a different point in my movie-watching where I could admit to myself that part of the movie just plain sucked. (Or at least, sucked for me.)

Frankly, Chekhov can be the same for me: sometimes I can enter into the sublimity, other times I'm just plain impatient. Or Beckett: some of my worst nights in the theatre have been his fault, but I remember a production of ENDGAME that was absolutely transporting, with never a tedious moment. Different play, or better production, or different subjective circumstances for the viewer? I can't say

It's a shifting and elusive thing, this.

I'll let you know how things go on my next visit to The Zone...

Edited by Ron

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The core of Brooke's fine piece, I think, lies in his comment that "Stalker very much has its own pace and rhythm, and how one responds to it depends largely on one

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Some of Tarkovsky's experiments with time are perhaps inevitably going to succeed or fail for a given viewer on a given day based on the perceptual state of the viewer, as determined by factors completely outside the film.
While I love the film, I completely agree with this statement. I distinctly remember one time I sat down to watch it and I just couldn't get 30 minutes through without shutting it off. I've found the best time for me to enjoy movies like Stalker is when I feel like I've got 100 things I should be doing besides watching it and they are stressing me out. It's just like a scented candle - soothes and relaxes me. But it also occupies my mind so completely that I'm not troubled by all my stresses. This function of the film - relaxation and pleasure in times of stress - is undoubtedly another reason that I love it.

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The core of Brooke's fine piece, I think, lies in his comment that "Stalker very much has its own pace and rhythm, and how one responds to it depends largely on one

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Some of Tarkovsky's experiments with time are perhaps inevitably going to succeed or fail for a given viewer on a given day based on the perceptual state of the viewer, as determined by factors completely outside the film.
While I love the film, I completely agree with this statement. I distinctly remember one time I sat down to watch it and I just couldn't get 30 minutes through without shutting it off. I've found the best time for me to enjoy movies like Stalker is when I feel like I've got 100 things I should be doing besides watching it and they are stressing me out. It's just like a scented candle - soothes and relaxes me. But it also occupies my mind so completely that I'm not troubled by all my stresses. This function of the film - relaxation and pleasure in times of stress - is undoubtedly another reason that I love it.

This connects with what I'm currently discovering about ANDREI RUBLEV. I'm watching a portion of it each day, never to the point where it would stretch my patience (though I think I'm mostly past that point with RUBLEV), and entirely because I WANT to. I'm watching the film like one might read a favourite novel, stealing time whenever I can to slip away into that other world, revel in the artistry, the truths, the images. Even, in the familiarity. Delighting in taking all the time I want to ponder the imponderables, revel in the details. (Did anybody notice that, at the end of the Last Judgement section, just before the intermission, when the screen goes to black, there is a frame or two of a white feather, in the upper right hand corner of the black screen? The preceding sections have been full of feathers drifting down from the sky, inexplicably, indoors and out. Then when it's all over and we go to black, there's the glimpse of one last feather. I always assumed that was a defect in the film stock or print. Nope. It's a feather. What an exhilarating discovery that was, after slowly working my way through all that had come before.)

The feeling I have, pushing the world away as I hunker down to contemplate a bit more of ANDREI, is very much the same as I've experienced when I'm doing regular (or irregular) "quiet times," dedicating small chunks of my day to Bible or prayer or contemplation. Holy time, "set apart" time, non-productive and soul-satisfying.

Maybe STALKER will be my next holy text?

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I'm actually more worried about all the philosophical discussions. wink.gif

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Anyone else looking forward to Ron's response to the Solaris driving scene? wink.gif

Aye, that's another classic. That was shot in Tokyo wasn't it? If so, I guess my ideal film sequence is the guy in my avatar driving a trolley on tracks that run through 1970's Tokyo for about 6 minutes.

Edited by MLeary

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Anyone else looking forward to Ron's response to the Solaris driving scene? wink.gif

Looks like I better book off another couple days from work...

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Ron, you might enjoy digging through the comments of one of my recent blog posts, "<a href='http://www.longpauses.com/blog/2005/10/boring-art-films.html' target='_blank'>Boring Art Films</a>." I appreciate your willingness to wrestle with this stuff, and I'm benefiting from the discussion even if I don't have the time right now to actively participate. For the last few months, I've been toying with this idea of "theorizing boredom,", but until I finish my diss, I'm not going to have much energy for it.

I especially like this comment:

One of the things I'm trying to unpack is the possibility that some aesthetic experiments are more likely to evoke widely varying responses even within the same viewer, precisely because the element being experimented with is a particularly subjective and changeable one. And that the experience of time is just such a thing.

I'm wondering what is the nature of that "hypnosis" Brooke mentions, trying to take that as more than a turn of phrase, and wondering if there is actually some perceptual thing that Tarkovsky is trying to accomplish in his viewers' brains. And suggesting that if the button successfully gets pushed on a given night, the experience of the film will be sublime, but if the button doesn't "work," if the hypnosis doesn't "take," the experience of the film may even be excruciating.

When I was at TIFF, I had a long talk with my friend Girish about Hou Hsiao-hsien, and we never got much further than Brooke did with Tarkovsky. Instead of "hypnosis," though, I think we used the word "magic" -- as in, "I don't know how Hou does it, but his static long takes are instantly recognizable as 'Hou shots,' regardless of the actors and cinematographer, and they always have the same effect on me. It's like a kind of cinematic magic."

While there's a need here for some theorizing, I think the discussion would benefit also from some really rigorous formal analysis. One of my other post-dissertation projects (it's a long and growing list) will be a shot-for-shot breakdown of a few "magical" scenes from Claire Denis's films. I want to chart shot durations, angles, depth of focus, camera movement, movement within the frame, and sound design to figure out how those "hypnotic" moments work.

Edited by Darren H

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I have a DVD copy of SOLARIS, but only a vhs of STALKER. So for first viewing, I figured I'd spring for the rental money and give the flick its best shot. I'm glad I did: my greatest pleasure was in the extraordinary visuals - texture and colour, as much as composition - and I'm certain those were much better on the DVD than they would have been on videotape.
Ack--there is no comparison, Ron! Stalker looks dramatically better on DVD. You can see a comparison of the title screens below, VHS vs DVD. This could've had an enormous impact on your viewing...

Re: SOLARIS, should I go ahead and watch the Russian-language DVD I bought, or look for some other edition? It's Ruscico, two disks. All the writing on the cover is Russian, but it does offer English subtitles.
Yeah, the Ruscico Solaris is nice, but the Criterion is probably a tad better, if for no other reason that it includes a pretty solid commentary by a couple of Tarkovsky scholars.

[attachmentid=471]

More pretty pictures here.

post-71-1132709307_thumb.jpg

Edited by Doug C

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I have a DVD copy of SOLARIS, but only a vhs of STALKER. So for first viewing, I figured I'd spring for the rental money and give the flick its best shot. I'm glad I did: my greatest pleasure was in the extraordinary visuals - texture and colour, as much as composition - and I'm certain those were much better on the DVD than they would have been on videotape.
Ack--there is no comparison, Ron! Stalker looks dramatically better on DVD. You can see a comparison of the title screens below, VHS vs DVD. This could've had an enormous impact on your viewing...

Oh, I haven't been clear. I own a copy of the VHS of STALKER, but knew that shouldn't be my first exposure, so I rented the Ruscico STALKER DVD from my local vid shop. It was truly visually stunning - definitely the aspect of the film I'm most looking forward to revisiting in the next few days. (In fact, it's probably the best justification I've had yet for the big 52" DLP screen I bought just before beginning my sabbatical: the rich colours and textures were stunning). Thinking I might take my second STALKER viewing in bite-size pieces, the way I'm doing with ANDREI RUBLEV: it does disrupt the flow and the overall unity of effect, but also eliminates the impatience and the inner battle to sustain attention.

Yeah, the Ruscico Solaris is nice, but the Criterion is probably a tad better, if for no other reason that it includes a pretty solid commentary by a couple of Tarkovsky scholars.

Reckon I'll watch my Ruscico SOLARIS this week or next, then, and when I get my hands on the Criterion one way or another, I can dig in on the commentary track!Nifty.

Edited by Ron

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I think, Stalker presents us the reflection of 'modern time' and 'modern humen being' that we see a stalker like prophet who indicates to mankind to find the truth way in this world or zone, and a writer as a problamatical artist that someone always looking for something without reaching, third character is scientist who only believe empirical and verifiable details by observation. all these are showing us what the reality of modern human being is.

We've been isolated from the original creation by someone else who want to lead people as they wish and also achieved their ambition.

Now there are people on the land who is unfaithful with truth just believe money and always wants to sell theirselves much more cheap.

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Welcome to Arts and Faith, thanks for posting. It certainly does seem necessary to treat Stalker in such a parabolic way.

We've been isolated from the original creation by someone else who want to lead people as they wish and also achieved their ambition.

This is a very interesting thought. I guess I have always thought of the Zone as a place of destruction, when it is entirely possible to flip it around and see it as a foil of creation. It is creation simply gone awry. Mike Hertenstein has been interested in "rubble narratives" lately, and thinking of the Zone this way certainly tosses a new wrinkle into that discussion.

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Possible spoilers ahead...

I bought copies of Stalker, Mirror, and Solaris and I watched them this past weekend. It was my first time for viewing all three films. I've had a copy of the Criterion version of Andrei Rublev for several months, and I've been astounded at it, so naturally I've been curious to see some of his other work. I'm probably suffering from Tarko overload at the moment, and I need additional viewings and time to fully absorb these films, but here are some initial thoughts about Stalker, which I have now watched twice.

Stalker pushes all the right buttons for me. I am fascinated by it. One can see that Tarkovsky downplays the sci-fi aspects of the story, and I think this is smart of him. Whatever physical danger may, or may not, exist in the Zone, it's clearly secondary to the spiritual danger. The "spiritual combat" motif may strike some as insufficiently subtle, too allegorical, but it worked for me. The film certainly has a number of obviously Christian references, but I see aspects of Eastern spirituality too.

I loved the materiality of the film, the physicality. The tiny worm that crawls on Stalker's finger, as he lies prostrate on the ground, makes for just one of so many striking images. The early sequence in the Stalker's bedroom was phenomenal. How did Tarkovsky make the room look like that? Amazing.

Oddly enough, Stalker reminds me of Dreyer's film, Ordet. Both examine what it means to believe in something when "reason" says not to. To believe, in short, unreasonably. Like a child.

Is it just me, or did anyone else think that the ringing phone, and the way Writer answered it, in the room that was close by "the room," was funny? After Writer hangs up, all three men do a double-take. Pretty damn funny, if you ask me. Sort of like the line in Ordet about Kierkegaard. You don't expect humor in a Dreyer or Tarkovsky film, and when it comes, it comes and goes so quickly, and you are so unprepared for it, that you almost haven't time to laugh. You think, afterwards, "Hey, that was funny." It's a different brand of humor. Also, it seemed like every time (both times?) someone turned on a light in this movie, the light burned so brightly that the filament in the bulb broke. Bad communist lightbulbs, or has it some other, more profound, meaning?

The Stalker character is revealed, over the course of the film, as much more tender and innocent than he first appears. I mean when you first see him, he looks pretty rough. He leads people into this forbidden Zone area. He seems like a prototypical "guide," with all that this role usually entails in movies. But, by the end, when Stalker tries to wrest the bomb away from Scientist, Writer easily overpowers Stalker. Stalker is a wuss, physically. And emotionally. When Writer harshly accuses Stalker of being a con man, of playing on people's fears and insecurities, the hurt on Stalker's face is so palpable that Writer immediately realizes the falseness of the accusation, and backs away from it. Writer then dismisses Stalker simply as "God's fool." Near the end of the film, when we see the bedroom in Stalker's house again, we see a wall of books. Tarkovsky didn't show us the books before. Near the end, Stalker's wife says that Stalker is "not of this world," which is perfectly ambiguous, given the context of the film. Is this to be taken literally, i.e. that Stalker is not human, or as a figure of speech, i.e. in the religious sense?

Did I mention the dog? More humor, at the end. Stalker's wife basically says, "Anybody want a dog?" She also says that it's good that Stalker likes dogs. As in, this is new and unexpected. I like that.

In my opinion, this is a great, great film.

Mirror and Solaris are pretty good too. :-)

Mike McIntyre

Edited by tenpenny

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Great thoughts... I need to see this film again.

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In thinking about the four Tarkovsky films I have seen so far - Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Mirror, and Stalker - I'm struck by their individuality. Like an article of clothing, for any given viewer, one Tarkovsky film may 'fit,' but another, perhaps not as well. Naturally, it's useless for someone who wears a 'large' shirt size to upbraid a shirt for being a 'medium.' As well, being of one size doesn't mean that one can't appreciate or evaluate other sizes. But, when writing about any work of art, how can one deny that a certain je ne sais quoi slips into the writing, when the work fits perfectly with one's own artistic physiognomy?

As in art, so even in 'unruffled' philosophy - at least, according to an eminent practitioner, William James. In his first Hibbert Lecture at Manchester College, Mr. James said:

If we take the whole history of philosophy, the systems reduce themselves to a few main types which, under all the technical verbiage in which the ingenious intellect of man envelops them, are just so many visions, modes of feeling the whole push, and seeing the whole drift of life, forced on one by one's total character and experience, and on the whole preferred - there is no other truthful word - as one's best working attitude.

My own best working attitude is more congenial with Andrei Rublev and Stalker, than it is with Solaris and Mirror. To be sure, there are certain aspects and scenes in Solaris and Mirror that I'm in love with. But I'm talking about the films in their totality. And if I had to pinpoint one moment in the four films that brought me clarity, as to why I prefer Rublev and Stalker, it is the scene in Solaris where Sartorius confronts Kris Kelvin at Snaut's birthday party. Sartorius demands to know why Kelvin came to Solaris, since his only interest seems to be in lounging in the sack all day with his 'wife.' How, Sartorius wants to know, does this solipsistic activity square with Kelvin's ostensible duty? Sartorius is not exactly a sympathetic character, but I have to say that this particular observation struck me as 'dead on balls accurate' ("It's an industry term").

For all the glorious filmmaking in Mirror and Solaris, there is a strong inward-looking (self or nuclear family) component to them. At the risk of being called sexist, I will proffer that those with a more feminine spirit may favor Solaris and Mirror, whereas those with a more masculine spirit may favor Rublev and Stalker. It testifies to the greatness of Tarkovsky that his work can speak so fluently to both sides of this bifurcation.

In closing, perhaps I ought to reveal that my favorite American film is Treasure of the Sierra Madre. So you see that I'm basically a sucker for movies that depict three men on a quest...

Mike McIntyre

Edited by tenpenny

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Gregory Wolfe reflects on Stalker in the introductory editorial of the 20th Anniversary issue of Image journal. It's one of only a couple of pieces in that rather loaded issue that is currently available online.

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Two hours and forty-three minutes?! I am holding you people responsible for this.

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Two hours and forty-three minutes?! I am holding you people responsible for this.

Oh, come on. It's not that bad.

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