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Ron Reed

Stalker (1979)

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Persona   

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

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

I'm quite looking forward to it. It will happen sometime this week, and you know I'll report back soon.

I've also got Titus, which I haven't seen in years -- probably just as long as Stalker but I'm familiar with that five-star Netflix rental.

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Tyler   

I just finished Roadside Picinic, the novella on which Stalker is based. It uses more sci-fi conventions than Stalker did--Tarkovsky hated conventions and tried to steer away from them as much as he could; one reason he didn't like Solaris was that he felt it was too conventional. The time span in Roadside Picnic is much longer than in Stalker, although most of the big themes are present. Roadside Picnic has more speculation about where the Zone came from and what it means, and much of the plot involves the black-market industry created by stalkers taking artifacts out of the Zone. The characters are less archetypal than the characters in Stalker, too.

Anyone else read it?

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Persona   

This is a hard thread to read. I encourage anyone who has posted here to go back through your posts, hit the edit button and then hit "save changes." If you can do that for yourself, it would clean up a lot of the mess and help others like me who are late to the conversation.

Slight Spoilers Below.

Well, I honestly don't know what to say. I'm quite conflicted about Stalker. Actually, I'm more conflicted about my own experience with it than I am with the film itself.

Having been to Russia quite a few times, even before the collapse of communism, having been in all kinds of churches there and knowing what people of the Christian faith dealt with in those years, it's really admirable -- of the highest sort -- to think that Tarkovsky made this in 1979, almost a decade in front of Polish solidarity and glasnost but twenty years after Brother Andrew visited Moscow. I don't know what kind of freedom of speech was availble in 1979 in either the church or in art in general, but the story of the road to Emmaus, the pronouncement of unforgiveness while wearing a crown of thorns, the idea of a violent act bringing an end to the thing that might free us (a bomb in the zone), and the little girl with psychic powers -- once called a mutant, born of the Stalker, but obviously more powerful than the characters or viewer thought -- all of this leads me to believe that the Zone actually is a place of peace, restoration, Garden-like in its state of tranquility, and that the real world is the "rubble" world, a world afraid of change. The little girl is a representative of the next generation who is going to "feel" the Zone out before she arrives.

The Zone in the context of Soviet Russia seems to suggest that there are ideas on the other side of oppression, that there is visible peace in sight. Note how peaceful the Zone is. Note how when they arrive the Stalker immediately feels a connection to the land. He feels like he's come home. It is humanity's natural state to desire freedom from oppression, whether from tyranny or more suggestive oppression in lack of freedom of speech or political correctness. He feels at home here, and he feels a peace, yet every step is feared. It's a life he's not known before. Sure, it's in color, but there are going to be pitfalls and traps along the way. But it is a place he wants to navigate, because the human heart longs for liberation.

These are some intense reasons in the narrative structure and mystery of the Zone to fall incredibly in love with everything Tarkovsky lays out here in 1979. I haven't even gotten to the high-level, immense beauty of the artistry, the intensity of the bedroom and the marriage in this context, the magnetic visuals.*

But I can understand Ron's comments in starting the thread, at least to a degree. Moments definitely have a trance-like, hypnotic feel, and after a bit you are simultaneously enjoying the mesmerizing scenes while wishing for it to move on at the same time. That could be a reason I love this quote from earlier in the thread:

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.

It tried my patience at times, to be sure. But in reflecting on it after only one viewing, I have no doubt I'll be visiting again -- especially after the final scene, where a lot of the film came together for me.

*Btw, as one of those who probably favors Moodysson over Bresson -- as one of those labelled "doesn't get film," approaching it from the aesthetic of understanding von Trier over/latter than Tarkovsky, one can easily see von Trier's love for Stalker when viewing The Element of Crime (which has been called here a "yellow tinged piece of crap"), Zentropa, and most notably, Antichrist, where Eden might be the opposite of the Zone, but their landscapes are ever so similar.

PS Was the little girl reading a Bible in the end or did I read too much into that really quick scene? She's reading a book of some sort, and it looked like a Bible to me. If so, I'm surprised Tarkovsky didn't end up in jail after making Stalker.

Edited by Persona

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Tyler   

PS Was the little girl reading a Bible in the end or did I read too much into that really quick scene? She's reading a book of some sort, and it looked like a Bible to me. If so, I'm surprised Tarkovsky didn't end up in jail after making Stalker.

FWIW, the impact of the Monkey (little girl) character in Roadside Picnic is significantly different.

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Persona   

Well you might as well spoil it because it is highly doubtful I will read the book.

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This is a hard thread to read. I encourage anyone who has posted here to go back through your posts, hit the edit button and then hit "save changes." If you can do that for yourself, it would clean up a lot of the mess and help others like me who are late to the conversation.

I'm glad you made this comment, because it caused me to go back through the thread, thinking I'd posted in it. I haven't -- I'm sure I've commented on the film elsewhere here; it was an amazing viewing experience at the National Gallery of Art, and, like Doug, one of the top few filmgoing experiences of my life -- but the depth of thought an analysis in this thread is wonderful.

How sad, then, that most of the main participants aren't active here any longer. I love this place, but man, this thread is the tops. We still have good discussions here, but not quite on this level.

'Course, maybe it's the movie, and not those discussing it, that's key to the thread's success...

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Persona   

I may have been wrong about being able to clean up the posts so easily. Still, with a little effort, it can be done. If you've posted here before, I still encourage you to try.

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Tyler   

Well you might as well spoil it because it is highly doubtful I will read the book.

Basically

the book takes place over a long period of time, and while Monkey does at first have the kinds of powers she shows at the end of Stalker, as she grows up, you see her become less and less human (her monkey fur becomes thicker, she doesn't talk, etc.)

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Persona   

Whoa! That is bananas!

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So I saw this for the first time last weekend, then over the last few days, I read through this convoluted but quite excellent discussion of the film on this thread. I still can't help wondering at how much these Tarkovsky films stay with you. I'm ashamed to admit I'm still used to seeing films at the theater or rentals with friends, and then simply forgetting about the film oh say ... 30, 60 minutes later? Andrei Rublev is both haunting & unforgettable and is already demanding me to see it again, more slowly next time (and it was a pleasure to see Andrei Rublev again as the writer in Stalker). Solaris is one I'm excited to show to some of my science-fiction-loving friends who have always asked me why I don't watch more of their favorite genre. It'll serve as an example of what I am interested in. Find me more films like THIS, and I'll watch them with you. Now, Stalker will be another one.

I suppose I'm still pondering why the Stalker really does seem to believe what he is doing is good. He says a couple times that the people he helps (or leads) need to have faith or belief, and that the number of people who do is shrinking.

Also, I was impressed with the story itself which takes first a fairly simple science fiction/fairy tale idea - a higher power that will grant you your innermost desire - and then turns it around by applying the Christian understanding of our world, that are deepest desires, what our hearts most desire is not good. Our hearts, in and of themselves, do not ultimately desire what is good. Thus, a magical room that grants you your deepest desires would actually be a very terrible thing. From the Professor's talk, and his debates with the Writer, it seemed like he was involved in Science. But he could have just as easily come from Seminary.

... and yet, I believe that the Stalker is good, and actually believes leading people to the Zone, and to this room in the Zone, is a good thing. And somehow, I trust his beliefs and his character.

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Persona   

35 mm print imported from Russia playing in Chicago at the Siskel Film Center July 29, 30 and Aug. 2.

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Persona   

35 mm print imported from Russia playing in Chicago at the Siskel Film Center July 29, 30 and Aug. 2.

I might need to go to that.

The thought has crossed my mind. I'll be heading that direction a couple of times between this summer and fall. Probably need to firm up my dates according to whatever films will be playing at the time.

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Attica   

Here are the excerpts from theTarkovsky's diary that deal with Stalker's production problems .... as touched on in the Solaris thread.

August 26 1977

A lot has been happening. Total disaster, so conclusive that one actually has the sense of a fresh stage, a new step to be taken - and that gives one hope. Everything we shot in Tallinn, with Rerberg, had to be scrapped twice over. First, technically; for a start the Mosfilm laboratory processing of the negative (the last of the Kodak). Then the state of instruments and gear.

Konoplyov, the chief engineer, is responsible for that.

Rerberg is responsible as well, but for other reasons - has has made a mockery of the principles of art, of talent. He decided that talent was tantamount to himself- and therefore he degraded and destroyed it, as he did himself; through drink, lack of faith, baseness and vulgarity. He's a disreputable whore.

As far as I am concerned, in other words, he is a corpse.

I have come to an agreement with L. I Kalashnikow. He is a conscientious professional, potentially capable of far greater things than Rerberg because he wants tasks for the sake of finding solutions. For him the failure to find a solutions would be a kind of artistic impotence. The important thing is to have tasks; and he certaily is going to have those.

We stopped dead for an entire month, the day before we were due to start work on Salker. That being so, now everything is going to be different; cameraman, set designer, script (Arkady and Boris are trying to rewrite it at the moment, because of the new Stalker, who, instead of being some kind of drug dealer or poacher, has to be a slave, a believer, a pagan of the Zone).

So we're starting all over again. Have I the energy?

April 7, 1978

In mid-May we shall start - for the umpteenth time - to film STALKER. ....... I must make the film, and take measures against Knoplyvov. (Letters to the Central Committee and State Control Commission.)

April 9

I have a coronary. Now I shall have to spend two months recovering, Stalker is bewitched.

April 15

What am I to make of it all?

1)Faulty film three times running. 2700 metres (Rerberg)

2) After the cameraman and the production manager were replaced Kalashnikov refused to go on working and walked out, having taken 250 meters.

3)I sacked Boim for being drunk

4) I sacked Abdusalimov for behaving like a bastard.

5) No money forthcoming for a two-part picture

6) Shooting has to begin (or rather, carry on) in May - and on the 5th - 6th I have a coronary.

June 28

I spent a month in the sanatorium. Miserably depressing......... I hope to goodness this expedition is going to sort itself out. It's the second time we've been here.

Dec 23, 1978

For some time now I have had the feeling, which is becoming more and more acute, of being on the brink of a period of tragic trials, of foundering hopes. And this is at a moment when I am possessed as never before by the urge to create. I am working on the soundtrack, I hope the music will be dones soon...... It is turning out rather long, but I think in the end the length will be modified as it needs to be. The picture is coming together. It is new for me in two ways - for one thing it is simple in for, for another it breaks with the traditional approach to the functions of film as such. What I am trying to do in it is tear apart the way we look at the present day, and turn to the past, during which mankind made so many mistakes that today we are obliged to live in a kind of fog. The film is about the existence of God in man, and about the death of spirituality as a result of our possesing false knowledge. After Stalker I hope to be able to make Italian Journey, provided there is no row over Stalker.

Actually I feel there will be.

January 1, 1979

..... I cannot go on like this. I don't know how I am to pay off my debts. Nor how I am to make Stalker they obviously won't accept it ( unless I make significant changes, which, whatever happens, I am not prepared to do) unless of course a miracle happens. Or perhaps I have to believe that they will accept it, without any difficulty, and that everything will be all right? All that I am left with is faith and hope, against all common sense. And then what.....

.... Mosfilm will stick by their rights. And nobody is going to give me permission to leave before I have made the alterations to Stalker. So that amounts to two years of misery;...... it is going to be hell for them. What can I do; only pray and believe. The most important thing of all is this symbol, which is not given to us to understand, only to feel. To have faith in spite of everything. To have faith.

Feb. 10, 1979

Lord I feel you drawing near, I can feel your hand upon the back of my head. Because I want to see your world as you made it, and your people as you would have them be. I love You Lord, and want nothing else from you. I accept all that is yours, and only the weight of my malice and my sins, the darkness of my base soul, prevent me from being Your worthy slave, O lord. Help me Lord and forgive me.

An image is an impression of the Truth, which God has allowed us to glimpse with our sightless eyes.

I think Stalker really is going to be my best film. That is good to know, but nothing more. Or rather, it makes for greater confidence. It does not for a moment mean that I have a high opinion of my films. I don't like them - there is so much in them that is fussy, ephemeral, false. (Less in Stalker than in others). Which is merely because other people's films are so much worse. Is that pride on my part? Perhaps it is. But it is also the truth.

.... What a great joy it is to feel the presence of the Lord.

May 27 , 1979

I have invitations to take Stalker to Kiev, Leningrad, Siberia, Tallinn, etc.

Edited by Attica

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My first time through Stalker, I wasn’t sure what to think. I was a little disappointed because I felt that Tarkovsky had broken a cardinal rule of storytelling—don’t raise expectations you have no intention of fulfilling. What my second time through showed me, though, is that this wasn’t carelessness—it was the whole point of the movie. In order for us to feel Stalker’s devastation, our expectations had to be as high as his. And as he tells Writer and Professor near the beginning, what happens in the Zone has nothing to do with the Zone itself, but with the people traveling through it. So if Stalker’s two companions are actually faithless, then it would make sense that nothing happens to them—they don’t believe there’s anything there to harm or help them.

The ending is much less random from this angle. It’s confirmation for us that the stories about the Zone are in fact true, and that there is Something out there beyond what you can explain or experience with your senses.

That’s how I read it anyway.

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Attica   

The ending is much less random from this angle. It’s confirmation for us that the stories about the Zone are in fact true, and that there is Something out there beyond what you can explain or experience with your senses.

That’s how I read it anyway.

possible spoilers

That's close to how I read it as well. I'd also take it a step further and say that at the start of the film the child was portrayed as being an invalid because of Stalker's journeys into the zone affecting his offspring, yet at the end of the film we find out that the zone's impact on the child had also given her an extraordinary gift.

Edited by Attica

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Ron Reed   

Zona, by Geoff Dyer (Pantheon). In Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 film "Zona" (better known in English as "Stalker"), an outlaw-cum-shaman known as Stalker escorts two men, named Writer and Professor, through an uncanny, Chernobyl-like Aone in order to reach The Room, where innermost wishes are supposedly granted. Dyer's characteristic blend of fitful but astute scholarship, witty irreverence, and autobiographical digression (in footnotes that creep up the page) is here devoted to "summarizing the action of a film almost devoid of action." Cavorting from Wordsworth to "Where Eagles Dare," Dyer enacts in his light-footed prose what he considers to be "the most distinctive feature of Tarkovsky's art: the sense of beauty as force." Long asides on his own as yet unfulfilled wishes (for a threesome, for more literary accolades) will perhaps test the indulgence of even loyal fans."

The New Yorker, April 30, 2012

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Some quick thoughts I posted last week on Letterboxd, after sitting down and watching the Criterion disc...

Quote

STALKER is quickly becoming one of my favorite films. There are movies you watch, where the images are so strong, and the ideas expressed are so overwhelming, that they invade your dreams. I've had images from STALKER pop up in dreams since I first saw it in May. After watching it again yesterday, almost all of my dreaming moments last night revolved around this film. At years end, this may top my list of films seen for the first time. I definitely believe these lines of dialogue won't be topped by anything else I see this year...

" I was sure I'd be happy with him. I knew there'd be a lot of sorrow, but I'd rather know bitter-sweet happiness, than a grey, uneventful life. Perhaps I invented all this later. But when he come up to me and said: "Come with me", I went. And I've never regretted it. Never. There was a lot of grief, and fear, and pain, but I've never regretted it, nor envied anyone. It's just fate. It's life, it's us. And if there were no sorrow in our lives, it wouldn't be better, it would be worse. Because then there'd be no happiness, either. And there'd be no hope. "

 

Also, in doing some follow up research, I came across some news items that WGN and Sony produced ROADSIDE PICNIC, a pilot for a new series in 2017, which seems more closely associated with the Strugatskiy brothers novel, than Tarkovsky's interpretation.  WGN has since passed on the pilot, but there's talk that AMC may pick it up. This link was the only one I could find that still had the trailer available to view.  YouTube and other sites have had to take it down.

http://vpoisk.tv/9761187/

 

Edited by John Drew

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The Criterion edition is so gorgeous. I gone from admiring the movie to loving it. 

And as a big Radiohead fan, I'm pretty sure I've discovered the inspiration for the cover art and title of A Moon-Shaped Pool.

STALKER moon shaped pool.png

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StephenM   

Got to see this on a big screen on a restored print a few weeks ago.  I'd seen it before, but still: Magnificent.  

So many details I had forgotten--the dog, the cup moving at the very beginning (while the daughter is asleep), the ringing telephone (so stunning at first, perhaps a theophany, then immediately domesticated--just a wrong number), the Stalker's wall covered in books (his wife's?), the wife's monologue (reconfiguring these men's search for meaning with some hardwon feminine wisdom), and the faint stirrings of Ode to Joy right at the end.  In the Zone, Tarkovsky is constantly bringing the four elements--air, earth, fire, and water--together in combinations that seem to positively vibrate with primal meaning and mysticism.  But in the "real world" the water is just puddles on the ground, the air is choked with pollution, and fire is machine-made; the industrial world has not just lost a feel for the environment, but concealed the true life and import of the very elements of creation.  And yet, the elements are still there, if anyone would look.

One of the greatest movies ever made.

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paeng   

Very difficult to appreciate, but I'll give it another shot during the next few days.

 

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