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Solaris (1972)

Andrei Tarkovsky

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#41 Ryan H.

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 09:34 PM

The SOLARIS remake is certainly defensible. I don't find it satisfying, but it's not a bad film.

I suppose one reason that Soderbergh's film doesn't sit so well with me is that the Tarkovsky film is stylistically very impressive, as one would expect from a cinematic storyteller as unique and striking as Tarkovsky. The slow, dreamlike imagery is both captivating and compelling; it feels like we are exploring the architecture of the mind.

Soderbergh's approach to SOLARIS, on the other hand, often feels quite conventional, which doesn't seem to work anywhere near as well given the story's focus on memory and illusion. I'm not suggesting that Soderbergh needed to make the film super-artsy or try to compete with Tarkovsky, but a more evocative, atmospheric approach would have gone a long way, an approach that isn't quite so prosaic.

Edited by Ryan H., 28 January 2011 - 09:40 PM.


#42 Tyler

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 06:34 PM

A.O. Scott's video review of Tarkovsky's Solaris.

#43 Ryan H.

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 10:23 AM

Dan Kois writes for New York Times Magazine:

In college, a friend demanded to know what kind of idiot I was that I hadn’t yet watched Tarkovsky’s “Solaris.” “It’s so boring,” he said with evident awe. “You have to watch it, but you won’t get it.”

He was right: I had to watch it, and I didn’t get it. I had to watch it — on a laserdisc in the university library — because the intimation that there was a film that connoisseurs knew that I’d never heard of was too much to bear. I didn’t get it because its mesmerizing pace was so far removed from my cinematic metabolism that several times during its 165 minutes, I awoke in a panic, only to find that the same thing was happening onscreen as was happening when I closed my eyes. (Seas roiling; Russians brooding.) After I left the library, my friend asked me what I thought. “That was amazing,” I said. When he asked me what part I liked the best, I picked the five-minute sequence of a car driving down a highway, because it seemed the most boring. He nodded his approval.

Forever after, rather than avoiding slow-moving films, I’ve viewed aridity as a sign of sophistication. Part of being a civilized watcher of films, I doggedly believe, is seeing movies that care little for my short attention span — movies that find ways to burrow underneath my boredom to create a lasting impression. I still remember watching Derek Jarman’s 1993 “Blue,” a movie that’s simply 79 minutes of narration over a screen colored an unwavering deep blue. (It’s available on DVD — “enhanced for wide-screen TVs,” thank goodness.)

Now, as a film critic, I find writing about stately, austere films difficult. Often, I scapegoat others for my own boredom via the reviewer’s best friend: the fabled “many viewers.” As in: “For many viewers” (as I wrote about one drama about the Kazakh steppes), “accidentally walking into a showing of ‘Tulpan’ would be a 10-minute nightmare of tractors and bad haircuts, followed by a 90-minute nap.”

[ . . . ]

Other critics, much smarter than me, write about these films with the kind of unfettered enthusiasm that I feel when writing about directors like Alfonso Cuarón or Lisa Cholodenko or Steven Soderbergh (except for his “Solaris” remake, obviously). They love the experience of watching movies that I find myself simply enduring in order to get to the good part — i.e., not the part where you’re watching the real-time birth of a Kazakh lamb, but the rest of your life, when you have watched it and you get to talk about it and write about it and remember it.

[ . . . ]

As I get older, I find I’m suffering from a kind of culture fatigue and have less interest in eating my cultural vegetables, no matter how good they may be for me. I don’t fool myself that aspirational viewing no longer has anything left to offer, that I’ve somehow absorbed the lessons Tarkovsky couldn’t teach me all those years ago. Yes, there are films, like the 2000 Taiwanese drama “Yi Yi (A One and a Two),” that enrapture me with deliberate pacing, spare screenplays and static shooting styles. I’ve watched “Yi Yi” five times and never once dozed off over 15 cumulative hours of low-key Taiwanese domesticity.


Glenn Kenny responds:

I don't want to spend a lot of time kicking and screaming over Dan Kois' May 1 New York Times Magazine "Riff" entitled "Reaching for Culture That Remains Stubbornly Above My Grasp," as it's just another representation, complete with references to "cultural vegetables," of the Cheerful Fake Middlebrow Philistinism That Refuses To Die, and nothing I can say will ever change said refusal. Even though the piece does have some novelty value: it piles up its unexamined cultural assumptions in such a relaxed way that the net effect is like Stephen Metcalf on Xanax, and it also throws in a "Hey, there's a TELEVISION SHOW I don't 'get' either" confession (a failed attempt to make the weirdly inverted snobbery go down easier), and some love-me-love-my-kids bullshit to boot. What the fug ever. What does give me pause is: Why is it that it seems lately whenever a self-styled film critic wants to evoke boredom, he or she reaches for Tarkovsky's Solaris? Were a bunch of these yoyos traumatized by that Felicity episode when they were in their teens? Cause honestly there's some stuff in Stalker that could be considered even more "boring" than anything in Solaris. And hey, if you want honest-to-goodness, actual bonafide art film doldrums, there are a few Angelopolous movies to which I can steer you. So why Solaris, which I recently showed to My Lovely Wife, hetetofore a Tarkovsky virgin (I know, I know; she'd never seen a Tarkovsky movie and I actually married her, what kind of self-respecting film snob am I anyway?), and which went down quite well with her; in fact she found it as moving and as disturbing as I'd imagine Tarkovsky wanted it to be. Now it so happens that My Lovely Wife, while incredibly brilliant (I can just hear her saying "Pshaw!" to that, but don't listen to her, she really is) would be the first to allow that her taste skews somewhat more to the mainstream than my own. And I realize that some might turn an accusing finger at me and say I'm indulging in love-me-love-my-wife bullshit (our union has yet to be blest with issue, so at least be glad you'll be spared the kid stuff for the foreseeable future), but hell, I'm making a point with what I have at hand, the point being that Solaris is only really difficult and inaccessible if you actually want it to be.

And the reason guys like Kois like to pick on it is the same reason Kois' master and model Metcalf was compelled to pick on The Searchers a few years ago: because it's revered, and because the New Mandarins like nothing better than to give what they consider a good kick in the shins to the revered and—mostly—to the people doing the revering. My wife and tens of thousands of other may have thoroughly and genuinely enjoyed and been moved by Solaris, but they're not gonna get the chance to write two pages in the Times magazine about it; now, that space is this week reserved for Dan Kois and his resentment. We have truly entered the age Lester Bangs predicted in 1977, an age when "along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each others' objects of reverence [...] whoever [...] seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation's many pains and few ecstasies." How nice to be reminded of this on a beautiful Sunday morning. Thanks, Dan, and thanks, The New York Times Magazine!



Edited by Ryan H., 01 May 2011 - 10:24 AM.


#44 SDG

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 03:56 PM

Posted Image
(head spinning from all the intellectual posturing)

Posted Image
(ducking and running before someone diagnoses just what sort of fake bullshit philistinism I'm guilty of in this post)

Edited by SDG, 01 May 2011 - 03:56 PM.


#45 vjmorton

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 07:49 PM

Posted Image
(head spinning from all the intellectual posturing)

Steve, I really don't appreciate this sort of fake bullshit philistinism. Blog posts and NYT essays are only as difficult or inaccessible as you want it to be. It really irks me when people (especially critics) use the term "intellectual posturing" as a (usually dismissive) negative descriptor when talking about an essay. "Intellectual posturing" has very little to do with the inherent qualities of the essay when you get down to it, and almost everything to do with the reader's approach to it. It speaks to an unwillingness to engage with the work (usually a kneejerk reaction to either pacing or duration), and then a desire to write this off as if it's somehow the essay's fault — "The essay failed to engage me" - rather than the other way around. It also usually assumes that the chief purpose of an essay (or other form of entertainment/art) is to amuse and divert you, the viewer, by use of smoke, mirror, bells & whistles, etc. In short, it's supposed to be FUN, as if fun were the highest goal one could aspire to. (Not saying that there's anything wrong with fun, mind you, only that the fun factor shouldn't necessarily be the be-all end-all criterion by which something is judged).

::pokerface::

#46 Persona

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 08:20 PM

Cause honestly there's some stuff in Stalker that could be considered even more "boring" than anything in Solaris.


Um, no, there really isn't.

And the reason guys like Kois like to pick on it is the same reason Kois' master and model Metcalf was compelled to pick on The Searchers a few years ago: because it's revered, and because the New Mandarins like nothing better than to give what they consider a good kick in the shins to the revered and—mostly—to the people doing the revering.


Or -- they really think it's a bad film experience regardless of the thoughts and appreciation of the people doing the revering (even if the thoughts and appreciation make sense).

#47 Tyler

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 08:25 PM

Cause honestly there's some stuff in Stalker that could be considered even more "boring" than anything in Solaris.


Um, no, there really isn't.


I wouldn't call it "boring," but the really long tracking shot of the creek while Tarkovsky's voiceover dad recites poetry is probably the kind of thing he meant.

#48 SDG

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 11:31 PM

::pokerface::

What is so awesome about your post, Victor, is that it is not only the ideal long-form riposte to my minimalistic comment, but also you used the "poker face" smilie which I only just noticed within the last day or so and have been longing for an opportunity to use, until you beat me to it. Not that I'm complaining, I got to use the cringe-and-cover smilie, which is enough emoticon creativity for one thread.
(if we had a saluting smilie, it would go here)

#49 vjmorton

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Posted 02 May 2011 - 12:09 AM

::pokerface::

What is so awesome about your post, Victor, is that it is not only the ideal long-form riposte to my minimalistic comment, but also you used the "poker face" smilie which I only just noticed within the last day or so and have been longing for an opportunity to use, until you beat me to it. Not that I'm complaining, I got to use the cringe-and-cover smilie, which is enough emoticon creativity for one thread.
(if we had a saluting smilie, it would go here)

well, we have this

::bow::

or this

=D>

or this

::cheer::

Also check Glenn's comment field. You might see a further surprise about my previous post.

#50 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 09:58 PM

Jonathan Rosenbaum has re-posted his review of that Tarkovsky film:

To me at least, the notion of spirituality in film has always been more than a little suspect. Filmmakers as diverse as Robert Bresson, Carl Dreyer, Leo McCarey, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini, and Michael Snow are frequently praised for their allegedly “transcendental” styles though it seems more appropriate to value them for qualities that suggest the opposites of spirituality and transcendence: the brute materiality of the worlds of Mizoguchi and Renoir, the physicality of McCarey and Ozu, the carnality in Bresson and Dreyer, the skepticism of Rossellini, the relentless mechanisms of Snow. If “pure” transcendence is what one is after, I’m afraid that even the more bogus spirituality of Disney, De Mille, and Spielberg may come closer to the mark.

I’m not trying to argue that a filmmaker’s religious beliefs are irrelevant to his or her art, but it does seem to me that none of the best filmmakers requires religious beliefs in order to be understood or appreciated. Bresson’s Jansenism may play some role in the selection and shaping of his plots, but divine providence is evident in neither the sounds nor the images of Au hasard Balthazar, and both Lancelot du lac and L’argent can easily be read as atheistic. Conversely, Dreyer’s Ordet and Rossellini’s Strangers (Viaggio in Italia) may both conclude with religious miracles, but this doesn’t mean that either Dreyer or Rossellini necessarily believes in them as religious miracles; both filmmakers, in fact, have made statements that suggest the contrary (and Dreyer, as we now know from Maurice Drouzy’s biography and other evidence, was not especially religious). John Huston’s remarkably precise film adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood is the work of a believer “translated” by a nonbeliever, and there is nothing in the film that suggests any obvious sort of betrayal.

But when we come to a spiritual filmmaker like Tarkovsky, the question of acceptance or rejection becomes a bit more complicated. I have to confess that, in his thinking about spiritual and holy matters, Tarkovsky often strikes me as pretentious, egocentric, and downright offensive; his sexual politics are Neanderthal (especially in Nostalghia and The Sacrifice), and his view of piety is generally neither attractive nor inspiring. Yet because he is a passionate, critical thinker about the world we live in and a poetic filmmaker whose images and sounds have the ring of truth, I find it impossible to dismiss him. Even when his films irritate or infuriate me, they teach me something in spite of my objections. . . .



#51 Tyler

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Posted 09 June 2011 - 12:41 PM

Audible is releasing Solaris: The Definitive Edition:

At last, one of the world’s greatest works of science fiction is available - just as author Stanislaw Lem intended it.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Solaris, Audible, in cooperation with the Lem Estate, has commissioned a brand-new translation - complete for the first time, and the first ever directly from the original Polish to English. Beautifully narrated by Alessandro Juliani (Battlestar Galactica), Lem’s provocative novel comes alive for a new generation.



#52 M. Leary

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Posted 22 June 2011 - 12:14 PM

Jonathan Rosenbaum has re-posted his review of that Tarkovsky film:


I kind of responded to Rosenbaum here, but it would really take a book to tackle the good and the bad in Rosenbaum's critique.

#53 John Drew

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Posted 22 June 2011 - 01:34 PM

I don't know if anyone else here visits the MUBI Fake Criterion Covers forum (I used to contribute before my old computer with the awesome photoshop program died), but someone there linked to artist Sam Smith's blogsite, where he details the process he went through for the new cover to the recent transfer of Solaris for Criterion's Blu-ray and DVD collection.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah, 22 June 2011 - 01:34 PM.


#54 andrew_b_welch

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 11:56 AM

This weekend I finally got around to watching Solaris for the first time, and I have to admit I was disappointed by it. It’s difficult for me to put my finger on exactly why, but I think it has everything to do with the length. By the end, I didn’t feel there was enough there to justify a two-and-a-half-hour plus runtime, at least not when compared with the richness of the much longer Andrei Rublev. Who knows, maybe a second viewing (because I do want to see it again eventually) will change my mind. But when I do finally revisit it, I’ll be sure to break it up over two nights. Maybe tackling it all in one go was my mistake.



#55 Tyler

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 12:08 PM

This weekend I finally got around to watching Solaris for the first time, and I have to admit I was disappointed by it. It’s difficult for me to put my finger on exactly why, but I think it has everything to do with the length. By the end, I didn’t feel there was enough there to justify a two-and-a-half-hour plus runtime, at least not when compared with the richness of the much longer Andrei Rublev. Who knows, maybe a second viewing (because I do want to see it again eventually) will change my mind. But when I do finally revisit it, I’ll be sure to break it up over two nights. Maybe tackling it all in one go was my mistake.



If you have the Criterion edition, the commentary track (by two Tarkovsky scholars) is really good.

#56 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 03:39 PM

Coincidentally, the local Cinematheque is doing a Tarkovsky series right now, and is hosting a double-bill of the two Solaris films two weeks from now.

#57 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 12:53 PM

This weekend I finally got around to watching Solaris for the first time, and I have to admit I was disappointed by it. It’s difficult for me to put my finger on exactly why, but I think it has everything to do with the length. By the end, I didn’t feel there was enough there to justify a two-and-a-half-hour plus runtime, at least not when compared with the richness of the much longer Andrei Rublev. Who knows, maybe a second viewing (because I do want to see it again eventually) will change my mind. But when I do finally revisit it, I’ll be sure to break it up over two nights. Maybe tackling it all in one go was my mistake.

Well while Andrei Rublev is admittedly a historical and religious epic, remember that Solaris is a science fiction film. And other than Stalker, it is one of the most meditative and philosophical science fiction films you could ever find. Out of all the Tarkovsky films I have seen, I've actually found it to be one of the best introductions to Tarkovsky for friends who have never seen his films before. It's actually probably one of the closest things Tarkovsky has done to a traditional film with a regular plot and linear storyline.

#58 vjmorton

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 03:04 PM

This weekend I finally got around to watching Solaris for the first time, and I have to admit I was disappointed by it. It’s difficult for me to put my finger on exactly why, but I think it has everything to do with the length. By the end, I didn’t feel there was enough there to justify a two-and-a-half-hour plus runtime, at least not when compared with the richness of the much longer Andrei Rublev. Who knows, maybe a second viewing (because I do want to see it again eventually) will change my mind. But when I do finally revisit it, I’ll be sure to break it up over two nights. Maybe tackling it all in one go was my mistake.

One potential problem SOLARIS has long had is that it starts off with a 20(?) minute sequence that has a very bad reputation as slow and boring, even among connoisseurs of Slow and Boring (the archival tape of Burton's interrogation). Did it turn you off, Andrew?

I must add that I don't agree with this criticism, as should be obvious when you look at the natural comparison scene from 2001 (the literally empty scene of Floyd briefing the scientists), which shows by negative example just how much is going on in this sequence. It's like a futuristic version of a religion show trial under Scientific Man, something Tarkovsky would have ... um ... some knowledge of. I don't think Tarkovsky likes Scientific Man. Good job Andrei, dying before you had to see the world of cloning and embryo manufacture.

#59 Tyler

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 03:08 PM

It's actually probably one of the closest things Tarkovsky has done to a traditional film with a regular plot and linear storyline.


Which is one of the reasons Tarkovsky didn't like Solaris himself. He hated genre conventions, and thought he didn't do enough to get away from them in Solaris, though he felt he did in Stalker.

#60 andrew_b_welch

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 03:31 PM

One potential problem SOLARIS has long had is that it starts off with a 20(?) minute sequence that has a very bad reputation as slow and boring, even among connoisseurs of Slow and Boring (the archival tape of Burton's interrogation). Did it turn you off, Andrew?

I must add that I don't agree with this criticism, as should be obvious when you look at the natural comparison scene from 2001 (the literally empty scene of Floyd briefing the scientists), which shows by negative example just how much is going on in this sequence. It's like a futuristic version of a religion show trial under Scientific Man, something Tarkovsky would have ... um ... some knowledge of. I don't think Tarkovsky likes Scientific Man. Good job Andrei, dying before you had to see the world of cloning and embryo manufacture.


Actually, I didn't have a problem with that part--I thought Tarkovsky did a really nice job of setting up the premise with this. It was a bit long, but I wouldn't say it was boring. What I was most frustrated by was the long chunk of freeway footage that followed it, and other moments like that. Obviously he has thematic reasons for doing this--natural world vs. man-made-world vs. Solaris-made world, and questions about what makes something "real"--but I just felt like he could have been more succinct.

Still, I wouldn't say I disliked Solaris. It was enjoyably unsettling, not to mention beautifully filmed, but I felt like he was stretching his material thin. Rublev is longer, but it also has more moving parts, more characters, more stories. This was a pretty simple, straightforward narrative that felt dragged out to me.





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