Okay, maybe it was the wrong night to watch this one. But yeesh, that was a painful, annoying, cool-looking, talky, tedious journey to a peculiar sort of hell.
Presumably others had a less agonizing, more enlightening ride?
Stalker (1979)Andrei Tarkovsky
Posted 21 November 2005 - 01:36 AM
Okay, maybe it was the wrong night to watch this one. But yeesh, that was a painful, annoying, cool-looking, talky, tedious journey to a peculiar sort of hell.
Posted 21 November 2005 - 03:57 AM
Posted 21 November 2005 - 04:25 AM
This is the same scene that is played by Mahmut in Distant in an effort to bore Yusuf enough that he will leave the room so that he can play the porn video for which he needs the requisite privacy. Earlier in Distant, Mahmut talked about how much Tarkovsky inspired him to a career in photography, and he has since realized that sort of aesthetic vision is artificial and unattainable. Mahmut's disaffection with Tarkovsky is sad, but understandable. Here is a great article on the demands of filming something like this.
At a thematic level, I like the science fictional atmosphere of the whole thing. It is acutely apocalyptic with an oddly political subtext, but somehow it remains spiritual and naturalistic. The article above does point out a few of its more prophetic aspects but as a whole the film doesn't succumb to the need to explain itself completely. Perhaps we could even call it "mythical." It is not, however, a "myth" in the sense of being an inherited cultural memory of "origins". Rather, it is the "myth" of an end before it really happens. (Which somehow seems different that typical "apocalyptic".) And it is "mythical" in the Chesterton sense. To quote GKC (via Mike H.):
"And the danger of these things [myths] being classified is that they may
seem to be comprehended. A really fine work of folklore, like The Golden
Bough, will leave too many readers with the idea, for instance, that this or
that story of a giant's or wizard's heart in a casket or a cave only 'means'
some stupid and static superstition called 'the external soul.' But we do
not know what these things mean, simply because we do not know what we
ourselves mean when we are moved by them."
"It seems strangely forgotten nowadays that a myth is a work of imagination
and therefore a work of art. It needs a poet to make it. It needs a poet to
criticise it. There are more poets than non-poets in the world, as is proved
by the popular origin of such legends. But for some reason I have never
heard explained, it is only the minority of unpoetical people who are
allowed to write critical studies of these popular poems."
Stalker has sat oddly in a strange corner of film history for precisely this reason. Tarkovsky seems to eschew his normal version of realism for a more profound and mythical one. Like Werckmeister Harmonies it is all the more potent because at its center lurks a visual metaphor that is inexplicable to both audience and director.
Posted 21 November 2005 - 11:50 AM
Although my wife tells me she likes this one. Which, considering her habit of fast-forwarding through movies she finds boring, and considering how dull I thought this particular movie was when I saw it several years ago, definitely leads me to think I should give it another go.
Posted 21 November 2005 - 12:31 PM
Posted 21 November 2005 - 12:40 PM
So, really, I don't think we should be silencing dissenting opinions (or banishing them to the rant room), but rather use it as an opportunity to "enlighten" each other about what we see in a particular film.
I for one am actually interested in seeing Stalker (one of the two Tarkovsky's they have at my local Rogers Video). What should I be looking for when I finally get around to watching it?
Posted 21 November 2005 - 12:49 PM
Anyway, as to Stalker, I'll see if I get the time to post something, but really, this film doesn't need my defense--it's overflowing with extended praise from many quarters. MLeary's post and his link to Nostalghia.com are solid points of departure if Ron is interested in taking them up.
Posted 21 November 2005 - 01:01 PM
To that end, I think Stalker will do the same for me, even though I enjoyed it the first time. I found myself surprisingly moved at the film's conclusion, though I'm not sure I could explain why at this point (having only seen it once). I actually have Stalker slotted for a repeat viewing sometime in the near future, so I will hopefully post a bit more detail when I see it again.
For now though, I guess I would venture a question or two: What in particular about Stalker made it painful and tedious? You mention it was cool-looking, and I agree - which is what I remember most about the film - it's images. Frankly, I remember little of what was said, but can still see a number of distinctive images. Did the talk get in the way of the images for you? How is it different in something like Rublev?
Anyway, just trying to spur a bit of discussion here. Like I said, I am hoping to see it again soon and post more specific elements I appreciate about the film.
Posted 21 November 2005 - 01:21 PM
Your initial comment Ron brought to mind Hoberman's recent piece on Bresson. Don't take this the wrong way, it is just what came to mind first and I am not intending this to reflect on your viewing habits or anything. (This is pace rather than contra, and intended to produce discussion.) But I think that what Hoberman says of Bresson can apply to some of Tarkovsky's films, and Stalker in particular:
States of Grace
Taste test: Two more master classes in sound and image from a giant of cinema
by J. Hoberman
October 4th, 2005 12:51 PM
Do this job long enough and you learn to accept certain realities. Some people will laugh at "Written on the Wind" and cry over "Sleepless in
Seattle"--instead of vice versa. There are reviewers who find Godard boring and think Lukas Moodysson is a genius. And although it is
tiresome to hear two-buck chuck extolled as Château Lafite Rothschild, you realize that hey, this is America--everyone's got an opinion, and
if it weren't for bad taste, many folks would have no taste at all. But I reach the edge of my tolerance in the case of Robert Bresson.
Bluntly put, to not get Bresson is to not get the idea of motion pictures--it's to have missed that train the Lumiére brothers filmed arriving at
Lyon station 110 years ago. The late French filmmaker made 13 features over the course of his 40-year career; each is a drama of faith so uncompromising as to border on the absurd. Bresson's actors do not act, they simply are; his favorite effect is the close-up. His movies may
be cerebral, but their effect is primarily emotional--or physiological. They naturally induce a state of heightened awareness. Some
might call it "grace."
I fully agree with Hoberman on the Bresson, grace, and the "to not get Bresson is to not get the idea of motion pictures" thing. It is very hard not to. The latter statement is radical and offensive, but true, and could also be applied to Tarkovsky. To not get something like Stalker is to miss out on the nature of sound and movement in film, to miss out on film's ability to create inscrutable yet meaningful and even prophetic images, and more broadly to miss out on the sort of artistry endemic to accepted cinematic classics.
Long story short, give it another try sometime. As John, I am keen to hear what your specific quibbles are with the film.
Edited by MLeary, 21 November 2005 - 01:24 PM.
Posted 21 November 2005 - 01:49 PM
: I'm certainly not banishing dissenting opinons, I just wonder how long an official thread
: for The Passion of the Christ or The Lord of the Rings that began by describing it as a
: "painful, annoying, cool-looking, talky, tedious journey to a peculiar sort of hell" would
: last here before it was retitled.
There you go with the hectoring again. Do try to answer people's questions instead of complaining about how they are asked, please. More discussion and less meta-discussion, etc., etc.
Plus, there is nothing in the title of this thread that calls the film "painful," etc. That's just part of Ron's original post. And if he can't have fun with Tarkovsky, then who CAN he have fun with?
: To not get something like Stalker is to miss out on the nature of sound and movement
: in film, to miss out on film's ability to create inscrutable yet meaningful and even
: prophetic images, and more broadly to miss out on the sort of artistry endemic to
: accepted cinematic classics.
Does one have to "get" this particular film, though, in order to "get" the "sort" of artistry of which it is an example? And what does "getting" it mean? Liking? Or merely understanding?
Posted 21 November 2005 - 01:49 PM
Thanks for the review, Doug. I've been looking to add Stalker to my library, but I've always been confused as to which version was the version to get.
Posted 21 November 2005 - 02:13 PM
First question, yes. I would argue that as Stalker is one of his more approachable films, one need "get" this film to "get" Tarkovsky. Same thing with Au Hasard..., or Heart of Glass, or any other key work by a truly esteemed director. It is a powerful and accessible example of an influential way of both doing and thinking about film, so "getting" this film will involve "getting" the artistry involved. And "getting" the generality about the artistry wouldn't be possible without actually spending the time "getting" the mechanics of the particular example through rote time and experience.
As far as what "getting it" means, I think about that often. The most definite thing I can conclude about the meaning of "getting it" is that people all tend to understand what "getting it" means. (Insert any number of funny follow-ups to this sentence.) In Hoberman's case, "liking" and "understand" are certainly involved.
"Getting it" doesn't always involve liking though. I "get" Tracy Emin and Lucien Freud, for example, but I sure don't like them. So I guess at a base level, "getting it" involves an appreciable understanding of something, and at the very least acknowledges why other people/critics ascribe value to it.
Posted 21 November 2005 - 02:17 PM
I have to say that I'm particularly proud to have perhaps contributed to getting the disc reprinted with the original mono soundtrack (and maybe Darren did, too?)...a bunch of us on a DVD forum in 2001 fired off a volley of protests at Ruscico and returned our DVDs en masse on account of their remix, and our efforts actually convinced them to reissue the disc with Tarkovsky's orginal soundtrack as an option.
Like the reviewer mentions above, the Stalker disc still has some minor problems (oh that Criterion would rerelease it), but its plusses definitey outweigh its minuses.
Edited by Doug C, 21 November 2005 - 02:17 PM.
Posted 21 November 2005 - 03:36 PM
And of course, that's the point of my precipitating post. I'm guessing I'm not the first film-lover (even nascent Tarkovsky fan) to have encountered STALKER (or any of his other films, for that matter) and been perplexed.
My response to this one is much like my initial response to SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR. Part puzzlement, part antagonism at having felt that acute level of boredom which I find so agonizing, part respect for the artist, part willingness to own those responses as subjective and transitory, part eagerness to get to the bottom of both the film and my response.
Hilarious! I guess I feel a certain solidarity with Yusuf!
I guess I'm still considering the possibility that Tarkovsky was reaching for myth, but didn't quite pull it off here. Clearly, these sorts of discernments probably ultimately remain rooted in subjective perceptions: one man's myth is another man's muddle. My current hunch is that the film is most successful at a strictly visual (or at least visual/aural) level, that it's a particularly demanding (due to its length) but sensually powerful work of art. But that at the level of character and narrative its opacity is perhaps a weakness: I know that Tarkovsky always aims to work away from conventional story-telling and narrative structure, but I wonder if sometimes that impulse serves him (or us?) poorly. When (after the fact of viewing the films for the first time) I read the screenplays for ANDREI RUBLEV or STALKER, it is clear that the story and character elements of the films are perfectly clear in the creator's mind, and I have the peculiar experience of saying, "yes, that's what happens in the film, it all seems so clear now," yet being convinced that there was almost no way of knowing that strictly by watching the films themselves. Is this what happens: Tarkovsky gets the narrative / characters / etc set clearly in his mind in the process of writing his original screenplay (quasi-"treatment"), then as he goes about the process of filming, desiring to be understated, indirect, "poetic," trims away or obscures elements which the audience really does need to make sense of the piece. Once one has immersed oneself enough in the film, and absorbed enough of the received opinions of the piece that are available in the literature, and read the screenplays etc, one's experience of the work is fleshed out, and the film becomes graspable (though never, hopefully, "explainable"), and one increasingly sees the work Tarkovsky intended to make, thought he had made, and that people familiar with the work have persuaded themselves actually exists on the screen. But I'm wondering if there's an inherent incompleteness to the films in and of themselves, if Tarkovsky has too much abstracted away from his conception, if the work has presumed too much access to what the director already knows. If the work becomes about its surfaces, and much of the sense of the thing must be supplied by interpreters. Which of course some viewers would see as no problem at all, but which I truthfully have to admit I see as a possible short-coming, aesthetically.
I guess I'm drawing from my own experience, of writing and rewriting and rewriting a script until it seems as good as I can make it. Then staging the piece, exposing it to an audience, who suddenly have fundamental questions about the play which seem perfectly obvious to me and everyone involved in mounting the production, and which the audience members can apprehend once they hear an explanation, but which I honestly and humbly have to admit should likely have been stronger in the finished piece, but which fell away in the process of creation because of the artists' "over-familiarity" with the piece, which caused us, frankly, to mis-communicate.
Over-arching all of this, for me, is the awareness that Tarkovsky was far more interested in being evocative than in being "clear," of making art rather than representation, that he is perfectly happy to render dream-like states rather than waking "reality," and that he is fully intent on creating works where the "meanings" and interpretations, and even the basic concrete events and circumstances, are willfully obscured to force the viewer into a more active engagement with the piece than would occur if those "givens" were in fact given to us. I love the fact that ANDREI RUBLEV draws me into a long-term relationship with itself by refusing to yield up its richest treasures on a first or second viewing: that is part of what makes it a masterpiece. And I more than half suspect that STALKER offers the same opportunity. But I also think that, if I don't allow myself to actually experience (and even express) the dissonance I experience in viewing the piece, if I simply submit reverently to the received opinion that "This is a Masterpiece" and to do anything but adore it only proves my inadequacy... Forget it! One thing good art does is to provoke: if we discount the legitimacy of a viewer's right to be provoked, we rob the art of an important source of its power. Without their provocative obscurity, Jesus' parables wouldn't be parables, and they wouldn't be art: to what extent STALKER is a parable I can't say, but let's not forget that frustration, even antagonism, is a perfectly legitimate (even necessary) response to such works.
So yes, I need to leave open the possibility that STALKER is not a perfect work. That Tarkovsky didn't fully incarnate the totality of his vision. That there are things in this movie that are flawed, self-indulgent, or just plain dumb. While always holding in mind the (very likely) possibility that elements which seem so may only reflect my own incomprehension. And the possibility that I would have received the work very differently on Tuesday morning, say, than I did on Sunday night.
No matter what, though, it looked cool.
Posted 21 November 2005 - 03:38 PM
Posted 21 November 2005 - 04:07 PM
I love this movie. I first heard about it in a thread about sci-fi movies on a tech forum, and the person who recommended it said that it was the film version of "Roadside Picnic", which is one of my favorite sci-fi writings. The movie, while *much* slower than the story, and with little of the "science", actually has alot of the same elements, namely the suspense and terror of moving through the Zone, and the Stalker's double-mindedness in loving and fearing the Zone. 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. He's not a strong leader, and so his success depends on the wisdom and self-control of his clients.
But the character of the Stalker isn't why I love this movie, and can't watch, for example, The Son, a film whose characters are just as complex and intriguing. What makes Stalker work for me where similar movies don't is the cinematic beauty of the the movie. I've always been a sucker for what the Victorians called, "the picturesque". 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. 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.
On a lesser, but related note, I have a huge enthusiasm for the post-apocalyptic. Videogames, paintings, books, comics, and of course movies.
Oh, and I *love* the mystery and surprise of the final scene (following the fate of Writer and Professor).
So, while I may not care for the style of Stalker per say, it's meditative pacing really does allow a very full satisfaction of my aesthetic tastes, and I'm sure I would get nowhere near the level of satisfaction from it that I do if it moved faster.
Posted 21 November 2005 - 04:42 PM
Yes, I like that Hoberman piece. The really intriguing (to me, at least) irony here is that I've never understood why people find Bresson difficult or frustrating: each of the three films of his that I've seen, I hugely appreciated on first viewing, and could never see why others found them confounding. They're artistically brilliant, and certainly have depths to be explored over many successive viewings and conversations, but they seemed both complete and completely satisfying on first viewing. And while I recoiled at the brashness of J. saying ""to not get Bresson is to not get the idea of motion pictures," it did fit with my own experience. What was not to get?
So I get a kick out of your extension of that observation to Tarkovsky, which I think is a perfectly legitimate place to take his comments. "To not get something like Stalker is to miss out on...", etc. 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...)
You ask about specific qualms re: STALKER, and I hope to oblige you eventually, but today my time has more than run out, I'll have to just toss out a few. 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. (I know Tarkovsky is all about sculpting in time, that he's trying to work on the way our brains are perceiving by elongating specific elements. I guess my response would be that the percption of time is going to vary widely from culture to culture, from viewer to viewer, and even at different parts of a given viewer's life, week or even day: he is intending to push our limits, and it should come as no surprise that in doing so he violates our limits from time to time. Indeed, is it even possible that he misjudges some of those durations, that a given effect might be miscalculated? I know it sounds arrogant on my part - who am I to argue with a genius? - but I think he errs in this regard, at times, and that some images overstay their welcome, while other elements can be underdeveloped. Still, even given that feeling, I remain willing to revisit the work to find ways to allow it to work better for me: the mountain is worth climbing.)
Too, I've read Tarkovsky raging against "symbols" and bald metaphor in his writings, and I shouted "Amen!" as I read that stuff. Like Tarkovsky, I am thrilled when images evoke complex responses, antagonized when they are flattened into symbology. So I'll confess serious annoyance when STALKER veered into territory that seemed to me so directly symbolic and metaphorical: the guy is notorious for contradicting himself (God bless him - "A foolish self-consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds"), and it seemed to me that he was doing some serious (and dire) self-contradicting here, failing his best insights. The black dog. The crown of thorns. Character names that seemed to make them emblems rather than humans. I felt real disappointment: this seemed almost juvenile, the opposite of the kind of subtlety I so appreciated in SACRIFICE and RUBLEV.
(This morning I read that Alexei German, the Russian director who Tarkovsky greatly respected, felt that the final image of THE SACRIFICE, where the boy waters the dead tree, "a banality for which a student would be refused entry to a directing course." I don't agree with him about that image, but that is precisely the sort of in-the-moment response I had at several points during my viewing of STALKER: that elements were either under-realized or over-stated, inept rather than ineffable.)
But please believe me: I'm not trying to pick a fight here. I love Uncle Andrei, am presently in the middle of a sustained adoration of RUBLEV, and reading all I can find on the guy's films. But I'd be lying if I pretended that, right now, I don't believe STALKER to be without serious flaws. I also love and respect all the folks on this forum who are Tarkovsky fans and STALKER afficionados: that's why I come here with my questions. As Anders intuited, I only threw up smoke to see if I could get somebody to come running to my assistance, not to make their eyes sting or their allergies to act up!)
I'll acknowledge that the post-game analysis of the symbols (dog, thorns, etc) makes it apparent that the one-to-one correspondences of the symbology is actually elusive upon reflection, which calms me down a little, but during the experience of the film I definitely felt like there was a secret code I was expected to break - and that's what I hate about simplistic allegory. The more I can take such things as inexplicable but evocative dream images, the better off I am.
There were also elements that seemed to me arbitrary, tacked on, ill-prepared-for. The wife's monologue.
Okay, now I really must go. The rest of my life beckons!
Posted 21 November 2005 - 06:01 PM
"What should Stalker be like in the new screenplay?"
"I don't know, you're the author, not I."
I see. Actually, I could see nothing, but that was the usual thing now. But even before the work started it became clear to my brother and me: if Tarkovsky makes mistakes, they are brilliant mistakes and worth a dozen correct decision by ordinary directors.
On a sudden urge I asked:
"Listen, Andrei, what do you need the science fiction in the film for? Let's throw it out."
He smirked: just like a cat that has eaten its owner's parrot.
"There! You suggested it, not I! I've wanted it for a long time, only was afraid of suggesting it, so you wouldn't take offense."
To make a long story short, next morning I was flying to Leningrad. I won't tell you how it was with Boris, because I'm writing not about us but about Andrei Tarkovsky. We wrote not a science fiction screenplay but a parable (if we understand a parable as a certain anecdote whose personae are typical of the age and carriers of typical ideas and behaviour). A fashionable Writer and a prominent Scientist go into the Zone where their most cherished dreams might come true, and they are led by the Apostle of the new faith, a kind of ideologist.
I returned to Tallinn ten days later. Andrei met me at the airport. We embraced. He asked: "Have you brought it?" I nodded, trying not to shake. At home he took the manuscript, retreated into the next room in silence and shut the door firmly behind him. The wives began to look after me, offered brandy (it was my birthday). Naturally, we couldn't eat anything.
Some time passed, perhaps an hour.
The door opened and Andrei came in. His face expressed nothing, only his moustache bristled as it always did when he was immersed in his thoughts.
He looked at us absent-mindedly, came up to the table, caught a piece of food with a fork, put it in his mouth and chewed on it. Then he said staring above our heads:
"The first time in my life I have my own screenplay."
Edited by Doug C, 21 November 2005 - 06:06 PM.
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