Archive for Andrei Tarkovsky

Page Seventeen Goes Mad in Russia

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2023 by dcairns

Upon a paper attached to the narrative which follows, Doctor Hesselius has written a rather elaborate note, which he accompanies with a reference to his Essay on the strange subject which the Manuscript illuminates.

The reasons behind such strange and sinister invitations to Kaluga were becoming obvious. The intention was to set up a psychiatric examination not for the son but for the father – which is why they were not interested in seeing my wife. It was by now a notorious practice that persons who aroused the displeasure of the authorities without actually breaking the law could suddenly be made to undergo psychiatric examinations. It was usually done on the pretext of a routine check of fitness for military service and the victims were summoned to their local draft office for this purpose. This had recently happened to a friend of mine in Moscow. For a long time he had been feuding with the post office about the disappearance of registered letters he had sent abroad. After he had tried to serve a writ on them through the courts he was summoned by his draft board for a medical examination which turned out to be in fact psychiatric. There was also a certain case in which a person known for his dissident views was taken from the draft board straight to a mental hospital. General Petr Grigorenko and Ivan Yakhimovich, whose writings had been published abroad, are being held in mental hospitals. I also know of attempts to dismiss works by victims of Stalin’s terror about the forced labour camps as ‘psychopathological’. At several meetings to discuss ideological questions, it had been stated that a number of authors, because of the suffering they had experienced, had developed ‘obsessions’ with such themes.

Ivan turned out to be a character of this kind. And when I read Bogomolov’s story these things took hold of my imagination. However, that was as far as I could go with the author. The emotional texture of the story was alien to me. Events were related in a deliberately restrained style, almost in the tone of a report. I could not have transferred such a style to the screen, it would have been against my principles.

We crouched in our slit trench under the pink, fluttering leaves of the olives, and watched the fires come closer, and the night slowly passed. Then at four o’clock we learned that the Headquarters was going to be evacuated after all, and that we were not to be sacrificed. We started up our motor bikes, kept as close as we could to the armoured car that had brought the news, and by God’s mercy avoiding the panic-stricken directed from cover at anything that moved, reached the field with its rabble of shocked and demoralised soldiery — officers separated from their men, and men from their officers.

When the clatter, and then the shouts, came from the courtyard, the loom stopped abruptly, and with it the soft chatter from the women. Moravik came awake with a snort and a stare. My mother was sitting very straight, head lifted, listening. She had dropped her shuttle. I saw her eyes meet Moravik’s.

Some few years earlier Rex’s foolhardiness had landed him in a Soviet prison, and the elderly French exile had put aside his peaceful existence as art connoisseur and dilettante to search for him in Russia. Together they had learned the dangerous secret of ‘The Forbidden Territory’ and travelled many thousand versts pursued by the merciless agents of the OGPU.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to witness a materialization. That means you will see something appear in space that was not previously there. At first it will appear as a vaporous form, but finally it will be a solid body, which anyone present may feel and handle–and, for example, shake hands with. For this body will be in human shape. It will be a real man or woman–which, I can’t say–but a man or woman without known antecedents. If, however, you demand from me an explanation of this materialized form–where it comes from, whence the atoms and molecules composing its tissues are derived–I am unable to satisfy you. I am about to produce the phenomenon; if anyone can explain it to me afterward, I shall be very grateful. . . . That is all I have to say.”

Seven paragraphs from seven page seventeens from seven books purchased from Edinburgh’s secondhand bookshops. Images sourced from a Google search for “Russian outsider art.”

Carmilla by Sheridan LeFanu, from The Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories edited by Leslie Shepard; A Question of Madness, by Zhores and Ray Medvedev; Sculpting in Time by Andrei Tarkovsky; Naples ’44 An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth by Norman Lewis; The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart; The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley; A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay.

Stalky and Co Inky Dinks

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2022 by dcairns

Or Sinker-nicities? Mark Sinker’s BFI Screen Classics monograph on Lindsay Anderson and David Sherwin’s IF…. helpfully situates the film in the tradition of public school fiction. While Tom Brown’s Schooldays emphasizes knuckling under and discipline, Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky and Co celebrates defiance and rule-breaking. Kipling, of course, would posthumously supply Sherwin with a title, suggested by the production company secretary, when it became necessary to produce an inoffensive dummy script to con some school into supplying locations.

At this, my psychic ears perked up, as I had just encountered an unexpected reference to this work in the afterword to the Strugatsky Brothers’ Roadside Picnic. This is the work that was adapted, loosely but recognizably, by Andrei Tarkovsky to give us STALKER.

The book’s original title doesn’t sound very inspiring, but then when you find out what it means it’s VERY inspiring. The Zone is a strange, perilous place marked by the traces of an extraterrestrial visit. Objects have been left behind, some valuable and useful, all mysterious, along with weird areas of gravitational and other disturbance which can kill the unwary. A character eventually likens it to a roadside picnic: the aliens came, did whatever they had to do, and left, abandoning various unwanted items, and we are the ants or squirrels who come along afterwards and are baffled by the residue, its origins and purpose a total mystery.

Tarkovsky wasn’t taken by this explanation and omitted it from his film, allowing the aliens to seem more like God, and the humans’ relationship to them not quite as hopeless — though we’re still largely in the dark. He cut lots of other fun stuff too, like the specific artefacts, such as the mysterious “empties” — sets of two discs, not touching, but fixed in position relative to one another, like the two ends of an invisible cylinder. You can pass your hand between the discs, but you can’t separate them. A brilliantly baffling object or objects.

In his afterword afterwards, Boris, the surviving Strugatsky, is appreciative of Tarkovsky’s film, and tells of the novel’s struggles with the Soviet censors. He also explains that the name “stalker,” given to those brave poacher-smugglers who sneak into the Zone to retrieve empties and other valuables, derives from Kipling’s Stalky and Co, but he doesn’t explain why they thought this was a fitting name. A stalker, in hunting terminology (the criminal meaning had not yet been invented), is a very different rural occupation from a poacher, though some people may hold both occupations.

It was in reading about Stalky and Co in Sinker’s monograph that I flashed on why the Strugatskys (Strugatskies?) poached their title from old Rudyard. Stalky and his friends, being disobedient and rebellious, are always going “out of bounds” — heading into areas of the surrounding countryside declared off limits by the school authorities. It all made sense.

The word “stalker” thus entered the Russian language, but pronounced pseudo-phonetically, “stulker.”

Sinker, a kind of critical stalker himself, heading into forbidden terrain and bringing back intriguing and valuable stuff, explains also that for Kipling, the rebelliousness of Stalky & his chums is simply a testing of incipient adult resilience — the real public school rebels all went on to become pillars of the British Empire. And so with Mick Travis and his crusaders — they can be absorbed by society with ease, as we see in the non-sequel sequels. And even Anderson & Sherwin’s gleeful depiction of school shootings can be absorbed and enjoyed by the establishment, such as pig-bothering pm David Cameron. The system co-opts rebellion — that’s what it’s designed for. Redirecting revolution is a more powerful tool than straight repression, perhaps?

Pg. Seventeen IV: The Return of Michael Myers

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2022 by dcairns

Porter rummaged through the stock of Edison’s old films, searching for suitable scenes around which to build a story. He found quantities of pictures of fire department activities. Since fire departments had such a strong popular appeal, with their colour and action, Porter chose them as his subject. But he still needed some central idea or incident by which to organise the scenes of the fire department in action . . . Porter therefore concocted a scheme that was as startling as it was different : a mother and child were to be caught in a burning building and rescued at the last moment by the fire department.

Loading the camera is a simple operation, fully described in any instruction book.

When all this was arranged and we had heard mass, we commended ourselves to God and his blessed Mother, and began our voyage.

Here is a conversation with a child of four who was, in my view, on the way to literacy. He did not know letter shapes but he had a vocabulary big enough for him to understand verbal jokes, rare in four-year-olds. Television gave us a talking point.

His character moved me by its intensely dramatic quality, which I found far more convincing than those personalities which are revealed in the gradual process of human development, through situations of conflict and clashes of principle.

As against the dramatic actor, who has his character established from the first and simply exposes it to the inclemencies of the world and the tragedy, the epic actor lets his character grow before the spectator’s eyes out of the way in which he behaves . . . The actor Chaplin . . . would in many ways come closer to the epic than the dramatic theatre’s requirements. (Brecht, 1964a, p.56)

At first glance this aspect of our discussion may seem a far cry from the role of the camera as voyeur, the image with which I started and which seems to me so important in the evolution of the film medium. Motion pictures brought to the still photograph the only element, the reproduction of motion, that was lacking to simulate life itself. No matter how complicated an art (indeed, a fine art) the film may become, the elementary charm of witnessing life as it happened or may still be happening outstrips in closeness to reality, t life ‘as it is’, any other medium containing representations of the natural world. The visual image is more immediate in communicative terms than the word, either printed or spoken — and anyway, for some time now the film has also possessed the spoken word, absorbed it. As for the visual imagery of the stage, it exists within a literally confined space of which the spectator is always tacitly aware, no matter how many mobility devices are used to create a sense of spatial expansion. The stage cannot hope to achieve what the film achieves without effort: the illusion of being a window opened on the world itself. And not only does the world move; the window also moves in the world.

Seven passages from seven page seventeens from six books abandoned in my office at work and one found at home. I should note that the description of Edwin S. Porter’s methodology seems to me to be probably not quite accurate.

RIP Gavin Millar.

The Rise of the American Film by Lewis Jacobs, quoted in The Technique of Film Editing by Karel Reisz & Gavin Millar; How to Film: A Focal Cinebook by G. Wain; The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Díaz; The Box in the Corner: Television and the Under-Fives by Gwen Dunn; Sculpting in Time by Andrei Tarkovsky; Bertholdt Brecht, quoted in The Brechtian Aspect of Radical Cinema, essays by Martin Walsh; Underground Film: A Critical History by Parker Tyler.