Andrew and I are about to jump into our next project: an analysis of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. As influential as he is, Tarkovsky only ever made eight full-length films (plus three shorts) — his career was cut short by cancer at 54 — and I've only seen two. I know Andrew and I are in agreement about the brilliance of his best-known work, the incredible Solaris, but most of the rest of his filmography we'll be experiencing for the first time.
A big part of Tarkovsky's legacy revolves around the significance of spirituality in his films — not a straightforward, conventional view of spirituality, but a curiosity about the mind's connection to reality. I stumbled across this quote from Bergman about the younger director: “Tarkovsky for me is the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”
In addition to gaining a better sense of how Tarkovsky helped pushed the limits of film into more abstract and uncertain representations of literal vs. emotional reality — the crowning achievement of my favorite film, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive — I'd like to take a look at how his films reflect the Soviet Union's historical and political state at the time, as well as talk about his unconventional style and how he developed his own type of film “language,” as Bergman calls it.
So the way Andrew and I are going to handle the back-and-forth on this project will go in two stages. For each film, both of us will offer a quick synopsis of our thoughts and and impressions, and then, alternating each week, one of us will pose a question that we want to discuss. Some inkling of the questions I'm interested in are above — Andrew, what do these good people have to look forward to hearing about from you?Our foray into the films of Oliver Stone was something born out of a negative space. I hated Savages so much that I wanted to go back and see if there was ever a good director in Stone to begin with or if the emperor was drifting nakedly from project to project. Thankfully, I was very much wrong, but I wanted to go with a director who brought me a sense of peace.
For me, going through Tarkovsky's films will be my sort of spiritual pilgrimage. I'm not religious anymore but remember the occasional, if fleeting, sensation of connecting with something both benevolent and beyond my understanding. That's the memory I hold on to when I think about the time I watched Solaris - true calm through connections not entirely understood. Given the turmoil of the Soviet Union's existence and its insistence on not advocating any religion I'm very interested in the way Tarkovsky's devotion plays out on film. At least in Solaris his spirituality played out in more fanciful scenarios than the way that another famously spiritual director, Krzysztof Kieślowski, did through his films.
On the educational front, my exposure to Russian cinema is inadequate but every film that I've seen (Solaris, The Cranes Are Flying, Battleship Potemkin) has been absolutely gorgeous. So my education will be both cinematic through Tarkovsky, but also historical as I try and get a grasp of what it meant to create art in the Soviet Union during this time. I just wish more countries could follow Russia's example with their great artists because all of Tarkovsky's films were made available free to the public.
We can't say that Communism never gave us anything, because it's made this project that much easier.
We'll be starting next week with Tarkovsky's student films The Killers, There Will Be No Leave Today, and The Steamroller and the Violin.