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‘Stalker’: Into the Zone with Geoff Dyer

I am reading Geoff Dyer’s new book “Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room”, a 200-plus page revery on Andrei Tarkovky’s Stalker. For many people, Tarkovsky is the kind of director that you have to make an effort to appreciate. But you do so because it is “art.” His long takes, enigmatic dialogue and refusal to follow linear narrative can be exasperating. It can also be dreamlike, hypnotic and, dare I say it, spiritual. Tarkovsky’s cinema eye focuses on the textures of images, their metaphysical heft (or lack of), the spaces between things and the sense of mystery and dread that can fill the emptiness where things aren’t. The sound of water dripping is a recurring sonic motif in Tarkovsky’s films - a liquid metronome in which we are reminded of life’s craving for fulfillment. We ache for what evaporates.  

Tarkovsky takes his sweet time in order to anilihate it. Within his moving pictures, there is a stillness that can be close to unbearable. Godard said cinema is the truth at 24 frames per second. For Tarkovksy, the truth is frozen in time and he wants to slow down long enough to catch it. But once caught, truth becomes victimized by man and no longer resembles itself. The truth remains true when it is just beyond reach. It is what Stalker is stalking.

Dyer writes from a position of immersion. He’s not an academic writing objectively about a movie. Stalker haunts and has transformed him. And I can dig it. Tarkovky’s masterpiece is like a psychedelic without the hallucinations. It bends the mind toward a kind of Buddha-like clarity, that nowness when you SEE things as they are. You are in the “zone.” And if that sounds deadly serious, it’s not. Dyer writes from the “left-hand school.” He finds humor in the heaviness, understands the absurdity of so much of what human beings do and understands that within Tarkovky’s existential bleakness, there are moments of elation, transcendence, joy and the occasional cosmic pratfall.

Stalker is both the subject of Dyer’s writing and a jumping off point. The gravity of the film keeps him within its orbit but doesn’t constrain him. The tangents are as unexpected as they are entertaining. Dyer knows how to riff. Watch the movie and read the book. The combination of the two creates a third experience that is extremely gratifying.

On the Tarkovsky tip, Michal Leszczylowski’s fine documentary Directed By Andrei Tarkovsky takes you into the director’s film making process - a process he called “sculpting in time.” It’s definitely worth your time to watch it.

Posted by Marc Campbell
05:24 pm
Andrei Tarkovsky’s first film: ‘The Steamroller and the Violin’ from 1960

In 1959, a Polish journalist, Zdzislaw Ornatowski paid a visit to the Russian film studio Mosfilms. He wanted to meet the next generation of film-makers and hear their plans for the forthcoming decade. Amongst those Ornatowski met was a young and ambitious man, who discussed his forthcoming graduate film The Steamtoller and the Violin. Ornatowski was so impressed by this youngster that he made him the focus of his article, “Films of the Young”. In it he interviewed the young film-maker about his intentions for making his diploma film, The Steamroller and the Violin

“It will be a short-feature film. My original idea was not to use this screenplay for a full-length feature - that would ruin the entire composition. The story in the film is very simple. The action takes place within one day, the dramaturgy is without sharp conflicts, it is non-traditional. Its main characters are a young worker driving a steamroller at a road construction and a young sensitive boy who is learning to play the violin. They become friends. Those two people, so different in every respect, complement and need one another.

“Although it’s dangerous to admit - because one doesn’t know whether the film will be successful - the intent is to make a poetic film. We are basing practically everything on mood, on atmosphere. In my film there has to be the dramaturgy of image, not of literature. I offered the role of the worker to Vladimir Zamyansky, an actor from the youngest and perhaps most interesting theater “Sovremennik.” The little Sasha is played by a seven-year old music school student, Igor Fomchenko. I am very happy with them.”

The young film-maker was Andrei Tarkovsky, and The Steamroller and the Violin was his first film.

Ingmar Bergman once said of Tarkovsky:

“Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”

The Steamroller and the Violin is the first annunciation of Tarkovsky’s “new language”, from its poetic use of mood and atmosphere, to its dreamlike imagery and ending. Co-written with Andrei Konchalovsky, the pair spent 6 months on the script before committing a frame of film. It is a beautiful and memorable film, which tells the story of the unlikely friendship between Sasha, a little boy, and Sergey, the operator of a steamroller.

final part of ‘The Steamroller and the Violin, after the jump…
With thanks to Svetlana Volkova

Posted by Paul Gallagher
05:20 pm
Soundtrack to the future: the wonderful world of Solar Bears

John Kowalski and Rian Trench formed Solar Bears in 2009, after they met at college. Their connection was a liking for world cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, and science fiction. Their influences came from electronica, Death in Vegas, Primal Scream, and film composers like John Barry, John Carpenter, Ennio Morricone, George Delerue, Vangelis and Gorgio Moroder. All of which filters thru their work and tells you everything you need to know about their sound. Listening to Solar Bears is like listening to a beautiful and compelling soundtrack to a brilliant, cult sci-fi film:

...a mix of programming, acoustic instruments, synths and vintage tape machines. The freeform approach of their writing and recording lends itself to varying tones and colours. Tracks often have differing sound sources from each other creating a unique musical experience.

In September 2010, Solar Bears released their debut album She Was Coloured In. It was impressive stuff, a fabulous mix of sci-fi pop and pulsating soundscapes, which lead Obscure Sound to write:

...the duo are clearly masters of believable soundscapes, and their elaborate songwriting and production really go a long way in separating Solar Bears from the masses of atmospherically-dependent electronic artists.

While the Pitchfork said:

..the very best stuff on She Was Coloured In manages to touch all the bases, using the low-key moments for atmosphere and juicing them up with stylish genre tweaks. “She Was Coloured In” pulses with a progged-out, psychedelic energy, while “Crystalline (Be Again)” is a delicate club jam that oozes late-era New Order. Highlight “Dolls” ambitiously drags bleary, wistful keys and strings through an epically aggressive trip-hop suite, followed by an anthemic final act. In these moments, She Was Coloured In really pops; the mysteries of the universe as imagined in a pulp novel seem to come into focus.

It’s a fine album and Solar Bears are well worth getting to know, so here for your edification and delight are a selection of their tracks, some of which have been married to clips from the films The Planet of the Apes, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain and Fantastic Planet. Enjoy.

Bonus clips form Solar Bears, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
04:06 pm