Arena: Andrei Tarkovsky

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More slow cinema. The Antonioni documentary was broadcast by the BBC in their regular Arena arts strand, as was this 50-minute profile from 1987. Andrei Tarkovsky is a favourite Arena of mine, one I’ve watched many times over the years, whether original broadcast, VHS tape or digitised copy. As with the Antonioni film it’s one of many such episodes which functions as an ideal introduction to its subject.

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1986 was the year of Tarkovsky’s untimely death so Charlie Pattinson’s documentary served as a memorial as well as a celebration of a director whose reputation had been growing throughout the decade. I love the way this one starts cold with a series of clips from all seven of the feature films; no comment required. Further clips follow but the real value is in the extracts from interviews and talks given by the director which punctuate the biographical chronology. The first of these is a declaration of Tarkovsky’s belief that film-making is a unique medium in its ability to capture and assemble temporal moments, something he explored in depth in his book, Sculpting in Time. In his talks and his writings he can often seem overly serious when discussing his work, especially in a world where film-making is largely regarded as merely another division of the entertainment industry. But he regarded both art and film-making as serious affairs, and many of his films required considerable effort to be made at all. Hollywood has long been notorious for confounding the endeavours of maverick directors but the apparatchiks at Goskino were seldom better, continually rejecting new proposals or interfering with the films after they were made; Tarkovsky’s diaries are filled with accounts of his struggles with the bureaucrats who oversaw film production. When he wasn’t fighting censorship attempts or refusals to release a new film he was dealing with other refusals to approve his projects altogether. We’re fortunate that Stalker exists at all when most of the exterior footage needed to be reshot after the negative was ruined by incompetent processing. This calamity wasn’t the director’s fault but Goskino were reluctant at first to let him finish the film. These constant struggles eventually compelled him to leave the Soviet Union in order to make films elsewhere, a painful decision which is discussed in the final part of Pattinson’s documentary by the director’s wife and production assistant, Larisa. The pair were allowed to leave the country but they were also forced to do so without their young son, a typically cruel and petty punishment by the Soviet authorities.

In the Antonioni post I mentioned that Tarkovsky’s present popularity is sustained by Solaris and Stalker much more than by his other films. People who only know the director from his excursions into science fiction may be surprised to hear him dismiss Solaris as his least successful feature on a personal level. Documentaries such as this may encourage some of those viewers to explore the rest of his filmography.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Zone music
Sine Fiction
Rerberg and Tarkovsky: The Reverse Side Of “Stalker”
The Stalker meme

Weekend links 449

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UK poster, 1950. Cocteau’s film receives a UK blu-ray release this week.

• Into the Zone: 4 days inside Chernobyl’s secretive “stalker” subculture by Aram Balakjian. (Again. There’s an implication in Balakjian’s piece that illicit Chernobyl tourism is a new thing even though people have been doing this for a while now.) Related: Jonathan’s visit to the Chernobyl reactor control room, and photos of Soviet-era control rooms (plus a couple of stray American examples).

• “He’s a very interesting author: a disabled, gay writer during the Third Reich…who somehow survived only to be shot by a Red Army patrol days before the end of the war.” At the Edge of the Night (1933) by Friedo Lampe will receive its first English-language publication via Hesperus Press next month.

• “The tradition of the painted still life has been reinvented by contemporary photographers with pictures that pose a puzzle and slow the viewer down,” says Rick Poynor.

• Comic artist Matt Howarth has been writing short reviews of electronic music for many years. Sonic Curiosity is his archive site.

Bauhaus at 100: what it means to me by Norman Foster, Margaret Howell and others.

• RIP Jonas Mekas. Related: a conversation between Jonas Mekas and Jim Jarmusch.

• Beyond the Buzzcocks: Geeta Dayal remembers Pete Shelley‘s electronic side.

• Where to begin with Jean Cocteau: Alex Barrett goes through the mirror.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 278 by Sarah Louise.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jud Yalkut Day.

• Undulating Terrain (1995) by Robert Rich & B. Lustmord | Darkstalker (2000) by Bohren & Der Club Of Gore | Stalker Dub (2012) by John Zorn

Weekend links 360

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Threshold (2008) by Roku Sasaki.

• A previously unseen interview with Angela Carter from 1979 in which she talks to David Pringle about her evolution as a writer, literary influences and genre fiction.

• Among the highlights in the latest edition of Wormwood there’s Doug Anderson on Panacea by Robert Aickman, a “vast unpublished philosophical work”.

• The London Review Bookshop podcast: Marina Warner and Chloe Aridjis discuss Leonora Carrington.

The prose works, conversely, read like surrealist poetry. They were written according to a compositional method Roussel called le procédé (the procedure), in which a complicated system of puns rather than traditional narrative logic determines the progression of the story. In Locus Solus, the mad scientist Martial Canterel takes his colleagues on a tour of his country estate—“the lonely place” of the title—to show them the bizarre inventions generated by Roussel’s procédé. These include a device that constructs a mosaic made out of human teeth; a water-filled diamond in which a dancer, a hairless cat, and the head of Danton are suspended; and a series of corpses Cantarel has brought back to life with the fluid “ressurectine,” which compels them to act out the most important event of their former lives, to the scientists’ astonishment.

Ryan Ruby on Raymond Roussel, The Accidental Avant-Gardist

• The latest manifestation of paranormal electronica by The Electric Pentacle is entitled Black Ectoplasm.

Sergey Bessmertny‘s account of working as a camera technician on Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker.

• City Of Fallen Angels: The Bug vs. Earth. In conversation with Kevin Martin and Dylan Carlson.

• Sex and art by the Grand Canal: Judith Mackrell on Peggy Guggenheim in Venice.

• A Guide Through the Darkened Passages of Dungeon Synth.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 489 by Samuel Rohrer.

• The late Mika Vainio/Panasonic live in 1996.

Xan Brooks on Cary Grant’s 100 acid trips.

Resurrection (1968) by Steppenwolf | Resurrection (1975) by Master Wilburn Burchette | Resurrection (1987) by Demons Of Negativity

Weekend links 347

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Dream Animal (1903) by Alfred Kubin.

• The week in Finland: A set of Finnish emojis includes icons for notable cultural exports such as Tom of Finland and Moominmamma. Tove Jansson’s creations have received fresh attention this month with the debut release of the electronic soundtrack music for The Moomins, an animated TV series made in Poland in 1977, and first broadcast in the UK in 1983. Andrew Male talked to Graeme Miller and Steve Shill about creating Moomins music with rudimentary instrumentation.

• Russian company Mosfilm has made a new copy of Andrei Tarkovsky’s science-fiction masterpiece, Stalker (1979), available on their YouTube channel. Tarkovsky’s films have been blighted by inexplicable flaws in their home releases, as Stalker was when reissued on a Region B Blu-ray last year. The new Mosfilm upload looks better than my old DVD so for the moment this is the one I’ll be watching.

• Before straight and gay: the discreet, disorienting passions of the Victorian era. Deborah Cohen reviews A Very Queer Family Indeed by Simon Goldhill. Related: Kevin Killian reviews Murder in the Closet: Essays in Queer Clues in Crime Fiction Before Stonewall, edited by Curtis Evans.

• “How many graphic designers owe their introduction to typography to a teenage encounter with the typefaces and lettering found on album covers?” asks Adrian Shaughnessy.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 210 by Ascion, FACT Mix 587 by Seekersinternational, and The Séance, 4th February 2017.

Pankaj Mishra on Václav Havel’s lessons on how to create a “parallel polis”. Related: The Power of the Powerless by Václav Havel.

Hans Corneel de Roos on Dracula‘s lost Icelandic sister text: How a supposed translation proved to be much more.

• “I live outside the world in a universe I myself have created, like a madman or a holy visionary.” — Michel de Ghelderode.

• The Metropolitan Museum of Art makes 375,000 images of public art freely available under Creative Commons Zero.

Richard H. Kirk on Thatcherite pop and why Cabaret Voltaire were like The Velvet Underground.

Emily Gosling on what David Lynch’s use of typography reveals (or doesn’t).

White Noise Sounds of Frozen Arctic Ocean with Polar Icebreaker Idling.

John Gray on what cats can teach us about how to live.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Day of the Mellotron (Restored).

The Warburg Institute Iconographic Database.

Sastanàqqàm by Tinariwen.

Tanz Der Vampire (1969) by The Vampires of Dartmoore | Dracula (1983) by Dilemma | Vampires At Large (2012) by John Zorn

The edge of coherence: On the Silver Globe

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Science-fiction cinema has always suffered in comparison to its written counterparts; sets and special effects have to work hard to create believable worlds or futures, while the need to recoup enormous costs has often meant that film scenarios aren’t much better than those being written in the early days of the pulp magazines. Simplistic adventure stories yield bigger audiences and greater revenues. Computer technology has helped the effects problem but production expenses ensure that inventive or unusual SF films are scarce and invariably low-budget works. Anything too ambitious or challenging is unlikely to be funded.

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On the Silver Globe is an unfinished science-fiction film by Andrzej Zulawski that even in its incomplete state is that very rare thing: a film with a fantastic premise that doesn’t appear to have been staged for an audience at all. The film is long—over two-and-a-half hours—and much of it so disregards the conventions of commercial cinema that the immediate reaction is amazement that it exists in any form. Zulawski has a cult reputation outside his native Poland for Possession (1981), a unique horror film made when he was living in exile in Paris. On the Silver Globe was one of the reasons for his leaving the country; after two years of work in several countries, and with the film almost finished, the production was shut down in 1977 by a new vice-minister of cultural affairs who perceived a metaphoric subtext directed against the Polish authorities. The existing footage was supposed to have been destroyed but Zulawski and his production team hid the film and costumes hoping one day to shoot the missing scenes. After ten years of waiting it was decided to present the film as it was with the missing scenes filled by shots of Polish streets and countryside. A voiceover by the director describes the missing content.

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