Rerberg and Tarkovsky: The Reverse Side Of “Stalker”


Stalker (1979).

Among the new documentary films being shown at the Sheffield (UK) Doc/Fest is Igor Mayboroda’s Rerberg and Tarkovsky: The Reverse Side Of “Stalker”.  Behind the unwieldy title there lies an exploration of the troubled genesis of one of my cult artefacts, Andrei Tarkovsky‘s 1979 science fiction film, Stalker, a personal adaptation by the director of a Russian sf novel, Roadside Picnic, by Arkadi & Boris Strugatsky. Tarkovsky’s production suffered from technical calamities, illness, artistic disagreements and, worst of all, location work in a polluted area which (allegedly) caused the early deaths of a number of the people involved, including the director and leading actor, Anatoli Solonitsyn. All of which makes the completed film seem both miraculous and chilling for reasons beyond its uniquely sinister atmosphere.

When the British Film Institute launched a survey on “the film you would like to share with future generations”, behind Blade Runner in first place was a surprise second place entry: Andrei Tarkovsky’s science fiction film Stalker, in which a guide leads two clients to a site known as “the Zone”, which has the supposed potential to fulfill a person’s innermost desires. This creative documentary tells the remarkable story behind the making of Stalker, including the series of conflicts which led to crew members, most notably celebrated director of photography Georgi Rerberg, being left off the credits, leaving careers in tatters. Far from your standard making of doc, Director Igor Mayboroda has woven an engrossing “documentary cinema novel” which not only stands as a tribute to Rerberg’s career but also as a delight for cinephiles interested in how the creative process can flourish even under the most difficult and ultimately devastating of circumstances.

Stalker as it currently exists on DVD has a couple of interviews about the making of the film but nothing as substantial as Mayboroda’s documentary which sounds like essential viewing. Those in the Sheffield area can see a repeat showing on November 8.

Also at the Doc/Fest is a new film for the BBC’s long-running arts series, Arena, which will no doubt be screened on TV in due course. Eno is directed by Nicola Roberts and—needless to say—its subject is musician, producer, artist, etc, Brian Eno. Arena has always used Eno’s short piece, Another Green World, for its theme music but I believe this is the first time he’s been profiled in the series. Roberts also directed the excellent 1994 Arena doc, Philip K Dick: A Day in the Afterlife, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing this one as well.

Danger! High-radiation arthouse! | Geoff Dyer on his own Stalker obsession.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Brian Eno: Imaginary Landscapes
The slow death of modernism
Thursday Afternoon by Brian Eno
The Stalker meme

11 thoughts on “Rerberg and Tarkovsky: The Reverse Side Of “Stalker””

  1. I’d love to see this. Maybe over the winter solstice, along with a Stalker re-view, and reading one of the newer books about Tarkovsky.

    Ever play the Russian computer game of the same name?

  2. No, I haven’t played the game although I know someone–games writer Jim Rossignol–who enjoys it.

    I haven’t watched Stalker for a while so it’s time for a re-viewing. Dank and chilly autumn seems the perfect moment.

  3. Solaris is by Tarkovsky as well isn’t it? Stalker is great, but Solaris is closer to my heart. An actor as seemingly as intelligent as George Clooney should know better than to try remaking a film by such an untouchable director.

  4. Yes, Solaris was his earlier science fiction outing. He wasn’t keen on the story but managed to inject it with his usual philosophical concerns, much to the annoyance of the author, Stanislaw Lem.

    I quite like Soderbergh as a director–I’ve praised his Kafka film in an earlier post–but that remake was a big mistake. Nice score from Cliff Martinez but pretty redundant otherwise; Natascha McElhone was no match for the ethereal Natalya Bondarchuk in Tarkovsky’s version.

  5. Yes, ethereal is a fitting word for Natalya Bondarchuk, at least in that movie, hell the movie itself was ethereal. I am not certain if I’ve seen her anywhere else. Have you seen Andrei Rublev? I’ve heard its quite intense. I don’t check the television very often, I’d like to catch it on IFC at some point if possible to know if its worth wasting $30 on those nice but costly Criterion editions.

    Tarkovsky has one of those rarest of talents amongst directors, much like Lynch, capturing and conveying a sense of mystery and unease to such an intense degree that its seems wrought with mysticism even when nothing remotely unearthly is present.

    Its unfortunate he did not live to see his country open up, I wonder what Tarkovsky would have thought of Lynch’s films. As different as they are, yet both carrying such gravity and having such strong metaphysical currents. Or some of Bergman’s or Weir’s for that matter.

  6. I don’t think I’ve seen Natalya Bondarchuk in anything else which helps make her character seem all the more unique. I’ve got all of Tarkovsky’s films on DVD but don’t watch Andrei Rublev very much, it’s very long and rather grim. Still a great film–and Stalker‘s Anatoli Solonitsyn plays the main character–but you need to be in the mood.

    Tarkovsky always comes across as very serious and intense, even in his diaries which are full of musings about art and philosophy, but he did like American cinema. I even recall reading that he liked The Terminator (!) but forget where I saw that mentioned. The bar and the Stalker’s home are like something from Eraserhead so I think he might have enjoyed that film at least.

    As for Bergman, Tarkovsky’s last film, The Sacrifice, is almost a slavish imitation, although Bergman never made very long shots the way Tarkovsky does. He used Bergman’s regular cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, and one of Bergman’s acting regulars, Erland Josephson; the costumes, location and general atmosphere are all very Bergman-like.

  7. Ah, I can watch Rublev many times. Maybe it’s my Russian DNA, but I’m astonished by its power and richness each time.

    Agreed on the Solaris remake. Was it Roger Ebert who asked why Hollywood doesn’t remake bad movies, instead of good ones?

    I liked the Stalker game trailer (wasn’t it “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.”?), and will hunt for the game itself.

    John, re: American films, did you see Tarkovsky’s student film, the one based on Hemingway’s “The Killers”? Fun to watch it alongside the two Hollywood versions, at least the first one of which T. must have had in mind.

  8. While everyone is revisitng Tarkovsky and STALKER don’t forget the wonderful Strugatsky brothers. ROADSIDE PICNIC is a wonderful novel. Also check out FAR RAINBOW and HARD TO BE A GOD.

  9. Bryan, the game and its sequels have entries on nearly every top list of frightening games I’ve seen in the numerous October issues of magazines I look through in bookstores. The only reason I’ve not played it myself is that my computer doesn’t have have the advanced features for it, but everyone I know who’s played it raves about it.

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