A Poet in Cinema: Andrei Tarkovsky Reveals the Director’s Deep Thoughts on Filmmaking and Life

tarkovsky filming

Those who find their way into the rich emo­tion­al and aes­thet­ic realm of Russ­ian film­mak­er Andrei Tarkovsky (see our col­lec­tion of Free Tarkovsky movies online) might at first assume that nobody can put the expe­ri­en­tial appeal of his cin­e­ma into words. The well-known writer and Tarkovsky fan Geoff Dyer demon­strat­ed this, in a sense, with his high­ly enter­tain­ing book Zona: A Book About a Film About a Jour­ney to a Room, which osten­si­bly describes the direc­tor’s acclaimed Stalk­er but actu­al­ly heads off in a thou­sand dif­fer­ent digres­sive direc­tions, all of them dri­ven by the writer’s appre­ci­a­tion for the movie. Pic­tures like Stalk­er, Solaris, Nos­tal­ghia, or The Mir­ror may set off with­in you a range of reac­tions to film you’d nev­er thought pos­si­ble, but would­n’t that only make them more dif­fi­cult to talk about? Rarely do the much-dis­cussed musi­cal rather than intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ties of cin­e­ma as an art form seem as rel­e­vant as when you watch Tarkovsky; the old line com­par­ing writ­ing about music to danc­ing about archi­tec­ture comes to mind.

But Tarkovsky him­self thought of film as sculp­ture, as he explains in the posthu­mous­ly pub­lished trea­tise on his craft Sculpt­ing in Time. The book has much to teach about the unique artis­tic poten­tial of the medi­um as this mas­ter under­stood it, and it reveals that, indeed, one can speak cogent­ly about Tarkovsky, and nobody can do it more cogent­ly than Tarkovsky him­self. This abil­i­ty he also dis­plays in the doc­u­men­tary Voy­age in Time, from which we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured a clip of his advice to young film­mak­ers. Here we have a less-seen por­trait, but one that makes a sim­i­lar­ly thor­ough exam­i­na­tion, with inter­views, drama­ti­za­tions, and his­tor­i­cal footage, of the auteur’s real­i­ty: Donatel­la Baglivo’s 1983 Tarkovsky: A Poet in Cin­e­ma. (Watch it online here.) From Baglivo’s short but choice prompts, Tarkovsky expounds on not just his life and work but the essen­tial impor­tance of fight­ing, the con­cep­tu­al nonex­is­tence of hap­pi­ness, what child­hood deter­mines about us, wartime’s impact on fan­tasies, and the salu­tary effects of a year labor­ing in Siberia — all in the first fif­teen min­utes of this 140-minute argu­ment that film, at its most pow­er­ful, does­n’t just get you talk­ing about film; it demands that you talk about exis­tence itself.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Tarkovsky Films Now Free Online

Tarkovsky’s Advice to Young Film­mak­ers: Sac­ri­fice Your­self for Cin­e­ma

Tarkovsky’s Solaris Revis­it­ed

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Very First Films: Three Stu­dent Films, 1956–1960

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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