The Poetic Harmony of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Filmmaking: A Video Essay

“What words would best describe a Tarkovsky film?” asks Lewis Bond, cre­ator of the cinephile video-essay Youtube chan­nel Chan­nel Criswell. He offers a few right away: “Haunt­ing, ethe­re­al, hyp­not­ic, serene.” But appre­ci­a­tors, schol­ars, and even crit­ics of the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, the Sovi­et direc­tor of such aus­tere yet visu­al­ly rich, seri­ous-mind­ed yet dream­like, and long artis­ti­cal­ly scru­ti­nized pic­tures as Andrei RublevSolarisStalk­er, and The Mir­ror (watch them all free online here), could come up with many more. And though the man him­self may have denied draw­ing any inspi­ra­tion from sim­i­lar­ly respect­ed film­mak­ers — Bres­son, Anto­nioni, Bergman, Kuro­sawa, Mizoguchi, “I have no desire to imi­tate any of them” — few could avoid expo­sure to his own wide­spread and last­ing influ­ence on cin­e­ma.

Why has Tarkovsky’s work made such an impact? One might argue that the answer has do to with his com­mit­ment to “pure cin­e­ma,” or in Bond’s words, “to do with film that which could­n’t be done with oth­er art forms.” Solaris may have emerged, exten­sive­ly rethought, out of the source mate­r­i­al of Stanis­law Lem’s epony­mous sci­ence fic­tion nov­el, and Stalk­er may have more recent­ly pro­vid­ed the ele­ments of a video game (which went on to become a series of nov­els itself), but none of Tarkovsky’s works can tru­ly exist out­side the medi­um, with all its emo­tion­al and expe­ri­en­tial pow­er, in which he and his col­lab­o­ra­tors made them.

In this video essay called “Poet­ic Har­mo­ny,” Bond iden­ti­fies the pure­ly cin­e­mat­ic qual­i­ties of Tarkovsky’s films: from the tex­tures of their visu­al com­po­si­tion to their selec­tive use of sound (and quiet­ness as well) to build moods and the resis­tance of their abstrac­tion and ambi­gu­i­ty to intel­lec­tu­al analy­sis (despite how much view­ers con­tin­ue to fling at them); from their lack of sym­bol­ism to their build­ing of char­ac­ters through not words but action, the con­nec­tion of scenes through metaphor (as in Nos­tal­ghia, which cuts from a man who lights him­self on fire to a man who strug­gles to light a can­dle), and their use of long takes to build the “pres­sure of time.” Tarkovsky enthu­si­asts could hard­ly dis­agree, though the time soon comes to put away what The Sac­ri­fice’s cen­tral char­ac­ter calls “words, words, words” and sim­ply watch.

When you’re done watch­ing Bond’s video, you can watch many of Tarkovsky’s major films free online, thanks to Russ­ian film stu­dio Mos­film.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

“Auteur in Space”: A Video Essay on How Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Tran­scends Sci­ence Fic­tion

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Shot by Shot: A 22-Minute Break­down of the Director’s Film­mak­ing

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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