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No Fear, No Trouble, No Bliss: Andrei Tarkovsky - Films, Stills, Polaroids, Writings
Karl Smith , November 25th, 2012 05:45

As Sotheby's prepares to sell the Russian filmmaker's archives this week, The Quietus previews ten film stills and an extract of Andrei Tarkovsky's writing from a newly published collection

Published earlier this month by Thames & Hudson, Tarkovsky: Films, Stills, Polaroids, Writings, edited by Andrei A. Tarkovsky, Hans-Joachim Schlegel & Lothar Schirmer, is exactly what it says on the jacket - a collected celebration of the seminal Russian director's work across the full spectrum of the media in which he worked; indeed, some of the most stirring images ever caught on film and, perhaps, some of the most interesting and insightful writing on - not just Tarkovsky himself, but - the cult of the film as a whole can be found between these pages. For most, too - at least those whose DVD collections are fatter than their wallets - it is as close as they are ever likely to come to owning anything like the lot for sale at Sotheby's this week.

Few other film-makers since have ever captivated minds and hearts in the same way: some of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth-century, not least of all Jean-Paul Sartre, whose writing can be found in this book, have dedicated previous time to his work. In the extract below, a piece of Tarkosvky's own self-reflective writing, the film-maker posits on the poetry of dreams and the meaning (or non-meaning) of symbols in his work. (Gallery of images below.)

by Andrei Tarkovsky

There are some aspects of human life that can only be faithfully represented through poetry. But this is where directors very often try to use clumsy, conventional gimmickry instead of poetic logic. I'm thinking of the illusionism and extraordinary effects involved in dreams, memories and fantasies. All too often film dreams are made into a collection of old-fashioned filmic tricks, and cease to be a phenomenon of life.

Faced with the necessity of shooting dreams, we had to decide how to come close to the particular poetry of the dream, how to express it, what means to use. This was not something that could be decided in the abstract. Casting around for an answer we tried out several practical possibilities, using associations and vague guesses. Quite unexpectedly it occurred to us to have negative images in the third dream. In our mind's eye we glimpsed black sunlight shining through snowy trees and a downpour of gleaming rain. Flashes of lightning came in to make it technically feasible to cut from positive to negative. But all this merely created an atmosphere of unreality. What about the content? What about the logic of the dream? That came from memories. I remembered seeing the wet grass, the lorry load of apples, the horses, wet with rain, steaming in the sunshine. All this material found its way into the film straight from film, not through the medium of contiguous visual arts. Looking for simple solutions to the problem of conveying the unreality of the dream we hit on the panorama of moving trees in negative, and, against the background, the face of the little girl passing in front of the camera three times, her expression changed with each appearance. We wanted to capture in that scene the child's foreboding of imminent tragedy. The last scene of the dream was deliberately shot near water, on the beach, in order to link it with the last dream of Ivan.


Of late I have frequently found myself addressing audiences, and I have noticed that whenever I declare there are no symbols or metaphors in my films, those present express incredulity. They persist in asking again and again, for instance, what rain signifies in my films; why does it figure in film after film; and why the repeated images of wind, fire and water? I really don't know how to deal with such questions. Rain is after all typical of the landscape in which I grew up; in Russia you have those long, dreary, persistent rains. And I can say that I love nature - I don't like big cities and feel perfectly happy when I'm away from the paraphernalia of modern civilisation, just as I felt wonderful in Russia when I was in my country house, with three hundred kilometres between Moscow and myself. Rain, fire, water, snow, dew, the driving ground wind - all are part of the material setting in which we dwell; I would even say of the truth of our lives. I am therefore puzzled when I am told that people cannot simply enjoy watching nature, when it is lovingly reproduced on the screen, but have to look for some hidden meaning they feel it must contain. Of course rain can just be seen as bad weather, whereas I use it to create a particular aesthetic setting in which to steep the action of the film. But that is not at all the same thing as bringing nature in to my films as a symbol of something else - Heaven forbid! In commercial cinema nature often does not exist at all; all one has is the most advantageous lighting and interiors for the purpose of quick shooting - everybody follows the plot and no one is bothered by the artificiality of a setting that is more or less right, nor by the disregard for detail and atmosphere. When the screen brings the real world to the audience, the world as it actually is, so that it can be seen in depth and from all sides, evoking its very 'smell', allowing audiences to feel on their skin its moisture or its dryness - it seems that the cinema-goer has so lost the capacity simply to surrender to an immediate, emotional aesthetic impression, that he instantly has to check himself, and ask: 'Why? What for? What's the point?' The answer is that I want to create my own world on the screen, in its ideal and most perfect form, as I myself feel it and see it. I am not trying to be coy with my audience, or to conceal some secret intention of my own: I am recreating my world in those details which seem to me most fully and exactly to express the elusive meaning of our existence.

(pp. 31)

Tarkovsky: Films, Stills, Polaroids & Writings is released 3 December on Thames & Hudson