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To Criticize our Own Judgment

I’m certainly not the first cinephile that wishes they could have had a conversation with Tarkovsky. Back in the nineteen eighties, I’ve recently figured out, we were in Italy at the same time. I was just writing my first travel journal. He was writing his book “Sculpting in Time.” Our paths would not converge there. I was not quite half his age and only recently introduced to world cinema . He was writing his testament, “Sculpting in Time. ” In it he says, “If there are cinema-goers for whom it is important and rewarding to enter into dialogue specifically with me, that is the greatest stimulus I can have for my work.” If he were alive today, I’d look him up.

In reading from chapter seven in his book “Sculpting in Time,” I am gratified to find so much confirmation in his writings of my own thoughts with regard to his films. The subject is of the artist’s responsibility. I have written about it in several previous posts, most lately in relation to pornography, screen violence and theater of cruelty. In any discussion about an artist’s social obligation Chapter VII of “Sculpting in Time,” should be quoted aloud and “Stalker” should be required viewing.

What I gather from Tarkovsky’s philosophy is that any image rendered in service to truth is worthy of projection. Most often, according to him, it is rendered in service to money. Tarkovsky likens the makers of modern entertainment to merchants of commodities rather than artists. That was due to the high cost of filmmaking in the days of celluloid, but modern digital tech has leveled the playing field. Anyone can make a movie that could be seen by millions of viewers nowadays. What hasn’t changed, however, remains what is most important. The intention of the filmmaker determines whether what they make will contribute more to culture or commerce. Tarkovsky speaks of art as an act of sacrifice for the sake of love and as a potential unifier of humankind. What a thing to say in a book about filmmaking.

“Cinema uses the materials given by nature itself, with the passage of time, manifested within space”Andre Tarkovsky.

Here’s one thing that sets this filmmaker above the lot. He builds perceptual provocation into every shot. The long take, by its very nature, affords the viewer plenty of time to reevaluate their first impression. When someone as fine tuned as Tarkovsky lavishes each frame with purposeful detail, there is no getting back to the mindset you occupied when the shot first struck your retina. Tarkovsky’s cinema, like no other, conspires to take us on a journey of no return, and regarding the filmmaker’s intention, no film more than “Stalker” (1979) shows higher concern.

A typical Tarkovsky image constantly evolves, constantly challenging us to reconsider what we think we know. What we assimilate at first, by the effect of a moving camera, is a space filled with currents that move at deliberately devised rates. Almost the same way composers uses notes, Tarkovsky busies himself making intervals of time stand out to our sight. His layers of complexity compare and contrast with each other, over and under, to drive out lazy assumptions, bring our senses around, restore a sense of intimacy and wonder.

“Failure to develop the audiences capacity to criticize our own judgments is tantamount to treating them with total indifference.” Andre Tarkovsky

Film snatches events from the unconditional world and this skilled film director constructs an image of whole truth with captured fragments from such stuff. Tarkovsky goes to all this trouble to help the audience recover ‘lost past’. Assuming that a movie projector, as I have suggested in a previous post, is a kind of celluloid clock, Tarkovsky sculpts time inside that beam that connects the filmmaker’s heart to the audience’s brain. We’ve delved into this subject in a previous post, “A Camera is Simply a Clock with a Lens.” (OCC March 2012)

It’s not enough to call Tarkovsky a filmmaker or even an artist. We have reached the core of this beloved humanist’s work with his fifth film “Stalker” (1979), the greatest dystopian drama of all time. It is the last of his films we will discuss in this year-long series focused on the greatest Russian artist of the 20th century.

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