In his book “Sculpting in Time,” the director adopts the attitude that the more the artist’s views are hidden the better for the work of art. I am not convinced Tarkovsky practiced this. The artist’s view seems to me to be the most obvious thing about any work of art. It’s the very thing that makes it art. So, we obviously don’t agree on what the term “artists view” means. Does he mean that art is less pure if the artist creates it to solve personal problems rather than collective ones? The artist’s conscience is on trial.
What is the point of hiding your views if you are an artist? Does he refer to the artifice that we create as the thing we hide our views behind? If so, does it follow that the more splendid the artifice, the better concealed the artists views? I don’t think so. Does he mean to hide his views so that they cannot be found or so that they cannot be easily detected? Are they to be walled-off from the work entirely?
No, they are to be disguised and smuggled in, silently, right through the audiences’ self-limiting defenses, past their precious prejudices to side-slip our cultural conditioning. If art helps us find meaning, as Tarkovsky states in his notes, then an artist would be obliged to share any vestige of meaning he or she has gathered through experience with his art. Sharing helpful information is what its about, is it not? Tarkovsky was making a statement against propaganda. He’s not going to pry open our minds so he can fill them up with what is in his. His objective is to leave behind a community of wide-open minds.
We’re at the point in our brief analysis of “Andre Rublev’ where Tarkovsky and his band of master Soviet craftsmen stage the casting of a massive church bell for the camera. Imbibe, with me, some of his potent allegory. Four blast furnaces dispense blazing bronze into an earthen mold meters deep in the ground. It would be hard to find a moving image with more poetic power than the casting of bronze to articulate the refinement of artistic conscience.
I’m going to digress briefly here and confess why the third act of “Andre Rublev” especially impresses me. There are bell makers in my family. They own a foundry to this day. Its bells ring all over the old country. The relatives that immigrated here from the Balkan alps found work in mines, metallurgy labs, and steel works along the Rockies in Colorado, but back in the old country they were bell makers. I was a jeweler for much of my life and so a predilection for liquefaction of metal can, evidently, transfer through the blood.
Deep background aside, just try and snore through the action in Act III once the fire begins to roar. Tarkovsky commandeers all possible avenues to our senses to capture the imagination, not to enslave, but to woo.
The filmmaker penetrates deep into our subconscious recesses with his novel explorations of mid-tones and greys, his uncanny knack for rhythm and pace, precocious echoes and rapturous vapors, mysterious murmurs from nature beckon from enchanted byways, all scintillating in supportive counterpoint to character arc and story beat.
I have been searching for a word or phrase that stands for what Tarkovsky mastered and I found it on the splendid art series by Charles Greenleaf Bell, the entirety of which Open Channel Content LLC has posted on YouTube for your edification.
“Omnivoyant” is the word Dr. Bell’s series supplied and also a quote to help explain it. This is from part fourteen of the “Symbolic History Through Sight and Sound,” entitled “Fifteenth Century – Early Renaissance.” The actual quote is by a medieval philosopher talking about the eyes of Christ in devotional painting.
“If I strive in human fashion to transport you to things divine. I have found nothing better than an image which is omnivoyant… such… I call the icon of God. This picture, brethren, ye shall set up in some place… and each of you shall find. From whatsoever quarter observed, that it looks at him as if it looked at no other…As in a mirror, an icon, a riddle. I see life eternal which is nothing less but that blessed regard, that gaze of love that never ceases to behold me even in the most secret places of my soul.” Cusanus (1401-1464)
This is what Tarkovsky’s movies do. They tap in to the root of the collective unconscious and look back at me and you with great regard. In act III of Rublev, for example, the horned helmet and his ruffians ride into the churchyard acting contemptuous and rude. The same clan of Tatar horsemen that conquered the town ten screen minutes ago are back in the churchyard, inciting a fight among the local dogs with spoiled meat.
Right here, Act III scene one flips fate’s coin from abduction to seduction. At the mid-point of the previous act, Rublev the monk adopted a young woman who is a bit touched, but very tuned-in to human nature. Durochka is her name and Andrei, the monk, kills a soldier to spare Durochka being raped.
So here in Act III this charmed female savant gets caught up in some tawdry snare again. The haughty heathen appraises his little rabbit, up and down, amused that she comes across more childlike than full-grown. Andrei looks on from a safe distance, while the foreign raiders box in the peasant girl for their horny lord. Up to now, Durochka’s lived by a simple sort of native grace, but all that might be about to break. Andrei’s faith is tested twice. If he doesn’t do something she’s lost for good. Yet, if he does, they will surely do him harm.
The monks stand by in collective disgrace looking more marooned on an island than ensconced in God’s dwelling place. They couldn’t look more distraught. It’s dead of winter. Dogs snarl and tear at each other. The harvest has gone to rot. Now these well-fed Tatars gallop in making sport. Hired horsemen cajole and corral the helpless one they’ve caught.
Watch how she endears herself to us as an uncommonly curious soul with some native twinge of witch in the mix. Watch now while the fierce warrior and the enchanted waif face off. From cloak to tongue they appear distinctly different stuff, but when he asks her to become his eighth wife, she more than catches his drift.
Everyone else has a good laugh. Meanwhile, this proud stud of a medieval mobster gets caught off guard by the charms of a girl that seemed retarded. We are watching one of the most enchanting moments in motion pictures. Of course, it involves a mirror. The sculptor of time was never keener than when Durochka pulls herself close to that devil’s belly, polishes his breastplate to catch a glimpse of herself, then gazes up in the eyes of her plunderer with hers lit up in raw and wild wonder. His expression mirrors her effect, to us, as that beast’s intents are bent to love from lust.
This film’s in a class of its own, like so much Russian art, music and lit. Tarkovsky’s art combines harmonics for the most discriminating sophisticate. Who could have seen it coming when the most frightening figure in the story becomes the disadvantaged peasant girl’s ticket. In a final pass by the lens, late in Act III, we see Durochka clothed fresh, head to toe, a good deal better off yet still as comfortably herself as ever with lovely Tartar horse and child in tow.
Tarkovsky was an alchemist, a shaman and folk physician. May his illusions live on to enchant generations. Positive and negative charges, visible and invisible rhythms, complimentary opposites and their parental nodes balance, almost algorithmically, throughout his life’s work. For me, the seven stories Tarkovsky fashioned for the screen are among the finest antidotes for the handful of toxic things in this world I wished I’d never seen.