By Koraljka Suton
‘Stalker’ is not a desperate film. I don’t think a work of art can be inspired by this sort of feeling. Its meaning must be spiritual, positive, it should bring hope and belief. I don’t think my film lacks hope. If this is true—it is not a work of art. Even if Stalker has moments of despair, he masters them. It is a kind of catharsis. It’s a tragedy but tragedy is not hopeless. This history of destruction still gives the viewer a glimmer of hope. It has to do with the feeling of catharsis. Tragedy cleanses man. Every image, even the most expressive one (and this is precisely what it ought to be) possesses a very significant and very distinct intellectual content. I like Stalker the most. He is the best part of myself and at the same time the least real one. Writer—who is very close to me—is a man who has lost his way. But I think he will be able to resolve his situation in the spiritual sense. Professor… I don’t know. This is a very limited character and I wouldn’t want to seek any similarities between him and myself. Although despite the obvious limitations he does allow a change of opinion, he has an open, comprehending mind. —Andrei Tarkovsky
Should the purpose of moviemaking be for viewers to emerge from the experience transformed? Is there a deep sense of transcendental meaning that has to permeate a motion picture for it to be considered true art? Must directors see their vocation as a mission to help bring about enlightenment if they are to call themselves true artists? If your answer to these questions was a resounding yes, you are probably in great awe of the legacy Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky left in his wake. A deeply and unapologetically spiritual man, the revered filmmaker believed that art was entrusted with “the task of resurrecting spirituality,” as he pointed out in his interviews. He viewed art as a mirror that served the purpose of reflecting back to humanity that which he perceived to be the ultimate truth—that man is, in essence, a spiritual being and life itself a process of realizing, owning and acting in accordance with that truth. The art he made was, therefore, always in alignment with his personal mission of awakening the viewers to that which makes up the very core of mankind. In that respect, it could be said that Tarkovsky was not unlike the titular character of Stalker, his 1979 movie that would not only become a cult science-fiction classic but would also be named one of the fifty greatest movies of all time by the British Film Institute in 2012. For much like Tarkovsky himself, the protagonist is an archetypal guide who feels called to lead (both the literal and metaphorical) way, thereby enabling his passengers to come into contact with themselves and, by extension, grasp the meaning of (their) life.
Loosely based on a short novel called Roadside Picnic (1972) written by Russian science-fiction authors Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, Stalker takes us into the distant future where the main character works as a ‘stalker’, i.e., a guide who leads people through a restricted site known simply as ‘the Zone,’ a place the laws of physics supposedly do not apply to due to alien activity that can be found amidst the natural landscape littered with human relics. Inside the Zone, a Room is said to exist—a Room that, when entered, fulfills the visitors’ deepest desires. We meet the Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky) who, after rejecting his wife’s (Alisa Freindlich) plea to abandon his vocation and stay home with her and their daughter (Natasha Abramova), accepts to guide two new clients, known only as the Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and the Scientist (Nikolai Grinko), through the Zone and towards the Room. While traveling through the hazardous terrain, the three companions engage in meaningful discussions about each person’s reasons for seeking out the Room. The real question that Stalker poses pertains to the true nature of human desire, presenting us with the notion that we may very well be completely unaware of what it is that our innermost being desperately longs for. What if the Room does not give us what we consciously think we want, but rather what we subconsciously yearn for? And if that is the case, how willing are we to see the potential fulfillment of desires we are either completely unaware of or incapable of admitting to?
In Stalker, Tarkovsky beautifully shines light on the extent to which we as a species are both oblivious to and terrified of our own subconscious and the shadows that lurk beneath the surface. We do not know what it is that we do not know about ourselves and the notion that desires we are unaware of have the possibility to manifest has the potential of filling us with dread—for the fulfillment of said desires would indeed reveal who we truly are, as opposed to who we think we are or, better yet, who we believe we should be. The question is how prepared are we to abandon our fabricated self-concept and see our true reflection in the wish that will supposedly be granted? Or will it? In either case—would we dare risk it?
The Stalker would like nothing more than for all of the people he leads into the Zone to see their deepest desires fulfilled, for he believes that that would make them happy. Therefore, the meaning of his own life is rooted in his desire to ensure the happiness of others, even though there is no possible guarantee that the goal could ever be achieved. He is running on pure faith and wants his clients (just as Tarkovsky wanted his viewers) to run with him. But what happens if his desire is not fulfilled and he remains the only one who sees the possibility of man achieving happiness?
As Tarkovsky himself stated in his interviews, “the existence in the zone of a room where dreams come true serves solely as a pretext to revealing the personalities of the three protagonists.” This means that it is ultimately unimportant whether the passengers’ desires are subconscious or conscious and whether they do come true or not—what is important is how the characters respond to and act on such notions, thereby revealing to us, the viewers, their fears, values and priorities. And the same applies to us. For Tarkovsky gives no definitive answers as to whether the Zone and its Room of desires are the real deal, a myth or merely a story the Stalker had fabricated in order to have something to believe in, thereby infusing his life with meaning—we are meant to allow the Stalker to lead us through the Zone alongside the Writer and the Scientist, and witness our own personality being revealed to us as we are confronted with questions pertaining to what we believe, why we believe it and what we desire.
Tarkovsky’s Stalker has the astonishing capacity to reveal us to ourselves for the simple reason that the Zone is, in fact, a metaphor for life. Many a theory has been made about what the Zone symbolizes, especially given the fact that the movie was made during the Cold War, but the director himself dismissed all theories, and simply stated the following: “The Zone doesn’t symbolize anything, any more than anything else does in my films; the Zone is a zone, it’s life, and as he makes his way across it, man may break down or he may come through.” This explains why the paths that lead to the Room are changing inexplicably, why the Stalker makes a point out of not being able to return to a place that was left behind, even though belongings were accidentally abandoned and why he stresses that the security of the trip depends on the inner world of the traveler and the purity of their desires—for that which is internal has the tendency to manifest externally.
Four years before Stalker would ultimately see the light of day, Tarkovsky wrote in a 1975 diary entry: “How does a project mature? It is obviously a most mysterious, imperceptible process. It carries on independently of ourselves, in the subconscious, crystallizing on the walls of the soul. It is the form of the soul that makes it unique; indeed, only the soul decides the hidden ‘gestation period’ of that image which cannot be perceived by the conscious gaze.” For Stalker, the mentioned gestation period turned out to be an unexpectedly long one and the labor pains were more than excruciating.
If we refer to Tarkovsky’s published diaries, it is clear that the 1970s were a particularly harrowing decade for the auteur. His autobiographical movie The Mirror was not permitted to be screened outside of the Soviet Union and other projects he had had in mind (such as a film adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot and the never-filmed script for Hoffmanniana, based on the life of German poet E.T.A. Hoffmann) were more than frowned upon by those who made the Soviet film policy. The filmmaker even pondered retiring from cinema and focusing solely on theater work. But ultimately, those years of agony and uncertainty eventually gave rise to the last film Tarkovsky would make in the Soviet Union before his intentional exile. It all started with the director reading Roadside Picnic and recommending it to filmmaker Giorgi Kalatozishvili, thinking that he might want to adapt it. But said director did not manage to obtain the rights to the movie and ended up deserting the idea. Then Tarkovsky started playing around with the thought of turning the novel into a film, which would allow him to utilize the Aristotelian unity of location, time and action that, in his own words, “permits us to approach truly authentic filmmaking.” The year 1976 saw the birth of the screenplay for Stalker, which was written by the novel’s authors themselves. And how much did the script and its source material end up having in common? As Tarkovsky so bluntly put it: “I must say, too, that the script of Stalker has nothing in common with the novel, Picnic on the Roadside, except for the two words, ‘Stalker’ and ‘Zone’. So you see, the history of the origins of my film is deceptive.”
Little did Tarkovsky know that the production of his fifth movie would be such a troubled one. The initial location he wanted Stalker to be shot in was near the city of Isfara in Tajikistan. Preparations for filming were well underway, when an earthquake that hit that particular region rendered the shoot impossible. After searching for locations in Turkmenistan, Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Crimea, the director ultimately settled on Estonia: “a dilapidated ship repair yard, a crumbling hydroelectric station, an abandoned oil processing plant and other post-industrial ruins around the capital, Tallinn” as Stephen Dalton so poignantly described. The director and his cast and crew ended up spending the spring and summer of 1977 filming Stalker’s outdoor scenes. But upon their return to Moscow, it was discovered that the footage was a shade of dark green that rendered it unwatchable. Tarkovsky and his DOP Georgy Rerberg had namely shot the movie on a new Kodak 5247 stock that Soviet laboratories did not know how to develop properly. But the movie’s sound designer Vladimir Sharun said that Tarkovsky had a different theory: “Tarkovsky was certain the film was swapped. This newer Kodak which Gambarov sent specifically for Stalker was stolen and in some way or another ended up in the hands of a certain very well-known Soviet film director who was Tarkovsky’s adversary. And they gave Andrei a regular Kodak except that nobody knew about this and that’s why they processed it differently. Tarkovsky considered it a result of scheming by his enemies. But I think it was just the usual Russian sloppiness.”
Unfortunately for Tarkovsky, this was not the end of his troubles. The director’s relationship with his DOP had been on the decline even before the film stock fiasco. In the documentary film Rerberg and Tarkovsky: The Reverse Side of Stalker by Igor Maiboroda, it is stated that the DOP advised the director to do some rewrites, which Tarkovsky declined to do. They argued and Tarkovsky fired Rerberg. After coming to terms with the fact that the outdoor footage was unusable and two-thirds of the budget spent, Tarkovsky contemplated throwing in the towel, before ultimately deciding against it. He managed to persuade the film board to give him another 300,000 rubles to shoot a longer two-parter. This gave Tarkovsky the opportunity to go back to the script and manipulate the screenwriters, already exhausted by ceaseless rewrites, into proposing to ditch the sci-fi elements from their own story.
With a new script, a new budget and Leonid Kalashnikov as the new DOP, filming continued the following year. But Kalashnikov reportedly did not understand what the director wanted from him, thus abandoning the shooting of his own accord and remaining uncredited. He was in turn replaced with Alexander Knyazhinsky who reshot the entire movie. Further on-set tension ensued when filming was delayed due to a freak snowfall in the summer of 1978. As reported by Sharun, the cast and crew spent their time in a suburban hotel binge-drinking, which ended in Tarkovsky firing several crew members on account of them being “drunks.” He even sacked art director Shavkat Abdusalamov for “behaving like a bastard” and credited himself as art director.
The original footage shot by Rerberg was destroyed in a fire in 1988. But those who had seen it claim that it was beautiful despite the shade of dark green. The only sequence that was preserved by ultimately making the final cut was “the one that shows a kind of hurricane or dust storm blowing up on the heaving surface of the marshes” as described by Mark Le Fanu. This very sequence, along with a number of other ones, was shot near hazardous materials, with both the cast and the crew remaining unprotected. As Sharun put it: “We were shooting near Tallinn in the area around the small river Jägala with a half-functioning hydroelectric station. Up the river was a chemical plant and it poured out poisonous liquids downstream. There is even this shot in Stalker: snow falling in the summer and white foam floating down the river. In fact it was some horrible poison. Many women in our crew got allergic reactions on their faces. Tarkovsky died from cancer of the right bronchial tube. And Tolya Solonitsyn too. That it was all connected to the location shooting for Stalker became clear to me when Larisa Tarkovskaya died from the same illness in Paris.”
After finishing Stalker, Tarkovsky managed to shoot only two more films—Nostalghia (1983) in Italy and The Sacrifice (1986) in Sweden—before passing away at the age of fifty-four. That the making of a movie characterized by so many trials and tribulations (in all probability) ended up costing him and his co-workers their lives is nothing short of a tragedy. But even though the filmmaker’s time on Earth was cut short, he is, to this very day, hailed as one of the greatest directors of all time, an artist whose work was characterized by inspired mergers of contemplative style and transcendental substance. And despite the entire production process behind Stalker being a far cry from a walk in the park, the final cut turned out to be one of the most memorable, mesmerizing, exquisitely shot works of art ever to be captured on film. All of the sequences set outside the Zone were filmed in Sepia, while the inside of the Zone was shot in color—a perfect reflection of the Stalker’s perception of his own life, with his journeying into the Zone representing a life truly lived and the non-action that takes place outside of it a life wasted. In true Tarkovsky fashion, the takes are long and the camera movement subtle. With a running time of 163 minutes, the movie contains a mere 142 shots—the average length of a shot is more than a minute, with numerous shots lasting more than four minutes. The slow and deliberate pacing makes it so that Stalker effortlessly ventures into the territory of visual poetry, seamlessly capturing our attention and mercilessly pulling us into a world of deep introspection, while at the same time keeping us on our toes. For the Zone is both a place where all preconceived notions of what can be expected come to die and an intricate, yet seemingly chaotic maze that puts its visitors squarely in the realm of the unknown. Much like life.
Koraljka Suton is a member of the Croatian Society of Film Critics and has a master’s degree in German and English. For her thesis, she did a comparative analysis of Spielberg’s ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’. Koraljka trained at a Zagreb-based acting studio for six years and fell in love with Michael Chekhov and Lee Strasberg’s acting techniques. She is also a contemporary dancer and a Reiki master who believes in the transformative quality of art. Read more »
“The first screenplay of Stalker was closer to the novel and the film had a curious history. Half of it was already shot in fact when the exposed film was destroyed in the Mosfilm lab. Nobody would have allowed me to shot the film again had it not been the fault of a Mosfilm technician. One cannot repeat the same thing for the second time, that would have been beyond my stamina. Thus together with the authors we returned to our work on the screenplay… In this case some kind of law of equilibrium must have been at work, perhaps the Mosfilm disaster was not accidental. It was as if fate intervened in the sense the accident occurred precisely at the instant the film could have become insufficiently deep.” —Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenwriter must-read: Arkadiy Strugatskiy & Boris Strugatskiy’s screenplay for Stalker [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available from the Criterion Collection and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.
Stalker, Smuggler of Happiness, by Tonino Guerra, 1979.
What does the word “Stalker” mean?
It is a word derived from the English verb “to stalk,” to approach furtively, very quietly. In the film it indicates the profession of those who cross the borders and penetrate into a forbidden Zone with a specific aim: a bit like a gangster, or a bootlegger, a smuggler. A Stalker is a sort of job that is handed down from generation to generation. Actually, it seems to me that the spectators should doubt not only the existence of other stalkers, but also the existence of the forbidden Zone. Perhaps even the place where wishes are realized is only a myth. Or a joke. Or perhaps it is only a fantasy of our protagonist. For the public this remains a mystery. The existence, in the Zone, of the “room” in which wishes are realized, serves only as a pretext to discover the personalities of the three protagonists of the film.
What kind of character is your Stalker?
He is an extremely honest man, clean, and, so to speak, intellectually innocent. His wife characterizes him as “blessed.” He guides men into the Zone to “make them happy,” as he puts it. He dedicates himself with the maximum disinterest, totally, to this idea. It seems to him that it is the only way to make men happy. His story is essentially that of the last idealist: that of a man who believes in the possibility of a happiness independent of man’s will and his efforts. His profession gives a total and exclusive meaning to his existence: like a priest in the Zone, the stalker leads men down there, so that they may become happy. Actually, nobody can maintain with precision if anyone effectively became happy or not down there. At the end of his voyage into the Zone, under the influence of those whom he is guiding, he loses his own faith: the faith in the possibility of making anyone happy. He is unable to find individuals capable of believing in this Zone, in the possibility of finding happiness, of reaching the “room.” In conclusion, he rediscovers only his own idea of the happiness of men obtained with the help of a pure faith.
When did you get the idea for this film?
You are not the first, Tonino, to pose such a question to me. How did I get the idea to make this or that film? I have never been able to give an interesting answer. The idea of a film always comes to me in a very ordinary, boring, manner, bit by bit, by rather banal phases. To recount it would only be a waste of time. There is really nothing fascinating, nothing poetic, about it. Ah, if only one could represent that moment like a sort of sudden illumination! In an interview Ingmar Bergman, if I remember correctly, told how the idea, or rather the image, of one of his films came to him suddenly, while observing a ray of light on the floor of a dark room. I don’t know, evidently it happens. It has never happened to me. Naturally it occurs that certain images emerge suddenly, but then they change, perhaps inadvertently, as in a dream, and often they transform, vexingly, inexorably, into something unrecognizable and new.
Nevertheless, is there a story behind the birth of Stalker?
At one time I had recommended to my friend, the director Georgy Kalatozisvili, that he read the short novel Roadside Picnic, thinking that perhaps he might be interested in making a cinematic adaption of it. Then, I don’t know how, Kalatozisvili was not able to come to an agreement with the Strugatsky brothers, the authors of the novel, and so he abandoned the idea for that film. Every once in a while, that idea began to come to my mind again. Then increasingly it seemed to me that from that novel one could make a film with a unity of place, of time, and of action. These classic Aristotelian unities, it seemed to me, allow one to arrive at authentic cinema, which for me is not the so-called action cinema, exterior cinema, outwardly dynamic cinema. I believed that the subject which the screenplay would be based on permitted one to express in a very concentrated manner the philosophy, so to speak, of the contemporary intellectual. Or rather, his condition. Although I must say that the screenplay of Stalker has only two words, two names, in common with the Strugatskys’ novel Roadside Picnic: Stalker and Zone. As you see, the story behind my film is rather disappointing.
Does the material that has already been shot suggest a precise idea to you about the musical comment?
When I saw the material that had been shot for the first time, I thought that the film did not require music. It seemed to me that it could, that it should, rely only on sounds. Sounds possess a special expressivity: perhaps they are not able to replace music in general, but they can superbly replace illustrative music, “film music” to be precise. The spectator of ten guesses in advance the moment when such music starts up; he hears it and thinks: “there we are, fine, now everything is clear.” I would like to avoid this at all costs.
In any case, I understand that there will also be music in Stalker.
I would like to try a muffled music, barely distinguishable through the noise of the train that passes underneath the windows of the Stalker’s home. For example, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (the Ode to Joy), Wagner, or, perhaps, the Marseillaise, music, in other words, that is rather popular, that expresses the sense of the movement of the masses, the theme of the destiny of human society. But this music must barely reach, through the noises, the ear of the audience, so that, until the end, the spectator does not know if he is really hearing it or if he’s dreaming. Then I would like for many of the noises and sounds to be “composed” by a composer. In the film, for example, the three characters travel for a lengthy distance on a railway trolley. I would like for the soundc of the trolley on the tracks not to be naturalistic, but elaborated by a composer with the aid of electronic music. But not in such a way that it becomes clear that it is music and not natural sounds. In other words, the sounds must be partially transformed by electronic music in such a way that they present themselves with a new, let us say, more poetic, resonance.
But will there be a main theme?
There will be, and I have the sensation that it must evoke the Far East, that it must be charged with a, so to speak, Zen content, whose principle is concentration and not descriptiveness. The principal musical theme will have to be stripped of emotion, on the one hand, and of thought, on the other, of any programatic design. It will have to independently express its own truth about the surrounding world. It will have to be enclosed in itself.
Is there anything autobiographical in Stalker?
Perhaps even more than in Mirror, in Stalker I had to make use of emotions, even memories, that are very personal. In Mirror there is the physical resemblance of the actors to real people, of the settings to real places. In Stalker there are more moments that evoke in me a sort of strange sense of nostalgia. Let’s take the writer. It seems to me that the actor, Solonytsin, followed my indications very scrupulously: so that at times I recognize my own characteristics, my way of speaking, in a certain way of behaving, in a certain intonation of voice: even though the writer is a character who, in general, I don’t like very much.
Who do you feel sympathy towards?
Mostly towards the protagonist, towards the Stalker. In a certain sense I am convinced that there is something within me that connects me to him. I would like to help him in some way, to defend him. Let’s say that for me he is like a brother. A lost brother, perhaps, but a brother nevertheless. In any case, I feel, in a heart-rending manner, his moments of conflict with the world that so easily wounds him. I feel that his psychological make-up, his approach and reaction to reality, are similar to my own. So much so that, despite being an outlaw, he is much more cultured, educated, and intelligent, in the film, than the writer or the scientist, who nevertheless, as characters, express the very idea of intelligence, science, education. From the very beginning I had the urge to make a bookshelf stuffed full of books appear, suddenly, in the film. And it appears in the film’s finale, in a scenography that is entirely inappropriate for such an object. I would like to have such a bookshelf in my home. I’ve never had such a bookshelf. And I would like to have it in the same disorder in which the Stalker keeps his.
There are objects that return in your films. At least in your latest films.
It’s true. Starting with Solaris, and then in Mirror, and in Stalker there are the same objects, always the same. Certain bottles, certain old books, mirrors, various little objects on shelves or on windowsills. Only that which I would like to have in my home has the right to find itself in a shot of one of my films. If the objects are not to my liking, I simply cannot allow myself to leave them in the film, even though my characters are very different from each other and do not resemble me. And nevertheless, from this point of view, I eliminate and annul, with maximum intransigence, any thing that I do not like from the shot.
With regards to Solaris and Mirror, are there links between these films and Stalker? Are there any with Andrei Rublov, with Ivan’s Childhood?
I think there are, and I’ll try to clarify. Stalker allowed me to capture with great precision the idea that was almost implied in the preceeding films. I now understand what it is. I do not seem to believe in the strength of so-called “strong” men; nor in the weakness of those whom we habitually call weak. It is not so simple. Or, simply, it is not so. This idea came to mind when I began working on this film. It was my intention to tell the story of precisely a man of this sort: an effectively weak man, an effectively strong man. But suddenly I understood that even my previous films were about these type of men. Ivan’s Childhood, for example. A film about a boy. A boy who died in the war at the age of twelve. A boy, a child, thus a weak being, thus a victim. But in effect that boy seems to me to be stronger than many of the characters who surround him.
Let’s take Andrei Rublov. A humble monk, whose very monastic life induces humility, meekness; in any case, not a strong man, in the common sense of the term. But he reveals himself to be the strongest: not only because he manages to survive the horrendous cataclysims that besiege, around him, Russia and his era: but also because he knew to bring with him, through his terrible biography, the thirst for creation.
Or let’s take Kelvin in Solaris. A typical petit-bourgeois, a somewhat weak personality. At the beginning he is a figure that, less than anyone else, intends to emerge individually, he does not desire anything exceptional, any thing exclusive. On the contrary. Even though he is a scientist, a psychologist. And yet, he reveals himself to be a strong personality when he struggles with the problems of his own conscience and knows to oppose them with his own human dignity. And so it is with the Stalker. He seems so weak, and he reveals himself to be the strongest in his desire to serve other men, in his intention to make them happy. This is what unites my films.
But this leading idea…
I followed it unconsciously. In other words, it’s as if I always told the same story about the same character: about a man whom, for some reason, society considers to be weak and which I consider to be strong. I am convinced that precisely thanks to personalities of this sort, society can be strong and look courageously to the future and resist everything that aims to destroy it. Likewise in Mirror the protagonist is presented as an extremely weak, reflective, being. An ill man, who remembers his own life during a crisis of his illness, without knowing if he will come out of it alive or not. It is precisely for this reason that he remembers what he remembers. And instead here is this moribund man, this very weak man, who reveals himself to be very strong, because despite everything he does not belong to himself. He belongs to the persons whom he remembers, he belongs to the love that he gave them. And if he suffers, it is only because he did not love those who loved him enough. Is this perhaps weakness? This is strength. And instead, who knows how, many reproach me because my heroes are not heroes. There is a tendency to think that a hero must be something mighty, tough, a sort of robot. My heroes are not like that, and they could not be like that, because I am convinced that men of that sort do not exist. And they cannot exist, and they must not be imitated, because one should not imitate emptiness. And the public perceives this. It will never be able to believe in a hero made of iron.
Would you be willing to tell me the end of the film, shot by shot, as if I were a blind man?
It’s a very interesting question. Probably it would be nice not to make films, but only recount them to the blind. A beautiful idea! One only needs to acquire a tape-recorder. “Thought expressed is a lie,” as the poet said.
Alright, I can’t see any thing. Tell me.
A close-up: an ill little girl, the daughter of the Stalker, is holding a large book in front of her. She is wrapped in a scarf. We see her in profile in front of an illuminated window. The camera slowly tracks back and frames a portion of the table. A table in close-up, covered with dirty dishes: two glasses and a jar. The girl puts the book down on her knees, and we hear her voice repeating what she has read. She looks at one of the glasses. And under the power of her gaze, the glass begins to move towards the camera. Then the little girl shifts her gaze towards the other glass and the other glass also begins to move. Then the girl looks at the glass in the middle of the table and we see that it too begins to move under the power of her gaze. It moves and falls to the ground, but it does not break. We hear a train passing near the house, it makes a strange noise, the walls shake, they tremble increasingly. The camera returns to the close-up of the little girl, and with this sound, with this noise, the film ends.
Which shots, which images, in your films do you believe you “stole” from someone, naturally refashioning them in your own way? In this sense, what paintings, or films, or works of art have exercised some influence over you?
In general, I’m very afraid of these things and I always try to avoid them. And I don’t like when someone then reminds me that in this or that case I did not act with complete independence. But now, recently, quotation is also starting to become interesting to me. Mirror, for example, has a scene, a shot, which could very well have been filmed by Bergman. I reflected on the opportuneness of filming the scene that way. Then I decided that it wasn’t important. Oh yes, I thought, it will be a sort of homage that I make to him. It is the scene in which Terekhova sells her earrings and Larissa, the doctor’s wife, tries them on and looks into the camera, as in a mirror. Terekhova’s face, looking in the mirror, and behind her, Larissa’s face, who moves, approaches the camera and tries on the earrings, gazing at her own image reflected in the shadows: I don’t know why, it seemed to me that it was a scene that was very similar to something Bergman might film.
Again in Mirror, take the shots of the episode with the military instructor. There are two or three that are clearly inspired by the paintings of Brueghel: the boy, the tiny figures of the people, the snow, the naked trees, the river in the distance. I constructed these shots very consciously. Almost deliberately. And not with the idea of stealing or to show how cultured I am, but to testify my love for Brueghel, my dependency on him, the profound mark that he has left in my life. In Andrei Rublev I believe there is a scene that could belong to Mizoguchi, the late great Japanese director. It was casual. I only realized it when the film was completed, at the moment it was screened. It is the scene where the Russian prince gallops across the countryside on a white horse, and a tartar on a black horse. It seemed to me that the quality of the image in black and white, the opacity of the grey day tended to resemble a landscape sketched with black China ink. The two horses run one next to the other, suddenly the tartar shouts, whistles, whips his horse and begins passing ahead of the Russian prince. The Russian launches in pursuit, but can’t manage to reach him. In the following shot, they are still. There is no longer anything. Only the memory of the Russian prince trying with his horse to reach the tartar and failing to do so. It is a shot entirely extraneous to the development of the story. Rather it attempts to render a state of mind and to illuminate the relationship between these two men. It is like a game between boys: one runs in front of the other and says: “You can’t catch me!”; the other runs after him, trying with all his might to reach him, and he can’t do it. But then, immediately afterwards, they forget the game and stop running.
Essentially, to pretend that one does not quote is like pretending that one does not have any father and grandfathers and…
I too am convinced of this. It seems to me that every original aspect in the work of genuine writers, genuine painters, musicians, filmmakers, always has deep roots. Therefore, finding references from far back in the past, is inevitable. I don’t even know what it originates from. Perhaps it is not a characteristic of our spiritual stance, but a typical aspect of our time. Because time is nevertheless reversible. At least that is what I believe. We often discover something that we have already experienced. When I am working, it helps me a lot to think of Bresson. Only the thought of Bresson! I don’t remember any of his works concretely. I remember only his supremely ascetic manner. His simplicity. His clarity. The thought of Bresson helps me to concentrate on the central idea of the film.
And do you ever think of any Italians? Have you ever had the urge to quote from them?
At times Antonioni comes to mind, his black and white period, L’Avventura, my favorite of his films. Or the Fellini of 8 1/2, but not from the figurative point of view. From the purely figurative point of view I am interested in the formal solutions, of a, so to speak, spiritual nature, of his Casanova, the use of the plastic material. In that film, in my opinion, the formal aspect is of an extremely high level, its plasticity is incredibly profound. At times, when I am shooting a color film, another of his shots comes to mind, from his episode in Three Steps Into Delirium [Translator’s note: this is a French/Italian anthology film from 1968 that was distributed in the U.S. that year under the title Spirits of the Dead. Fellini’s brilliant 40 minute segment is entitled Toby Dammit and stars Terence Stamp as a burned-out alcoholic British actor who comes to Rome to star in the Vatican sponsored first “Catholic western” and keeps glimpsing the devil in the form of an eerie little girl bouncing a white ball. Although the other two episodes that make up this anthology film are utterly forgettable rubbish, Fellini’s episode is an unjustly neglected little masterpiece that ranks with the best of his work], of the actor who comes to act in a film in Rome. A splendid shot, at the airport: a panoramic shot inside the airport, backlit, in the evening, a yellowish scene, with the camera framing from above, the people, the airplanes behind the panes of glass, the light. It is not my style, certainly. I would like to be as primitive, as banal, as possible.
Are you thinking of doing something immediately after Stalker? To begin work on some new film?
I would like to shoot the film that we have decided on: Voyage to Italy. But you can speak about this film much better than I can. In any case, I think that we will know how to avoid boring cinema, commercial cinema. Which does not mean that we will lose spectators. I would like to make a film which would result in us losing some spectators and acquiring other, new, numerous, spectators. I would like for our film to be seen by diverse people, that cannot be called cinema spectators.
Someone told me that you would like to completely change your way of making cinema. Is this true?
Yes, only that I still don’t know how. It would be nice, let us say, to shoot a film in complete freedom, like amateurs make their films. Reject large financing. Have the possibility to observe nature and people, and film them, without haste. The story would be born autonomously: as the result of these observations, not from oblidged shots, planned in the tiniest detail. Such a film would be difficult to realize in the manner that commercial films are realized. It would have to be shot in absolute freedom, independent from lighting, from actors, from the time employed in filming, etc., etc. And with a reduced gauge camera. I believe that such a method of filming could push me to move much further forward.
Tarkovsky shooting Stalker—backstage.
A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE ON THE MAKING OF ‘STALKER’: THE TESTIMONY OF A MECHANIC TOILING AWAY UNDER TARKOVSKY’S GUIDANCE
Named by the British Film Institute as one of the fifty greatest movies of all time, Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 science fiction masterpiece called Stalker is, among many other things, a one-of-a-kind filmwatching experience. Enough ink has already been spilt here on C&B on the importance of Tarkovsky for the European and world cinema, as well as on the personal affection we feel towards his work. This dreamlike mixture of philosophy and psychology, set against a fascinating science fiction background, captured our attention during the most sensitive formative years of our path to becoming the filmlovers we hold ourselves to be today, and it still gives us enormous pleasure to explore all of the nooks and crannies of Stalker. The loose adaptation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s 1971 short novel ‘Roadside Picnic,’ the screenplay of which was written by the very authors of the book, is held in the greatest of esteems today, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s reputation far surpassed even what his closest collaborators probably dared to imagine back then. With his poetic style of filmmaking, captivating long takes, heavy reliance on the power of images and the visual and frequent exploration of metaphysical and spiritual subjects, Tarkovsky created a body of work modest in quantity (only seven feature films, two of the latest made in exile in Sweden and Italy), but works of art that continue to inspire.
For today’s article, we’re excited to present you with a rare testimony from one of the people fortunate enough to witness–and actively participate in–the creation of Stalker. Sergei Bessmertniy, which is more than likely his pseudonym, was hired as a mechanic to work on the set, and in this article he shares a lot of fascinating details about Stalker from a fresh, unique perspective. His account of the process of filming holds value mostly because of the little things, as the mechanic reveals how certain scenes were filmed, describes the footage that was lost or discarded, at the same time giving us hints and information that paint the picture of Andrei Tarkovsky, the filmmaker and charismatic individual.
After military service, which was obligatory in the Soviet Union, I decided not to return to The Central Studio of Popular Science and Educational Films, where I used to work but get a job at Mosfilm (the oldest and biggest film studio in the Russian Federation), because I wanted to be in the world of cinema and I didn’t gave up hope on entering the VGIK (Russian State University of Cinematography) as a cameraman. In January 1977 I started working at that studio as a mechanic for servicing film-crew equipment and as an auxiliary technician. In contrast to the ordinary profession of mechanic repair there was the work on the set: installing a film camera, preparing a film stock to be operable, fulfilment the movement of the camera on a dolly or crane shot.
Soon in the plan for a future filming I saw a name Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky. I had already known that he was a significant and extraordinary film director, but I had not read the book by Strugatsky. So the title didn’t mean anything to me, seeming very mysterious and intriguing. And of course, I was curious to know what kind of a movie it was. Sometimes I walked around the pavilion, where there was a decoration for the apartment of Stalker (where the first scene of Stalker was filmed at the beginning of February that year) but I didn’t see the filming itself. When I found out that there was an expedition organized to go to Estonia to continue filming, I asked my boss to appoint me there and she replied positively. As my work was of highly technical nature, there were no colleagues of mine who would treat the cinematography as a creation. Additionally, it was known that on the set of that director requirements for all members of the crew were usually higher and the work needed more effort. So thanks to that, I entered the film crew easily and without competition. Usually, on the set of a feature film the crew consisted of two mechanics; the first was a responsible one and the second was a helper. In that case I was the second one—a helper.
The filming took place at an abandoned power plant on the river Yagala (Jägala) in Estonia, as well as at the dam a mile away from it and at some sites in Tallinn. The power plant and dam had an expressive texture: cracked, lichen-covered concrete broken glass, oil stains. It seemed like artists, in preparation for the filming, just needed to follow this aesthetic.
Filming began in May. The first scene was the heroes’ approach to the building where the precious room was hidden. My colleague and I started to build a real railroad with turns for the dolly and carefully align it. All crew was warned that no one should walk on the grass which was supposed to be in the shot: everything should look untouched. It was the first time that I saw Tarkovsky. He was 45 years old, but I saw some youthful features in his guise He behaved in a quite simple manner and he often wore a denim suit.
Most of the scenes were filmed in the evening, in that short part of the day, when the sun had set behind the horizon, but it is still light. The director of photography Georgi Rerberg mostly didn’t illuminate the scene. He rather limited the light coming from the sky and put big black cloth shaders behind the camera or under the heads of actors, so that’s how the required lighting was achieved. Here with sometimes only a small light fixture worked. It slightly illuminated the actors’ faces below in filming close-ups. Thus, the quantity of light was at the limit of possibility.
We had been waiting for a few days when high-aperture lenses Distagon would arrive from Moscow that were needed for such conditions. Of course, we had to film with full open lens aperture (1,4) that created great difficulties for the focus assistant: there was almost no depth of field in close-ups. Actually Rerberg preferred to use lenses with constant focal length and also camera geared head. Camera was old: the american Mitchell NC. Without doubt Rerberg was one of the best masters in the country at that period.
The birth of this film was difficult. I was not aware of the intricacies of the creative process, as a technical worker, but I had known already that at that time hardly the first version of the script was used. The characters were not the same as in the final version. For example, in the film there is an episode where the Writer hits the Stalker’s face but then filmed the scene in which the assertive and aggressive Stalker hits the Writer. For the imitation of blood the old cinematic trick was used: someone was sent to find cranberry jam, which Tarkovsky liked more than the composition that was made at the studio. The script still had some sci-fi effects which showed the Zone’s strangeness that were later almost discarded by Tarkovsky. There were a lot of nuts thrown from a bandage, but the meaning of the action wasn’t explained. One of these nuts is hanging on the wall in my room for many years. There was an episode filmed where a lamp (which was hanging on the pole) suddenly lit up brightly and then burnt out. In the finished version of the film that lamp was displayed in another episode.
On another episode, the writer got into a place where he suddenly started to become very wet and moisture simply flowed from him, and then it quickly evaporated. For filming this effect was created a system of branched rubber tubes, which Solonitsyn had to wear under his coat so at the right moment the water had to gush out quickly. Making a wet footprint on the iron sheet was created with the help of acetone and a blowtorch.
There was also a dialogue between characters at the power plant. It had to be filmed with a moving camera that, unnoticed by the audience, passed into the reflection of the mirror. And then the viewer suddenly had to see that scene in the mirror-inverted form. A different game with space was expressed in the shot, which was built on the dam. Between the rails on which the camera dolly stood lay a mirror with still-life painting of a moss and sand that depicted a landscape from bird’s eye view.
Moreover, the mirror looked like the surface of the pond with the sky’s reflection. A camera, looking above, floated over it then passed into the water and, rising, went out on the real river landscape. This was one of the two shots that were filmed in the first filming period and then included in the final version of the film. However, the start of the shot was cut off and the game effect with space was gone. This motif was then heard in the next two films of Tarkovsky.
The second shot remaining in the film was a view of the river completely covered in a reddish foam and several flakes whirled with wind in the air. It was not a special effect: the waste of pulp and paper was dumped into this river from an industrial complex and the water was very dirty. However, oddly to say, there were small fish. A few years later, when it turned out that most of the members of the crew had passed away, rumors appeared that it was because the area around the place of filming had been poisoned. Some say it might have been radiation, but I don’t know any specific facts about it.
In addition to the fact that the script was constantly changed, some scenes of the film had to be reshot again. It seemed strange to me: if they were not Tarkovsky and Rerberg, but someone less known, I would have suspected them of incompetence.
The footage was taken away to Moscow for developing and feedback came a few days later. I was in the first viewing at the “Tallinn-film” studio. The image looked dark and greenish.
These are two shots from that first footage.
In the future, viewing the footage took place privately. Then I thought: “Well, this is a rough positive, later will be printed, as it should.” But everything turned out to be more complicated. I found out later about the creative problems, but meanwhile the second cameraman who was responsible for exposure had to leave the crew, but I doubt very much that he was guilty. Then the same did production designer Alexander Boim—an experienced artist of theater and cinema. They began to replace one or the other member of the crew. On one fine day my turn came—without any explanation they told me that I had to leave for Moscow. So I did. I had an impression that the initiator of all this leapfrog was not Tarkovsky, but someone from his surroundings. My bosses at the studio had no issues to me, I guess, they understood that it was some kind of a game. In the end Rerberg also had to leave. Instead of him was invited Leonid Kalashnikov, who came with his own assistants. They filmed something and then the work stopped—the autumn had come.
I continued to work at the studio, took part in the filming of the movie Yemelyan Pugachev held in Belarus. Meanwhile, the fate of Stalker was decided.
It was agreed that the reason of the failure was a defective batch of the film (Kodak 5247) and wrong film development.
It seems strange to me, because all that had to be seen before filming at the stage of trial. They had managed to arrange the film as a two-part film so funds were found for the continuation of filming. The script was changed again, and it was decided to re-shoot it all over again.
The work had to be resumed in the spring at the same objects again and the assistant of the cameraman invited me to join the camera crew. Alexander Knyazhinskiy was now the director of photography. He was a good master, but, in my opinion, he didn’t feel as independent as Regberg did and that was the reason he felt an internal stress. Now we used a film camera KSN, which is a Soviet copy of the american camera Mitchell NC and almost all films except close-ups in the scene of travel in the Zone were filmed by zoom lens Cooke Varotal (20-100, T 3.1). It is a high-quality English lens with a variable focal length; the size of it was as big as an artillery shell and it cost the same as a passenger car. I was still a second mechanic, but the first one, more experienced, who worked at the studio for about 20 years, had noticed that I was a hardworking person so he gave me the opportunity to work on my own. And actually I’m really thankful for it. In Tarkovsky’s films the camera often moves long and slow. On the set of Stalker, in most cases, I had to make this movement.
And we’re in Estonia again. We started with the arrival scene in the Zone when the film’s heroes stop the handcar and continue on foot.
In the distance we see the abandoned military equipment. Part of that was real and was brought specially from Moscow, the rest was made by decorators. Before the filming a pyrotechnist was running with a smoke pot, keeping an eye on the wind direction and creating the effect of fog.
Near the power plant a memorable scene of the film was shot when the camera from a close-up of a lying Stalker moves to water with lying objects in it and floats over. At this time in the finished version of the film we hear a woman’s voice reading a fragment of the Apocalypse (6.12-16).
It happened at the bottom of a small canal that used to pour water on the turbine of the power plant. At this time the water was about ankle deep. Kajdanovsky was almost lying in the water, even though there was something put under him. The weather was quite chilly and the costume designer Nelly Fomina came up with an idea: the actor should wear a waterproof and heat-insulated suit for divers under his clothes. So that’s how he wasn’t able to get cold.
The rails were placed on each side of the actor and dolly with camera was placed in an unusual way: the right-hand wheels on the right rails and the left on the left and the actor was under it.
The film camera was mounted on a lawest tripod at the edge of the dolly looking down on the actor. When, during filming, it passed over him, he got up and moved to a new place where the camera saw him in the final shot. I remember how Tarkovsky asked me: “Sergei, could you drive this distance in 3 minutes?” I said, “Let’s try.” He started his stopwatch and gave me “Action” command. I slowly began to roll the dolly and count seconds in my head.
Generally people of my profession were assistants of сinematographer and could not talk to the director at all. But as far as Andrei Tarkovsky took full part in the filming process and in rehearsal he often took the place of the operator behind the camera. So I can confidently say that I have worked with him.
Also, he actively participated in the work of decorators, paying attention to every detail in the picture. “Make an ikebana for us!” he joked.
The indefatigable helper of director in the preparation of every shot was an artist from Kazan called Rashit Safiullin.
Sometimes the filming took place in cool weather. “Without Kaif no Life,” once said Solonitsyn lying during rehearsal on wet moss, surrounded by water, as it was required by the episode. For all of the group he was named Tolia; Kajdanovsky was Sasha; Grinko was Nikolai Grigoryevich, apparently in order of seniority.
Water was a favorite theme of Tarkovsky, and there was a lot of it. Sometimes we had to wear rubber boots on a wooden tripod.
The filming process mostly consists of expectations and despite the tense situation there was time for rest, for example, for playing dice or for conversations about something extraneous. I remember that one day Tarkovsky said that he loved the genre of western and that he would gladly film something like that. I think if he had been filming a Western, it would have been similar to the prologue of the film Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Generally he was supercritical, for example, he said once that Spielberg’s films were not cinema at all (perhaps he meant Jaws). I did not join this conversation, but I remember that I didn’t agree with him. In my opinion, a film can be good in different ways—Spielberg is good in his own way, Bergman in his.
There was a Mosfilm staff photographer Vladimir Murashko (now deceased) who worked on the set from the very beginning until the end of filming; during 1977 and 1978 he captured each and any meaningful frame of the film as well as some work moments in the shooting process. He had a high-quality 6X6 cm Hasselblad camera. But among all the shots from the filming which I found in books, periodicals and Internet only a few could be presumably attributed to his authorship. It would be interesting to know where the rest of the materials went.
I filmed quite a few good frames. At that time I had not yet sufficiently defined the tasks as a person with a photo camera: what should generally be filmed? In addition to the most interesting moments, I was usually busy with my main work, also because of the tense situation during filming I felt uncomfortable to be active in this matter.
I had the Zenit 3M camera for 35 mm film and an old german Voightländer with bellows for the glass plates 6×9 cm and I also tried to take pictures with it. Once Tarkovsky noticed it and told me that his father had the similar. Talking with him I said, “Well, let me to take a photo of you with this camera.” I asked him to take a step back to get away from the direct sun and then I made the photo. It turned out without sharpness and for many years I thought it wasn’t a good one. Then after scanning the negative and setting in Photoshop, I thought, “Not in sharpness is happiness—he was smiling and looking at the viewer, I have not seen another shot like that.”
Some working moments in Estonia were filmed with a movie camera. I’ve never seen this footage. I wonder where it is.
That scene, where the characters sit on the handcar and drive off, was filmed in Tallinn in an abandoned oil storage. In the episode where they pass into the Zone the police should appear. They had conditional uniforms chosen so it should be unclear in which country the action took place. If you look more closely, you can see that on their helmets one can see connected letters “AT” and actually it was the initials of the director. The same letters can be seen on a pack of cigarettes that are smoked by Stalker’s wife.
Close-ups during the passage into the Zone were filmed in another industrial outskirts of the city. Actors were sitting not on the handcar, but the railway platform, which was rolled along the rails by a locomotive. The rails for the dolly were placed next to them, on which a cameraman sat, holding an Arriflex camera that was equipped with the stabilizer system Steadycam, quenching its shaking and jerking, and thus providing a smooth movement. I moved the dolly which allows the camera to switch from one actor to another.
There was a scene where characters drive a Land Rover and rush into Zone through the gate of UN to follow a locomotive that carries a platform with electro-ceramic insulators. It was quite comic. Tarkovsky (who was overcoming the noise of the locomotive) explained through the megaphone to a driver that he should move when he waves his hand. At the same time he was showing how he would do it. But the driver didn’t hear all the words and drove off. Tarkovsky shouted: “No, no, not now, during filming!” The locomotive was stopped and, panting heavily, returned. Tarkovsky started to explain it again, but that time without showing. Suddenly the locomotive began to move again. Confused, Tarkovsky turned to his colleagues: “I did not wave!” It turned out that, behind him, his assistant Eugene Tsymbal was showing the driver the gesture.
In the film that shot is black-and-white. In General, all filmed on color film, but some scenes were printed in black and white.
In Moscow (at Mosfilm) in the big pavilion a large complex was built with decorations that depicted Stalker’s apartment and also some of the Zone’s places which were created in a special way that allowed to fill them with water.
There is a long scene when Stalker reads a poem “So the summer is over,” and starts a dialogue and meanwhile a phone rings and a lamp turns on. The dolly with camera a few times moved on rails with a twist. As between the rehearsal and filming there were two or three days off, I had to draw the movement of the dolly for the only time in my practice. In the end, this scene was shortened during the film editing.
Other decorations depicted a curved tunnel where characters should go. For moving the camera a special dolly was created which was moving on rails, fortified on both sides of the tunnel, and closed by long stripes decorated canvas, which was raised to allow for the dolly rides.
The whole scene was filmed in the pavilion.
Then these decorations were removed and new ones were built: a room in the Zone where wishes came true and lots of hills, similar to the graves, and the interior of the bar.
I remember when we were shooting a dialogue between Stalker and his wife just before his departure to the Zone which resulted in her hysterics, Alisa Freundlich got so deep into the state of her character that she was unable not get out of it immediately after a stop command, and Eugene Tsymbal literally carried her in his arms behind the scenery.
During filming at Mosfilm Garik Pinkhassov came on set with his camera, having previously worked at the studio as an camera assistant, and later becoming a famous photographer. Also, Vladimir Vysotsky, well known singer-songwriter, poet and actor, who was a friend of Tarkovsky, once visited the set.
The only scene that was shot on location in Moscow is the exit from the bar. A small decoration was built near the fence of Psychiatric Hospital named after Kashchenko and grim industrial landscape in the background. You can see pipes of the Heating Plant-20 (Vavilova Street 13).
A deep sense of the film opened to me gradually, not even at first view. I think during filming it was hardly understood by anyone moreover the concept of the author didn’t take shape right away.
Text: Sergey Bessmertniy © 2014
Selected photos: © Sergei Bessmertniy, George Pinkhassov
Production still photographer: Vadim Murashko © Mosfilm, Vtoroe Tvorcheskoe Obedinenie
IN ‘STALKER’ TARKOVSKY FORETOLD CHERNOBYL
From the time of releasing Stalker into the Zone of the viewing public’s unabating attention twenty years have passed. Alas, almost none of the film’s main contributors are still living. The great Russian artist Andrei Tarkovsky lies in the cemetery Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois. His wife Larissa has also left us, she worked on Stalker as the second director. The editor Lyudmila Feiginova has tragically died in a fire. No more with us are the brilliant cameramen: Georgi Rerberg who began shooting Stalker, and Aleksandr Knyazhinsky who later reshot it. The performers in the main male roles have died: prominent actors Aleksandr Kaidanovsky, Anatoly Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko… One of the few surviving contributors to Stalker, the sound designer Vladimir Ivanovich Sharun, tends to think it was Stalker‘s long and exhausting shooting schedule that influenced the condition of some of the cast and crew and contributed to their untimely deaths… But, let’s start from the beginning. —In Stalker Tarkovsky foretold Chernobyl
Russian cinematographer Alexander Knyazhinsky, most famous as Andrey Tarkovsky’s cameraman on Stalker in 1979, talks about the production on his deathbed, suffering from the cancerous plague that killed several others on the production including Tarkovsky, his wife, and star Anatoli Solonitsyn.
‘STALKER’: THE ZONE OF ANDREI TARKOVSKY
On the shooting of Stalker, about Andrei Tarkovsky, and the actors who played in the film.
An interview with Andrei Tarkovsky (1979).
It comes as no surprise that Andrei Tarkovsky, master of Soviet cinema, turned to composer Eduard Artemiev to score his two lyrical and haunting films, The Mirror (1975) and Stalker (1979), as he had done for Solaris (also available on Superior Viaduct). Artemiev’s magnificent soundtrack to The Mirror is the natural follow-up to Solaris. Dense, slow-moving, and often disorienting mood pieces with Baroque sensibilities resonate beyond the film’s dream-like images. For Stalker—Tarkovsky’s other science-fiction masterpiece—Artemiev was inspired by Indian classical music and utilized layers of synth tones, flute and tar (a traditional Iranian stringed instrument) to create a central theme as spellbinding as “The Zone,” a setting in the film where laws of physics no longer apply. Superior Viaduct presents the first-time official release of two astonishingly unique soundtracks.
Seven years before filming his final masterpiece, The Sacrifice, Andrei Tarkovsky sacrificed his sanity to make Stalker. Stalker had one of the most difficult productions in cinema history and possibly even caused Tarkovsky’s death. So let’s see why one crew member described the production of Stalker as “a mirror of a hellish trip.” This video essay was written, edited, and narrated by Tyler Knudsen.
Andrei Tarkovsky: Poetic Harmony, by The Cinema Cartography.
In 1986 Andrei Tarkovsky’s remarkable career in the cinema received the accolade of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It sealed his reputation in the west as Russia’s greatest living artist. In Moscow, however, his work has been at best ignored, at worst vilified as elitist and wilfully obscure. Official disfavour finally forced Tarkovsky to leave Russia to seek finance. It was only a few months before his recent death that his poetic and haunting films were given official recognition in Moscow. Originally aired on BBC Arena, March 13, 1987.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), meticulously restored and looking better than ever, on Mosfilm’s YT channel.
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Andrei Tarkovsky’s final Soviet feature, Stalker. Photographed by Vadim Murashko, Sergei Bessmertniy & George Pinkhassov © Mosfilm, Vtoroe Tvorcheskoe Obedinenie. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.
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