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Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema [Paperback]

Robert Bird
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

20 Sep 2007
The films of Andrei Tarkovsky have been revered as ranking on a par with the masterpieces of Russia's novelists and composers. His work, from films such as Ivan's "Childhood", "Andrei Rublev", "Solaris", "Mirror", "Nostalgia and Sacrifice", has had an enormous influence on the style of contemporary European film, with its open narrative structures and slow, pensive mood; yet Tarkovsky has remained an elusive subject for reflection and analysis. This book is a comprehensive, well-illustrated and much-needed account of Tarkovsky's entire film output. Robert Bird's analysis is centred around a detailed account of Tarkovsky's technique, which provides the best interpretive guide to both the director's films and his theoretical speculations. Integrating his idiosyncratic ideas with his films' irresistible sensuality, Bird highlights Tarkovsky's fascination with the elusive correlation between cinematic representation and the more primeval perception of the world. The book examines Tarkovsky's films elementally, grouping them into four sections: Water, Fire, Earth, and Air. It also discusses Tarkovsky's works for the radio, theatre and opera, and how he was in addition an accomplished actor, screenwriter, film theorist and diarist. The author's claim, however, is that Tarkovsky was a filmmaker before all else, and this book examines what Tarkovsky's cinema reveals about the medium in which he worked. A thorough yet accessible study, with a wealth of images including stills from films as well as the director and crew on set, this book will be of interest to all fans of Tarkovsky, students of film studies, and readers interested in European and Russian cinema.

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Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema + The Cinema of Tarkovsky: Labyrinths of Space and Time (KINO: The Russian Cinema Series) + Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books (20 Sep 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861893426
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861893420
  • Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 15.3 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 402,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Bird has benefited from extensive archival research and he illuminates Tarkovsky's career in sharp detail . . . His range of references, from classical Russian literature and philosophy to contemporary video art, is wide and refreshing, often triggering new reactions to films that are in danger of passive veneration . . . this is a richly argued and referenced case for Tarkovsky as heir to the symbolists' quest for spiritual enlightenment. --Sight and Sound

'[an] impressive interpretive study . . . the book contains a rich assembly of stills and other photos throughout the text.' --Cineaste

'contribute[s] valuable insights into [Tarkovsky's] work and new information about his methods . . . his approach is both rigorous and stimulating.' --Vertigo

'In his inspired and rigorous book, Robert Bird addresses the uniqueness of Tarkovksy's cinema through a detailed exploration of the medium's constituent parts, revealing in the process the intricate ways in which film can radically shift our vision . . . This profound and eloquent book is a feat of regard, intuition and clarity.'
--Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema

About the Author

Robert Bird is Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago, and the author of Andrei Rublev (2005).

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "It's impossible to return there ..." 1 Feb 2009
By Nicholas Casley TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The title of this review comes from the opening line of Tarkovsky's father's poem that influenced the film `Mirror': "It's impossible to return there / And impossible to narrate, / How overfilled with bliss / Was this heavenly garden." Tarkovsky's films, so often set in heavenly gardens to which is it impossible to return, are often also impossible to narrate. This poem is just one of the pieces of information in this book that go towards filling the picture of Tarkovsky and his films.

The book consists of a sixteen-page introduction followed by ten chapters, whose titles - "The System", "Space", "Screen", "Word & Image", "Story", "Imaginary", "Sensorium", "Time", "Shot", and "Atmosphere" - are grouped within the four cardinal elements of earth, fire, water, and air. This book requires some prior knowledge of Tarkovsky's films - preferably all seven major works.

In his introduction, Bird declares that, "It is Tarkovsky's sense of cinematic pitch, rather than any discursive `meaning' of his films that is my main focus in this book ... The cumulative result of these analyses, I hope, is a thorough account of Tarkovsky's approach to film-making that will illumine individual films while uncovering the basic elements of his creative project." Bird says that, "Tarkovsky's `mysticism' can only be assessed through his technique; his cinema of the elements requires consideration of the elements of his cinema": hence the potentially obscure titles of each chapter!

One criticism that one can make of this volume is the lack of biography. Can the creation of art be so distinct from the circumstances of its creator? There is just one paragraph on Tarkovsky's childhood. His film `The Steamroller & the Violin' was presented in 1960 when he was 28.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An artistic revelation: Andrei Tarkovsky. 21 April 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An Artistic Revelation.
This excellent book is better not intended to be read before having enjoyed the seven Andrei Tarkovsky films -real art masterpieces as seven perfect symphonies- but afterwards ,because being a deep and extremely interesting investigation about cinematic interpretation and technique, I consider it very important to fully appreciate it, to be able to follow the structure, theme and development of each of his seven films: "Ivan'schildhood", "AndreiRublev", "Solaris", "Mirror","Stalker", "Nostalghia", and "Sacrifice".
Being a Cinema lover or intending to enjoy and understand actual European Cinema , the Russian production from Andrei Tarkovsky followed by Alexandr Sokurov his closest disciple in Russia,("Mother and son""Father and son ") becomes a necessary precious revelation. "Revelation through art is not a peep-show into another world, but the actual experience of that world.....Once this experience has been gained through communion with the higher reaches of visible nature though art, then the emotional basis of all human experience is permanently changed. Reality becomes hallowed, radiant.......such a revelation is the highest possible rol of art."(Art as revelation"-Frank Array Wilson, Centaur Press 1981)-
Robert Bird's book is a necessary guide to Tarkovsky's art revelation, covering from the prevalence of atmosphere over space -photographing not tales but the atmosphere of them- , story and image defining Poetic Cinema -the essence of cinematic medium-, and Time as the basic element of his cinema. Instead of imposing a conclusive storyline, he identifies and celebrate dissonances (like Mozart ) and discontinuity, as markers of meaningful moments.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Perspective 11 Mar 2010
By J. Merritt - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As the 'Product Description' above indicates, this is a unique approach to a discussion of Tarkovsky's seven feature films and his student film "The Steamroller and the Violin." Dr. Bird has linked the elements of Tarkovsky's filmmaking technique to the literal elements around us. In so doing, he has crafted a revealing and often poetic examination of Tarkovsky's work, and the logic of his approach reveals itself nicely as you proceed through the reading. The text is enhanced by a generous selection of images of the filmmaker and stills from his movies. I would only caution that the book is highly theoretical. For the casual fan (and I honestly don't know if there is such a thing as a 'casual' Tarkovsky fan), this may seem a bit abstract. For devout fans both of Tarkovsky and Russian cinema in general, however, it is a highly enjoyable elaboration of the themes and meanings in a great artist's body of work. Recommended.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book by an INSUFFERABLE Author 10 July 2012
By The Completist - Published on
It's always irritating when narcissism does not equal stupidity and this book is an excellent example. Tarkovsky is a filmmaker that often requires a learned scholar to explain because while his dialogue is very didactic, the thematic qualities are extremely subtle. In addition, Tarkovsky's personal subjective life experience in a non-Western culture can be inscrutable for lots of film students who are used to the Western habit of psychoanalytic, formalist, feminist, New Critical, and Marxist interpretations of films. Or what David Bordwell calls "SLAB" theory (Saussure, Lacan, Althusser & Barthes).

Robert Bird fits the bill of learned scholar and it shows well, but unfortunately, no one is more aware of this than him. Bird loves the sound of his own voice and is earnest to the point of pretension in structuring the chapters. Reading this book reminded me of dozens of film studies books so thoroughly riddled with 50-cent words of academic foundation that you can read a sentence three times over and not understand what it means. And because Bird feels so strongly about his opinions, he can't help but include his own voice along for the entire breadth of the tome in a way that is so invasive and distracting that I had a mind to give up before I even finished the introduction! It's like reading a book with the author over your shoulder, interrupting you to explain what he was thinking when he wrote the sentence you're on.

Annoying as he is, Bird is no idiot. What astonished me is how a writer this self-important could be so admirably thorough and selfless on the subject. The book is EXTREMELY well-researched, heavily cited, and the bibliography is far more extensive than a book this size usually is. He even manages to find reference and research material that probably couldn't be found without going to Russia and examining Tarkovsky's personal effects. Bird's arguments are consistent, and they have a strong enough familiarity with Russian culture and aesthetics to be insightful in a way that most other writers on Tarkovsky overlook or fail to grasp at all.

I definitely learned a great deal about Tarkovsky that I would certainly have never divined on my own. The only drawback was having to listen to Bird's dramatic, obfuscating presence the entire way. Thankfully though, the introduction is really the worst part of that tone and he does put himself aside to make room for Tarkovsky as the book goes on.

It's definitely worth reading and studying, but be prepared for Bird's academic pomposity to flavor the tone.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kindle Edition is Wrong Book - bought the book though physically 24 Aug 2012
By Patrick Faith - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
For the Kindle edition ... the book downloaded is "Turkish Cinema: identity, distance and belonging". Trying to figure out how to get my money back on a kindle download. Author please upload correct book?

I did just recently buy the book physically and got the right one (no idea if the kindle version is working yet). I really enjoyed sections of this book, is a perty tough read ... even for Tarkovsky books. Some of the comments are just great though, so is a for sure read for people interested in Tarkovsky.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Andrei Tarkovsky Cinema 3 Dec 2013
By Bartok Kinski - Published on
Technically, Andrei Tarkovsky's Cinema is notably well made, with nice period flashback scenes, distinguished widescreen cinematography, elaborate music and great looking central locations.

Overall, I highly recommend this little gem, if you can find it.
1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Andrei Tarkovsky Cinema 29 Jun 2009
By Bartok Kinski - Published on
Technically, Andrei Tarkovsky's Cinema is notably well made, with nice period flashback scenes, distinguished widescreen cinematography, elaborate music and great looking central locations.

Overall, I highly recommend this little gem, if you can find it.
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