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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Zona
Zona - Geoff Dyer
Canongate £16.99
Reviewed by Leyla Sanai

A gambler trying to guess the topic of a future Geoff Dyer book would always be destined to lose. Not only is Dyer versatile in form (novels, novellas, essays, non-fiction books), but his range of chosen topics has been so eclectic to date that predicting the next would be impossible...
Published on 11 Feb 2012 by Leyla Sanai

versus
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Zona: a book about Geoff Dyer
If this book makes you go and watch Tarkovsky's film Stalker, and Dyer would certainly want you to watch it in a cinema and not on DVD, then Dyer's book is half-justified.

This book is a candid but self-regarding offloading posing as a commentary on a film. It will please Dyer's fans but is probably more important because of the way it raises questions about...
Published 14 months ago by Mr. V. Thurgood


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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Zona, 11 Feb 2012
By 
Leyla Sanai "leyla" (glasgow) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room (Hardcover)
Zona - Geoff Dyer
Canongate £16.99
Reviewed by Leyla Sanai

A gambler trying to guess the topic of a future Geoff Dyer book would always be destined to lose. Not only is Dyer versatile in form (novels, novellas, essays, non-fiction books), but his range of chosen topics has been so eclectic to date that predicting the next would be impossible.

As far as non-fiction is concerned, Dyer's panoramic sweep has included the sacred - *history, literature, photography, jazz - as well as the profane - sex, drugs, Burning Man. Speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival he said in 2010 that the conventional notion that one had to be an expert in a subject before writing about it was one he rebelled against, and that with some of his chosen subjects, he embarked on writing the book with an interest in his topic but limited detailed knowledge, allowing the research process to educate him while he wrote the book.

Dyer was certainly very knowledgeable about the iconic Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 art-house movie Stalker before he started writing this book, having seen it repeatedly over the more than thirty years since its release. The first time he saw it he didn't enjoy it that much, but its slow, haunting scenes lodged in his mind, and he was compelled to see it again and again.

Stalker is a typical Tarkovsky film, slow, mysterious, allegorical. The central story involves a guide, the Stalker, taking a Writer and a Professor to a forbidden zone where, it is rumoured, one's deepest desires come true. There is a constant drizzle during filming, and the industrial wasteland the three travel through to reach the zone is scattered with the deserted warehouses, disused railway stations and debris of urban life - abandoned cars, telegraph poles - *that was characteristic of parts of north London, where I lived when I saw the movie. Tarkovsky was Russian Orthodox by religion, and his rendering of an inaccessible place where dreams come true had spiritual undertones.

Dyer is eloquent on how the mindless immediacy of modern living taints our appreciation of a film like Stalker. We are conditioned to not wait longer than a few seconds for anything, we become impatient quickly, and western films are quick-fire productions where action and dialogue fill the space around us constantly. This engenders impatience when we are asked by a director to sit and watch scenes where nothing much happens for what seems like long periods of time. But once we give ourselves over to the dreamy, unhurried pace, we can sink into the film and become mesmerised.

*
Dyer's writing is as precise and crisp as ever. His insights are perceptive and intelligent, his mind quick, sharp and witty. On almost every page his discursive style probes into related topics. There is a lot of fascinating information about filming, such as how Tarkovsky's first choice of site was unavailable. Since the damp, drizzly urban wasteland seems so well suited to the film, it seems fortuitous that this was the case. But the river that flowed near the site of filming was a dumping site for industrial waste, and Tarkovsky's wife among others, died of cancer. The film also suffered many set-backs, including damage to the reels of film that meant that months of work had to be re-shot.

*
Because this is Dyer, the book is laugh out loud funny. Some of the anecdotes are about Tarkovsky, who colourfully described various crew members as `childish degenerates', `cretins', `lightweight shallow people with no self respect', and `behaving like bastards'. Others are about other films. For example, the Turkish director Nuri Ceylan referenced Stalker in his 2002 film Distant by having the protagonist transfixed to a videotape of Stalker playing on his living room TV, while his uncouth cousin, an uninvited guest is visibly bored. *His cousin, unimpressed by the art house movie, *leaves the room, whereupon the protagonist switches to watching pornography. But the cousin returns to the room, causing the main character to switch hastily over to some brainless programme which the guest enjoys. The host grumpily announces that the TV is being switched off for the night.

Just as delightful are the snippets of autobiographical detail. We hear about Dyer's parents' frugality, in particular his mother's illogical refusal to spend a little more on buying the kind of steak she actually enjoyed eating. We find out about Dyer's *friendlessness in sixth form, and his mother pressurising his father to go out to the pub with Geoff, and his knowledge that his father would far rather stay at home and save the money. There is an interesting anecdote about Dyer's wife's one time resemblance to Natascha McElhone, the actress. It is fabulous learning more about Dyer, such as his desire not simply for a dog but for the very dog that belongs to close friends, and no other. Dyer is such a charming raconteur, so effortlessly hilarious, that it would be impossible to become bored by his side-tracks. Like David Foster Wallace, his footnotes and side-tracks are often greater gems than the main subject he is exploring.

Dyer is, as Zadie Smith said, a national treasure. Zona is another example of the way his brilliant mind takes high culture and makes it not only understandable, but creates a fabulously entertaining journey along the way.

.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Zona: a book about Geoff Dyer, 19 Oct 2013
By 
Mr. V. Thurgood (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room (Hardcover)
If this book makes you go and watch Tarkovsky's film Stalker, and Dyer would certainly want you to watch it in a cinema and not on DVD, then Dyer's book is half-justified.

This book is a candid but self-regarding offloading posing as a commentary on a film. It will please Dyer's fans but is probably more important because of the way it raises questions about the end of the culture that spawned the film and Dyer's appreciation of it. We (I am 45) did not appreciate the freedoms we had until we lost them.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book about a film I will probably never watch, 2 Feb 2012
By 
lexo1941 (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room (Hardcover)
Geoff Dyer's books are, by now, divided fairly easily into two categories. There are the novels, and then there are the Other Ones, the books that are the main reason why people admire him. His novels are mixed; The Colour of Memory is a touching and skilful debut, but there are things about it that make you think that he really ought to be doing something else. The Search is basically an attempt at being Italo Calvino. Paris Trance updates The Colour of Memory with a hint of mid-30s crisis. Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is the only Dyer book I've not been engaged enough by to finish. It read like travel notes that had been at best hastily converted into something resembling a novel.

But the other books: ah, the other books. Dyer's first book, long out of print and which he unfairly dismisses as 'short and dull', was a critical study of the work of John Berger, and Dyer is one of the few English writers who've picked up Berger's technique of writing personal and idiosyncratic non-fiction books, or book-length essays, that have something of the same poetic resonance as the films of Chris Marker. (Berger, Marker, Dyer - OK, 'Marker' isn't Marker's real name, but there's something action-y about all their surnames.) Even Dyer's Berger book had a touch of the personal about it; he notes that Berger, on 'Ways of Seeing', had the kind of haircut that mostly footballers had at that point in the early 70s. But then he started to write books like But Beautiful, a tender and quasi-fictional meditation on jazz. Then there was The Missing of the Somme, a book nominally about World War One but really about the gap Dyer perceived between the experience of WW1 and that of his own generation, and how he and his friends fantasised about it but were also genuinely moved by the sacrifice involved. Then there was Out of Sheer Rage, perhaps Dyer's funniest book, and after The Search the one most obviously influenced by a continental writer, in this case Thomas Bernhard, whose manic, exasperated tone Dyer adopted for a book about his failure to write a serious critical study of DH Lawrence - although the book is itself so full of insight into Lawrence, as well as into Dyer, that we don't miss the book Dyer claims he failed to write. (Not the least of Dyer's achievements in that book is to demonstrate the unexpected and bizarre harmony between Lawrence and Bernhard.)

Besides them, there's been a book on photography, a travel book and two collections of Dyer's essays, journalism and occasional pieces, a form he excels in. Over the years, the Dyer persona has become more apparent. The Dyer persona is that of a forty- and now fiftysomething, slightly nebbishy slacker; a bit bumbling, rather inept with women but basically romantic; liable to get himself into serious gymnastic trauma in the toilet of an Amsterdam coffee shop while trying to change his wet trousers when stoned; but also someone with an informed and acute love of different kinds of music, photography, books, travel, friends and various kinds of recreational drug. And now, film. Zona is a book about what would appear to be Dyer's favourite movie: Andrei Tarkovsky's 'Stalker'.

I have never seen Stalker. And for all that Dyer writes about it with fantastic attention, affection and the kind of judicious distance you get when you're writing in your early fifties about a film you first fell in love with aged 20, I don't think I ever will watch it. But this is not really a book about Stalker. It's about the kind of attention we bring to the films we love, and the different ways we watch films at different times in our lives. Although Dyer gives us a very close account of what happens in the movie, he makes it easy for us to share his experience without wishing it were ours; I don't think I need to watch Stalker to understand and appreciate this book. It's not a critical introduction to the film, so much as a meditation on what happens when we watch films that we love. And that's why it's a great and fascinating book, I think; one of the best pieces of film writing I've ever read, the more so because it does not demand that we see, or have seen, the movie in question.

In sum: a brilliant, intelligent, passionate and also at times very funny piece of writing about what appears to be a very dark and serious film indeed. Once again, Dyer finds his subject in the gap between himself and what he's writing about. That he makes that gap so fascinating is a testament to his talent, but it's also where we get to enter the book, because Dyer is almost unique amongst writers about art, photography, film, literature and so on in that he doesn't write academic or even journalistic criticism. He writes about as someone who loves the stuff, the way the rest of us do. Being a smart guy and a good writer he takes this love seriously, unpacking and analysing it over the course of a book, and we learn something about what we get out of listening to the music and looking at the pictures and reading the writers. In this attention to common experience, Dyer is genuinely Berger's inheritor-and yes, I know Berger is still writing, and writing well, at that. We need more like both of them. In the meantime, Zona is brilliant.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Dyer jackpot, 5 May 2013
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Somewhere, there must be a subject that Geoff Dyer can't write an interesting book about, in which case I would really like to know what it is. In the meantime, we must be grateful for books like Zona, which takes an unpromising subject (one of Tarkovsky's most difficult films, which is saying something) and delivers a sublime meditation on, well, pretty much everything.
If you have seen the film, you'll find your appreciation of it enormously enhanced, and you'll certainly want to go back and watch it again (I did). But even if you haven't, there's so much entertaining and enlightening extra material, not just about the background and influence of the film, but about Dyer's own life and opinions, that I guarantee you'll want to read the book again. As well as seeing the film, of course.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's about the experience of cinema, 18 Feb 2013
I went to see Stalker when it opened in London, at the Academy Cinema in Oxford Street. At the end of the movie, the audience stood in respectful silence and began that polite shuffle towards the exit, until one elderly gentleman turned to his companion and said, 'Well, I didn't understand any of that.'

This book is about Dyer's understanding of Stalker, the film by Tarkovsky that he has watched again and again. Dyer writes a response to each scene, every action in the film, finding seeds of the future in the Chernobyl-like zone, identifying motifs and ideas that became part of the language of cinema, and responding on a personal level to the debates within the dialogue about the zone and what it represents.

So this is not an explanation of the film - nor does it claim to be - but a musing on the muse of Tarkovsky, a director who is revealed to be of his place and his time, but whose creation echoes backwards and forwards, resonating with anyone with a love of cinema.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'masters give you freedom', 25 April 2012
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This review is from: Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room (Hardcover)
Humour is not a quality that you associate with Tarkovsky's films, but this book is very funny. Like Berio, in the third movement of his Sinfonia, taking a ride on the third movement Mahler's Second symphony to produce his own (humorous) collage of quotations, Jeff Dyer writes out, almost shot by shot, Tarkovsky's film Stalker. (There is some scope for comparison between Mahler and Tarkovsky in their use of recognisable motifs which occur throughout their works.) However, writing about a film allows even more freedom than making another film might allow (the quotation above comes from Chris Marker, who made a documentary about the film maker, using quotations from Tarkovsky's oeuvre).
In Dyer's case it allows him to reminisce about his first acquaintance with Stalker before the days of DVD, the weeks of waiting for a cinema to screen it, making a VHS copy of its broadcast, just in case there would never be another opportunity, at the same time as commanding us to watch it in projection, not on a small TV screen. He also goes into the appalling list of hazards and personal rivalries which Tarkovsky had to overcome in order to complete it. Multiple references to other Tarkovsky films enable him to eke out a reading of the film, which does not explain it, but sends you back to the film itself (to the VHS copy I made from the broadcast!), with a heightened awareness of its qualities.
As with the best criticism, this relatively short book, for such a long film, takes us closer to the work, teasing out its characteristics and the underlying reasons behind its choices with humour and humility (why the jeep, rather than a Mini Cooper!). The most intensely personal part of the book relates to the significance of The Room for the author (or are we merely led to imagine that this persona is the author?), to his fear that it might reveal secret wishes which he has harboured since adolescence but has never had (nor probably ever will have) the opportunity to experience. It is thus a book about ageing, about how a film can change over time, about how it will be different for each new generation of passionate film goers who encounter it for the first time during their late adolescence (how long does that last?).
Permit me to point out one tiny technical error, in case other photographers/film makers are also puzzled: the first part of the film, prior to entering the Zone, was shot on negative stock and printed onto colour in a gloomy sepia, not the other way around, as Dyer suggests. If you shoot in colour and print onto black and white stock you end up with black and white, sort of.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I would not recommend this book, 21 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room (Hardcover)
I would not recommend this book to anyone who likes Tarkovsky's films, or to anyone interested in cinema. Perhaps a fan of the author might find something in it to enjoy, but I am (and will remain) unfamiliar with his other books.

If you want to read a good book about Tarkovsky, then read one of the following:

The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue [Johnson,Petrie]
Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of cinema [Robert Bird]

I came at the book the wrong way certainly, I wasn't going to find out anything about Stalker in it. But this is a badly written, poor excuse for a book.

At least read the google books preview before you purchase.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, 1 May 2012
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This review is from: Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room (Hardcover)
I felt a bit cheated after reading this book. I found it was really more about Geoff Dyer - of whom I'd known nothing previously and about whom the book told me indeed more than I would or will ever want to know - than about either Tarkovsky or his film. For me, the rather flattening post-modern approach completely missed the depth and vision that is pervasive of all Tarkovsky's work, which is luminous with the imagery of Christianity and Christian art. The book did not add greatly to my appreciation of a long-loved work that is more than just a 'great film'.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Looks good - can't wait for the movie adaption, 11 Mar 2012
This review is from: Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room (Hardcover)
yes they're making a film of this book about a man watching a film - even more interesting is the rumour of a movie tie-in book to follow that film being essentially a novelization of the film about this book about a man watching a film...I'll probably wait until it comes out on DVD, I mean paperback.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Addictive, occasionally maddening, 25 Feb 2012
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This review is from: Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room (Hardcover)
I devoured this in two gulps, so it definitely succeeds on the readability front. The author is opinionated, bordering on confrontational - at times I was nodding in agreement (Top Gear, Antichrist, Russell Brand) at other times I wanted to throw the book out the window (The Coen brothers are witless, all horror movies are silly, he's never seen The Wizard of Oz, he's a smoking fascist - grrr!) Still, it would be dull if every book simply parroted your own opinions. I love Stalker and enjoyed rewatching it (horror of horrors, on my tele - Mr Dyer would shake his head in disgust but sadly it's unlikely to appear at my local muliplex anytime soon) and then reading this blow by blow account. Well worth a read.
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Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room
Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room by Geoff Dyer (Hardcover - 2 Feb 2012)
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