Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room Paperback – 7 Mar 2013
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"One of my favourite of all contemporary writers." (Alain de Botton)
"Reading Dyer is akin to the sudden elation and optimism you feel when you make a new friend, someone as silly as you but cleverer too, in whose company you know you will travel through life more vagrantly, intensely, joyfully." (Daily Telegraph)
"There is no contemporary writer I admire more than Dyer, and in no book of his does he address his animating idea - The Only Way Not to Waste Time Is to Waste It - more overtly, urgently, emphatically and eloquently." (David Shields, author of REALITY HUNGER)
"Few books about film feel like watching a film, but this one does. We sit with Dyer as he writes about Stalker; he captures its mystery and burnish, he prises it open and gets its glum majesty. As a result of this book, I know the film better, and care about Tarkovsky even more." (Mark Cousins, author of THE STORY OF FILM)
"I loved this book. How can it possibly work - a book describing a film, more or less shot by shot? But it triumphantly does - i actually felt suspense, and revelation. And i'd never laugh at Stalker, but i did laugh all the way through this." (Tessa Hadley, author of THE LONDON TRAIN)
"A restless polymath and an irresistibly funny storyteller, he is adept at fiction, essay and reportage, but happiest when twisting all three into something entirely his own." (New Yorker)
"A true original . . . [Dyer] never ceases to surprise, disturb and delight." (William Boyd)
"A national treasure." (Zadie Smith)
"Perennially readable and wonderfully difficult to second-guess" (Bookseller)
"Zona is penned with great linguistic flair, in a non-academic, conversational tone... It turns Zona from film criticism into a stranger, more amusing study and the section on why their journey is like the journey of writing a book is both intellectually neat and rather touching." (Independent on Sunday)
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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.
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.