This is a review of the heavy and chunky hardback edition of this multi-authored work on Tarkovsky, edited by Nathan Dunne. Its heaviness and chunkiness is often mirrored in its contents, but there are also some interesting comments and new insights into the work of the master of the long take and alluring profundity. This is not, therefore, an overview of the man and his work - the reader wanting such an introduction should look elsewhere. (I would recommend `Andrei Tarkovsky' by Sean Martin.) Rather this is a collection of essays that offer diverse and curious insights and approaches to the man's work and beliefs.
In his introduction, Dunne writes "This collection of essays ... explores the potentialities for research on Tarkovsky's corpus." He says he has sought not to be too reverential, and has divided the twenty essays up into four sections of five chapters each. (This structure does not really work and is too contrived to be meaningful. Indeed, Dunne's summary of the chapters within each section reveals that the sheer diversity of their coverage is too wide to be contained within their sectional headings.) Dunne's hope "is to establish a platform whereby future research on Tarkovsky may be taken in a wider interdisciplinary context."
The first section - Russian and Religion - includes a comparative essay between Tarkovsky's `Mirror' and Arnshtam's `Zoya', as well as Sartre's response to a review of `Ivan's Childhood'. In his essay on `Virtualisation of Space and Self in Tarkovsky's `Solaris'' - despite such horrific sentences as "Tarkovsky finds the retreat from techno-science, which has been fundamental to the West's and Soviet outlook on life, in art, which functions as a site of resistance to the subjugation of Being to theoretical knowledge" - Vlad Strukov does have much of interest to say about that film's attitude and intellectual orientation. `Solaris', he writes, "continues the Romantic tradition with its reaction against the scientific rationalisation of nature." The title of Gerard Loughlin's essay is `Tarkovsky's Trees'. What other director could have their name appear in such a title? (Visconti's villas, anyone?) But trees DO of course have a subtle presence in Tarkovsky's films, and Loughlin surveys the films with a "theological eye". Alastair Renfrew, in the final essay in this section, looks at how Tarkovsky subverted the essence of genre in his earliest three films - war-film, historical epic, sci-fi - and sees the stutterer's cure at the start of `Mirror' as an autobiographical reference, drawing a line under all the films that went before.
Art and Nature are the supposed subjects of the second section. There is an essay on Tarkovsky and the `Madonna del Parto' that appears in `Nostalghia', and another on how Tarkovsky uses paintings in the medium of film, focussing on `Andrei Rublev' and `Solaris'. But it was only when reading Stephanie Sandler's essay that I suddenly realised the obvious: that the narratives in Tarkovsky's films are poetic in form rather than prose. Another interesting essay is by Vladimir Golstein, who wonders aloud how much the West's praise for Tarkovsky was a product of Cold War politics. If Tarkovsky had been British, would he ever have been able to have just one film made? (But Derek Jarman did.) But Tarkovsky was (in truth) "hardly a dissident, a persecuted artist, a religious or spiritual leader."
My notes on the essays in the third section - Music and Modernity - are not so extensive, but the essays here link Tarkovsky with Bresson, Flaubert, and others. David Miall notes in his contribution the uncanny way that Tarkovsky's characters are `assumed' by the viewer. Meanwhile, Dunne's own essay in the collection is a fascinating review of how Tarkovsky used music and sound effects in his films, or, in Dunne's own words, "an exploration of the acoustic details through which Tarkovsky attempted to go beyond the banal and the perfunctory, to convey the profundity of human experience."
The final section addresses Memory and Awakening, which "presents a range of personal encounters with Tarkovsky's working process." Thus, we have Tarkovsky's assistant director on `Stalker' commenting on how "cinema would never look upon a simple meadow in the same way again"; we have Tarkovsky's assistant director on his opera production of `Boris Godunov' remarking on Tarkovsky's vision of the work; we have a report on a week's workshop held in Berlin in 1984 by someone who was there and left "fascinated and irritated with Tarkovsky"; we have the art director on `Solaris' who informs us that, "In each of Tarkovsky's films there is, without fail, present a painting which, in concentrated form, expresses the idea of the entire film"; and finally we have the film director Marc Forster remarking how Tarkovsky has influenced his own work, but also concluding that he "is unlikely ever to have an effective imitator", for such a person would require "the totality of his aesthetic, and even the totality of his metaphysic."
The book comes with a complete filmography and a generous selection of stills. There is also a timeline, endnotes, and an index. A real plus for this book is the charming presentation of a selection of six poems by Arseny Tarkovsky, accompanied by photos from the family album.