“Never try to convey your idea to the audience,” said Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, “—it is a thankless and senseless task. Show them life, and they’ll find within themselves the means to assess and appreciate it.”
Tarkovsky is best known for such cinematic masterpieces as Solaris, The Mirror, Andrei Rublev, and Stalker. Tarkovksy’s vision was unique as a filmmaker; he favored long takes and leisurely scenes that explored the beauty and mystery of everyday life.
“We can express our feelings regarding the world around us either by poetic or by descriptive means,” Tarkovsky explained in an 1983 interview with Hervé Guibert in Le Monde.
I prefer to express myself metaphorically. Let me stress: metaphorically, not symbolically. A symbol contains within itself a definite meaning, certain intellectual formula, while metaphor is an image. An image possessing the same distinguishing features as the world it represents. An image — as opposed to a symbol — is indefinite in meaning. One cannot speak of the infinite world by applying tools that are definite and finite. We can analyse the formula that constitutes a symbol, while metaphor is a being-within-itself, it’s a monomial. It falls apart at any attempt of touching it.
Tarkovsky’s unhurried, profound films explore themes like memory, childhood, and dreams, and are the antithesis of the Hollywood obsession for rapid-cut editing. He was a master of time and rhythm, which he believed was “the dominant, all-powerful factor of the film image.” This is cinema that captures the intimate ebb and flow of everyday life. Here is Tarkovsky explaining artistic approach to filmmaking:
I think people somehow got the idea that everything on screen should be immediately understandable. In my opinion events of our everyday lives are much more mysterious than those we can witness on screen. If we attempted to recall all events, step by step, that took place during just one day of our life and then showed them on screen, the result would be hundred times more mysterious than my film [Stalker]. Audiences got used to simplistic drama. Whenever a moment of realism appears on screen, a moment of truth, it is immediately followed by voices declaring it “confusing.” Many think of Stalker as a science fiction film. But this film is not based on fantasy, it is realism on film. Try to accept its content as a record of one day in lives of three people, try to see it on this level and you’ll find nothing complex, mysterious, or symbolic in it. (Andrei Tarkovsky Talking, 1981)
“Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [of us all],” the director Ingmar Bergman once said, “the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”
While I was familiar with Tarkovsky’s films, I had never seen these luscious Polaroids taken by the director until today. (Thanks to Sigrun Hodne who writes the Sub Rosa blog in Norway for alerting me to Tarkovsky’s still images).
These 60 photographs were made by Tarkovsky in Russia and Italy between 1979 and 1984 and have been compiled in the book Instant Light: Tarkovsky Polaroids. As you can see, Tarkovsky was just as adept with still Polaroids as he was with film. His careful eye is in evidence in these Russian and Italian landscapes with their deep shadows and glimmering sunlight, as well as in the intimate moments Tarkovsky captured with his wife, son, and dog.
This excerpt from the introduction of Instant Light: Tarkovsky Polaroids written by Tonino Guerra describes Tarkovsky’s fascination with the Polaroid:
At my wedding in Moscow in 1977, Tarkovsky had a Polaroid camera in his hand and he moved about happily with this instrument which he discovered only recently. He and Michelangelo Antonioni were my witnesses at the wedding, and as the custom then, it fell to them to choose the music for the band to play when the time came to sign the marriage certificate. The chose The Blue Danube.
Antonioni, too, made great use of a Polaroid at the time, and I remember that during a reconnaissance in Uzbekistan for a film that in the end we never made, he wanted to give three elderly Muslims a photograph he had taken of them. The eldest, after casting a brief glance at the image, gave it back to him, saying: ‘Why stop time?’ We were left gaping in wonder, speechless at this extraordinary refusal.
Tarkovsky often reflected on the way that time flies and this is precisely what he wanted: to stop it, even with these quick Polaroid shots. The melancholy of seeing things for the last time is the highly mysterious and poetic essence that these images leave with us. It is as though Andrei wanted to transmit his own enjoyment quickly to others. And they feel like a fond farewell.
“Modern mass culture, aimed at the ‘consumer’, the civilisation of prosthetics, is crippling people’s souls,” wrote Tarkovsky, “setting up barriers between man and the crucial questions of his existence, his consciousness of himself as a spiritual being.”
Tarkovsky’s work is infused with spirituality—a larger sense of connectedness, a sense of found beauty in an imperfect world.
“What is art?,” asked Tarkovksy. “Like a declaration of love: the consciousness of our dependence on each other. A confession. An unconscious act that none the less reflects the true meaning of life—love and sacrifice.”
If you’d like to explore the world of Tarkovsky further, Instant Light: Tarkovsky Polaroids and Sculpting in Time: The Great Russian Filmmaker Discusses His Art are available here or in your local bookstore.
An Update on the Gwarlingo Membership Drive
Thanks to all of the readers who have contributed to the Gwarlingo Membership Drive. Instead of selling out to advertisers, I’m “selling out” to my readers instead! 125+ Gwarlingo readers have contributed so far and $12,000 of the $15,000 goal has been raised. If you haven’t donated yet, you can check out my video and all of the member rewards, including some limited-edition artwork, here on the Gwarlingo site.
Stay up on the latest poetry, books, and art news by having Gwarlingo delivered to your email inbox. It’s easy and free! You can also follow Gwarlingo on Twitter and Facebook.