Tarkovsky, A. (1994) Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970-1986. London: Faber and Faber.
(Tarkovsky, 1994)P156: diary entry September 20th 1978
“This film is terribly difficult to make. […] There is no sense of place. And no atmosphere. I am afraid it may be a disaster. I just cannot see how to shoot the dream. It has to be utterly simple.
We are failing to achieve the most important thing of all: consistently developed sense of place.”
Tarkovsky, A. (2008) Sculpting in Time:Reflections on the Cinema. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Perhaps the effect of colour should be neutralised by alternating colour and monochrome sequences, so that the impression made by the complete spectrum is spaced out, toned down. Why is it, when all that the camera is doing is recording real life on film, that a coloured shot should seem so unbelievably, monstrously false?
Strangely enough, even though the world is coloured, the black and white image comes closer to the psychological, naturalistic truth of art, based as it is on special properties of seeing as well on hearing.
Sometimes, the utterly unreal comes to express reality itself. “Realism”, as Mitenka Karamazov says “is a terrible thing.” And Valéry observed that the real is expressed most immanently through the absurd.
I should like to hope that it [music in his film] has never been a flat illustration of what was happening on the screen, to be felt as a kind of emotional aura around the object shown, in order to force the audience to see the image in the way I wanted. In every instance, music in cinema is for me a natural part of our resonant world, a part of human life. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that in a sound film that is realised with complete theoretical consistency, there will be no place for music: it will be replaced by sounds in which cinema constantly discovers new levels of meaning. That is what I was aiming at in Stalker.
In itself, accurately recorded sound adds nothing to the image system of cinema, for it still has no aesthetic content. As soon as the sounds of the visible world, reflected by the screen, are removed from it, or that world is filled, for the sake of the image, with extraneous sounds that don’t exist literally, or if the real sounds are distorted so that they no longer correspond with the image – then the film acquires a resonance.
P176: against the Structuralists
Cinema is the one art form where the author can see himself as the creator of an unconditional reality, quite literally of his own world. In cinema, man’s innate drive to self assertion finds one of its fullest and most direct means of realisation. A film is an emotional reality, and that is how the audience receives it – as a second reality.
The fairly widely held view of cinema as a system of signs therefore seems to me profoundly and essentially mistaken. I see a false premise at the very basis of the structuralist approach.
[…] Cinema, like music, allows for an utterly direct, emotional, sensuous perception of the work.
I want to emphasise yet again that, with music, cinema is an art which operates with reality.
Aesthetic norms are therefore wished upon the audience, concrete phenomena are shown unequivocally, and the individual will often set up a resistance to these on the strength of his personal experience.
I felt that it was very important that the film [Stalker] observe the three unities of time, space and action. […] In Stalker, I wanted there be no time lapse between the shots. I wanted time and its passing to be revealed, to have their existence, within each frame; for the articulation between the shots to be the continuation of the action and nothing more, to involve no dislocation of time, not to function as a mechanism for selecting and dramatically organising the material – I wanted it to be as if the whole film had been made in a single shot. […] As a matter of principle I wanted to avoid distracting or surprising the audience with unexpected changes of scene, with the geography of the action, with elaborate plot – I wanted the whole composition to be simple and muted.
[…] I wanted to demonstrate how cinema is able to observe life, without interfering, crudely or obviously, with its continuity. For that is where I see the true poetic essence of cinema.
It occurred to me that excessive formal simplification could run the risk of appearing precious or mannered. In order to avoid that I tried to eliminate all touched of vagueness or innuendo in the shots – those elements that are regarded as the marks of ‘poetic atmosphere’. That sort of atmosphere is always painstakingly built up; I was convinced of the validity of the opposite approach – I must not concern myself with atmosphere at all , for it is something that emerges from the central idea, from the author’s realisation of his conception. And the more precisely the central idea is formulated, the more clearly the meaning of the action is defined for me, the more significant will be the atmosphere that is generated around it; Everything will begin to reverberate in response to the dominant note: things, landscape, actors’ intonation. […] It seems to me that in Stalker, where I tried to concentrate on what was most important, the atmosphere that came to exist as a result was more active and emotionally compelling than of any of the filmsI had made previously.
In Stalker only the basic situation could strictly be called fantastic. It was convenient because it helped to delineate the central moral conflict of the film more starkly. But in terms of what actually happens to the character, there is no element of fantasy. The film was intended to make the audience feel that it was all happening here and now, that the Zone is there beside us.
People have often asked me what the Zone is, and what it symbolises and have put forward wild conjectures on the subject. I am reduced to a state of fury and despair by such questions. The Zone does not symbolise anything, any more than anything else does in my films: the zone is a zone, it’s life, and as he makes his way across it a man may break down or he may come through. Whether he comes through or not depends on his own self-respect, and his capacity to distinguish between what matters and what is merely passing.
Chion, M. (2009) Film, a sound art. New York: Colombia University Press.
« The sound of a telephone that rings suddenly in a film(often in Tarkovsky, in the empty house of Stalker […])is the very symbol of the dream that is a film. The characters who pick up the receiver can also be waking up from a dream – like waking up from a film – and sometimes they find themselves in a new reality, but it’s only the film-dream that continues on. »
same image lost highway
Bird, R. (2008) Andrei Tarkovsky: elements of cinema. London: Reaktion.
P153: during Stalker when everyone was interpreting it
‘Tarkovsky stressed more than ever before or ever again the need for film to affect viewers « emotionally and sensuously », without them « trying to analyse what is happening right now on screen », which « only hinders the perception of the picture ».’
Gerstenkorn J. & Strudel, S. (1986) Stalker: La quête et la foi ou le dernier souffle de l’esprit. In: Estève, M. Andrei Tarkovsky: avec des textes de Jean-paul Sarte, présenté par Michel Estève. Paris: Lettres Modernes/Minard.
P84: The Stalker transforms the Zone, an ordinary no man’s land in itself, into an embodiment of the Sacred.
(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986) P85, 95: The change of colour in Stalker embodies a spiritual and philosophical context: the mundane, daily world outside the Zone is shot in Sepia while the zone itself is shot in colour. Sepia results from the degradation of a colour film and symbolizes the intellectual and spiritual degradation of a world where “spiritual life” (as the Christian authors of the text phrase it, but which I would rather rephrase as “philosophical quest”, all the while keeping the rest of his interpretation) no longer has a place.
(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P86: Professor is able to go back unharmed despite Stalker’s warnings because he does not share Stalker’s faith in the sacred or magical nature of the Zone. “The rules of Faith do not apply to those who do not have Faith.” Because the Zone is a projection of the character’s inner view, its characteristics and the way it interacts with the character depend on this character’s philosophical viewpoint.
(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P88: rusty syringes in the water and the phone call to which Writer replies “No this is not a clinic!” hint at psychiatric repression in the USSR.
(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P91: For the Christian authors, the dangerous crossing of the fence around the Zone guarded by soldiers symbolizes “the crossing over the psychic censorship that prevents the evocation of the Sacred in Soviet society.”As before, I would broadly keep their interpretation, only rephrasing it as the characters taking a plunge into themselves, into their own philosophical quest against prevailing intellectual conformity.
(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P92: The four main obstacles in the quest privilege Writer’s mental state: trying out the shortcut expresses his rebellion, the wet tunnel the trap of illusion, the dry tunnel tests his will by confronting him to doubt, and the Meatgrinder test his suicidal tendency.
(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P101: The surroundings mirror the character’s philosophical viewpoint: when they stop to rest, Professor sleeps on a rocks (hard and dry), Writer on moss (soft and damp) and Stalker in mud (slippery and wet), the presence of water being a recurring motive in Tarkovsky’s films. Professor is the most rational and materialistic, while Stalker is the irrational believer with Witer, the Artist, somewhere in between, cynical and materialistic yet open to visions and enlightenment through his art.
(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P102: In the same way, the type of place where a nut falls down mirrors the mental state of the character who threw it.
Pangon, G. (1986) Stalker: Un film du doute sous le signe de la Trinité. In: Estève, M. Andrei Tarkovsky: avec des textes de Jean-paul Sarte, présenté par Michel Estève. Paris: Lettres Modernes/Minard.
P107: (similar to previous p92) It is Writer not Stalker who wears the Crown of Thorns.
Vida, T. & Petrie G. (1994) The films of Andrei Tarkovsky: a visual fugue. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
(Vida & Petrie, 1994) P152: « within the various settings, the spatial cues are often contradictory and misleading » especially in the rest sequence in the swamp, the one Tarkovsky refers to as the « dream sequence ». The « physical positioning of the characters, in relationship to each other, their surroundings, and even within the film frame, changes, apparently arbitrarily, from one shot to the next. »
(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P152: « an average shot length of almost one minute (142 shots in 161 minutes, with many 4 minutes or longer) »
(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P153: ‘the slow, inexorable pacing of individual shots’: often the camera is ‘virtually motionless or tracking forward so imperceptibly that it is only toward the end of the shot that we realize how much our spatial perspective has changed’. ‘The fusion of these shots into a whole whose seeming inevitability counteracts the spatial and temporal dicontinuities of the individual segments.’ ‘we live inside it and accept its laws’
(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P153: The colour green is omnipresent when they enter the zone, suggesting the characters’s hope that ‘here things are really going to be different’. When they reach the Room, ‘subtle shades of gold and red rising and falling in intensity’ suggest feelings of ‘magic ‘ and ‘wonder’.
(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P190: colour in the Zone suggests an ‘escape’ from the ‘sordid reality of the everyday world’ represented in Sepia.
The final colour sequence suggests ‘some seepage of the powers of the Zone into the real world’
with ref to previous christian interpretation:
(Vida & Petrie, 1994)p146 ‘Tarkovsky seemed more concerned with attacking the spiritual emptiness of contemporary society in general than with proposing specifically Christian remedies’ (He said in an interview “for me the sky is empty and ‘that he did not have the “organ” that would enable him to experience God’
(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P201: sounds that create an ‘atmosphere working in counterpoint with the images rather than simply reflecting or intensifying them’ such as telephones, foghorns.
(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P237: ‘the extensive use of the long take’ ‘traps us within the protagonists’ subjectivity’
(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P240-241: Petric lists ‘cinematic technique’ which can be used to simulate the experience of dream in films. Tarkovsky uses several of those: ‘ « camera movement through space [contributing to] a kinesthetic sensation »; « illogical and paradoxical combinations of objects, characters and settings »; « dissolution of spatial and temporal continuity »,; « ontological authenticity of motion picture photography [which] compels the viewer to accept even the most illogical events … as real » and « sight and sound counterpoint, including color juxtaposition [which] emphasizes the unusual appearance of dream imagery ». Tarkovsky uses these techniques not only to depict literal dreams, but to ‘throw a dreamlike aura over virtually the whole film.’
Strugatsky, A. & Strugatsky, B. (1978) Stalker. In: Tarkovsky, A. (1999) Collected screenplays. London: Faber.
P390: When Stalker goes off on his own for a bit, Professor says he is having ‘A meeting with the Zone. After all, he is a Stalker.’ This suggests an intimate relationship between Stalker and the Zone.
(Strugatsky & Strugatsky, 1978)P393: Stalker
‘The Zone demands respect. Otherwise it will punish you.’
‘In the Zone, a straight road is not the shortest. The further you go, the less the risk.’
(Strugatsky & Strugatsky, 1978) P395: Stalker
‘The Zone is a highly complex system… of traps, as it were, and all of them are deadly. I don’t know what happens here when we’ve gone… But people only have to appear for the whole thing to be triggered into motion. Our moods, our thoughts, our emotions, our feelings can bring about change here. And we are in no condition to comprehend them. Old traps vanish, new ones take their place; the old safe places become impassable, and the route can be either plain and easy, or impossibly confusing. That’s how the Zone is. It may even seem capricious. But in fact, at any moment it is exactly as we devise it, in our consciousness… […] Everything that happens here depends on us, not on the Zone.’
(Strugatsky & Strugatsky, 1978)P399: Stalker
‘You can’t wait here… Nothing stays the same from one minute to the next.’
(Strugatsky & Strugatsky, 1978)P408: Stalker to Writer
‘Back there, in the hall, the Zone took pity on you. It became obvious that if anyone were fitted to pass through the mincer, that person was you.’
Order of the journey
P392: seeing from afar the ‘grey-white building’ where the room is
P396: ‘a subterranean tunnel’
P398: ‘the underground tunnel’ that stalkers jokingly call ‘the dry tunnel’ because it is flooded
P399: they have a rest at the exit of the dry tunnel
P402: ‘the hall’: ‘a spacious but gloomy room, covered with flagstones; the walls are concrete, and there are dilapidated concrete pillars’
P405: the Meatgrinder, called ‘the mincer’ (P407): a ‘corridor’, ‘blackened with smoke, and underfoot are black, charred ashes’
P406: ‘a room with a telephone’: ‘a room full of dust, cluttered with old lumber and furniture. A dusty telephone hangs on a wall near the entrance’
P410: ‘The Room’: ‘And now they are standing in front of the doorway, which is broad as a barn door, in the threshold of the room: a completely empty expanse. There are black puddles on the cement floor: the evening sky shines through the perforated ceiling.’
They are inexplicably back to the bar, as though the return journey through the Zone was completely eventless.
In Stalker, the title character meets two clients in a bar, Writer and Professor, whom he will guide through a no man’s land called “the Zone” where a room is supposed the make the visitor’s innermost wish come true. In a stolen railway trolley, the trio forces the military barrage that prevents the general population from entering the Zone, then continue on foot once inside the Zone. Stalker warns his clients that travelling through the Zone requires to obey specific rules. They face several mysterious obstacles on their journey. Several times, Writer and Professor disobey Stalker’s directives but always come out unharmed, though scared. Finally they arrive in front of the room’s threshold. Professor reveals he intended the blow up the room all along, out of fear that it is used maliciously by power hungry people. Stalker attacks him, accusing him of destroying hope. Writer separates the fighters, but then turns on Stalker, berating him for his naivety and hypocrisy. Professor is nonetheless convinced not to blow up the room, and Writer renounces entering the room, because he realises he is not fully aware of his own “innermost wish” and fears unforeseen consequences. None of the three men enter the room: they sit peacefully in front of its entrance for a while, deep in thought. Next, they are inexplicably back to the bar where they met at the beginning, as though the return journey through the Zone was completely uneventful.
‘a collection of debris lying in shallow water’ including ‘a syringe’, ‘a mirror’, ‘coins’, ‘a rusting pistol'(Vida & Petrie, 1994, p145)
(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P88: rusty syringes in the water and the phone call to which Writer replies “No this is not a clinic!” hint at psychiatric repression in the USSR.
(Vida & Petrie, 1994, p208)suggest that water means spirituality in tarkovsky, therefore debris in the water suggest that water purifies human civilisation.
Similarities between the ‘telephone room’ (the antechamber to the room) and Stalker’s flat have been noted, among them the floorboards, the defective lightning and the presence of sleeping pills.(Vida & Petrie, 1994, p151) is this all only an inner journey?
Tarkovsky was fond of ruins, ‘especially the colour and texture of old walls’. He found the tiled wall to which the trio inexplicably return (where Porcupine have hung a nut as a warning) himself. (Vida & Petrie, 1994, p230)