FilmEye: Tarkovsky’s Stalker

Notes on cinema inspired by historical images by Dan Williams


A new season of all Tarkovsky’s films has opened screening throughout the UK at selected cinemas.

Watching ‘Stalker’ again, Tarkovsky’s enigmatic movie from the early 1980s, I am drawn again into his bleak and sublime landscapes. These provide images of Russia, industrial and rural, but also are dreamlike. The film is about a journey into what is known as the Zone a special area that has been closed off. The name and the concept suggest science fiction but naturalism is a powerful aesthetic choice here alongside the evocation of metaphysical, otherworldly qualities. When buildings appear they are mysterious objects which immediately suggest secrets to be unlocked.

The film represents a physical journey and a journey inwards. With Tarkovsky’s meditative style, his images take on the potency of photographic concentration on landscapes and buildings. The pictures below from our collection carry some echoes of the Tarkovsky aesthetic with their expression of texture in the materials, and immersion of buildings in the landscape.

Izborsk Fortress and houses in winter, RUSSIA ©Anatoly Pronin/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd A Pronin/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd

Izborsk Fortress and houses in winter, RUSSIA
©Anatoly Pronin/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd
A Pronin/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd

 

Caucus Osetia, Deegorsk Valley, mountain temple, Russia ©Anatoly Pronin/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd

Caucus Osetia, Deegorsk Valley, mountain temple, Russia
©Anatoly Pronin/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd

 

Tarkovsky’s film also resonates with other imagery. For example the photo below in the collection which is from Syria carries qualities that are reminiscent of the visual fascination in ‘Stalker’ with travelling through a dark passage, its’ possibilities and its’ dangers. We are reminded of everyday life with the hanging wires and the house windows. At the same time the play of darkness and light, and the distant figure, connect the travel through a passageway with storytelling. We are drawn into the question of who or what is at the end of the passage. It seems significant that ‘Stalker’ makes this narrative element very important whilst also being radically different from action based narratives.

Street, Saroja, Damascus. SYRIA ©Anatoly Pronin/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd

Street, Saroja, Damascus. SYRIA
©Anatoly Pronin/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd

 

One of the achievements of Tarkovsky’s more oblique approach is to step outside the conventions associated with national cinema. We might expect, for example, a focus on well known Russian images, but throughout his work montage is used to achieve a more oblique connection with Russian history. The following view of Moscow compares with his commitment to composing long shots of industrial reality, but contrasts with the way Stalker attempts to challenge us with revelatory imagery, strange and familiar at the same time.

 

View of Moscow. RUSSIA. 1980s ©Bruce Norman/ Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd

View of Moscow. RUSSIA. 1980s
©Bruce Norman/ Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd

 


News!
Dan’s new film study class ‘Introduction to British Cinema’ will start at WEA from the New Year (2017).
The course is for everyone with an interest in cinema who would like to study the subject in greater depth.
https://enrolonline.wea.org.uk/Online/2016/CourseInfo.aspx?r=C2418766