Tarkovsky Monument 4

In this 4th Tarkovsky post I present more extracts from my Messenger conversation with Hugo Moss and follow up with some observations that mark the problem of defining the film media,  while also furthering my tribute to Andrei Tarkovsky.

Hugo: I’ll just finish up by just taking issue with a smaller but important point – your claim that film was only beginning to mature in the 1960’s. Film was reaching extraordinary heights of maturity in visual storytelling by the late 1920’s, something interrupted by the arrival of sound. Although doubtless a technological advancement, sound caused a seismic shock in the way films were being made and stories told in that medium. Something very valuable was lost, almost overnight. You might take the view that by the 60’s film was recovering its maturity, but let’s not forget the extraordinary achievements on both sides of the Atlantic on the eve of sound’s invasion of commercial film. Silent film was this very sophisticated visual storytelling, they’d become so damned creative and subtle and beautiful and poetic.

Niranjan: Hugo I agree … I would even argue for 2 different mediums – one a visual medium, the other a multimedia in the vein of Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk. I believe that silent films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu, even Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc can’t be easily translated into sound cinema. I’d venture to say that it would be easier to make paintings of these silent films than to make sound films of them.

Hugo: Yes, it’s a tragedy that film didn’t just split into two currents in ’29/’30 and the silent film just cut right off … So wonderful what was going on, quite as elevated as the heights of painting, I would argue, and it just died, within a couple of years, except of course for Chaplin, famously, but as an industry/artform it ended abruptly!

Indeed, silent cinema was much closer to the traditional theatrical arts – think of abinaya in Bharatanatyam and even of mime in the Western theatre tradition … I think we are on the brink of a discussion about the representational modalities of mimeses and digesis, as they were developed in the film medium … and perhaps we are  also broaching another conversation, one one the nature of multi-media … but these are other stories … What I want to do here is to continue the conversation in terms of Andrei Tarkovsky’s view of cinema and to mark his place, with less hyperbole, within this quintessential medium of the  20th century.  

Here is Tarkovsky’s own list of the 10 best films that he made at the request of film critic Leonid Kozlov in 1972 …. Yes, Hugo, like me, my hero suffers from the tendency to define and sweep clear contradictions … but bear with us momentarily … for the sake of developing some ideas about silent vs sound film. Here is the list –

  1. Diary of a Country Priest(Robert Bresson, 1951)
  2. Winter Light(Ingmar Bergman, 1963)
  3. Nazarin (Luis Buñuel, 1959)
  4. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
  5. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
  6. Ugetsu Monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
  7. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
  8. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
  9. Mouchette (Robert Bresson, 1967)
  10. Woman of the Dunes(Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

Kozlov remembers, “He took my proposition very seriously and for a few minutes sat deep in thought with his head bent over a piece of paper … Then he began to write down a list of directors’ names — Buñuel, Mizoguchi, Bergman, Bresson, Kurosawa, Antonioni, Vigo. One more, Dreyer, followed after a pause. Next he made a list of films and put them carefully in a numbered order. The list, it seemed, was ready, but suddenly and unexpectedly Tarkovsky added another title – City Lights … With the exception of City Lights … it does not contain a single silent film or any from the 30s or 40s. The reason for this is simply that Tarkovsky saw the cinema’s first 50 years as a prelude to what he considered to be real film-making.” This list and Kozlov’s explanation of Tarkovsky’s rational for it, explains the sweeping action of Tarkovsky’s ‘broom’, and also that of my own!

Tarkovsky and I both seem to have treated silent cinema as a mere stage in the development of a more complex sound cinema – a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk, or in more contemporary terms, a kind of multimedia. You have taken exception to this view and, in retrospect, I agree with you … Tarkovsky’s own uncertainty (clearly not a clean sweep) seems to be reflected in his last-minute inclusion of Chaplin’s City Lights! And then there is his statement statement in a 1969 interview, “If one absolutely needs to compare me to someone (in Soviet cinema), it should be Dovzhenko. He was the first director for whom the problem of atmosphere was particularly important.” Indeed, if I had to choose one (sweeping) characteristic with which to tag Trakovsky’s oeuvre I would pick ‘atmosphere’!

You have my acknowledgment that it is an error to consider silent cinema as a developmental stage and also that it is an error in my initial claim that film is ‘the’ quintessential medium of the 20th century. It seems there were two distinct celluloid mediums!

(slightly edited version of a post made originally made on AUGUST 13 2017)

Image: https://www.rbth.com/literature/2014/11/26/andrei_tarkovsky_biography_wrestles_with_the_filmmakers_remarkable_41717.html




Tarkovsky Monument 3

Hugo: Well…that’s wonderful, Niranjan, now you do give us the chance to agree with you (or otherwise), and I’m pleased to fully embrace what you write about the nature and purpose of art in your Second and Third Criteria, and respect your renewed heartfelt claim for Tarkovsky. However I’d have to question a lot of what you write in the First Criteria, starting with your new sweeping statement (much harder to forgive) that all art mediums were decadent by the end of the 19th century.

So this is how Hugo Moss’ begins his reply to my justification of my claim that Andrei Tarkovsky was the greatest artist of the 20th Century … in any medium! (see Tarkovsky Monument and Tarkovsky Monument 2) I had cited Ingmar Bergman’s  statement that Andrei Tarkovsky was the greatest auteur in the film medium, “Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease. I felt encouraged and stimulated: someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how. Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream”. I had taken Bergman’s judgment on Tarkovsky as the basis of my own and estimation of him in the world of film and augmented it with the controversial premise that film was the medium of the century and that therefore, and by definition Tarkovsky was, well … the Greatest of all his contemporaries in all mediums!

Hugos’s continues …

Hugo: Even if I accept your unusual use of the word “decadent”, you’re still asking me to consider as “redolent” the work of folk who were producing some pretty extraordinary and groundbreaking stuff (as defined by your Second and Third Criteria), well into the 20th century, using several means of expression other than film. Then your sweep continues with an attempt at laying down the law: “Any artist not practicing his art in the film medium misses (…) the right to be considered the greatest artist of this time.” You’re certainly tidying up the floor nicely here, but it seems to me that in doing so your broom inadvertently knocks over quite a lot of important other stuff, no?

Hugo is right,  indeed, I am tidying up, but in my own mind, it is with a benign broom … one that separates by genre in order to aggrandize Tarkovsky, without besmirching the great masters of the … I stand by it … ‘redolent’ arts …. Yes, while I am willing to withdraw my apparently overstated adjective ‘decadent’, I stand by my use of ‘redolent’ to characterize the fragrant ripeness of the other arts in the 20th Century ….  (More on this in Tarkovsky Monument 4)

Hugo: Although I think I see what you’re getting at, I agree neither with the claim itself nor with the attempt at establishing such a litmus test for greatness. Academia spends a lot of its time in this sort of activity, but inevitably ends up making extraordinary over-simplifications about this very great, beautiful and complex world. What is being achieved by heaving Tarkovsky (or anyone else) onto a pedestal based on such a narrow idea? It seems to be to be a supremely Ahrimanic (Ahriman is the power that makes man dry, prosaic and philistine. It ossifies him and brings him to the superstition of materialism.) exercise, whereas I feel we artists should be seeking to keep things flowing. I love hearing/reading about your passion for Tarkovsky and others without having to place them on anything or even anywhere in particular. They continue to move through time as we all do. Your love for and the inspiration you’ve gained from artists like Tarkovsky are far more important to me than anything Mount Olympus can provide. No, let us leave these attempts at fixing things in stone to others and keep the flow going.

Again, Hugo is right, but like the good Stalker (the lead character in Tarkovsky’s film of the same name) that he is, it is my dear friend who set the trap that led me deeper into the the ‘zone’ by asking for the justification that I had instinctively eschewed in my very first post on Tarkovsky … Indeed, while my praise of Tarkovsky is Mazdian (Ahura Mazda is goodness, light, and free of all evil) in intent, Ahriman may, indeed, have been lurking therein, as hyperbole limits movement, and can not be justified without an attendant ossification! I acknowledged this to Hugo on Messenger in these words “Statements or comparisons of the greatness of others are not useful … other than as subjective symbols of the self … perhaps!”

Hugo: Perhaps! and I perfectly empathize with the love/inspiration which fuels them.

(slightly edited version of a post made on AUGUST 4, 2017)

Image: http://www.longpauses.com/

Image: http://www.longpauses.com/





Tarkovsky Monument 2

Image:  Ya Magu Govorit’, Berhijrah Series, Koboi Project, by Niranjan Rajah. The preparatory image for a photographic after original stills from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Zerkalo.

I sent my dear friend (and esteemed Micheal Chekhov educator) Hugo Moss a link to the previous ‘Tarkovsky Monument’ post in Messenger and his acute response has prompted this second post.

Hugo: … it’s a lovely piece … heartfelt and so moving – and we will certainly forgive you your enthusiasm-driven sweeping statement. If I were to make a criticism it is that you don’t actually make the case for the statement, since all the things you declare as the things you love about Tarkovsky don’t in themselves add up to “most important artist of the 20 century in any medium”. That’s not to say I don’t accept your opinion, but you don’t allow me the chance to agree with you …

Niranjan: Oh I see what you mean. In a way, that is the idea … I did not want to try to prove the unprovable …  it is hyperbole after all … but partly, I did not develop the arguments that I promised, or alluded to, due to haste and brevity … time and space … or lack there of!

Hugo: Yes but you state you’re going to ‘justify’ it …

Niranjan: Ah yes … I see that is indeed an overstatement … I will go back and remove that claim … I will change the post to say that I will ‘contextualize’ it. But now that you have asked me … I will try to make my justification and I will make another post (below in this post) of it!

The main criteria or justification for my belief is that film is the medium of the 20th Century. The other mediums – painting, sculpture, literature, theatre and the like are old and therefore had necessarily become decadent by the end of the 19th Century (by decadent I mean fully matured and ripened, redolent in idiom with well defined syntax and grammars). Film was new-born at the dawn of the 20th Century and youthful at mid-century, and  just beginning to mature in the 1960s. Any artist not practicing his art in the film medium misses, in my estimation, and by default, the right to be considered the greatest artist of this time and, according to Ingmar Bergman, himself a contender for the title, Andrei Tarkovsky is the ‘greatest’ artist in the film medium!

The second criteria stems from my belief about the nature of art. Art is – the search for universal truths or ‘truth’, and it is in terms of the deployment of the mechanics and aesthetics of cinema in the service of this inquiry, Andrei Tarkovsky couches his project. I suggest that in this quest, he has no betters in the film medium and only few peers in any medium of any time.

The third criteria stems from my belief about the purpose of art … While art is a search for the aforementioned ‘truth’, artists must pursue this search in a manner that provides succor for the human condition … In this regard, I believe Andrei’s films play an exemplary role. Indeed this is what is most important about the films of this great artist. Important enough, I suggest, to make him the greatest!

(slightly edited version of a post made in AUGUST 2, 2017)







Tarkovsky Monument

In Suzdal has opened the world’s first monument to film Director Andrei Tarkovsky

monument to Andrei Tarkovsky was opened on the 29th July 2017 in Suzdal, where his epic, Andrei Rublev, was shot in 1965 … well over half a century ago. Andrei Tarkovsky was in my view the most important artist of the 20 century in any medium. Yes, that is a sweeping statement! … but I have just watched his films in the cinema – Solaris 3 times and Stalker twice in the course of the last week, and feel this claim is justified. I shall do my best to ‘contextualize’ (corrected from the original ‘justified’ – explained in Tarkovsky Monument 2) my hyperbole … and if I fail to persuade you … perhaps, you might at the very least, understand where I am coming from (my perspective or paradigm)!

The renowned Polish filmmaker, Krzysztof Zanussi attests (see minute 15.55 in the video below) that in that in deathbed conversation, Tarkovsky said to him“If I happen to die, please whenever you talk about me, remind people I want to be remembered as a sinner, as somebody who committed many sins …. “ Andrei Tarkovsky was Christian in his conviction and I believe he was expressing, in this request, his subscription to the doctrine of original sin, which although different in nuance or even opposite in orientation is, in its essence, the same as Islamic fitrah (original purity), Buddhist dhukka  (universal suffering) or Saiva pasam (attachment). In all his work Tarkovsky struggled to express, in historical and psychological terms, this metaphysical understanding of the human condition, this oscillation, or extension, between fall and grace.

In his art, film, the quintessential 20th Century representational medium, becomes both a balm and a sacrament – an interface for healing and a window to salvation. Tarkovsky set this ameliorative and soteriological vehicle into motion in what Ingmar Bergman, has described as “a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream”.  Tarkovsky is the exemplary post-traditionalist, he is utterly contemporary in his engagement with social history and psychology … and he is timeless in his grasp of the sacred. In his 7 technically and aesthetically masterful works Tarkovsky articulated this timelessness through his art of ‘sculpting in time‘!

(slightly edited, from a post made in JULY 25, 2017)

Image : http://wellnews.us/articles/the-firstever



Art, Life, Sacrifice

In the documentary on the making of his film ‘Nostalghia’ (1983) titled ‘Voyage in Time’ (1983), Andrei Tarkovsky is asked to give some words of advice to young film directors. He addresses ‘cinema’ as a serious art and so, here, I recall his advice as it might apply to the broader category ‘art.’ The following restatement is fundamental my understanding of the true purpose and nature of art, and to the proper ambition of the artist –

  1. Do not separate your art from the life you live.
  2. It is required to contribute your own self to your art.
  3. Be morally responsible for what you do while making your art.
  4. Art requires sacrifice of your self.
  5. You should belong to your art, your art does not belong to you.

Politik Penyuntingan (2014 – 2020)

After Zunar, 2014 re-presented in Index Magazine Online.

2014 – Zunar Published the source cartoon for this image to celebrate 57 years of Merdeka.

2020 – Zunar clarified the difference between a ‘reference to’ and a ‘manipulation of’ an image in the context of the Jata Negara controversy. Also in this year, the Minister for Communications and Multimedia announced, quite unthinkingly, that the requirement for a licence in order to produce distribute or exhibit films (arising from sections 21 and 22 of the Perbadanan Kemajuan Filem Nasional Act 1981) would apply to personal social media. 

Penyuntingan berkarya …
Penyuntingan diri kerana takut gagal,
atau kerana berani berjaya;
Penyuntingan penaja ataupun penyelaras,
Penyuntingan kerajaan;
Penyuntingan adab,
Penyuntingan kerana maruah,
kerana agama bangsa;
Tapi Tuhan nampak segala yang ada di dalam hati …
So jangan tertekan oleh saudara seperjuangan;
Jangan berdiam …
Kerana yang di dalam adalah apa yang ada!

Penyuntingan Penggambaran,
Penyuntingan Pembahasan,
Penyuntingan Pengertian,
Penyuntingan  Pendirian,
Penyuntingan  Pertimbangan,
Penyuntingan Pemimpinan.

Source Image: https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2018/07/malaysian-cartoonist-zunar-cleared-of-sedition-charges/




Politik Anak Bapa (2004 – 2020)

After Lat, New Straits Times, 11 April 2009 re-presented in Shannon’s blog.

2004 – Two years after his father Mahathir Mohamad stepped down as Prime Minister, Mukhriz Mahathir was elected to the executive council of UMNO Youth.

2008 – Mukhriz won the Jerlun Parliament Seat

2013 – Mukhriz won the Kedah State Assembly seat of Ayer Hitam and was appoint Chief Minister of Kedah for the 1st time.

 2018 – Mukhriz was appointed Chief Minister of Kedah for the second time when Pakatan Harapan, led by his father, won the general elections.

2020 – Mahathir floated a political scenario in which Mukhriz would become deputy PM.

Source Image: http://shahnons.blogspot.com/2009/04/mahathirs-advise-to-son.html


Politik Ulangan (1993 -2020)

After Lat, 1995 re-presented in The Mahathir Years blog.

1993 – Anwar Ibrahim is appointed Deputy Prime Minister and presumptive heir to Mahathir as Prime Minister of Malaysia.
2020 – Mahathir resigns as Prime Minister of Malaysia for the second time, dashing, once again, Anwar’s expectations as his air-apparent.

Nampaknya hubungan Anwar/ Mahathir memberi contoh bagi teori Pulangan Abadi yang dibentangkan oleh Friedrich Nietzsche.

Source image: https://www.mtholyoke.edu/~teh20y/classweb/worldpolitics/Anwar.html


Politik Identiti (1996 -2020)

After cover of a book by Lat titled Dr.Who?!, 2020 from a thesis fragment found online.

1996 – Pop star M. Nasir gets boycotted by state owned media for being kurang ajar or kasar towards the sitting Prime Minister in asking, audaciously, “Siapa Mahathir?”

2004 – Esteemed Malaysian cartoonist Lat launches his 27th book titled titled Dr Who?!: Capturing the Life and Times of a Leader in Cartoons. Epitomizing the notion of halus, Lat was able to get Mahathir himself to launch the book. Surely, the latent reference to M. Nasir’s earlier question was heard by Malaysians even at the time!

2020 – M. Nasir’s alleged insult has now become a genuine question on every Malaysian’s mind! Who is he really? What does he stand for … does he stand for anything beyond Machiavellian self-interest?

Source Image: Click to access Pages_from_nor_amriah.TGB050030.part2(Chapter_4).pdf


Politik Wangsa Baru (1978 – 2020)

After a print by Ismail Zain titled ‘Al Kesah’ 1988 re-presented in essay on Researchgate.

1978 – The CBS prime-time TV series ‘Dallas’ started screening.

1981 – Mahathir Mohamad became Prime Minister of Malaysia for the first time.

1988 – Ismail Zain presents ‘Digital Collage’ at the National Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.

2006 – Mahathir said “I didn’t want to give the impression that I’m creating a dynasty”.

2020 – Mahathir floated a political scenario in which Mukhriz would become deputy PM.

Source Image: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Al-Kesah-1988-Computer-print-20cm-x-21cm_fig6_268055501