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

http://www.openculture.com/2014/08/andrei-tarkovsky-creates-a-list-of-his-10-favorite-films-1972.html

http://www.michaelchekhov.com.br/en/quem.html

https://www.cambridgescholars.com/download/sample/57808

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/

http://www.michaelchekhov.com.br/en/quem.html

https://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/AhrDec_index.html

https://www.firstpost.com/entertainment/forty-years-on-tarkovskys-stalker-remains-a-great-example-of-movie-poetry-easier-to-experience-than-explain-6973641.html

https://genies.fandom.com/wiki/Angra_Mainyu

Tarkovsky Monument 4

tarkovsky listIn this 4th Tarkovsky post I present more of my Messenger conversation with Hugo Moss and follow up with some observations that mark the problem of defining the film media …  while furthering, of course, 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 differences between the representational modalities of mimeses and digesis as they were developed in the film medium … and perhaps we are  also broaching another conversation on multi-media … but these are other stories … What I want to do here is to develop the conversation in terms of Andrei Tarkovsky’s view of cinema and to attenuate my own hyperbole regarding his place within what I have argued  is the quintessential medium of the  20th century.  Here is Tarkovsky’s carefully considered list of 10 best films that he made at the request of film critic Leonid Kozlov. Yes, Hugo my hero suffers from the same tendency to define and sweep clear contradictions … but bear with us momentarily … for the sake of developing the conversation about silent vs sound film. Here is the list of Tarkovsy’s 10 films –

  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 derivatively, my own!

Tarkovsky and I both seem to have presented silent cinema as a stage in the development of a more complex multimedia or Gesamtkunstwerk. You have taken exception to this view and, in retrospect, I stand with you … Tarkovsky’s own uncertainty (his list is clearly not a clean sweep) seems to be reflected in his last-minute inclusion of Chaplin’s City Lights in his top 10! And then there is this citation from the master, “If one absolutely needs to compare me to someone, it should be Dovzhenko. He was the first director for whom the problem of atmosphere was particularly important.” Indeed, Dovzhenko’s Earth was a touchstone for Tarkovsky and if I had to choose one (sweeping) characteristic with which to tag Trakovsky’s oeuvre I would pick ‘atmosphere’, which I believe is same the term I would use to characterize silent cinema! In this characterization, you have both my acknowledgment of the greatness of the films of the silent era and also of the problem of my assertion that film is a single medium, made in the course of my claiming that it is the singular medium of the 20th century.

Image: http://www.openculture.com/2014/08/andrei-tarkovsky-creates-a-list-of-his-10-favorite-films-1972.html

http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/lists/10-great-films-inspired-andrei-tarkovsky

Tarkovsky Monument 2

8a4215_334fe35ed7ca446cbfe5a511d2668b7dImage: 4 Ya Magu Govorit’, copyright by Niranjan Rajah. Preparatory image for photographic work developed from original stills from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Zerkalo.

I sent my dear friend (and esteemed colleague ) Hugo Moss a link to the last post in Messenger and his most 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 after all hyperbole … 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 … what I should say is just that I will contextualize it. But now that you have asked me … I will elaborate on my justification a little and make another post of it!

The main tenet of my belief or criteria for my claim is that film is the  20th Century medium. 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 as well as intrinsic 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 Andrei, according to Bergman, himself a serious contender for the title, is the greatest in the film medium!

The second criteria stems from my belief about the nature of art. Art is – the search for universal truths or the TRUTH, so to speak. In deployment of the aesthetic in the service of this inquiry, Andrei excels. I suggest that in this endeavor, he has no betters and only few peers in any medium.

The third criteria stems from my belief about the purpose of art … While art is a search for the aforementioned TRUTH, it must pursue this search in a manner that provides succor for the human condition … This I believe Andrei’s works provide for those who take the time and effort to penetrate their ethos and who, in turn, let it permeate them. Indeed this is what his films offer the viewer … even if they offer nothing else.

These three points were latent in the previous post … implied but not developed …  your friendly challenge seems to have brought them into sharper focus for me. Now you have the possibility of agreeing … at least with my criteria for a justification of my sweeping claim!

https://people.ucalgary.ca/~tstronds/nostalghia.com/TheTopics/IB_On_AT.html

Tarkovsky Monument

tarkovsky moumentA monument to Andrei Tarkovsky was opened on the 29th July 2017 in Suzdal, where his own monumental contribution to Russia cinema, 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 my hyperbole … and if I fail to convince you … perhaps, you might at the very least, understand where I am coming from (my perspective or paradigm)!

In a deathbed conversation with Krzysztof Zanussi, he said to his friend and esteemed colleague,  “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 and I believe he was expressing, in this request, his subscription to the doctrine of original sin, which although different in orientation and nuance, is in essence similar to the Islamic fitrah (original purity) or the Buddhist dhukka  (universal suffering). In all his work Tarkovsky struggled to express this sacred, understanding of the human condition in historical and psychological terms.

In his hands, film, the quintessential 20th Century representational medium, becomes both a medicine and a sacrament – an interface for healing and a window on salvation. He set this ameliorative and soteriological vehicle into motion in what Ingmar Bergman, no less, 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, utterly contemporary in his engagement with social history and psychology … timeless in his grasp of the sacred. He articulated this timelessness in his films, his 7 technically and aesthetically masterful ‘sculptures of time‘!

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHnUhowBYkI

https://people.ucalgary.ca/~tstronds/nostalghia.com/TheTopics/IB_On_AT.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sculpting_in_Time