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Sculpting in Time

af Andrei Tarkovsky

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Hailed by Ingmar Bergman as "the most important director of our time," Andrey Tarkovsky here reveals the original inspirations for his extraordinary films

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Un libro que es varios al mismo tiempo: es un diario de trabajo, un ensayo introspectivo, un manifiesto del cine/arte, un manual de lenguaje cinematográfico y una retrospectiva a una de las filmografías más líricas, enigmáticas y trascendentales: la obra del cineasta soviético Andréi Tarkovski. Escrito en colaboración con Olga Surkova, Esculpir el tiempo es probablemente el ensayo más apasionante y reflexivo sobre el cine como arte total; Tarkovski no sólo habla del séptimo arte, su tremenda cultura le da para hacer un profundo estudio sobre otras disciplinas artísticas que, inevitablemente, se funden con el cine en algún momento. Mientras un escultor ordinario toma bloques de mármol o metal al crear una obra, para Andréi Tarkovski el cineasta arranca y corta trozos de tiempo, hasta llegar a las 2 o 3 horas que dura una película, haciendo arte con la realidad misma. Las tribulaciones del cineasta, para entonces ya retirado y decepcionado de la industria del cine, explotan en tremendas líneas que desnudan su estado emocional: “¿Cómo iba a imaginar durante el rodaje de Nostalghia que aquel estado de tristeza aplastante y sin salida, que marca toda la película, podría alguna vez ser el destino de mi propia vida? ¿Cómo iba a imaginar que yo mismo, hasta el final de mis días, tendría que sufrir esa misma grave enfermedad?” ( )
  armandoasis | Mar 27, 2023 |
First, a warning. This is heady. It's tough to get through. Id sit and read a paragraph three times before I got it. It's a long 250 pages. And yet, I wish I could underline this entire book. It's so great. Think of the title alone: Sculpting in Time. What a great way to describe filmic art. Traditional sculptors work in clay or marble, but the director of film works in the medium of time. Andrey Tarkovsky dips into this idea of time in the chapter on the film image, as he describes the responsibility of the director to match a rhythm that can be seen only through feel. Seen by feel? Such is the attitude of this director, where all senses blend.

But first, Tarkovsky begins by considering what art is, and throughout the book constantly returns to his reflections of what art means to a society. From his dismissal of the modern art movement (how can something be avant-garde when it's by definition impossible to progress in art? All art is experimentation. If you're not experimenting it's not art.) to his thoughts on the artist's attitude to society, it's clear the director *ruminates*. Such a mind doesn't settle on an idea without turning it over, having it over for a tête–à–tête and seeking an understanding with it.

Do I agree with everything Tarkovsky puts forth? No. Though he's been dead 30 years, I don't think Tarkovsky wanted blind agreement. Ultimately, as he says, the audience agrees with you, or they don't. And no matter of shifting to please the audience will be worth it. Be true to yourself, as an artist, and your audience will do what they will. His quote from Pushkin will serve to close:

You are a king. Live alone. Take a free road and follow where your free mind leads you, bring to perfection the fruits of well-loved thoughts. Ask no reward for noble deeds accomplished. Rewards are within you. Your supreme judge is yourself. None will ever judge your work more sternly. Discriminating artist, does it please you?

Like I said, there's a bunch of things I liked, this doesn't even scrape the surface:
- I entirely subscribe to the view that truth is reached though dispute.
- Modern art has taken a wrong turn in abandoning the search for the meaning of existence in order to affirm the value of the individual for its own sake.
- Works of art, unlike those of science, have no practical goals in any material sense. Art is meta-language, with the help of which people try to communicate with one another....
- ...After [reading War and Peace] it was no longer possible to read trash; it would give me an acute feeling of distaste.
- Every moment that we were together was a celebration, like Epiphany.
- You long to be able to achieve great things while economizing the means.
- Faced with a really great figure, you accept him with all his 'weaknesses', which become the distinguishing marks of his aesthetic.
- … I found myself reflecting more and more that if you were serious about your work, then a film is not merely the next item in your career, it is an action which will affect the whole of your life.
- Art affects a person's emotions, not his reason.
- It takes little enough to appreciate art: a sensitive, subtle, suggestible soul, open to beauty and good, capable of spontaneous aesthetic experience.
- A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books.
- … Art must carry man's craving for the ideal, must be an expression of his reaching out toward it… art must give man hope in faith. And the more hopeless the world in the artist's version, the more clearly perhaps we must see the ideal that stands in opposition to it – otherwise life becomes impossible!
- ...what nobody seems to understand is that love can only be one-sided, that no other love exists, that in any other form it is not love. If it involves led than total giving, it is not love.
- Moreover I am convinced that we now find ourselves on the point of destroying another civilization entirely as a result of failing to take account of the spiritual side of the historical process. We don't want to admit to ourselves that many of the misfortunes besetting humanity are the results of our having become unforgivably, culpably, hopelessly materialistic.
- Perhaps our capacity to create is evidence that we ourselves were created in the image and likeness of God?
( )
  gideonslife | Jan 5, 2023 |
...Έργο του σκηνοθέτη είναι να αναδημιουργεί τη ζωή: την κίνησή της, τις αντιφάσεις της, τη δυναμική και τις συγκρούσεις της. Καθήκον του είναι να αποκαλύπτει κάθε ιώτα της αλήθειας που είδε, ακόμα και αν δεν την αποδέχονται όλοι. Φυσικά, ένας καλλιτέχνης μπορεί να χάσει το δρόμο του ωστόσο ακόμα και τα λάθη του μπορεί να έχουν ενδιαφέρον, αρκεί να είναι ειλικρινή, γιατί αντιπροσωπεύουν την πραγματικότητα της εσωτερικής του ζωής, των περιπλανήσεων και του αγώνα στον οποίο τον εξώθησε ο εξωτερικός κόσμος. (Άλλωστε κατέχει κανείς ποτέ όλη την αλήθεια;) Κάθε συζήτηση για το τι μπορούμε να δείξουμε στην οθόνη και τι όχι είναι απλώς πεζή και αήθης απόπειρα διαστροφής της αλήθειας...
  boubouni | Dec 2, 2021 |
It's always a pleasure when great artists talk about the art that they consider great and why. Tarkovsky would be a cinema legend if all he had ever done was Stalker, but here he shows, even beyond the evidence of his other films, that he's articulate and insightful enough about art in general to be worth reading for his criticism alone. In this essay collection he uses his own movies as specific examples of his general aesthetic philosophy, but his real sights are set a bit higher than his own work: the purposes of art; how spirituality informs his creative goals; how cinema differs from the other arts like painting, theatre, literature, music, etc; the problem of communicating and connecting to an audience without writing "for" them; and most importantly, why time itself is the primary medium of film. Many of his opinions are contentious, but his personality is strong enough that if you were ever curious about why so much ink was spilled over the "auteur theory" of film back in the day, this is one reason why.

The only two of Tarkovsky's movies I've seen are Solaris and Stalker; once each, in college. While I can't say that I found either of them to be among my favorite movies of all time (I'm no Geoff Dyer, whose book praising Stalker I haven't read), they both left a definite impression on me. Granted, that impression was mainly one of almost stupefying tedium - seemingly endless shots of people standing in mud, hallways, or hallways filled with mud - but they weren't just any shots. By the end of Stalker in particular I was nearly hypnotized, and indeed, as Tarkovsky explains here, his use of lengthy takes is a deliberate choice. To Tarkovsky, time is the medium of film the way that marble is the medium of the sculptor, and that to truly communicate an idea to an audience, sometimes you have to use a lot of marble. Often this involves presenting scenarios in a different way than would seem obvious; for example, in his discussion of his film Ivan's Childhood, he talks about the difficulty in being true to our memories in our depictions:

"Generally people's memories are precious to them. It is no accident that they are coloured by poetry. The most beautiful memories are those of childhood. Of course memory has to be worked upon before it can become the basis of an artistic reconstruction of the past; and here it is important not to lose the particular emotional atmosphere without which a memory evoked in every detail merely gives rise to a bitter feeling of disappointment. There's an enormous difference, after all, between the way you remember the house in which you were born and which you haven't seen for years, and the actual sight of the house after a prolonged absence. Usually the poetry of the memory is destroyed by confrontation with its origin."

It's a cliché that nostalgia inevitably leads to disappointment for precisely that reason: the present is unable to live up to the myths of the past. I was not only reminded of countless moments of revisiting old times in my own life, but also other films that deal with the workings of time. What would Tarkovsky have thought of Boyhood; is that what he meant by "sculpting in time"? One thing that distinguished Boyhood from other movies about childhood like The 400 Blows was that the aging of the characters had a palpable rhythm - at times imperceptible, at times shocking - how would that fit into his sculpting theory, since I don't believe Linklater tried for the same effect within each scene as between them? However, The 400 Blows had sequels with the exact same main character (much like Linklater's Before trilogy), so can you sculpt between films as well as in them? What about other movies that don't try to emphasize the passage of time but play around with shot duration? Tarkovsky is very critical of famous directors like Eisenstein that pioneered montage, cuts, and transitions as a primary method of film grammar, so one can only imagine his thoughts on being confronted with a wearingly rapid Michael Bay movie:

"I reject the principles of 'montage cinema' because they do not allow the film to continue beyond the edges of the screen: they do not allow the audience to bring personal experience to bear on what is in front of them on film. 'Montage cinema' presents the audience with puzzles and riddles, makes them decipher symbols, wonder at allegories, appealing all the time to their intellectual experience. Each of these riddles, however, has its own word-for-word solution; so I feel that Eisenstein prevents the audience from letting their feelings be influenced by their own reaction to what they see."

In fact, imagining Tarkovsky in dialogue with other directors and artists is one of the primary pleasures of the book. I have so many questions for him, especially because he's very clear that although film uses many similar aspects as other arts, film is not those arts, and should obey The Rules: films use music, but soundtracks shouldn't draw attention to themselves in the film; screenwriting uses literary techniques but is not literature itself; actors can't act in a take of a scene the way they would in a scene in a play; directors trying to pretend that their movies are paintings will distract the audience with too-vivid colors; and so on. He's got a lot of opinions, and all of them had me thinking about if other directors are truly doing things "the wrong way", which is not un-contentious, to say the least. For example, imagine if all directors had the same attitude towards color as he does:

"You have to try to neutralise colour, to modify its impact on the audience. If colour becomes the dominant dramatic element of the shot, it means that the director and cameraman are using a painter's methods to affect the audience. That is why nowadays one very often finds that the average expertly made film will have the same sort of appeal as the luxuriously illustrated glossy magazine; the colour photography will be warring against the expressiveness of the image."

That feels like a direct rebuke of Wes Anderson's entire cinematic ethos, years before he even picked up a camera. And I like Anderson's films! Yet on reflection it rings true: there's something about Wes Anderson's sets/framing/color palette that draws attention to itself, that distracts in some way, that makes his films feel somewhat artificial and mannered. Each of his films is unmistakably his own. But what's wrong with a director having a style? All artists communicate in their own way, and I don't think that emphasizing one of the components of a film undermines that film itself, certainly not "as a film". Imagine that criticism applied to other art forms; is it wrong that the music for Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring has become famous far beyond the choreography of the ballet it was written to accompany? Is admiring a particular line of dialogue in a film really so different from admiring one in a play?

And along those lines, his extensive praise for directors like Ingmar Bergman and Robert Bresson mostly focuses on how he interprets the purity of their vision: "not one of them could be confused with anyone else. An artist of that calibre follows one straight line, albeit at great cost; not without weaknesses or even, indeed, occasionally being far-fetched; but always in the name of the one idea, the one conception." Except that flattery aside, I'm not sure any of the directors he praises would agree that their lines don't occasionally arc to connect to other art forms, or indeed deliberately try to cross those boundaries for artistic effect. To reuse one of his Dostoevsky examples, it's entirely possible that a faithful cinematic rendering of the character of the Grand Inquisitor might involve using more literary techniques, or dramatic lighting, or color symbolism, and that that would work perfectly well in the film.

On the subject of symbolism, Tarkovsky is somewhat ideologically inconsistent, denying that any of his films contain symbols or metaphors, and then immediately conceding that both Nostalgia and The Sacrifice contain metaphors for the protagonist's inner state, and the mystery of faith, respectively. I can see both sides (excessively allegorical art can get old quickly), but I will give him a pass since strict artistic consistency is boring. There's a clear link between his love for "purity" in art, his fascination for simple schemas like haikus or the Aristotelian unities of time-place-action, and his spirituality. He's got some pretty intense views on the purposes of true art:

"The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good. Touched by a masterpiece, a person begins to hear in himself that same call of truth which prompted the artist to his creative act. When a link is established between the work and its beholder, the latter experiences a sublime, purging trauma. Within that aura which unites masterpieces and audience, the best sides of our souls are made known, and we long for them to be freed. In those moments we recognize and discover ourselves, the unfathomable depths of our own potential, and the furthest reaches of our emotions."

All jokes about "yeah, nothing prepares me for death like enduring one of your movies!" aside, it's that kind of very serious attitude towards his films that make some people such devotees, an attitude which I would hesitate to call "stereotypically Russian" except that he does it himself many times. Arguments over national characteristics are somewhat "foreign" to me, if you will, yet the essential Russian-ness of Russians is the subject of his final film, and he's far from the first Russian author to have such a sentiment. It's very common to group artists in all media into scenes (for film, just think of French New Wave, Italian Neorealism, German Expressionism, etc), yet even though Tarkovsky's films probably couldn't have been made by a non-Russian, I think his vision operates on a fairly universal level, even if he is somehow more similar to other Russian directors like Eisenstein he doesn't agree with than foreign directors like Bergman or Bresson that he does agree with.

Perhaps there are some untranslatable elements in art - see the rueful translator's notes that adorn some of the poems from his father in the book - but if each person's view of the world were truly in a different language than communication would be impossible. That a singular artist like Tarkovsky operates at such a serious level can put his films out of reach for the casual viewer (which is to say me in college), and indeed he has strong feelings about the dangers of writing "for" an audience rather than trying to stay true to an inner vision, but if the highest compliment you can pay to a book like this is that it made me want to watch the films of his I haven't seen, rewatch the ones I have, and debate his ideas with other people, then consider it complimented. Despite the meandering, Solzhenitsyn-ish rant at the end about the dangers of abandoning religion, his discussion of Ivan's Childhood should inspire artists no matter how irreligious:

"Masterpieces are born of the artist's struggle to express his ethical ideals. Indeed, his concepts and his sensibilities are informed by those ideals. If he loves life, has an overwhelming need to know it, change it, try to make it better - in short, if he aims to cooperate in enhancing the value of life, then there is no danger in the fact that the picture of reality will have passed through a filter of his subjective concepts, through his states of mind. For his work will always be a spiritual endeavour which aspires to make man more perfect: an image of the world that captivates us by its harmony of feeling and thought, its nobility and restraint." ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
El diario de trabajo del gran director ruso: un conjunto de lúcidas reflexiones surgidas al afrontar los distintos aspectos de su tarea como creador cinematográfico: el guión, los actores, las tomas, el montaje, la música.
Con ayuda del cine se pueden tratar las cuestiones más complejas del presente a un nivel que durante siglos ha sido propio de la literatura, la música o la pintura. Pero una y otra vez hay que buscar de nuevo el camino por el que tiene que ir el cine como arte. Estoy convencido de que el trabajo práctico en el cine será para cada uno de nosotros algo infructuoso y desesperanzado, si no comprendemos con toda exactitud y claridad la especificidad de este arte, si no encontramos nosotros mismos la llave que tenemos para abrirla.
  LlibredePaper | Aug 3, 2020 |
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Hailed by Ingmar Bergman as "the most important director of our time," Andrey Tarkovsky here reveals the original inspirations for his extraordinary films

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