Thursday, 3 May 2012

Stalker - Curzon Renoir, A Nos Amours

Finally, a proper screening, a proper print. Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 visionary cinematic poem Stalker will never go away, but the inexorable stride of digital projection means that a 35mm copy is surprisingly rare. As author Geoff Dyer, introducing the film, noted, there is no longer a celluloid copy of Stalker to be found anywhere in North America.

I had tried to prepare a companion for viewing this film with expectation-dampening talk of its slow speed. Dyer did the same in his talk, with an anecdote about an early screening in which authoritarian pleading for a shorter prologue resulted in Tarkovsky's vow to make the opening even longer. Certainly with its 142 shots stretched beyond 2 1/2 hours, Stalker has the potential to feel very long.

What I wasn't expecting then was the speed at which the film rushed out at me. One of the many themes of the film is that of tension, tension between desire and fulfillment. The literal tension that Tarkovsky opens with is that of a surreal thriller, a car chase across an industrial complex. It's a temperamentally frenzied start to a film of deep breath.

I felt that I was watching an allegorical film about the artist in society. For all that the Stalker himself leads, he is nonetheless bringing up the rear, just as his name actually suggests. Invariably it's the creative figure, the Writer who goes ahead, followed at a distance by the analyst-interpreter-teacher Professor with the Stalker close behind. The sense of threat presented by the Zone, the goal of their expedition, is largely in the report of the superstitious Stalker, who is also an allegorical figure for the religious zealot. The power in the small group shifts slowly but fluidly between the men during the film, a triangle of delicate political equanimity.

The photography is good, as far as one can see from the print but the shot composition is truly lovely. The industry and monochrome-colour tension brought to mind Antonioni's first significant colour film, The Red Desert, in which a mother and her husband's colleagues and friends behave listlessly in a Lilliputian industrial complex where single blocks of colour are the rule and strange electro-acoustic sounds underpin the dialogue.

The sound design for Stalker is just as worrisome with plenty of industrial  crackling and, most notably, reverberant sounds clearly evoking an enclosed space as the backdrop to the stretch of the expedition in the open air. Such incongruity foreshadows the rain that falls in the Room, making a clear case for the entire environment being a construct of someone's imagination.

The evening's screening was hosted by Curzon Cinemas at their Renoir theatre. It was organised by A Nos Amours, a group advocating important cinema - their undertaking is an important one (and would benefit from a more composed introduction. I had no idea who the speakers were until I read up about the organisation after the show).

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