A worthy repost.
My favorite director living or dead is Sergio Leone, whom Ebert said has a "way of savoring the last morsel of every scene." Well, Andrei Tarkovsky goes even further, cleaning the plate one crumb at a time and then holding on the empty plate until you realize what a fine piece of porcelain it is. I wonder how he decides when to cut to something else and whether or not his editor exhales in relief at the decision. (Stalker contains not more than 142 shots in 163 minutes.)
I discovered Andrei Tarkovsky in film school when I was invited to watch the Director's Cut of Solaris, hailed as an even better take on 2001. It was a brand new theater print and I was very excited. The film opens with a lengthy shot of tall grass that didn't go with the dialogue at all. Early on is an endless shot behind a car driving through a city. I couldn't believe my eyes. I mean, what was I supposed to be getting from this? I blamed it on the extended cut and left the theater before the film even left Earth.
Many years later I watched Soderbergh's comparably brief remake, which I liked. It got me curious enough to return to Tarkovsky's original. Now that I had the basic skeleton, I at least knew where the film was headed. I was determined to finish and considered it a great achievement when I reached the end. I didn't even despise it anymore. There's some good stuff to think about, but I think Soderbergh said the same thing a lot more efficiently.
Thanks to Filmspotting (then Cinecast) I ventured to watch Andrei Rublev, which baffled and bored me in equal measure. I still have no idea what I saw except a filmmaker who really knew how to use a camera and had no idea how to tell a story. By this time I knew of Stalker, and had seen images from the film, especially the striking visage of Alexandr Kajdanovsky, who plays the title character. The film's reputation loomed over me and I was definitely intrigued by its claim of a Science Fiction film that uses no fantastical elements or special effects. Before we we done professionally, Tarkovsky and I had to meet one last time.
Stalker was the easiest time I had sticking with Tarkovsky's pace. I chalk this up to a combination of fairly straightforward plotting, and the fact that I was never more prepared for the slackness than here. Not just because of two prior outings, but other recent leisurely films like Inglorious Basterds and Werckmeister Harmonies. Harmonies in particular may have helped me past the mental walls put in place by Solaris' driving shot. Not only did I not hold the pace against Stalker, I noticed a couple of places where the lingering brought about great effects.
The finest example is when our characters enter "The Zone". Three of them riding a makeshift rail car for a long time. The camera slowly pans between their faces. The background out of focus. Then suddenly we shift to a view of their surroundings and the look goes from Black & Amber to color. Throughout the Zone, the Stalker tells of invisible traps and the pace keeps tension underlying every step they take. They pick up a stray dog and all during the journey I'm waiting for that damn beast to do something.
As for the film overall, I can't say for sure that I got it, but I definitely have a good idea what happens. And I do think an interesting philosophical debate is raised. It's the first Tarkovsky film I could see revisiting someday, maybe showing it to a friend. He may not be what I like in a director, but I respect him and his process.RATING: * * *