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March 08, 2012

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Pete Segall

Glenn, have you read "The Missing of the Somme"? It's the last thing of Dyer's I've read (I'll get to "Zona" sometime soon). It seems to have some thematic echoes, being not so much about the thing (World War I here) but about how the thing is observed. Of course, there's a bit of a gulf scope-wise between a world war and a film although one of the main thrusts of "Somme" is that the memorization of the War (in England) has almost turned the entire thing into a movie, narrativized, compacted, deconstructable.

Detachment from his subjects is a running theme, at least in what I've read, and given that the subject is often himself I can see where the dispiriting coolness comes in. I happen to like it and found it tilting closer to poignancy (not getting there, though) in "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi." If he's evading sincerity it's because the reflex has been shot by all the cleverness, and he knows it. It's a voice that might belong to a much younger half brother of Richard Tull from "The Information," where the self-pity (or loathing) is still slinking around in the background, coloring the jokes, and hasn't been yanked to the fore just yet.

Or whatever. I just tend to enjoy his stuff a good deal. I'm not fluent enough in Lawrence to give "But Beautiful" a try. Listening to someone as interested in the art of watching things talking with Walter Murch ought to be priceless. Looking forward to hearing about it.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Hunh! Okay, maybe I do need to check this out. STALKER is, about half the time, my favorite movie ever (the other half it's THE MIRROR), and I was way excited to hear about a full book on the subject coming out... until I heard about the three-way bit, which I thought was perhaps true but also stupid. But you're now making me think it's worth the looking, especially since Dyer's three-way might not be so different from Porcupine's bag of money.

Don't know if even the possibility of seeing Walter Murch can induce me to see Tarkovsky interruptus, though...

Joe Gross

Glenn, why is the DVD problematic? Is it not worth buying?

Glenn Kenny

Joe, Ruscico, the license-holder that I believe is responsible for all the versions of "Stalker" on DVD, put a non-Tarkovsky-supervised 5.1 surround sound track on their master, and it's the default soundtrack the movie will start off in unless you go into the intro menu and pick the mono soundtrack that Tarkovsky and his sound artists so meticulously engineered and mixed. Not an entirely disastrous state of affairs, but not an ideal one. (Hope they don't accidentally lead off with the surround soundtrack when they screen it for the event on Saturday, Mr. Murch may go ballistic.) There are other issues with the thing, none so awful as to ruin a home theater experience on good equipment. Nevertheless, if there was ever a film that warranted an extravagantly faithful Criterion transition to disc, "Stalker" is it.

nrh

Thanks for the great consideration of a book I'm still struggling with a little bit. Regarding Dyer and Thomson, it's worth noting that "A Biographical Dictionary of Film" was the only book Dyer submitted for Sight and Sound's "Best Film Books" poll a while back: http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/polls/film_books_full.php#dyer

Joe Gross

Thank you.

Joel_gordon@yahoo.com

Pete: I read Out of Sheer Rage (I think But Beautiful is his jazz book) before I read more than one or two Lawrence novels, maybe a handful of short stories. No need to have a Lawrence background, mainly because he purposefully does not talk too much about Lawrence. It reads more like someone who started out wanting to write a book about Lawrence, discovered Thomas Bernhard, and realized the utter stupidity of trying to write about any one thing at a time.

Carsten Hyatt

Glenn: Was it Thomson who criticized Tarkovsky as lacking humor? The unease that you sense in Dyer might be coming from a similar place, the equation of seriousness of purpose with self-seriousness. It isn't an equation I find convincing, at least not for Tarkovsky.

Chris

Dyer is the Rich Little of contemporary post-modern literature. Out of Sheer Rage was his Bernhard impression, and Zona is his Foster Wallace impression. He's does a passable job with both, but he only reminds me what the writers he is aping would have done with the same material, or what they already had done with their material, which Dyer cherry picks with a snotty sense of entitlement. He's a good writer and a smart guy and all that. So what.

Joel

Chris: Even though I'm a fan, that's a pretty accurate characterization. However, everyone these days is imitating Bernhard (see anything praised by James Wood in the New Yorker), and Dyer did it with more lightness and wit than the dozens of youngish Americans trying to sound like dour middle-aged Austrians. But ZONA is an intriguingly weird pairing of author and subject. As an admittedly shallow man, lazy and hedonistic, Dyer doesn't seem like he would ever watch STALKER, let alone write a book about it.

Not David Bordwell

Much more grating than a lower-case "god" is the very idea of an "almost infinite capacity to generate doubt and uncertainty." At what point does one become sure and certain in such a universe? Why balk at "infinite"? A tedious, precious, entirely unnecessary qualification. Commit, man!

Pete Segall

@Joel: Good catch (and "Out of Sheer Rage" is such an awesome title; stupid to mix it up). But thanks for the go ahead of sorts. I'll definitely pick it up in time. I'm not sure about the impersonation tag. "Jeff in Venice" is willfully Mann but I have a hard time placing "Missing of the Somme" or "Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It."

Glenn Kenny

Come on! The inability to commit is clearly the point. It's true, DFW did it better though.

I honestly can't recall whether Wallace or I ever discussed Tarkovsky in detail. I know he admired the director and the film but had an (understandable) reticence about engaging Zone-matter/matters.

Ted Kroll

Yeah, the 'inability to commit' to the point of not being able to sit and watch the whole thing nonstop. I have not seen 'Stalker' except at home via VHS many years ago, but among other things is its suspense that never is relieved. To break it up into pieces and attempt to explain it as you go along is to destroy what it is. Its about faith, about the unknown and to attempt to 'understand' or 'explain' it as it is shown is to treat it with contempt.

Joel Bocko

While Ted has a point, I must confess I'm quite bummed I'm not in the city this weekend - this sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I truly look forward to Glenn's recap. Anyway, at the same time I will be across the country watching Barry Lyndon on the big screen. Maybe we can stop it every 1/2 hour to analyze if it's 1.66 or 1.78? ;)

Tom Russell

This live discussion/interrupted watching thing reminds me of the time I spent three weeks in high school watching BEING THERE with Russ "Paul is Dead" Gibb: we'd watch the film for a few minutes, then he'd spend the rest of the period telling us everything that we "missed". And while, yes, Being There is packed with allusions, a lot of it was "he's leaving the car, the car is blue, blue is the color of the sky, that's heaven, now he's leaving heaven, and descending into hell"-- as Chance _ascends_ the stairs to the mansion. (Interestingly, he had no explanation for the scene with the rug.)

That experience put me off of any kind of interrupted cinema for a long time-- I often won't even pause a movie at home to use the restroom-- though with Lapote and Murch in attendance, this certainly sounds more worthwhile.

Scott

Thanks for this, Glenn. That event also sounds like fun. Wish I could go.

I'm generally a pretty big fan of Geoff Dyer. I think he's a literary chameleon with a genuinely offbeat sensibility. I haven't read "Zona" yet, but I'm planning to. It's interesting that people are making comparisons with David Foster Wallace. Dyer, as we know, is no big fan of Foster Wallace, but it wouldn't surprise me. Since his death, DFW has probably become the single most influential essayist since Joan Didion. From Zadie Smith's recent essay collection to John Jeremiah Sullivan's "Pulphead", the Wallacian imprint is everywhere.

Another recent book-length essay about a film is "Noriko Smiling", by the excellent British novelist and critic Adam Mars-Jones, which takes on Ozu's "Late Spring". It's worth checking out if you can track down a copy.

Jim Gerow

Geoff Dyer is also introducing THE MIRROR Sunday at 6 at Museum of the Moving Image.

ZS

Maybe Dana Stevens will use her panel time to defend Dan Kois from all us Tarkovsky loving bullies!

Seriously, though, couldn't they have found someone else?

warren oates

Are they going to interrupt THE MIRROR too? Not that I don't think this kind of close-viewing wouldn't be illuminating. Not that I believe the special unbroken flow of a Tarkovsky masterpiece casts a spell that should not be put on pause. Just that I'm not sure I could learn anything personally from this kind of endeavor because the films are too deeply personal for me. I don't want to vivisect them this way.

The first time I saw STALKER was late one night on a shitty VHS tape and it was still so good that it immediately became for me the greatest film I'd ever seen -- and it remains so to this day. For years after that I was afraid to watch it, even on film, because I didn't want to ruin the impact and mystery of my initial encounter. When I finally did see it again at the American Cinematheque it was even better than I remembered. Since then I tend to watch STALKER at least once a year or so.

That passage above about a three-way or whatever makes me think of Ceylan's DISTANCE, but not in a good way. The protagonist in that film treated STALKER like his cultural veggies and switched to porn when Tarkovsky bored him. As if the only two choices any thoughtful young fellow had in life were the greatest art film ever made and spanking it. It's like the godless aesthete version of the Madonna/whore thing that plagues Catholic filmmakers. Dyer's book isn't full of too many more tedious juxtapositions like that I hope.

Partisan

If you don't wild about the thought of having Dana Stevens discuss Tarkovsky, you're definitely not going to like David Thomson's take on Dyer's book: http://www.tnr.com/book/review/stalking-geoff-dyer God knows I didn't.

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