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March 10, 2012


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Jim Gabriel

The Benson comments sound like they were worth the price of a ticket; precise and practical information always makes me perk up at panel thing. Quick turnaround *and* thorough. Thanks.

Joe Neff

That poor DVD projection is quite the tragedy, especially considering that a gorgeous 35mm print (on loan from a European source) played at both the Cleveland Cinematheque and Wexner Center (Columbus) last fall.


I've often thought the last half hour or so of Stalker (when they've left the Zone) is as though the cast and the image were in "a new heaven, a new earth". I wouldn't like it if a gorgeous new print prevented that experience.


Really? I read the evangelism in a much different way than you.

Lopate said, fairly unbelievably I thought, that Tarkovsky is trying to “have his cake and eat it too,” slinging belief with the one hand and doubt with the other, and, of course, that Tarkovsky should just pick doubt, Goddammit.

What a shallow understanding of the religious mind. Does Lopate think that doubt is not an integral part of faith? That believers, the brainwashed dolts, are locked in until they’re locked out? That there can’t be a conflicted evangelist?

Tarkovsky is saying complex things, but he’s not having and eating cake.

Here’s my reading. What if this last trip got to Stalker more than he thought? What if the Writer unlocked a doubt that had been lingering inside him? What if his agitation is a sign not (only) of his anger towards the Writer and the Professor but of his own crisis?

In other words, what if Stalker’s also talking about himself when he tells his wife she can’t go?

After all, by staying out of the room, Stalker maintains his shaking faith by never putting it to the test.


Ah, I see you bring this up in your post about the book, which I haven't read yet, but will start today. http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/some_came_running/2012/03/geoff-dyers-zona.html

Glenn Kenny

@ DKK: You homed in on what I thought was the most arguable/objectionable part of Lopate's objection, the "having cake/eating it" business, and I think your rejoinder to it is well-put. Which leads to the real liability of the discussion's format, which is that it tended to encourage pithy observations while not allowing much room for counterpoint. (The event ran too long for reader questions.) What was particularly (inadvertently) funny about the way Stevens picked up on Lopate's uneasiness was an almost chop-licking "Great, now we're gonna talk about how this film SUCKS" enthusiasm on her part. Which dovetailed nicely with Walter Murch's attempted dis of "The Searchers." Interestingly, NONE of these parries was met with any enthusiasm at all by the audience, and indeed I felt a real "oh, no, not THIS kind of crap again" washing over the audience as Murch circled his wagon around what he possibly anticipated would be a well-received putdown of ostensibly classic cinema.

Josh Z

So this was a movie screening regularly interrupted by panelists, and one of the panelists was named Benson, yet this wasn't The Benson Interruption? Weird.

This sounds like a fascinating evening, though I find it shocking that half the audience hadn't seen the movie before. I cannot fathom watching a movie for the first time under such circumstances.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Wait, Walter Murch doesn't like THE SEARCHERS? Fascinating... I mean, that's a dude who's hardly some anti-cinema philistine. What was his dis?

Frank McDevitt

You can also color me surprised that Murch tried to dis THE SEARCHERS. I hold Murch in high regard (as I presume a lot of cinephiles do), and I've always found that he says a lot of eloquent and insightful things about the way we watch movies. This seems a bit out of left field for him.

Glenn Kenny

Lemme try to contextualize/rationalize what Murch said. He was riffing on a passage in Dyer's book in which Dyer theorizes that our aesthetic receptors are only so open for so long, and therefore we are going to see the films of our lives, the ones that fundamentally shape our aesthetic and such, all before we are 30. And Murch was talking about happening upon a documentary featuring Scorsese on television one night, and the director was in mid-rhapsody about one of the films that shaped HIM, and holding forth about the effect it had had on him, in typically effusive Scorsese style, and then when it cut to the film he was talking about, Murch was surprised to see it was "The Searchers," and his response was "Really?" And that did not get the laugh Murch was perhaps expecting (Stevens chuckled, OF COURSE), and while I don't think Murch was necessarily working up to a full-on assault on "The Searchers," merely trying to state that he doesn't/didn't respond to it in the same way as Scorsese did. But in any event, he developed his further points in a way that steered off from any overt "Searchers"-slagging. Which left me a little curious. Given his affiliation with George Lucas, I don't understand why he'd be surprised by ANOTHER American director of that generation who's also a "Searchers" freak.


Yeah, and Murch is less than a year younger than Scorsese, so he's firmly within that generation. I don't know when he saw that Scorsese interview, but THE SEARCHERS has long been an acknowledged inspiration for TAXI DRIVER, which came out 36 years ago.

I do understand the idea of not getting why a particular film is so influential. I certainly never got the guys of my generation who were inspired to pursue a film career almost solely because of STAR WARS. George Lucas inspired me, too, but it was with AMERICAN GRAFFITI. And I'm sure the STAR WARS guys were suitably confounded by that as well.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Hunh, I'd be curious to hear more. I love THE SEARCHERS, but if Walter Murch doesn't like it, I'd be interested in knowing why. Certainly I can imagine things to object to about it, but I suspect Murch's reasons are smarter than whatever I could come up with. Or perhaps it's just one of those "Eh, didn't do it for me" things; after all, he's an artist, not a critic, and so is much freer to just like or not like things without needing to explain why or try harder to "get it".

Ted Kroll

If others like yourself, Glenn, came away from the event with the desire to see 'Stalker' again in its full glory, then the event was a success. (This comes from the guy who threw the word 'contempt' into the mix which was probably a more astringent characterization than I had in mind.)

Glenn Kenny

Yes, Ted, it was a VERY game crowd, and on the youngish side, too. I rather felt like Olson Johnson after Gabby Johnson's "authentic frontier gibberish" speech, e.g., "I'm glad these lovely children were here today..."

warren oates

I have to say I really like Lawrence Weschler. He's like the favorite prof everybody always wishes they'd had in college. I've never read a boring book or essay of his. And some of them still mean a lot to me, like SEEING IS FORGETTING THE NAME OF THE THING ONE SEES. As Glenn says, he has a gift for the wide ranging and non-obvious connection of ideas that I take to be the hallmark of a great mind. I kind of wish he'd written the monograph on STALKER instead.

As for what DKK writes above, Tarkovsky himself hints at these interpretations in interviews, some of the best of which are collected in one of those UMiss books. I agree that doubt is a fundamental component of faith for Tarkovsky as it was for Kierkegaard and other serious Christian existentialists. Tarkovsky's heroes are always taking leaps of faith -- Andrei Rublev, the Stalker and Alexander in THE SACRIFICE especially -- with the full knowledge that they may never know the final outcome of the action for which they risked everything.


It's true that what's so beguiling and riveting about Tarkovsky's work is that ambiguity, that sense of doubt coexisting with faith. Even when he presents us with something that seems straightforwardly miraculous or supernatural - the final moments of Stalker, for instance - it still exists in some liminal space that could be fantasy, metaphor, or dream. It's nice to see how his work has endured and renewed itself, even despite a spotty preservation record.

I don't know if this came up at all, but an infrequently mentioned aspect of Tarkovsky's cinema was its occasionally offbeat humor. I'm thinking of the moment in Stalker in which [SPOILER] they receive a wrong number call in the room. I think Tarkovsky understood the fragility of his sincerity, and the pitfalls of over-seriousness, and connected with the aforementioned existential doubt was a deeply held knack for the absurd, which could be quite funny. (I'm not attempting some revisionist take on Tarkovsky's cinema as a barrel of laughs, but it's worth pointing out that he was more than just a relentlessly dour latter-day ascetic. He writes movingly in Sculpting in Time of the sublime humor of Chaplin.)

Glenn Kenny

@Zach: Yes, I would say the receptive audience was receptive to ALL of the movie's aspects; they laughed a good deal at all the "right" spots, including the one you mention.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Yeah, the above-cited is a great laugh moment. I think a lot of what differentiates Tarkovsky from some contemporary long-take festival-beloved filmmakers is precisely that ability to smile, or at least a regard for beauty and humanity rather than just the filmmaker's plan. That's a quality sorely lacking in imitators like, say, late Tarr.

And I'll also note that *every* Tarkovsky screening I've ever been to in NYC has been packed. Which is among the many reasons I like it here.

Victor Morton

"I think a lot of what differentiates Tarkovsky from some contemporary long-take festival-beloved filmmakers is precisely that ability to smile, or at least a regard for beauty and humanity rather than just the filmmaker's plan. That's a quality sorely lacking in imitators like, say, late Tarr."

I agree that Tarkovsky's sense of humor is underrated, but saying Bela Tarr doesn't have one is as close to objectively incorrect as critical opinion gets. The whole Part 6 of SATANTANGO (misguided though I think it is) is pure, unrestrained slapstick involving, among other things, cheese rolls on the forehead, fercryinoutloud. There's a similar absurdist dance in MAN FROM LONDON. The opening of WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES is a pretty ridiculous conceit that gets pushed into the drily humorous. And any TURIN HORSE viewer who doesn't laugh at the end of The Philosopher's Monolog has, I think, missed the point.


Glenn, thanks for the heads up on this -- my friend and I were among the first-timers, and both of us enjoyed it quite a bit. Perhaps not an ideal introduction, but it was free and with a captive audience, which is good enough for me.

Regarding the projection: it didn't look *too* terribly interlaced from the back of the auditorium, though a guy in my row down did say to his friend "Maybe if it were on film I would be more compelled" before leaving at the intermission. I leave their ages and beard-level to your imagination.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Victor, that's why I said late Tarr. WERCKMEISTER is wonderfully funny, particularly in that first scene, and deeply human. But I thought MAN FROM LONDON was appallingly humorless and controlling. Haven't seen TURIN, though.

Glenn Kenny

Out of curiosity, TFB, which version of MAN FROM LONDON did you see? The Hungarian-language version, or the French/English dub that's now Tarr's preferred version. Not that one is more laugh-packed than another, but they are really two different films.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Hmmmm... I hadn't been aware there was such a difference. I saw it at MoMA, but I... I can't remember which it was. I think it was in Hungarian, but I really don't remember. And for the record, it's not so much the lack of laughs as the humorlessness, which is, ya dig, two different things. I mean, THE MIRROR is not exactly funny, but it has a definite sense of humor.

Glenn Kenny

I hear ya, TFB, I was just being frivolous, as is my wont. Not to potentially lead you down a garden path, but if'n you're ever inclined, you might want to seek out and look at the French version (it's on the Artificial Eye U.K. disc I own), which, I suspect, you may find less problematic not so much in the humorlessness department but in the controlling department. That's the sense I get, a bit.

That Fuzzy Bastard

I'll check it out---thanks! WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES is my second-favorite film of the decade (my favorite is Soderbergh's FULL FRONTAL, which I recognize is my own lonely redoubt), so I would really love to change my opinion about MAN FROM LONDON.


Yeah, the phone thing has to be one of the most surprising and funniest gags I've seen in ages. Anyway, a question from a Stalker neophyte:

How calculated are the "flashes" -- into color, of strange happenings? Can they be interpreted or mapped out? Or are they more instinctive, meant to communicate strangeness but not anything more coded?

Victor Morton


So to be clear, you think "late Tarr" means two films (MAN FROM LONDON and TURIN HORSE) of which you've seen one (the later of which, it happens). And you feel comfortable generalizing about "late Tarr"?

Victor Morton

by "the later of which"'... I obviously meant "the earlier of which." The latter of which is the only reading that makes sense.

That Fuzzy Bastard

On a message board comment? Yeah. Heck, be glad I didn't just write "sorele lacking in many recent slow-paced festival favorites" as I'd initially thought I might.


the film was screened from the subpar domestic DVD (Dyer assured the crowd that every effort had been apparently made to find a print, and these efforts had failed) and you could see the damn interlacing

This is kind of a bummer to hear. I recently saw Stalker for the first time in the form of the Russico/Artificial Eye DVD, which I understand is marginally better than the R1 platter, but still has that grimey look of a DVD mastered without much care.

I guess I've been spoiled by how fantastic the Blu-rays for Andrei Rublev, Solaris, and Sacrifice look, and knowing that Tarkovsky's work can look great on disc without even need major restoration work. It would be great if Russico could get to his other films besides Andrei.

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