Andrei Tarkovsky used images to express messages and ideas, and there have been few who have done it better. Rather than rely so much on words, he masterfully constructs hypnotic scenes with emotional impact and real a sense of place (his 1966 Andrei Rublev is considered one of the best representations of pre-Tsarist Russia). His 1972 Solaris, an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel, is probably his most accessible film, but some have complained of his characteristic, overly drawn-out takes.
The movie, about a space mission gone wrong, is set mostly on earth and in a space station, and is a sort of condemnation of human scientific advancement, however imaginatively he represents the oozing, colorful world of the planet Solaris.
If the viewer watches this film without regard to the texture of the scenes, the boredom will be excruciating. To be fair, for most, the limit for watching a car drive through a tunnel or for staring at blades of grass swaying in the river is no more than a few seconds. But in Tarkovsky’s insistence on portraying the real world, ordinary audience sensibilities and expectations are tested, and for the patient and observant, satisfied. And in Solaris, the contrast of space and earth proves to be extremely effective in creating a nostalgia for home. When the tangibility of the scenes can be conveyed by simple realia — a flickering flame, falling rain, the warm glow of yellow light, the rigid mechanical feel of (now dated) spaceship panels and buttons — the emotions that are experienced in the film are heightened. This is how Tarkovsky made a space movie that can be relatable and real, and one that survives any of those dated details of 1970s science fiction. There are too many examples to list, but the following clip is a great instance of drama heightened by way of the depth, texture and realism of the scene. Listen to the ambient sounds and the musical timing of the soundtrack.
Or the long shots in this scene, where a Pieter Brueghel painting stimulates memory of the character’s far-away earth.
Tarkovsky’s ethereal space world in Solaris is both imaginative and familiar, and demonstrates a universe within that rivals the complexity and vastness of the outward universe. But save this one for a rainy day, accompanied by a bottle of wine.
Terrence Malick’s latest, “Voyage of Time,” appears to be as ambitious as it sounds, a visual journey from the beginning of time to the end of it, and it could be incredible. Richard Brody describes Malick’s work most effectively, using satisfying scientific parlance–the interstitial scenes of a broken relationship, occupying a rarefied plane of thought–and he seems to value his work in a way few do.
I agree with Brody in that Malick often gets a prompt dismissal from the viewing public because his work operates outside the day-to-day actions of normal life, or framed stage life; it also dwells in the small moments that Hollywood skips over, the moments that people (who think they know what constitutes art or experience) think don’t make good cinema, and he shoots the overwhelmingly beautiful scenery and sounds around us, be it city or desert, or in the living room or in a raging party. These invariably inarticulate dismissals of Malick’s films, or other serious works, are particularly tiresome to me, but it’s Friday and I’m in a forgiving mood.
Richard Brody’s New Yorker review of Voyage of Time click here
We can now add to Malick’s scope the space between the microcosm and macrocosm, or at least the pleasant struggle to find the difference. Voyage of Time seems to nurture that small place of comfort that some of us find in the knowledge that the universe operates completely independent of us– the observers– yet our ability to observe, to recognize beauty, to understand natural processes through curiosity and empirical evidence, is really what defines us and what defines happiness. The preface of the film seems to try to get at truth (see below). And any film that tries to demonstrate the beauty and significance of a cosmos that is indifferent to us, thorough images that do not exist to be seen by us, is unlikely to engender despair. Rather, (I hope) it reminds us of the deep satisfaction in our desire to contemplate and to understand, to make connections and describe what is beautiful. This is what I understand to be science, philosophy and art, all in one.
Orson Welles, even manifested in his protagonist in Citizen Kane, surely must have been a fantastic and often intolerable ass. Seemingly fitted only for a small moment in history, his arrogance, and brilliance, worked vigorously to compensate for his failures. Apart from Citizen Kane topping many lists as the best film ever made, it is strange, or at least anachronistic, to think of Welles as alive and well in the 1970’s and early 80’s, and one can image what he often thought of it all, mixing with the 1980’s like oil in water. Peter Biskind has written My Lunches with Orson, on Welles’ ritual visits with friend and writer-director Henry Jaglom, undoubtedly chock-full of scandalous and outrageous judgements on Welles’ cinema contemporaries. He says of Woody Allen, for example, that he “…has the Chaplin disease. That particular combination of arrogance and timidity sets my teeth on edge.” I suspect I’d agree with that one.
Read here Vanity Fair’s cursory write up of Biskind’s book.
The Washington Post’s Charles Matthews writes a slightly more engaging synopsis.
.Click here for Pauline Kael‘s famous and exhausting New Yorker review of Citizen Kane.