This spring, the Russian
film studio responsible for most Tarkovsky films as well as many
classics of Soviet cinema has begun releasing them free onto the
Internet with English subtitles. Mosfilm first put out around 50 of the
old masterworks, including several of Tarkovsky's features, and
announced that it will continue to release around five additional films
per week. The goal is 200 movies on the web by the year's end.
The real kicker? Mosfilm dropped these films on YouTube. Yes, YouTube.
partnership between the nearly 90-year-old studio and the six-year-old, Google-owned titanic repository of 10-minute clips (perfect for kittens
and quick one-liners) is a wonderful and forward-looking move. The
cognitive dissonance of putting Andrei Tarkovsky's movies on YouTube is
enormous, due to both the meticulous visuals, meant for a big screen,
and the wildly different audience expectations associated with the mode
of delivery and the subject.
Tarkovsky—a man who saw himself as "sculpting in time" with his mystically oriented, leisurely
epics--never produced art films that were easy to love. Today's
audiences don't expect his dream-like long takes, his inscrutable
departures from traditional narrative, the pretense of artistry. Just
look at the controversy surrounding the coming film The Tree of Life's
bizarre, unhurried, and ambitious style, crafted by the American
director most reminiscent of Tarkovsky in approach, Terrence Malick.
Tarkovsky's films are equally full of quirk: objects that float, an
obsession with water, transitions from black-and-white to color without
warning, and long pans of art.
Yet Tarkovsky is the
man Ingmar Bergman, the acclaimed Swedish art film director, called "the
greatest." His films can be a lesson in patience, in a different way of
thinking about and watching movies, and their addition to Mosfilm's
YouTube channel should be viewed as an opportunity. His filmography,
from Solaris to the haunting, baffling The Mirror (1975) to his
offerings after he left the Soviet Union, like The Sacrifice (1986),
pose a new way of seeing--in these long, maddening Tarkovsky takes, you
don't have a choice, frankly.
Although many may be
familiar with Tarkovsky's later films, like Solaris and the minimalist,
bewildering Stalker (1979), for films that offer real difficulty as well
as reward, look to Tarkovsky's earlier movies from the 1960s.
Particularly worthwhile is Tarkovsky's second feature, Andrei Rublev
(1966), which presents a world so alien as to be untenable, perhaps, for
many modern audiences.
Why untenable? Andrei Rublev
is three hours and 25 minutes long, shot almost entirely without color,
without a unifying narrative, and tells the story of a Russian monk and
icon painter from the Middle Ages, our title character of Andrei Rublev
(Anatoly Solonitsyn). No convenient romantic narrative lends itself to
the drama and comedy of the scenes—the closest thing the film offers is
Andrei's friendship and conflict with two monkish associates, Kirril and
Danil. Little flash characterizes the thoughtful, unusual film. For
long stretches, the character of Rublev refuses to even speak. It is a
story of faith and art, disease and travel, death and invasion, and
achieves better fidelity of atmosphere to 15th-century medieval living
than perhaps any movie in memory.