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The Russians Retrieve Tarkovsky


Before You Read My Article!

November 28, 2012 - 19:55 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Memorabilia related to celebrated Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky sold for over $2 million, 15 times the pre-sale estimate, after a dramatic 18-minute bidding battle at Sotheby's auction in London, Business Standard reported.
The archive of the legendary Soviet filmmaker is to return to Russia, after the director’s home region outbid competitors on Wednesday November 28 evening, The Moscow News said.
The three bidders who stayed in the race until the end were Danish film master Lars von Trier, a representative of the Ivanovo region – where Tarkovsky was born – and an anonymous collector, RIA Novosti reported, citing the region’s governor, Mikhail Men.
The funds were collected from various non-budgetary sources, according to Men.
He said earlier that the archive should be preserved in a museum in the town of Yuryevets, near where the director of “Stalker” was born.
“Together with the Culture Ministry, we’ve done everything possible to draw the attention of the public to this event and bring the great director’s archive back to his motherland,” RIA Novosti quoted Men as saying.
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The Russians Retrieve Tarkovsky



"Juxtaposing a person with an environment that is boundless, collating him with a countless number of people passing by close to him and far away, relating a person to the whole world, that is the meaning of cinema." Andrei Tarkovsky

At one of the most renowned auctions in the world, Sotheby's in London UK, a few things will go under the hammer in late November. I was particularly amused by the worthlessness of a dress which was worn almost ten decades ago. It was only my way of preventing an angry thought from becoming too overwhelming. There is a guy in the list of "things" to be auctioned. Obviously, according to the speculators precise math, the dresses will fetch more than his presumably coffee or tobaccoo-stained, time-discolored papers. Here is part of the list of items to be auctioned:
  • A dress Kate Winslet wore during an iconic early scene from Titanic will auction next month for $300,000
  • An archive from legendary filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky is expected to sell for $160,000  November 28.
  • Judy Garland's screen-worn Wizard of Oz dress has sold for $480,000
Of course Tarkovsky's (things) auctioned are not as self-explaining as the other two hot items above! After all, Tarkovsky was not that available for anyone just to wear him for the night. His plight was both self-inflicted and calculated by the atrocious other. On his part he wrote cinematic poetry in esoteric non-inclusive film language. On their part, the other, wrote him off the scene just for the fear of imagined conspiracies!
Among Tarkovsky's items for sale lies the draft to his moving letter to the Soviet president Brezhnev after his films had been banned in the USSR. Here is the moving part:
"For three and a half years the film has been kept away from the screen … Andrey Rublev was not and could not have been used for any kind of anti-Soviet propaganda … I do not have any opportunity to exercise my creative ideas. If I do not have any work, I cannot make a living, though I have a wife and a child. I do not feel comfortable talking about that, but my situation has been unchanged for so long that I cannot keep silent any longer,"
But Soviet authorities who banned his movie "Adrei Rublev" went further in feeding his despair about returning home by intervening to prevent his film Nostalghia (shot in Italy 1983) from getting the Palme d'Or! In 1984 he decided never to go back to Russia. He died of cancer in 1986 and was buried near Paris, France.

Cinema Tarkovsky



Tarkovsky (1932-1986) was one prominent Russian dirctor thought by many to have made films that marked a turning point in the history of world cinematography. His films (9) often received critical acclaim and ranked high in film listings. He either won or was nominated for a prize on each of his films. But, in a sense, they were not made for the public or required advanced film-literate viewers. His telling of movie narrative was not linear or conventional. It was more surreal and dreamlike and he favoured long camera takes which some people (luckily, those are mostly more knowledgeable of film techniques than average!) thought were boring for viewers! In the quotation at the beginning of this article Tarkovsky seems to explain his long takes. He also did not believe that every frame or shot should be colored because he did not think that people saw colors in reality the same way they were used in films!
His most known movie Stalker (see the clip below) is either unheard of or disposed of as boring. But cinema buffs and academicians speak highly of it. Tarkovsky left more than movies and theatre (e.g. Hamlet). He has a book (Sculpting in Time) on filmmaking and on his existential experience.   


In her comparative analysis of Hemingway's short story "The Killers" and Tarkovsky's scenario based on it, Egyptian researcher Amel Elgamal concludes that to co-direct such
a cinematic realisation at age 24 (it was a student film) reveals Tarkovsky as a creator
with an exceptional capacity for rebellion. Read Hemingway's story here.

In her book "The Killers from Hemingway to Tarkovsky" she argues that 'Tarkovsky in deconstructing existing norms and building a new (renaissance) in filmmaking had no concern for power play. He followed his own way, morally and spiritually, to produce inciting works with true rebellious ideas, closer to the mystics of the ascetic.'



Tarkovsky has been the object of critical interest in Egypt (his fluency in Arabic might have made this easier!). Prominent Egyptian film critic Samir Farid authored a compilation of critical articles under the title (Tarkovsky in Arabic Cinema Criticism). In the introduction he writes that "cinema was a novel tool for artistic and literary expression but with Tarkovsky it has become a tool for philosophy."

The book (The Killers from Hemingway to Tarkovsky) is interesting because it includes the original text of (The Killers) and the Russian screenplay translated by the author Amel Elgamal.
According to this author, (The Killers) published in 1927 was Hemingway's (1899-1961)
first successful short story after a poor start. It dealt with some aspects of violence in the American society in a nihilistic context that alludes to the irrationality of human destiny and the surrender to it. (The  Killers) was first made into film in 1946 directed by Robert Siodmak which starred Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. A remake of it in 1964 was directed by Don Siegel, starring Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes and Angie Dickinson.
The author, Elgamal, believes that the rendering of the short story in Tarkovsky's project almost excelled its original author! She adds that the comparison between the story and the film seeks to display the common assets between the literary and the cinematic media and to highlight aspects of similarities and differences without preference for one over the other as each of them is an art form in its own right that has its aesthetic and intellectual dimensions. One particularly interesting incident recorded by the author Amel Elgamal tells about and old cleaning lady who awaited for Tarkovsky after the screening of his film "The Mirror 1975" and said to him: "Everything is clear in this film. This man has offended for a liftime the  people who loved him and were faithful to him. And when he felt the closing of death he felt remorse and wanted to do something to atone for his sins. But he did not know what to do. It's a dead end for him and that is what torments him" Tarkovsky smiled and said: "Believe me .. She is telling the truth." The author adds that one of the accused for murder wrote to Tarkovsky telling him that his film "Ivan's Childhood 1962" had changed him and helped him improve his behaviour and he could no longer harm anyone!

Tarkovsky's struggle with Soviet authorities probably stemmed from his second feature
film "Andrei Rublev" in which the protagonist had a crisis of faith. Not a good subject in an atheist society! But it dragged on for agonizing years of censorship. Tarkovsky did not seem to oppose the system. Actually, there is good evidence from his biogarphy that he would have lived in Russia for ever if he had been given the freedom to make his movies.
Russia's retrieval of Tarkovsky's heritage through winning the auction was the right move from the people who backed and helped pay for the bid. It should be appreciated as a huge addition to the great cultural heritage of Russia.

Watch Tarkovsky's 80th Anniversary on Russia Today:



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