…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “1979

Bloc Sci-Fi: Stalker

I’ve never wanted to scrub a surface shown on-screen until I’ve seen this, and I meant that in a good way.

The man who programmed the TIFF series on Russian Sci-Fi warned us that Andrei Tarkovsky‘s Stalker, adapted from Arkady and Boris Strugatzky’s novel called ”The Picnic at a Roadside,” was ‘accidentally’ filmed with expired stock, giving it that look as if he shot the movie in mercury, which captures light differently.

What he didn’t tell us is that makes way for normal colour, welcomed after the delightful yet rusty cinematography of the earlier scenes. This transition thus reminds me of Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz which is profound until I realize that I’m not the first person to make the comparison. Here’s Jose with more of that.

But one of the trespassers of this Russian real estate – cordoned off after a meteorite attack like Tunguska – calls it home. We can give that word some political meaning. The characters have nicknames instead of names. The group’s mercurial guide, the Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky), help his new tourists the Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and the Professor (Nikolai Grinko) to find what they need to flourish in their fields. But their visit can be seen as reclaiming the happiness the government that has taken away what has once been theirs. Whether I’m off-base of or not, this land, called The Zone, has already been eerie in black and white, with “Life After People” like flowers showing up in ruins.

In colour it’s a totally different animal. The Zone makes the urbanite characters question the flowers lacking smell, the sand dunes, and a self-sufficient wild dog, if those creatures are what nature is like at all. The strange this is that the camera during the movie’s black and white portions look unstable while the compositions in the Zone make more sense, only off-centre in content.

Light bulbs.

In the threshold of the room within The Zone that gives its visitors happiness, the reason Writer and Professor are there in the first place, they decide to sabotage their mission, making Stalker go apeshit. A part of me said ‘Be a man, go in there and fail properly!’ Russian…fatalist…defeatism. But we watch these anguished characters for a longer period after their failure, determined that advertised happiness isn’t in the room across them.

Fifteen minutes, a few scenes, enough time for me to reacquaint myself with that part of the psyche that stops before the top rung in the ladder. How admirable it is to show the realism within myth-breaking. When they return to their city the Stalker is bedridden and feverish, still struggling to take care of her daughter Monkey (Natasha Abramova). Destroying a man’s belief system – despite the political symbolism above – is devastating, handled thus than the preceding version of the story. That home is forever lost.

‘Does he play baseball,…’

‘…does he wear dresses?’

‘He doesn’t wear dresses. You’ll find out all the details when it’s your turn to see him.’

‘Don’t write this book, it’s a humiliating experience.’

‘It’s an honest account of our breakup.’

ph. United Artists

Meryl Streep looks so beautiful here in Manhattan, although a bit cold and mannered. I wonder what would have happened if Woody Allen had scooped her up and made her his muse for ten years.


There are large expository gaps within the musical numbers in Milos Forman’s adaptation of Hair, as first pointed out by a Variety staff writer. I haven’t seen the musical on stage so I haven’t seen it done better. The songs in the film seem like a part of the conversation but director uses the songs to create one set piece after another. What he did to ‘Aquarius’ was awesome but it’s a song that no one can mess that up.

ph. UA

But with my second viewing, I discovered songs that I didn’t pay attention. In ‘Walking in Space,’ the song doesn’t perfectly match with the visuals, but I like the effort within the metaphor. The actress sings the song well. I don’t think it’s the best cast musical (the movie settled with actors who can kinda sing and kinda act, sometimes singing the most passionate songs with the deadest eyes I’ve seen in people), but there’s a little magic in the film when the vocals can sometimes hint on the pathos and beauty of the song they’re singing. It happens in this number.

Also, ‘Claude’s (John Savage) going to the Army’ is established in the beginning of the film instead of making it a shocking twist in the end. At least the movie has a story now instead of it being two hours of hippies – is that a pejorative? – dancing in Central Park. But with a little narrative, the audience lost the sincerity of the activist movement in the late 1960’s. Sheila (Beverly D’Angelo) stumbles into the hippies instead of being already a part of them. The film portrays guys like Berger (Treat Williams) as beggars, hustlers and apathetic deadbeats. Sure, there were probably a lot of beggars, hustlers and apathetic deadbeats within the movement, but they could have at least had a cast member who knows about the issues. Despite my limited knowledge, Hair is the most eloquent, articulate, incendiary, explosive musical I’ve listened to and this movie didn’t fully tap into those great qualities.

I hate watching movies that I used to like in high school, because the spark of rebellion I saw in those movies fade away.

Word vomit on the film’s context – there were a lot of movies in the ’70’s that tackled the ’60’s as the subject, like a nation took ten years to finally talk about the collective destruction and trauma. Most of those films were Vietnam War films, articulating the multiple deaths in a generation of men. But some focused on the counterculture and its battles fought at home, like Serpico, a film that portrayed a man’s limitless access to information and culture. Or Shampoo and Carnal Knowledge, about the feelings hurt during free love.

(p.s. I also forgot about Norman Jewison’s Jesus Christ Superstar, although it’s ambiguous as to which decade or time in history that the film is representing.)

Image – Caligula

(ph. http://glennkenny.premiere.com/, and that’s all I’m showing you)