I have been a follower of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s works since I discovered him some five years back. There was a time when I would pass along the Tarkovsky films, mostly, ‘Solaris’ and ‘Stalker’ to my friends and anyone I could impose my views on. Unfortunately, none of those people could sit through either of those films.
I have seen both the films, numerous times, especially ‘Stalker’. I don’t claim to understand the film, but there’s something so tangible about the film that you feel it. For me, it’s the most spiritual film I have ever seen. And it doesn’t even mention the name of god. There’s something very haunting about the film. As the film ends, we are no wiser than we were at the beginning. But something would invariably change.
Now, British author Geoff Dyer has written a full-fledged book on the film, and I cannot wait to lay my hands on the book. What makes Dyer’s book interesting is that it’s not an austere film criticism, but an understanding of an work of art from a prism of personal experience. I think, this is apt, since the film is also about personal experiences and how it is triggered.
‘Stalker’ is ostensibly a science fiction. Sometimes back, something extra-terrestrial had landed in the city, and now the authorities had cordoned off the area, which is now called the zone, for fear of radioactivity, among other things. There is a rumour that inside the zone, there is room, where all your dreams come true. But you cannot enter the zone. It’s illegal. But, if you are adventurous enough to visit the room, you can hire a guide, he’s the stalker. He has his own set of rules.
The film opens with three men, only identified by their profession, hires the services of the stalker. They all have reasons to visit the room. But, the journey is treacherous, and we are not very sure if the room exists at all. One of them asks the stalker, have you been inside the room. The stalker says no. Why? Because he does not have any wishes. Not exactly. The room does fulfill the wishes, but at a price. In the long run, we do not reach the room. But, the journey, which feels like hours the way Tarkovsky photographs it, first half in monochrome, second half in colour, is well worth the ride. (it is said that after he had shot the entire film, the celluloid was destroyed and he had to start all over again.)
A review of Dyer's book in The New Inquiry:
This is not Dyer’s first attempt at this kind of book. “Certain kinds of writers are reluctant to engage in anything that distracts them from their own work,” he explains in Zona. “Commentary, for them, is a distraction, of secondary or no importance. But there are writers — and I don’t mean straight-down-the-line critics — for whom commentary is absolutely central to their own creative project, who insist that at some level commentary can turn out to be every bit as original as the primary work of the novelist.”
Other writers have entire books that fit this description. Supposedly a study of the work of Jean Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Saint Genet ends up becoming an exhibit of Sartre’s own philosophical style. Fear and Trembling, Søren Kierkegaard’s examination of the Old Testament story of Abraham, turns out to be a presentation of the author’s own conception of faith. But insofar as it purports to analyze a single modern text, Zona probabaly bears the most striking resemblance to S/Z, Roland Barthes’ line-by-line analysis of Balzac’s Sarrassine. Granted, Dyer doesn’t write as systematically as the great semiotician (nor would we want him to try), but in Gore Vidal’s well-cut description of S/Z as wanting “not to assist either the text or the reader, but to make for his own delectation or bliss a writerly text of his own,” we find a detail that would fit Zona just as well, given one or two minor adjustments. Stitch the initials “S/Z” onto its lapels while we’re at it; let them stand for “Stalker/Zona”.
The link to Barthes is not made arbitrarily. Dyer’s writing has always betrayed both implicit and explicit admiration for Barthes’ work. He has praised his mentor, John Berger, for being “one of the first people in Britain to absorb the implications of what Barthes, Benjamin, and Foucault were saying.” In a review of Louis-Jean Calvet’s biography of Barthes, Dyer lauds him for evolving “a style of punctuation so uniquely his own that, even while holding the printed books in our hands, it feels as if we are reading his handwriting.” Dyer’s best book is his meditation on photography, The Ongoing Moment; by the same measure, Barthes’ best book is his meditation on photography, Camera Lucida, which Dyer just happens to have written a foreword to.
The Complete Review Here.
A description of the book from Amazon.com:
From a writer whose mastery encompasses fiction, criticism, and the fertile realm between the two, comes a new book that confirms his reputation for the unexpected.More here.
In Zona, Geoff Dyer attempts to unlock the mysteries of a film that has haunted him ever since he first saw it thirty years ago: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. (“Every single frame,” declared Cate Blanchett, “is burned into my retina.”) As Dyer guides us into the zone of Tarkovsky’s imagination, we realize that the film is only the entry point for a radically original investigation of the enduring questions of life, faith, and how to live.
In a narrative that gives free rein to the brilliance of Dyer’s distinctive voice—acute observation, melancholy, comedy, lyricism, and occasional ill-temper—Zona takes us on a wonderfully unpredictable journey in which we try to fathom, and realize, our deepest wishes.
Zona is one of the most unusual books ever written about film, and about how art—whether a film by a Russian director or a book by one of our most gifted contemporary writers—can shape the way we see the world and how we make our way through it.
Another review of the book, 'Zona' here.
More on Geoff Dyer here.