Andrei Tarkovsky

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs are using the 2012 Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the best movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they dive into yet another Andrei Tarkovsky movie! The man is popular, and with Stalker, he made a slow drink of water that’s perfect for a quiet summer afternoon (especially down the block from the explosion-booming megaplex). In the #29 (tied) movie on the list, three men seek an area beyond an industrial waste zone that will grant them their true desires, but the journey is perilous, and one of them isn’t being honest about what he intends to do once he gets there. But why is it one of the best movies of all time?

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Andrei Rublev

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs are using the 2012 Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the best movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they marvel at the mastery on display in Andrei Tarkovsky‘s anti-biopic about Russia’s tumultuous 15th century as seen through the mental state of the time’s most famous artist. Sprawling and deeply engaging, it’s perfect summer superhero programming. In the #24 (tied) movie on the list, a monk witnesses and affects some incredibly important events over a time spanning a quarter of a century. But why is it one of the best movies of all time?

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The Mirror

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs are using the 2012 Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the best movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they struggle to find the best way to talk about Andrei Tarkovsky‘s mostly autobiographical dreamscape Mirror – a movie that has become unstuck in time. In the #18 movie on the list, a series of plotless scenes coalesce while skipping from wartime to moments before and long after the war. Stutterers are cured, barns are burned, and life continues in the shadow of newsreels. So it goes. But why is it one of the best movies ever?

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Culture Warrior

What exactly do we mean when we find a movie to be boring? Does boring mean redundant? Monotonous? Tedious? Wearisome? Frustrating? Tiring? Uninteresting? Not challenging? The proposed definitions here are far from a collection of synonymous effects on what constitutes a “boring” work. The above terms can often be associated with boredom, but when parsed apart these can denote very different, even oppositional, experiences. For instance, tedium and frustration, which imply an active and engaged (though not positive) form of viewership, do not necessarily describe the same experience as something that feels monotonous or tiring, which by contrast suggests a passive viewer. However, the boredom critique deserves to be severed from its associations with “uninteresting” and “unchallenging” cinema, and “monotony” and “tedium” need not always be negative experiences when watching films. Boring cinema can instead be the most challenging and revelatory of all. In 2009, I wrote a piece titled Slow Isn’t Boring in which I defended the type of deliberately-paced cinema Dan Kois later expressed his frustration with, arguing that slow cinema has the capacity to give viewers a unique and hypnotic experience of time that you can’t find in other entertainment media. Thus, with the films of slow filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky, Apichatpong Weerasethakhul, and Carlos Reygadas, I find myself the furthest from a state accurately described as “bored”; in fact, I experience the reverse: total immersion.

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Criterion Files

The emergence of Pedro Costa’s films into American cinematic consciousness remains something of a conundrum that discerning audiences continue to wrestle with. On the one hand, for those who desire for a radically unconventional cinema as far from Hollywood (geographically, aesthetically, ideologically) as one can get, for those who seek respite from the increasingly conventional American “independent” cinema, and for those tired of “global cinema” and its associated mandate of universal accessibility, Costa seems to be the pill to quell cinematic frustration.

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Criterion Files

Andrei Tarkovsky was openly dissatisfied with his Solaris (1972), even though it has endured as perhaps the master’s best-known work, because he felt he didn’t successfully “transcend” the science-fiction genre as he later claimed he would seven years later with Stalker, a film that truly has few directly identifiable ties with the genre it purportedly emerged from. But knowing Tarkovsky, “transcending the genre” here doesn’t mean new interpretations of a familiar formula, but rather implies that Tarkovsky didn’t felt he accomplished what he sought to do in each of his works: make cinema a high art form comparable with the other arts. I respectfully disagree with Tarkovsky’s assessment of his own work. In fact, it is the clearly identifiable ties that Solaris has with its genre that helps the film achieve a specifically Tarkovskyan transcendence. While the filmmaker has a gesamtkunstwerk-approach to elevating cinema as an art form by integrating other great works of art into this work of art (an aspect especially apparent here in the film’s library scene), in Solaris Tarkovsky palpably struggles with the legacy of the genre he’s working in, and in doing so, copes with cinema’s own artistic language while putting forth a unique aesthetic that can singularly be experienced in cinema: the controlled experience of time.

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For a filmmaker who completed only seven feature films in his lifetime, Andrei Tarkovsky has made an enormous impact. In addition to his artistry, perhaps the enduring fascination with his work has to do with the story of a life cut short. After all, several European filmmakers who were born before Tarkovsky, like Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais, are still around and making new films. Each of Tarkovsky’s seven films are brilliant works that each possess an ambition towards perfection and cinematic transcendence, but when bringing the filmmaker’s abrupt death by lung cancer into the equation it’s difficult to avoid the saddened feeling that there’s a great deal more time-sculpting he had left to share. So it makes sense then that the number of documentaries about Tarkovsky (or prominently feature the filmmaker) far exceed the number of films the director himself completed, and this fact gives a clear indication of his broad cinematic influence. These films are made because people want more, and desire to understand the depth of Tarkovsky’s work better. Films like Voyage in Time (1983), Moscow Elegy (1987), Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (1988), and Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky (2008) have examined the auteur’s method, life, philosophy, and impact. But easily the best documentary about Tarkovsky thus far is French visual essayist Chris Marker‘s One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich (1999), recently released on DVD by Icarus Films.

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Despite having only made seven feature films, Andrei Tarkovsky is largely considered one of the most important Russian filmmakers of the twentieth century, perhaps second only to Sergei Eisenstein (who was, aesthetically-speaking, his polar opposite). However, after enduring enormous troubles with Soviet censors, Tarkovsky expatriated to Italy, where he made his sixth film Nostalghia (1983) and later to Sweden where he made The Sacrifice (1986), which became his final film as he succumbed to lung cancer shortly after its production. Earlier this summer, one of Tarkovsky’s most beloved titles, Solaris (1972), was updated to Blu-ray by Criterion, and now Kino has updated their DVD of The Sacrifice to Blu as well, making this summer something of an embarrassment of riches for American Tarkovsky fans who have longed to see the filmmaker’s intricately beautiful work in high-definition.

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Culture Warrior

Yesterday the Twittersphere (a place where topics are only discussed in rational proportions) was abuzz with the news that Terrence Malick’s long-awaited magnum opus Tree of Life was booed at its Cannes premiere. While the reaction to Malick’s latest will no doubt continue to be at least as divisive and polarized as his previous work has been, for many Malick fans the news of the boos only perpetuated more interest in the film, and for many Malick non-fans the boos signaled an affirmation of what they’ve long-seen as lacking in his work. (Just to clarify, there was also reported applause, counter-applause, and counter-booing at the screening.) Booing at Cannes has a long history, and can even be considered a tradition. It seems that every year some title is booed, and such a event often only creates more buzz around the film. There’s no formula for what happens to a booed film at Cannes: sometimes history proves that the booed film was ahead of its time, sometimes booing either precedes negative critical reactions that follow or reflect the film’s divisiveness during its commercial release. Booed films often win awards. If there is one aspect connecting almost all booed films at Cannes, it’s that the films are challenging. I mean challenging as a descriptor that gives no indication of quality (much like I consider the term “slow”), but films that receive boos at the festival challenge their audiences or the parameters of the medium in one way or another, for better or […]

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Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives proved to be a divisive film in its commercial release following its surprise Palme d’Or win at last year’s Cannes. On the one hand, the strange film’s recognition exhibited a triumphant glimmer of hope for international art cinema in a world economy that hasn’t exactly been making room for ‘difficult’ art. On the other, for many the film has itself proved to be an alienating experience and was written off as a pretentious exercise that exemplifies the worst tendencies of art cinema.

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Culture Warrior

There has been a heated debate happening in the world of art cinema criticism, from the printed words of Sight and Sound to the blogspots of grad students, about the status and function of a continually dominating aesthetic known as slow cinema. The discussion basically goes like this: on one hand, slow cinema is a rare, unique and truly challenging methodological approach to film that exists to push the boundaries and expectations of plot and pacing to an extreme antithetical to expectations conditioned by mainstream filmmaking, disrupting the norm by presenting a cinema that focuses on details and mood – in a way that only cinema can – rather than narrative; on the other hand, slow cinema has become such an established and familiar formal approach witnessed in art houses and (especially) film festivals (like Cannes, where such films are repeatedly lauded and rewarded) that they have devolved into a paint-by-numbers approach to get an “in” into such venues rather than a sincere exploration of the potentialities of cinematic expression, and furthermore the repeated celebration of slow cinema devalues the medium’s equal potential to manipulate time by condensing it or speeding it up (‘fast’ cinema).

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Our Culture Warrior Landon Palmer digs into next month’s Cannes line up so you won’t have to. Learn what to look out for when they hit the states and feign sounding cultured at parties!

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cultwarrior-slow

Some movies are meant to be slow. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Slow can be beautiful.

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culturewarrior-2001

With the weekend’s release of the much-celebrated sci-fi indie Moon, Culture Warrior compares and contrasts two classic films of the genre made by two essential filmmakers.

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