Somehow I got through multiple years of film school without ever having seen a Tarkovsky film. It is my dark secret that I have unburdened upon you today. The good old Netflix database recommended I rent Stalker post-haste, based on my likes and dislikes. The Netflix database has been pretty spot on for the past few years, so I went ahead and obeyed its subtle command.
Stalker should be seen in a very dark theater, surrounded by slack-jawed, half-asleep film fanatics, to allow the meditative, textured decay to wash over you. Only in this atmosphere could we possibly hope to absorb such a dream-like, philosophical treatise on metaphysical faith and man-made disaster. Although predating Chernobyl by several years, Stalker is clearly about the aftermath of life in a frightening, poisoned environment. And tragically, it probably killed a lot of the crew, including Tarkovsky, who filmed much of the story's mythical "Zone" within a chemical spill, which is visible in some of the river scenes.
I saw Stalker in my bedroom on my tiny TV set. It was late and I was impatient. C'mon--hurry up!, I kept yelping in my head. I can't sit through these long takes of dialogue. I started fast-forwarding all the talking scenes to get to the visuals only. Super slow-paced; slow zooms; slow zoom-outs--a 70s staple of art film, and I tend to like slow-paced, 70s-era art films. Puddles, rain, drips, rot; Stalker is a feast of urban decay. Did he build these sets?, I wondered (no--they were existing abandoned buildings--among them a power plant and a chemical factory). They're fantastically lit, shot and scored. The Stalker leads a writer and a scientist to a forbidden "Zone" where there exists a room that grants wishes. But does it? I really couldn't get through it all but...
...the next day, I couldn't get Stalker out of my head. The incredibly dark, shadowy textures kept haunting my visions. Shopping for 15%-off lawn furniture at K-Mart (STALKER). Loading the car with groceries in the Winco parking lot (STALKER). Making Jackson his four-thousandth bowl of pasta with parmesan for dinner (STALKER). Obviously Andreï Tarkovsky has got my number. So I loaded the film into the computer and made a lot of gorgeous stills. I'll try to keep the number down here but now I love this film and I'm going to get more of his work and watch it on the bigger TV, if not in a theater, some day.
My favorite scene from Stalker. It's sub-titled in Romanian, but you'll get the idea (or not--I still haven't quite, but I think that's the point).
The Netflix database continues to watch my back. Today the site announced: Because you enjoyed: Seven Samurai, The Third Man, and This Is Spinal Tap; we think you'll enjoy: Wallace & Gromit: Three Amazing Adventures. I'm sure they're right. Soon we won't need humans to recommend our film choices.