Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema

Robert Bird
Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema

Gilberto Perez writes:

He took issue with the most celebrated Soviet filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein. For Tarkovsky, time imprinted in the moving image is the lifeblood of cinema, and montage – quick, abrupt, assertive editing – breaks up its flow: ‘In Eisenstein’s films individual shots do not possess the truth of time. The shots themselves are absolutely static and anaemic.’ He particularly objected to the famous battle on the ice in Alexander Nevsky (1938) because the quick cutting ‘contradicts the inner rhythm of the scene . . . It is just as if one poured out Niagara Falls glass by glass. Instead of Niagara, you’d get a puddle.’ Tarkovsky preferred long takes, in which rhythm and duration were intrinsic, not imposed in the cutting room. ‘I reject the principles of “montage cinema” because they do not allow the film to continue beyond the edges of the screen,’ he declared. But, Bird argues, he was actually renewing rather than renouncing montage: ‘His polemic with Eisenstein essentially boils down to the claim that montage can be applied to blocks of longer duration than Eisenstein allowed for.’ One example of Tarkovsky’s montage was brought up by Sartre in a public letter about Ivan’s Childhood (included in Dunne’s collection): the bold jump at the film’s climax from fiction to documentary, from prolonged anticipation to sudden aftermath, from ‘the time of war in all its unbearable slowness’ to newsreel footage of the Soviet entry into Berlin, where we find out that the boy protagonist, whom we last saw crossing a river at night and venturing into enemy territory, has been captured by the Germans and hanged. Defending Tarkovsky’s first film against the criticism of some European leftists, Sartre remarked that audiences in the West were able to appreciate both Godard’s briskness and Antonioni’s deliberate pace, but were not used to the way this young Soviet director combined the swift and the slow, the elliptical and the drawn out.

(LRB 26 February 2009)

Published by Reaktion Books
15 February 2008
ISBN: 9781861893420