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Andrei Tarkovsky is the most celebrated Russian filmmaker since Eisenstein, and one of the most important directors to have emerged during the 1960s and 70s. Although he made only seven features, each one was a major landmark in cinema, the most well-known of them being the mediaeval epic Andrei Rublev – widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time – and the autobiographical Mirror, set during the Russia of Stalin’s purges in the 1930s and the years of stagnation under Brezhnev. Both films landed Tarkovsky in considerable trouble with the authorities, and he gained a reputation for being a tortured – and ultimately martyred – filmmaker. Despite the harshness of the conditions under which he worked, Tarkovsky built up a remarkable body of work. He burst upon the international scene in 1962 with his debut feature Ivan’s Childhood, which won the Golden Lion at Venice and immediately established him as a major filmmaker. During the 1970s, he made two classic ventures into science-fiction, Solaris, regarded at the time as being the Soviet reply to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and later remade by Steven Soderbergh, and Stalker, which was thought to have predicted the Chernobyl disaster. Harassed at home, Tarkovsky went into exile and made his last two films in the West, where he also published his classic work of film and artistic theory, Sculpting in Time. Since his death in Paris in 1986, his reputation continued – and continues – to grow. In this book, Sean Martin considers the whole of Tarkovsky’s oeuvre, from the classic student film The Steamroller and the Violin, across the full-length films, to the later stage works and Tarkovsky’s writings, paintings and photographs. Martin also seeks to demystify Tarkovsky as a ‘difficult’ director, whilst also celebrating his radical aesthetic of long takes and tracking shots, which Tarkovsky was to dub ‘imprinted’ or ‘sculpted’ time, and to make a case for Tarkovsky’s position not just as an important filmmaker, but also as an artist who speaks directly about the most important spiritual issues of our time.
Andrei Tarkovsky (1932–86) was a part of the generation of Soviet filmmakers that emerged during the Khrushchev Thaw years, which also saw the emergence of such directors as Otar Iosseliani, Sergei Parajanov and Andrei Mikhalkov- Konchalovsky.Tarkovsky made only seven full-length films, yet this slender oeuvre has established him as the most important and well-known Russian director since Eisenstein. Although Tarkovsky’s reputation continues to grow, especially in North America, where initial critical reaction was decidedly cooler than in Europe,4 his genius was recognised within his own lifetime by Jean-Paul Sartre, who championed Tarkovsky’s first feature, Ivan’s Childhood, and Ingmar Bergman, who regarded Tarkovsky as ‘the greatest of them all’.5Tarkovsky’s work has been admired by directors as diverse as Bergman, Victor Erice, Terry Gilliam, Peter Greenaway, Krzysztof Kies´lowski and Lars von Trier. In its Ten Best Films of All Time poll in 1982, Sight and Sound critics voted Tarkovsky’s second feature, Andrei Rublev, as runner-up, a remarkable achievement since the film had only been released in the UK in 1973, making it the youngest film on the list by far. Tarkovsky’s films are slow, dreamlike searches for faith and redemption, and it comes as no surprise to learn that, during his years in the Soviet Union, he was often criticised for ‘mysticism’ and his continued failure to tackle subjects in a style more acceptable to socialist realism. And yet Tarkovsky and his films were very much a product of the Soviet system, which ironically allowed directors a great deal of freedom to express themselves. Before we move on to examine Tarkovsky’s films, writings and works in other media, it is instructive to explore briefly the Soviet film industry as it was when Tarkovsky was working within it and Tarkovsky’s own biography, as both played an important part in making Tarkovsky’s films what they are.