Andrei Tarkovsky's Martyrolog on...
The published screenplays are all combined 'Witch/Sacrifice' versions. But what
about 'The Witch' as such? Did it ever exist in a somewhat complete version?
We tried tracing this story in the 'unabridged' Martyrolog,
a task made much easier thanks to Dr. Kuśmierczyk's extensive crossreferences index, and here is what we came
up with. Andrei writes about 'The Witch' almost in a 'stream of consciousness' manner, just putting on
paper fragments of ideas — he, and the Strugatskys, knew very well what it
was all about... but to us it all looks a bit confusing, and quite exciting
too! Larissa Tarkovskaya in the documentary Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
provides a very quick summary: on his birthday the Professor is told by his
friend, the Doctor, that he has an incurable cancer. On the advice of the
insane Otto the Professor visits a witch which cures him.
From the Polish edition of Martyrolog, ed. and trans. by Seweryn Kuśmierczyk.
Retranslation by Jan at Nostalghia.com.
Layla Alexander writes:
"My friendship with Andrei began in Rome, when he was shooting Nostalghia. We met several times there. I remember very well the first meeting on May 21, 1982. [...] On that spring day we spoke a lot about sorcery. Andrei introduced me to his Italian colleague as la strega, sorceress or witch. When I protested that I didn't want to be either witch or sorceress, he asked in surprise what I had against witches? Didn't I know that the Russian word for witch, vedma, came from the verb vedat: to know. [...] The film The Sacrifice was initially to be called The Witch.
But there was already a film with such a title, and neither in Swedish nor in English did the word originate from the verb to know, which Andrei regarded as very important." [ Reference: Layla Alexander, Secrets and Sacraments of Andrei Tarkovsky, Kino, Vol 26, No 10, 1992.
The complete text can be found here ].
Subjects worth screen adaptations:
1. Kagol (about Martin Bormann's trial),
2. Physicist — dictator (different variants),
3. The House with a Tower, based on a
novel by Friedrich Gorenstein,
5. The Deserters,
6. Joseph and His Brothers
7. Matryona's House by Solzhenitsyn,
9. A White Day. As soon as possible!
10. A Raw Youth by Dostoyevsky,
11. Joan of Arc 1970,
12.The Plague, based on Camus,
13. Two Saw the Fox
I've got seven definite ideas which I could do abroad:
2. Doctor Faustus,
3. Hamlet (film). Write a second version,
4. Hamlet (stage play),
5. Crime and Punishment,
6. The Renunciation,
7. New Joan of Arc,
8. Two Saw the Fox,
9. Joseph and His Brothers,
11. An Italian Journey.
|| (The second extended trip
to Italy to negotiate the contract for Nostalghia)
20 April, Sunday
spent the whole day at Tonino's.
attempted to watch with Lora Woody Allen's film Manhattan. I left
in the middle. Monstrous boredom and a totally unglamourous actor (Woody
Allen) who wants to be charming.
don't know why I remembered today the idea for the screenplay Two Saw
at the end — having watched on television some leader's speech about the
outbreak of the war — one of them commits at night suicide and then it
turns out it was a film on TV, not a real war.
met with Luciano Tovoli. He will be available in two weeks.
came up with an idea of shooting a series of two-, three-minute etudes
staged by Tarkovsky. For example: rain or snow falling, a glass of water
shattering, a shadow on the wall, etc. ...
eczema on my head has moved to my forehead. I have to do something about
this. See a doctor?
8 May, Friday
Visited Arkady Strugatsky.
I decided not to continue our cooperation over The Witch. Arkady
says he doesn't feel well, he wants to undergo treatment at some cardiological
institute where they will naturally forbid him to work. I feel sorry for
him but he has been bothering me for four months. He doesn't feel well
but he drinks and on top of that he wants to get all the work done. Obviously
he won't be able to do this.
I was feeling ill. The stream
of water again, I'm literally looking at everything through a stream of
falling water. And the headache. Spasms? It has happened several times
I shall write The Witch
A propos The Witch. Kalyagin* ought to be poor, in rags, unshaven,
pitiful, and happy (nobody understands why). Marina has returned to me
two of grandmother's small icons which one wears around the neck, God...
what a grandmother I have!
11 May, Moscow
(The title isn't very fitting.
I'd like to find a title without folkloristic accents, a more general one,
Must begin working with
Arkady Strugatsky who pushed the idea of three authors (including Boris
Strugatsky) even if he does not participate (as I understood it) in writing
the screenplay. The first variant was written almost to my dictation. When
I read it I was practically embarrassed to see how indiscriminately Arkady
had accepted my ideas.
Here is the result of our
latest (work) meeting with Arkady: Arkady's tape recording concerning the
first variant (critical remarks).
We have the functions of
the characters, we have the dramaturgy, but no characters themselves, the
episodes are grandiloquent, not artistic. This could even distort the sense.
Depths of despair: not as
in Gorky but a world our hero has never seen. People he has never met and
would never meet.
The prologue: the surnames
should not be Russian.
At the last meeting Kalyagin
calls himself a demon of correctness, he talks about the necessity of excising
the tumour of history. Immortality of humanity (art, philosophy, religion)
is contained in those achievements human spirit is elevated to — it's all
rubbish, speculation, falsehood. At the end of the scene paramedics show
up and take Oscar away. He is a runaway from a lunatic asylum. Perhaps
in this scene it turns out the new arrivals are not paramedics and doctors
(just like Oscar who is not insane, simply different).
||Oscar — does he exist or not?
||Philosophy — too simplistic and too apparent. The girl who offers the
hero a video recording in the first episode is a secretary in the last
one. The birthday is the reason to play back the tape. The hero ought to
be more refined, less democratic. Cold and keeping to himself. Ernest (?)
— is an old friend. He knows Maxim's (?) character and his views. This
is very significant for building up the scene of conveying the news about
||The conversation about death is deeper, showing the participants' characters.
||Marta does not seem to be a friend. The character created not so much
from a sociological point of view but because to
its unique traits.
||Depths of despair not as in Gorky, yet for Maxim an extraordinary situation.
||The bus is unnecessary. Let her walk, with him following her. She charms
||Imprecise answers. The world is governed by love.
The finale: a scene in the
waiting room. They wait here. Kalyagin is here as well. Marta shows up
too (they leave together). The secretary. The deputy. People come in but
they do not always leave. Sometimes there are stretchers, buckets, other
items of that sort.
Have to write Arkady and
ask him to work. That everything depends upon him, upon his decision. Give
him a chance. Return the borrowed page.
14 June, Moscow
Remove the scene at the
bar, it is "foreign" and it didn't come out right. "Professor facing
real life," its base manifestations, must be worked out differently and
from a different angle.
Work out the story of "Kalyagin."
When he calls on Professor to receive the money, he should begin explaining
why he is driven to help the Professor regain his health. This means not
only forcing the Professor to give up relying on all the papers he authored
but also an attempt by Kalyagin to say something about himself — about
the holy men and the immortals, about esoteric sciences, about knowledge
of people's fates, etc. Nevertheless, to say what is most important — an
explanation of his role — he will be unable to do. There will be ringing
of the telephone and he won't be able to escape in time. There will appear
pseudodoctors and pseudoemployees of a neighbouring psychiatric hospital.
There will also appear a girl among them, the same one who some time ago presented
Professor with the videocassette of his speech.
It is now made clear that
the doctors are fake: when men in white overalls (or green perhaps?) take
Kalyagin away, Professor notices that they did not arrive in an ambulance
but, say, by taxi. Also, they all appear in the street only after they
have taken off their smocks and packed them.
In the finale on the other
hand, they telephone the Professor again (Kalyagin? The girl?) and they
ask him to come (to explain everything) under a certain address. Professor
goes there. A waiting room: as if dentist's or law offices. Applicants
are waiting. The girl — the secretary [male] — the sister (an acquaintance).
A young man bringing jars and buckets positioning them in places previously
occupied by patients who entered the office. The appearance of Maria.
Professor and Maria look at each other. (Their last meeting ended with
Professor being thrown out.) They leave the waiting room where everything
could have been explained. Everything. Then Professor's farewell
to the house and leaving with Maria (?). Leaving twice — that's not too
good. Perhaps before the waiting room? A farewell to the house, the old
way of life?
The esoteric content is
important. The title reminiscent of the name of its philosophy?
THANATOS or THE
GREAT THANATOS. No, obviously not.
3 September, Thursday, Myasnoye
[...] Seneca. Letters
to Lucilius. Letter XXX could be useful in creating the character of
the Philosopher at the beginning of The Witch (the title is not
|| (The third trip
to Italy (leaving Russia permanently), with Larissa)
And what if the story of
the impostor [female] burnt at the stake was added to The Witch?
Perhaps the finale of The Witch seems so weak to me (they both happily
walk away in rain) because happy end remains here unchallenged.
And perhaps she begins to
lie? From the very beginning? This is her character trait, not merely some
detail important from the beginning. But I don't intend to create a story
of their relationship. In one word, I have to think it over.
28 February, Rome
I'm copying the diary entry
dated 7 September, 1970.
Films I would still like
1. Kagol (about Martin Bormann's trial).
2. Two Saw the Fox.
the thirteen titles only one has been made: The Mirror (A White
Day). The ten remaining ones dropped out as a matter of course.
2 March, Via di Monserrato
A plan for the screenplay Two Saw the Fox.
The walk (poetry, nature, unconstrained rhythm).
The war is announced (television, walking back home).
The prayer. The promise (a conversation with God, monologue).
Peace again (a miracle).
The fire (he sets his house on fire, the promise).
At the hospital (have I gone crazy or not? But they did announce the war!)
8 March, Tuesday, Via di Monserrato
I sent two proposals to
Stockholm: Hamlet and The Witch. (Anna-Lena Wibom has received
7 May, Saturday, Via di Monserrato
[...] The Witch:
as the philosopher is burning the witch, he is sitting close to the fire
(meditating) and feels that he himself begins to smoulder.
The Witch: a conversation
on the meaning of life. What is its basis? Everyone presents a point of
22 May, Via di Monserrato
[...] I signed a contract
with Anna-Lena Wibom for The Witch. [...]
28 June, Thursday, San Gregorio
Have to make a plan for
Sacrifice. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to put the two concepts together:
Witch and The Sacrifice, taking best bits from both? But
then the whole thing would be too long. I'm tempted to make a short film, 1
hour and 40–50 minutes.
11 August, San Gregorio
[...] The Witch,
i.e. The Sacrifice.
Son who is forbidden to
speak — he has just had an operation of his vocal cords — at the end says
something very important defending his father (tradition) and having encountered
revolutionary ideas of stupid young people, he imparts a spiritual justification
for the necessity of those ideas by connecting with tradition.
He offers a new point of
departure: renunciation of violence, return to the roots, harmony, unity.
Against the evolutionary idea (Mandelstam). Unity with true harmony, its
A new awareness. Rejection
of by-products of the impressions of others, searching for one's own path
||Hieratic, that is holy nature of poetry is based
on the conviction
that man is the foundation of all other things in the world.
||The spiritual constitution of a poet disposes
the culture of poetry is created by the desire to prevent
14 August, San Gregorio
I prepared a new plan for
Witch (The Sacrifice).
1. A bad dream.
2. The birthday and the
cassette with the speech.
3. The father and the son.
4. The walk.
5. The war begins.
6. Night. The prayer. (The
promise: never to lie). The phone rings. (Who is calling?)
7. The witch. The vow of
8. The morning without the
war. (The philosopher goes home).
9. The philosopher runs
away from home (the son) to the witch.
10. The witch tells a lie.
12. Finale. The father tells
his son everything and he understands. Forgiveness.
Long. For now everything
How much I would like to
make a film of seven episodes maximum: 1 hour 30 — 1 hour 50 minutes.
17 August, San Gregorio
[...] The Witch:
Give an example of a logical
train of thought representing a convincing argument. Show three contradictory
conclusions. Prove sensibility and demagogy of logical construct which
is an intellectual game unable to direct man's actions in a historic and
social sense. Three monologues.
|"Only then do we set ourselves free from external opression,
when we set ourselves free from internal slavery" — Berdyayev
20 November, Sunday, San Gregorio
[...] The Sacrifice.
The latest plan (August
14) was very heavy-handed, it was put together for no reason. Perhaps like
||A walk with his son.
The son is seven years old. His throat is bandaged: his tonsils have
been removed recently. That's why the conversation is not so much a dialogue
but a monologue. Express their love for one another.
||A TV appearance by the head of state.
A war broke out. Atom bombs will soon be dropped.
Birthday. (Whose? — the father's or the son's?). A celebration that
The guests. The panic.
Professor is praying. He is ready to sacrifice even the love for
his son, he is ready to burn down his house. He drinks a full glass of
alcohol. The telephone.
A conversation about "the witch."
"Love." In the morning Professor comes back home.
||The morning without the war.
Professor tells his friend everything. (Who conveys it to Professor's
wife who was worried abour her husband's condition.)
Professor understands he has to fulfil the promise given to God.
He sets his house on fire. The ambulance arrives and takes him to the hospital.
Am I right? (Professor is thinking). Who is he — a madman who dreamt
up the end of the world — or the world's saviour, someone who attained
this honour. Finally Professor's gaze meets his son's. His son shouts
something to him. Professor is taken away in the ambulance.