On Film and Painting
The following is an excerpt from
Mikhail Romadin, Film and Painting, translated by Maureen Ryley.
Published in About Andrei Tarkovsky, Memoirs and Biographies, Progress
Publishers, Moscow 1990 ISBN 5-01-001973-6 (also available in Russian, see this
site's Bibliography section). Mikhail Romadin is a Soviet artist, art director.
Andrei's interest in painting was quite broad but not without limits.
It included Russian icons, Guiseppi Arcimboldo, Georges de Latour and
even the Surrealists and Saul Steinberg's cartoons. Preference was
given to the Classical traditions over Romantic ones. In terms of
Contemporary art, he liked those artists who, in their works conduct a
sort of dialogue with the old masters: Salvador Dalí, René Magritte,
Henri Moore, and Ignazio Jocometti.
And still, in spite of the fact that Tarkovsky considered painting
with great interest and knew it well, he felt its influences only
indirectly. He avoided drawing parallels between art forms and
attempted to isolate the language of Film. He didn't believe that
this language was somehow secondary to that of either Literature or
Painting. He never considered that film-making was a synthesis of
various art forms. He intensely disliked the term poetic
film which the critics had attached to his early pictures.
It is here that we find the basic difference and juxtaposition between
his film aesthetics and those of Pasolini and Fellini. Pasolini
raises the language of film to that of literature, writing, with its
syntax, semiotics etc. Fellini's method, where each scene is put
together in the same way as a painting is on a canvas, was even more
unacceptable to Tarkovsky. What will you have, if instead of a figure
drawn on a canvas by the artist we see a live actor? This is a
surrogate painting, a "live picture."
When, together with the cameraman Yusov, Tarkovsky and I had just
begun work on Solaris, we had a chance to see Stanley
Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. We suddenly wanted to do
something completely contradictory to it. After all, each scene in
Kubrick's film is an illustration from a science-fiction magazine.
That is, that very same graphic art which has been transferred to the
screen. And it isn't even good quality graphic art.
It wasn't direct connections between painting and film that Tarkovsky
found, but ones that were more remote.
For Solaris he suggested creating an atmosphere which would
be similar to that which we see in the works of the early Italian
Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio. The picture is of the
embarkment of Venice, sailboats. There are many people in the
foreground. But the most important thing is that all these figures
seem to be wrapped up in themselves. They don't look at each other or
at the landscape; they in no way interact with their surroundings. A
strange, "metaphysical" atmosphere of non-communication is created.
In the film, in order to produce the equivalent of this, the device of
"being aloof" was used. For example, the scene where the cosmonaut is
bidding the Earth farewell. There is a table in the garden at which
the cosmonaut (played by Donatas Banionis) is seated. It is raining.
It pours over the table, into the cups filled with tea and down the
cosmonaut's face. The latter should not react to the rain, but should
act as if he was in another dimension altogether, in order to create
an atmosphere of irreality. But Banionis involuntarily shuddered in
the rain. "The scene is destroyed! What a shame," said Andrei. This
is just one small example of the influence of painting on Tarkovsky's
film language. The image, born in painting, had to undergo a powerful
metamorphosis before it could become a film image.