Tarkovsky’s work reflects a deep preoccupation with the metaphysical and the spiritual realms, as well as unconventional dramatic structure and a distinctively unique use of the cinematic lens. Indeed, Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish filmmaker, said of him:
“Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”
Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky (4th April 1932–29th December 1986) was a Russian writer and filmmaker, film editor and theorist, theatre and opera director. His films are some of the greatest of all time: Ivan’s Childhood, Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Mirror, Stalker, Nostalghia and The Sacrifice.
“What is art? Like a declaration of love: the consciousness of our dependence on each other. A confession. An unconscious act that nonetheless reflects the true meaning of life—love and sacrifice.” -Andrei Tarkovsky.
Sculpting in time
Tarkovsky felt a particular dissatisfaction for the increasing popularity of rapid-cut editing and other gimmicky montage techniques, which detracted from the true poetic spirit of cinema: “The dominant, all-powerful factor of the film image is rhythm, expressing the course of time within the frame.”
And thus, coupled with his fascination with all things transcendental and dreamlike, Tarkovsky compiled, “Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema”, a remarkable literary revelation of both his work and life, and which was completed shortly before his death in exile in Paris.
Reading Tarkovsky’s artistic testament renders an even deeper insight into the raison d’être behind his work than watching his films alone. Here, he is talking about “Art—a yearning for the ideal”:
“Before going on to the particular problems of the nature of cinematic art, I feel it is important to define my understanding of the ultimate aim of art as such. Why does art exist? Who needs it? Indeed, does anybody need it? These are questions asked not only by the poet, but also by anyone who appreciates art—or, in that current expression all too sympathetic of the twentieth-century relationship between art and its audience—the ‘consumer’ …
In any case it is perfectly clear that the goal of all art—unless of course it is aimed at the ‘consumer’, like a saleable commodity—is to explain to the artist himself and to those around him what man lives for, what is the meaning of his existence. To explain to people the reason for their appearance on this planet; or if not to explain, at least to pose the question …
In a very real sense every individual experiences this process for himself as he comes to know life, himself, his aims. Of course, each person uses the sum of knowledge accumulated by humanity but all the same the experience of ethical, moral self-knowledge is the only aim in life for each person, and subjectively, it is experienced each time as something new.”
“Again and again man correlates himself with the world, racked with longing to acquire, and become one with, the ideal which lies outside himself, which he apprehends as some kind of intuitively sensed first principle. The unattainability of that becoming one, the inadequacy of his own ‘I’, is the perpetual source of man’s dissatisfaction and pain.
And so art, like science, is a means of assimilating the world, an instrument for knowing it in the course of man’s journey towards what is called ‘absolute truth’ …
Art is born and takes hold wherever there is a timeless and insatiable longing for the spiritual, for the ideal: that longing which draws people to art. Modern art has taken a wrong turn in abandoning the search for the meaning of existence in order to affirm the value of the individual for its own sake.
What purports to be art begins to look like an eccentric occupation for suspect characters who maintain that any personalized action is of intrinsic value simply as a display of self-will. But in artistic creation the personality does not assert itself, it serves another, higher and communal idea. The artist is always a servant, and is perpetually trying to pay for the gift that has been given to him as if by a miracle.”
Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema.