Stalking the Stalker: Geoff Dyer delves into Tarkovsky's mysterious film, illuminates dark corners

I'm largely unexcited by director commentary versions of films released specially on DVD bonus discs, or new BluRay versions, or what have you. I tend to think that whatever the director had to say in the film should be in the film, rather than voiced over it at a later date (often begrudgingly, I imagine - Joss Wheadon sings of this with great pathos). For the most part, I prefer to watch movies commentary-free, often even companion-free, so that I can (I like to think) sink more completely into the "cinematic experience", draw my own conclusions, etc. However, I am all for post-viewing internet-trawling for dissections of the plot, character analyses, symbolic hypotheses, "but what did it MEAN"-type posts and write-ups. What was up with the exploding humanoid in the first scene of Prometheus? Was the roaring gale in The Turin Horse just an especially heady wind, or was it actually the Coming of the Apocalypse? And the Room in Stalker: Is it real? Is it just LSD? Is it about the Gulags? Is it about knapsacks? Did anyone else think that the scene with the telephone was surprisingly and entirely hilarious?

Reading Geoff Dyer's Zona: A Book About A Film About A Journey To A Room is kind of like losing myself in an especially fruitful post-viewing internet hunt, but way better, and with a wealth of entertaining and informative digressions, involving both personal memories and connections to Stalker, and film/book-nerd-satisfying references and links to other films, books and artists. I rarely enjoy 3-page long footnotes with such glee. Dyer actually takes you through Tarkovsky's 1979 film, scene by scene (at times shot by shot), which sounds like it could be the most boring and useless exercise ever - but somehow it isn't. He deftly picks out complex questions, fleeting revelations, and lasting impressions from the great Russian director's magnificent and confusing work, and illuminates them in ways that, while perhaps not universal, are relatable and often delightfully funny.

Dyer sums up his attitude towards writing this sort of book thus:
"...if mankind was put on earth to create works of art, then other people were put on earth to comment on those works, to say what they think of them. Not to judge objectively or critically assess these works but to articulate their feelings about them with as much precision as possible, without seeking to disguise the vagaries of their nature, their lapses of taste and the contingency of their own experiences, even if those feelings are of confusion, uncertainty or - in this case - undiminished wonder." (p. 151)

This undiminished wonder comes through strongly, and has the added effect of making me want to see Stalker again (and probably again after that). Does anyone have a projector and a dark room?

Note: I'm not sure how the experience of reading Zona without having first seen Stalker would be. It might make you want to see the film? It might make you never want to see the film? It might make you want to go to sleep? The best thing to do in such a circumstance, undoubtedly, is to doubly entertain yourself by first watching Stalker and then reading this book! It can only do you good.

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