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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in andrei tarkovsky (3)


In Which We Experience Da Vinci Through The Eyes Of Another

Charm with a Negative Sign


Let us look at Leonardo's portrait of "A Young Lady With A Juniper," which we used in Mirror for the scene of the father's brief meeting with his children when he comes home on leave.

There are two things about Leonardo's images that are arresting. One is the artist's amazing capacity to examine the object from outside, standing back, looking out from above the world — a characteristic of artists like Bach or Tolstoy. And the other, the fact that the picture affects us simultaneously in two opposite ways. It is not possible to say definitively whether we like the woman or not, whether she is appealing or unpleasant.

She is at once attractive and repellent. There is something inexpressibly beautiful about her at the same time repulsive, fiendish. And fiendish not at all in the romantic, alluring use of the word; rather beyond good and evil. Charm with an negative sign. It has an element of degeneracy — and of beauty. In Mirror we needed the portrait in order to introduce a timeless element into the moments that are succeeding each other before our eyes, and at the same time to juxtapose the portrait with the heroine, to emphasize in her.

If you try to analyze Leonardo's portrait, separating it into its components, it will not work. At any rate it will explain nothing. For the emotional effect exercised on us by the woman in the picture is powerful precisely because it is impossible to find in her anything that we can definitely prefer, to single out any one detail from the whole, to prefer any one, momentary impression to another, and make it our own, to achieve a balance in the way we look at the image presented to us.

And so there opens up before us the possibility of interaction with infinity, for the great function of the artistic image is to be a kind of detector of infinity... towards which our reason and our feelings are soaring, with joyful, thrilling haste.

Such feeling is awoken by the completeness of the image. It affects us by this very fact of being impossible to dismember. In isolation, each component part will be dead — or perhaps, on the contrary, down to its tiniest elements it will display the same characteristics as the complete, finished work. And these characteristics are produced by the interaction of opposed principles, the meaning of which, as if in communicating vessels spills over from one into the other: the face of the woman painted by Leonardo is animated by an exalted idea and at the same time might appear perfidious and subject to base passions.

It is possible for us to see any number of things in the portrait, and as we try to grasp its essence we shall wander through unending labyrinths and never find its way out. We shall derive deep pleasure from the realization that we cannot exhaust it, or see to the end of it. A true artistic image gives the beholder a simultaneous experience of the most complex, contradictory, sometimes even mutually exclusive feelings.

It is not possible to catch the moment at which the positive goes over into its opposite, or the when the negative starts moving towards the positive. Infinity is germane, inherent in the very structure of the image. In practice, however, a person invariably prefers one thing to another.

I am always sickened when an artist underpins his system of images with deliberate tendentiousness or ideology. I am against his allowing his methods to be discernible at all.



In Which Andrei Tarkovsky Conceives Of A Story

This is the second in a series on the letters on the Russian filmmaker and poet Andrei Tarkovsky. You can find the first part here.

Full View of the Moon

The diaries of the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky are the notations of a man whose real enterprise was elsewhere. In the 1970s Tarkovsky's frustrations boiled over as he reached the peak of his cinematic powers. Tarkovsky's writing was purely a means to end — a way of framing his real language of filmmaking. As translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair, these notes on films like Solaris, The Mirror and unfinished and unrealized projects reveal Tarkovsky's struggle with the state, his family and himself.

January 21

I simply cannot work out what they meant, or rather, what was in their minds, when they gave me those corrections.

The corrections can’t possibly be made, they would ruin the whole film. And if I don’t make them? The whole thing is like a provocation, but I don’t see the point of it.

I’ve decided to make just those alterations that are consistent with my own plans and will not destroy the fabric of the film.

If that doesn’t satisfy them, then there’s nothing I can do about it.

I went to see Yermash. Didn’t say a word about Solaris and the alterations. I asked him if I was an underground director and how long this persecution was going to go on, and would I be able to go on making two films a year (ugh! I couldn’t even bring myself to write the truth: two films in ten years). Yermash replied that I was entirely Soviet and that it’s a disgrace that I do so little work. I said in that case, please support me and guarantee me work. Otherwise I shall have to start taking defensive action myself.

In fact they are going to have to allow Solaris if they don’t want a serious row. Because I’m not prepared to sit there quietly without work, not saying a word, looking on while they violate the constitu- tion.

February 15


Someone is given the opportunity to become happy. He is afraid to use it, because he thinks happiness is impossible, and that only a madman can be happy. Circumstances somehow convince our hero to use the opportunity and—by some sort of miraculous means— to become happy.

And he goes mad. He is drawn into the world of the insane, who may not merely be mad; they are also able to link up with the world by means of threads which are inaccessible to normal people.

For many years I have been tormented by the certainty that the most extraordinary discoveries await us in the sphere of Time. We know less about time than about anything else.

December 23

Three months since I touched this notebook, and so much has happened. I have been in Italy and Brussels and Luxemburg and Bruges. And then in Paris where I cut Solaris by 12 minutes for the French version. In Belgium I saw Erasmus’ house, and the paintings of Memling, Van Eyck and Brueghel.

Paris is beautiful. You feel free there: nobody needs you, and you don’t need anybody.

I didn’t like Italy this time. Maybe it was because of the company, maybe because this time it struck me as twee, picture postcardish. (We went to Sorrento and Naples.) Rome was overwhelming. It’s an amazing city. If in other cities you can see year-rings like on a tree, in Rome what you see are the rings of decades, or even perhaps of epochs.

January 24

There was a time when I thought that film, unlike other art forms, (being the most democratic of them all) had a total effect, identical for every audience. That it was first and foremost a series of recorded images; that the images are photographic and unequivocal. That being so, because it appears unambiguous, it is going to be perceived in one and the same way by everyone who sees it. (Up to a certain point, obviously.)

But I was wrong. One has to work out a principle which allows for film to affect people individually. The ‘total’ image must become something private. (Comparable with the images of literature, painting, poetry, music.)

The basic principles it were, the mainspring – is, I think, that as little as possible has actually to be shown, and from that little the audience has to build up an idea of the rest, of the whole. In my view that has to be the basis for constructing the cinematographic image. And if one looks at it from the point of view of symbols, then the symbol in cinema is a symbol of nature, of reality. Of course it isn’t a question of details, but of what is hidden.

March 23

Something has been happening to me recently. Today that feeling is particularly strong and significant, I’m preoccupied by it. I have started to feel that the time has come when I am ready to make the most important work of my life.

The guarantee that this is so is, first, my own certainty (which of course can be deceptive and turn out — dialectically — to be a run- of-the-mill disaster); and, second, the material which I am going to use – which is simple, but at the same time extraordinarily profound; familiar and banal — to the point where one will not be distracted, not drawn away from what matters.

I would even call it ideal material, because I feel and know it so well, I’m so aware of it. The only question is, shall I be able to do it? Shall I be able to imbue the perfectly constructed body with a soul?

December 8

Returned from Yurevetz this morning. We went as far as Kinechma by train, and after that by taxi.

It was cold, everything was covered in snow. Yurevetz made no impression on me. It was as if I was seeing it for the first time. I recognized the school I used to go to, and the house where we lived during the War. The sandy hill behind the school has been levelled and there’s a skating pond where it used to be. St. Simon’s Church has a hedge all around it, and in the main square they’ve built two hideous buildings — the consumer services centre and the town hall. Part of the boulevard beside the river has been demolished, in fact all of it has, and where the street used to be they have built a dam, to protect the town from the spreading waters of the Volga. If you ever go there...


June 27

Last night I dreamt that I had died. But I could see, or rather feel, what was going on around me. I could feel that Lara was beside me, and one of my friends.

I felt I had no strength or will, I was only capable of witnessing my own death, my own corpse.

Above all, I could feel in my dream something long forgotten, something that had not happened to me for a long time — the feeling that it was not a dream but real.

It is such a powerful sensation that a wave of sadness fills your soul, of pity for yourself, and a strange, as it were aesthetic way of seeing your own life. When you feel compassion for yourself in that way, it is as if your pain were someone else’s, and you are looking at it from outside, weighing it up, and you are beyond the bounds of what used to be your life. It was as if my past life was a child’s life, without experience, unprotected. Time ceases to exist, and fear. An awareness of immortality.

I could see (from above, from somewhere on the ceiling) the spot where they were setting up supports for the coffin, and everyone was very busy because I had died.

And then I came back to life, and no one was surprised.

They all went off to the public baths, and I wasn’t allowed in because I didn’t have a ticket. I pretended I was the bath attendant, but I couldn’t produce any proof of identity.

But all that was just a dream, and I knew it was a dream.

It’s the second time I have had a dream about death. And each time I have felt an extraordinary sense of freedom, of not needing any kind of protection. What can it mean?

The interview with Bergman where he says I am the best contemporary director is in Playboy.

July 4

Give up private property... In order to give up something you have to refuse something that is actually there. And I have no experience of private property. How can I give up something I have never known in my life? That is at the root of one of the basic ideological errors.

Reading Max Frisch’s Stiller. He is clever. Too clever for a good writer. He is precise, economical; charming. Like a tiny Japanese garden.

He is very nice, and very like his characters. That is not a plus, either. I know him. He gave Larissa and me supper near Locarno. He was with his mistress, whom everybody in Switzerland condemned just for being his mistress.

It was a delicious supper; a delightful restaurant with tables set under the oak trees. And all the people who condemned her and had been invited, were making pleasant, easy conversation with her and smiling. Is that being well brought up? Hypocrisy? Humbug? Snobbishness? Anyhow, I liked him. A real Puss-in-Boots.

How lovely it is here in Myasnoye. I have a wonderful room.

September 13

We all either underestimate each other, or else exaggerate each other’s virtues. Very few people are capable of assessing others as they deserve. It is a particular gift. In fact I would even say that only the great are capable of it.

At 11.30 at night we went out into the meadow to watch the moon through the mist. It was unbelievably beautiful!

An episode: Several people gazing at the moon, in the mist, enjoying it. They stand in silence; move around. Delighted faces; all have the same sort of expression; the look in their eyes almost one of pain.

NB: Must read through my will.

I must learn to use a cine-camera, and do some filming here. It is possible to attain immortality.


1. Text, read by a character.

2. Different scene. Pause.

3. Abstraction — from the lives of characters imitating the characters of Dostoievsky.

4. Piercing music, something very simple (Bach or earlier).

Dearest Larochka! How grateful I am to you for this house. For understanding what matters to us.

We need peace; but not only peace.

A flock of rooks came flying over, and was attacked by a hawk, which brought one of them down. We rescued him, and now he’s living with us. He tries to peck you; and eats very little. What is love? I don’t know. Not that I don’t know love, but I don’t know how to define it.


In Which Andrei Tarkovsky Writes These Things Down

Destroy Everything

The diaries of the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky are the notations of a man whose real enterprise was elsewhere. In the 1970s Tarkovsky's frustrations boiled over as he reached the peak of his cinematic powers. Tarkovsky's writing was purely a means to end — a way of framing his real language of filmmaking. As translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair, these notes on films like Solaris, Andrei Rublev and unfinished and unrealized projects reveal Tarkovsky's struggle with the state, his family and himself.

May 10

On 24 April 1970 we bought a house in Myasnoye. The one we wanted. Now I don’t care what happens. If they don’t give me any work I'll sit in the country and breed piglets and geese, and tend my vegetable patch, and to hell with the lot of them!

We shall gradually put the house and garden in order, and it will be a wonderful country house; stone.

The people here seem nice. I’ve installed a beehive. We’ll have honey. If only we could get hold of a pick-up we’d be all set. Now I must earn as much as possible so that we can finish the house by the autumn. It has to be habitable in winter as well. Three hundred kilometers from Moscow—people won’t come dragging out here for nothing.

The two important things now are:

1. Solaris has to be in two parts.

2. Maximum distribution for Rublev. Then I’d be free of debt. And—the agreement in Dushanbe.

To be done in the house:

1. Reroofing.

2. Re-lay all floors.

3. Make second frame for one window.

4. Use tiles from house to roof shed.

5. Make stove for steam heating.

6. Repair cracks in gallery.

7. Put up fence all round house.

8. Cellar.

9. Remove plywood from ceilings.

10. Open up door between rooms.

1 1. Put stove in gallery.

12. Build bath-house in kitchen garden.

13. Make lavatory.

14. Install pump (electric) from the river to the house (if it’s not going to freeze up in winter).

15. Shower (by bath-house).

16. Plant garden.

17. Paint floors and walls of gallery, and beams.

June 3

Yesterday Bibi Anderson was introduced to me. I spent the entire evening wondering if she would make a Khari. Of course she’s a marvellous actress. But she’s not that young, although she looks very well. I don’t know, I haven’t yet decided what to do about her. She’s willing to work for our currency. She’s going to be filming for Bergman through the summer and she’ll be free in the autumn. We’ll see. For the moment I haven’t made any decision. I must talk to Ira.

On the 12th I took Senka to school. My impression was that he had failed, but the headmaster is liberal-minded and didn’t say anything, so for the moment everything is all right as far as school is concerned.

June 12

Last night I had a terribly sad dream. I dreamed again of a northern (I think) lake somewhere in Russia; it was dawn, and on the far share were two Orthodox monasteries, with amazingly beautiful cathedrals and walls.

And I felt such sadness! Such pain!

September 18

I saw a very bad film by Bunuel—I forget the name—oh, yes, Tristana, about a woman who has her leg amputated and who some- times dreams of a bell with her husband/stepfather’s head in it instead of a clapper. It’s unbelievably vulgar. Just occasionally Bunuel allows himself lapses like that.

Read Akutagawa’s story about water-sprites — ‘kappas’. Rather mediocre and limp.

Chukhrai asked me to bring them the screenplay of The Bright Day. He wants me to make it with their team. They’re allegedly thinking of buying Ariel as well. We’ll see. I don’t trust Chukhrai. He’s often let people down. Betrayed them.

November 15

I really have to make a note of the fact that on 12 November 1970 I gave up smoking. Frankly, it was high time. The last few weeks I’ve been feeling somehow empty and dull-witted. Either because I’ve been ill, or because I feel frustrated. You could very easily expire without ever having done anything. And there’s so much I want to do . . .

Reading Thomas Mann’s stupendous Joseph and His Brothers. The whole approach is as it were from the far side. Kitchen gossip from the far side. I can see why the typist, as she finished typing out Joseph, said, "Now at least I know how it really happened." Yes, but as for screening it, I really don’t know what to say. For the moment, I don’t see how it would come across.

I want to restore the house in the country — then there’d be some point. Build a bath-house, cultivate the garden. The children could graze. My father came to see us yesterday. He was introduced to his grandson who wore his smart blue suit for the occasion. Please God.

February 18

"Fear of the aesthetic is a first symptom of weakness." — Dostoievsky’s notebooks, about Crime and Punishment, p. 560.

"The supreme idea of socialism is machinery. It turns a person into a mechanical person. There are rules for everything. And so man is taken from himself. His living soul is removed. It is understandable that one may be calm in such Eastern quietism, and these gentlemen say they are progressives! My God! If that is progress, then what is Eastern quietism!’

"Socialism is despair at the impossibility of ever being able to organize man. It organizes tyranny for him and says that is freedom itself!" — ibid., about Svidrigailov, p. 556.

I’m very strongly affected by diaries and archives and "laboratories" of every kind. They’re a wonderful catalyst.

So — Ariel has turned out really well. Only no one must be told what the script is about.

It’s about —

I. The creative pretensions of the mediocre.

2. The greatness of simple things (in a moral sense).

3. The conflict within religion. (The ideal has collapsed. It’s not possible to live without an ideal, no one is able to invent a new one, and the old one has collapsed: the church.)

4. The emergence of pragmatism. Pragmatism cannot be condemned because it is a stage and a condition of society: indeed an inevitable stage. It started at the turn of the century. Life can’t be condemned. It has to be accepted. It is not a question of cynicism. The war of 1914 was the last war to have a romantic aura.

5. Man is a plaything of history. The ‘madness of the individual’ and the calm of the socialist order.

Parallel between Ariel and the turn of the next century. Super-pragmatism on a state scale, as viewed by the man in the street. Consumerism.

I showed Ariel to Klimov, he said he liked it. Whatever happens I must let Yussov have it, so that he can be ready.

August 14

Culture is man’s greatest achievement. But is it more important, say, than personal worth? (If one doesn’t take culture and personal worth as being one and the same thing.) The person who takes part in the building of culture, if he is an artist, has no reason to be proud. His talent has been given him by God, whom he obviously has to thank.

There can be no merit in talent, since it is only yours fortuitously. The mere fact of being born into a wealthy family does not give a person a sense of his own worth and thus the respect of others. Spiritual, moral culture is created not by the individual—whose talent is accidental—but by the nation, as it spontaneously throws out that individual endowed with the potential for artistic creation and the life of the spirit. Talent is common property. The bearer of it is as insignificant as a slave on a plantation, or a drug addict, or a member of the lumpen proletariat.

Talent is a misfortune, for on the one hand it entitles a person to neither merit nor respect, and on the other it lays on him tremendous responsibilities; he is like the honest steward who has to protect the treasure entrusted to his keeping without ever making use of it.

A sense of self-respect is available to anyone who feels the need for it. I don’t understand why fame is the highest aspiration of the artistic confraternity. Vainglory is above all a sign of mediocrity.

Reading extracts in Novy Mir of S. Birman’s memoirs, with the pretentious, tasteless title, ‘Meetings Granted Me by Fate’. God help us! It’s about Gordon Craig and Stanislavsky. She quotes from a conversation between them about Hamlet, in particular where they are talking about Ophelia.

What rubbish it all is!

Craig’s interpretation of Hamlet is metaphysical and pretentious and stupid. Hamlet as construed by the idiot, megalomaniac Stanislavsky is equally absurd.

At the same time Craig is right when he says that Ophelia falls out of the tragedy, that she is insignificant, whereas Stanislavsky, with one eye forever on the audience because he was scared to death of their verdict, maintains she was a pure, beautiful girl. I’m irritated by this silly claptrap from a silly old woman who wants to attract attention.

August 15

Stanislavsky did great harm to future generations of the theatre; roughly the same as Stassov did for painting. All those lofty ideals — that so-called ‘sense of direction’ as Dostoievsky put it — falsified the functions and the meaning of art.

September 14

Dostoievsky read by the light of two candles. He didn’t like lamps. He smoked a lot while he worked and occasionally drank strong tea. He led a monotonous life, starting off in Staraya Russya (the prototype of the town where Karamazov lived). His favourite colour — the waves of the sea. He often dresses his heroines in that colour.

January 2

If only we could start filming.

February 15

The film was sent to the Committee without any discussion. Sizov telephoned today and said that the film is now much better and more harmonious. But he hinted that there would have to be more cuts. I shall resist them. The length is actually an aesthetic consideration.

I’m going to see Sizov on the 17th; he asked me to; he has to talk to me about something. I can’t bear surprises, they’re always unpleasant.

I am tired. In April I shall be forty. But I’m never left in peace, and there is never any silence. Instead of freedom Pushkin had ‘peace’ and ‘will’, but I don’t even have those.

People are sending me letters after seeing Rublev. Some are very interesting. Of course audiences understand the film perfectly well, as I knew they would.

February 23

Am I really going to be sitting around again for years, on end, waiting for somebody graciously to let my film through.

What an extraordinary country this is — don’t they want an international artistic triumph, don’t they want us to have good new films and books? They are frightened by real art. Quite understandably. Art can only be bad for them because it is humane, whereas their purpose is to crush everything that is alive, every shoot of humanity, any aspiration to freedom, any manifestation of art on our dreary horizon.

They won’t be content until they have eliminated every symptom of independence and reduced people to the level of cattle.

In the process they’ll destroy everything: themselves and Russia.

Tomorrow I’m going to Sizov and he’ll explain what is happening about Solaris. No doubt he’ll try to persuade me and win me over and convince me. The usual story.

I must read the Korolenko story Friedrich was talking about; it’s all about peasant life miles from anywhere in Siberia, and their prejudices and so on . . . It may be a bit like Echo Calls? Screening an existing book is an easier way of doing things.

I somehow think that it’s better to screen inferior literature, which nonetheless contains the seed of something real — which can be developed in the film and grow into something wonderful as a result of going through your hands.

February 26

Late this evening I looked at the sky and saw the stars. I felt as if it was the first time I had ever looked at them.

I was stunned.

The stars made an extraordinary impression on me.

April 2


I’m very excited by Zen. At present I’m reading somebody’s dissertation (or simply research notes) about Koan. Very interesting.

"In order to write well you have to forget the rules of grammar.” (Goethe)

"Dostoievsky gives me more than any thinker, more than Gauss." (Einstein)

"We are being sentimental when we attribute more tenderness to a person than the Lord God has endowed him with." (R. T. Blice)

April 6

Here I am forty. And what have I done in all this time? Three pathetic pictures. So little! So ridiculously little and insignificant.

I had a strange dream last night: I was looking up at the sky, and it was very, very light, and soft; and high, high above me it seemed to be slowly boiling, like light that had materialized, like the fibres of a sunlit fabric, like silken, living stitches in a piece of Japanese embroidery. And those tiny fibres, light-bearing, living threads, seemed to be moving and floating and becoming like birds, hovering, so high up that they could never be reached. So high that if the birds were to lose feathers the feathers wouldn’t fall, they wouldn’t come down to the earth, they would fly upwards, be carried off and vanish from our world forever. And soft, enchanted music was flow- ing down from that great height. The music seemed to sound like the chiming of little bells; or else the birds’ chirping was like music.

‘They’re storks’, I suddenly heard someone say, and I woke up.

A strange and beautiful dream. I do sometimes have wonderful dreams.