Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Stalker (1979)

Screen capture from A Story of Film DVD, Music Box
WHO: Andrei Tarkovsky directed this, as well as contributing to the screenplay and production design. It was his last completed film to be made within the Soviet Union.

WHAT: Surely the most challenging film still impressively hanging on to a spot on the imdb's Top 250 list of films as ranked by users of the popular (and, for the most part, populist) movie website. It ranks 193 there, just behind The Best Years of Our Lives and ahead of Shutter Island, for what it's worth. The only other Tarkovsky film on the list is currently Solaris, barely clinging to the bottom at #250 for now. It's a film I waited years to see on the big screen, finally doing so in 2009 at SFMOMA. (It was worth the wait.) Since then at least one key collaborator on the film has died: Boris Strugatsky, who co-wrote the screenplay based on his and his brother Arkadiy's quite-different science-fiction novel Roadside Picnic. Stalker was rated among the top ten greatest by 39 critics and 14 film directors, placing it in the top 30 films on both the critics' and directors' 2012 Sight and Sound lists of all-time great films. And it is the subject of an unusual but very readable monograph by Geoff Dyer entitled Zona, also published in 2012. Though I'm not sure why Dyer feels it's important to diffuse accusations of being overly invested in The Art Film by describing how bored he was watching L'Avventura early in the book, he recovers and proceeds to provide intriguing anecdotes and insights. For instance, he talks about tracking down screenings of Stalker in whatever city he happened to be living in, reflecting on "the possibility of cinema as semipermanent pilgrimage site" in one of his footnotes that takes over the main body of the text:
That list of things and people I won't watch on TV does not stop at Top Gear and Jeremy Clarkson. It also includes....Stalker. One cannot watch Stalker on TV for the simple reason that the Zone is cinema; it does not even exist on telly. The prohibition extends beyond Stalker, to anything that has any cinematic value. It doesn't matter if the TV is HD: great cinema must be projected. It is the difference, as John Berger puts it, between watching the sky ('from where else would film stars come if not from a film sky?') and peering into a cupboard.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight at the Pacific Film Archive at 7:30 PM.

WHY: There had been no 35mm presentations of Stalker in a Frisco Bay cinema between the 2009 SFMOMA screenings and this past Thursday, when it screened as part of the Pacific Film Archive's Tarkovsky retrospective. Perhaps this is why the screening sold out well in advance, and another screening (tonight's) added to the PFA's final week of showings at it current "temporary" (for the past 16+ years) space at 2575 Bancroft, before re-opening nearer to Shattuck Street early in 2016. For those of us who began frequenting the PFA after its move out of the Berkeley Art Museum basement in the late 1990s, this is a site of a great deal of nostalgia (to borrow another Tarkovsky title), and the place where we saw some of the greatest films we've ever seen, in some cases for the only time.

A sampling of distinguished guests who have graced this humble room might include Budd Boetticher, Donald Richie, Anthony Slide, Midori Sawato, Gus Van Sant, Sogo Ishii, Frederick Wiseman, Hedy Honigmann, Charles Burnett, Walter Murch, Michel Brault, Kim Longinotto, Clint Eastwood, Gunvor Nelson, Martin Reijtman, Kazuo Hara, Patricio Guzman, Phil Tippett, Mark Isham, Les Blank, Alex Cox, J. Hoberman, Kidlat Tahimik, Agnes Godard, Mati Diop, and Nino Kirtadze. Sadly I missed all of these events. But I did see Rob Nilsson, Guy Maddin, Paolo Cherchi Usai, Peter Kubelka, Kevin Brownlow, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Olivier Assayas, Lech Majewski, Terence Davies, Pedro Costa, Janet Bergstrom, Ernie Gehr, Lawrence Jordan, David Meltzer, Wilder Bentley II, Kelly Reichardt, Kerry Laitala (before I'd met her), Craig Baldwin, George and Mike Kuchar, Sam Pollard, Dave Kehr, Phil Solomon, Agnes Varda, Tony Buba, Sally Cruikshank, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Lana Gogoberidze, and J.P. Sniadecki talk about their (or in some cases, others') films, and had my perceptions of cinema changed in some small or large way by every single one of them. Not to mention stalwart pianist Judith Rosenberg and other musical accompanists that silent films have almost always been attended with over the years.

Though there is no guest expected at tonight's Stalker showing, the remainder of the week will feature daily appearances from Spanish filmmaker Victor Erice, who will be on hand to show each film in his small but powerful body of work since his 1973 masterpiece Spirit of the Beehive, showing Saturday, and perhaps if we're lucky, some of the films in the Erice Selects series concluding the PFA's final Bancroft screenings: Zero For Conduct (a free 35mm screening!), City Lights, Bicycle Thieves, The Kid, and my favorite of all of these, Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story. Just be aware that there is no BART service between San Francisco and the East Bay on August 1st and 2nd, and plan your transportation accordingly.

HOW: 35mm print