We all have our obsessions; in Geoff Dyer’s case its Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’ – a cult film full of mystery, unexplained phenomena and philosophical riddles – perfectly suited, in fact, to GD’s talents for forensic examination and extended digression.
GD has seen ‘Stalker’ many times over the years in a variety of locations and states of mind – including once when he was on an LSD trip.
Like the Stalker of the title, who takes people into the Zone and to the Room at its heart, where deepest wishes can be fulfilled, Dyer leads the reader through the film’s major movements and scenes in his chatty, wry discursive style whilst rarely missing on opportunity to veer off into autobiographical mode.
Thus while discussing ‘Solaris’ (Tarkovsky’s least favourite film because of its sci-fi genre tag; in ‘Stalker’ he took out as much sci-fi as possible) and ‘Solaris’ (the George Clooney remake based much more faithfully on Stanislaw Lem’s famous novel; Lem said that T had not filmed his book but had made ‘Crime and Punishment}, Geoff informs us that his wife looks almost identical to the film’s actress and proceeds to explain in detail the problems and incidents such a resemblance has caused her.
Poster image from Dinca.org: Journal of Avant-Garde Film & Art
Dyer is very interesting on Tarkovsky himself and there is much to be learnt here about the making of the movie, a production fraught with disaster (the first version of the whole film was shot on experimental stock which couldn’t be processed). Dyer suggests that Tarkovsky and other members of the cast and crew contracted cancers as a result of pollution from an abandoned chemical factory on the film’s location site.
The footnotes begin by being safely corralled beneath a thin line, to provide a sub-text of thought-provoking asides, but later, at one point, take over the main text for several pages. It begins:
‘On the subject of quotations within films and interesting study could be made – in a sense this book is a catalogue or compendium of proposals for potentially interesting studies – of scenes in films where bits of other films are seen, glimpsed or watched, either at a drive-in, on TV or in the cinema (Frankenstein in Spirit of the Beehive, Red River in The Last Picture Show, The Passion of Joan of Arc in Vivre Sa Vie). Actually maybe it wouldn’t be that interesting after all; one wouldn’t get far without the word meta cropping up and turning everything to dust.’
‘Stalker’ remains an enigmatic work, capable of endless interpretation. Dyer’s Baedeker guide to the movies’ psychogeography makes it the ideal companion for your next trip to the Zone. Mind what you wish for.
[Zona is published by Canongate Books]
DECONSTRUCTING DYER: A fairly lengthy piece on Dyer and his ouevre in general and a review of his interesting book on photography, ‘The Ongoing Moment’, in particular -with juicy links.
‘Free-thinking, non-academic, non-specialist eloquent stylists are always welcome in any age. Dyer’s struggle to breakout of the stranglehold of convention and to establish his own unique perspective on such disparate fields of study is to be applauded and enjoyed.’
In the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone there are real life Stalkers…According to ‘Routes of penetration of stalkers to the Zone’:
‘Stalkers are reluctant to talk about the ways of penetration into the Zone. It seems that each of the “Game-addicted” believes that his route is somehow unique. “Ideological” stalkers hold a “hole” in secret because of the growing popularity of penetrations in the Chernobyl Zone. They are silent too about the “holes” in the security perimeter of the city of Pripyat. It seems that everyone has his own “secret” route.’