Andrei Tarkovsky is still, despite the relatively limited number of feature films he completed, one of the best regarded art cinema directors, with a vastly varied output comprising films from historical, contemporary, dramatic, political, artistic and even the oft-maligned science fiction genres. A new tome about Tarkovsky is always welcome, so how does the Kamera Book engage with the man, his work and the importance of his films?
The opening section offers a biography of Tarkovsky and goes on to explore the structural and dramatic themes that pervade his work. The book then launches into a chronological breakdown of his feature films. It covers the all the basics, including synopses of these films, but it is in the analysis of the work that the text plays particularly well, discussing the extensive processes involved in the making of the films as well as examining thematic and creative aspects. And it’s not an easy task given the structure of Tarkovsky’s narratives and the long, long takes that define much of the director’s work. An element of the book that is of particular interest lies with the interpretation of the autobiographical nature of the works, something that may appear obvious in Mirror (1974) or aspects of Ivan’s Childhood (1962) but seem superficially less clear in, particularly, his science fiction films Solaris (1972) or Stalker (1979). On closer examination this becomes an interesting, relevant and important aspect of the work.
There is also much to be discovered in the stories concerning the films’ production and not only the way they were created; the book covers the often lengthy distribution process (the films sometimes hitting cinema screens years after shooting had completed), which is fascinating. So, plenty to consider from a critical and creative perspective but Martin also includes references to additional works by and surrounding Tarkovsky, from his student work to his television, theatrical (who wouldn’t have wanted to see Tarkovsky’s Hamlet?) and published work. Indeed much of Tarkovsky’s written work, notably his discussions on film and particularly his diaries such as Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970 -1986 are very welcome and used effectively in the examination and breakdowns of individual projects.
So is this a worthwhile purchase? For anyone new to Tarkovsky (or those who have perhaps seen just a couple of his films) or new to discussing his work then the Kamera Book is essential reading. Aficionados will also enjoy this as it provides useful and detailed examinations of his output that offer both a strong read and an important reference. Highly recommended for both Tarkovsky fans and newcomers to his distinctive cinematic oeuvre.