May 4, 2016

The Artistic Philosophy of Andrei Tarkovsky's Poetic Filmmaking

They're often described as poetic works of "pure cinema." Free of symbolism and full of emotion and atmosphere, the films of Andrei Tarkovsky are enigmatic.

Enigmatic though they may be, Lewis Bond dives into the work of the great Russian auteur to help us understand, or rather, appreciate not only his films, but the philosophy upon which those films stand.

Tarkovsky's films are, to say the least, hard to classify, because to him, cinema was an art form that existed to help us answer the many important philosophical questions about life and existence. In fact, it seems futile to study his work without first studying the philosophy with which his creativity was intertwined.

Like director Andrei Konchalovsky says in Bond's video essay, Tarkovsky's work is so rooted in his own personal philosophy that while it's possible to imitate, it's completely impossible to follow. This is evidenced in how some of today's greatest filmmakers utilize his cinematic techniques, even going as far as to replicate shots from his films, but fail to capture the poetry that made Tarkovsky's films what they were.

The techniques are there — the long takes, the slow dollies, the fire and water and rain — but the essence of what makes Tarkovsky's work so unique and important is absent, because these techniques aren't a part of that essence. But what is that essence? If there isn't a specific cinematic style with which to measure it, how can it be determined? Perhaps the answer lies in Tarkovsky's artistic principals — that art exists because the world is broken, maintaining that there was never any intended symbolism in his work, only metaphors, because describing an "infinite world" in finite terms is an impossibility. Distilled, I believe his artistic philosophy is this:

"A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books." — Andrei Tarkovsky (Sculpting in Time, p. 177)

'Ivan's Childhood' (1962)

Critics and scholars have extensively studied Tarkovsky's films, but I've found that learning about his work doesn't necessarily lead to understanding it, but rather appreciating it for what it is — whatever it is — to you.      

Your Comment

13 Comments

The best that ever was.

May 4, 2016 at 3:37AM

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Micah Van Hove
Writer
director, producer, dp

Faaaaantastic!

May 4, 2016 at 7:01AM, Edited May 4, 7:01AM

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Samu Amunét
Director
377

Great! I love Tarkovsky. I have tried to get the feel of Stalker in one of my music videos: www.vimeo.com/116440492

May 4, 2016 at 8:11AM

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Martijn Rijnberg
Director
81

Hey, very nice work! You did a nice job capturing the spirit of A.T. What did you shoot the video with? Cam and lenses?

May 4, 2016 at 9:07AM

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Thanks Anthony, much appreciated! And great to hear you could see the Tarkovsky influences in it. I used a Canon 5D Mark 3 with Magic Lantern installed, combined with Zeiss ZF.2 lenses: 35/1.4, 50/2 and 100/2.

May 4, 2016 at 9:33AM

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Martijn Rijnberg
Director
81

Fantastic essay! Wow

May 4, 2016 at 9:07AM

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Menachem Fishman
Editor
74

The video from The Petrick was fantastic. Sadly, I thought that the story of The Revenant was intolerable, but the cinematography and acting kept me watching. I definitely thought that it was a "modernized" version of Tarkovskian cinematographic style, but I didn't realize how much was border-line plagiarized from Tarkovsky. By modernized I mean that it utilized camera movement that simply wouldn't have been possible in Tarkovsky's day (steadicam).

When I was still in film school I DPed a short in which we really mimicked Tarkovsky's visual style. We used hand-held very sparingly, and mostly stuck to very slow pan, tilt, dolly, or locked off shots. LINK: https://vimeo.com/9683140

For me, Tarkovsky's cinematographic style is absolutely timeless. I would love to see more cinematographers reviving this style in the age of gimbal overuse.

May 4, 2016 at 3:39PM, Edited May 4, 3:39PM

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Tarkovsky was one of the first soviet directors to start using Steadicam, here is a still from Stalker (1979) http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/immos/12057266/36034/36034_original.jpg

But yes, he didn't have an Alexa 65 and a big Technocrane.

May 4, 2016 at 7:16PM

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Yura Makarov
Cinematographer
145

Love this! Here's another great video comparison between Tarkovsky and Mad Max: Fury Road: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzhUX9OzLiE

May 4, 2016 at 5:59PM

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Katie Mlinek
Writer/Filmmaker
100

This video is a joke as a reply to the Revenant/Tarkovsky video. The author said in the description and comments that how easy to make such a comparison with every film without any correlation.

May 4, 2016 at 7:25PM

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Yura Makarov
Cinematographer
145

What an amazing essay!

May 4, 2016 at 10:37PM, Edited May 4, 10:38PM

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I've often heard the exact same sentiments also said about Nietzsche.

He means anything to anybody.

May 6, 2016 at 1:36AM, Edited May 6, 1:36AM

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Davey
22

Great job Misha

May 8, 2016 at 3:33AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
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