There’s been so much talk of Tarkovsky’s STALKER around here recently that you’d think someone liked the film. Geoff Dyer certainly does. His latest book ‘Zona’ revolves around Tarkovsky’s “The Road meets Last Of The Summer Wine” 1979 science fiction classic with which Dyer claims to be obsessed. Even though Dyer says he hates film-writing that gives away all of the plot and is little more than a fleshed-out synopsis he basically goes ahead and does it anyway: ‘Zona’ comes across like a DVD commentary for the film, with the author analysing a scene before thundering off on one of his trademark digressions. And there are lots of digressions: the book is only about 20,000 words long but the footnotes are probably double that. It’s described as “a book about a film about a journey to a room”, a meta-arena that Dyer has previous in – his 1999 ‘Out of Sheer Rage’ is a book about failing to write a book about D.H.Lawrence. Perhaps his next project might be to turn ‘Zona’ into a film. Some sections chime with subjects we’ve been discussing recently on this blog, there’s an interesting and funny rumination on boring films that’s like a cinematic version of the interesting number paradox:
[At the beginning of Stalker] a voice-over says everything’s ‘hopelessly boring’ – a remark that makes one wonder how quickly a film can become boring. Which film holds the record in that particular regard? And wouldn’t that film automatically qualify as exciting and fast-moving if it had been able to enfold the viewer so rapidly in the itchy blanket of tedium?
A particularly epic Dyer tangent comes when he talks about his wife bearing a strong resemblance to Natascha McElhone (who played the wife in Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the Tarkovsky film SOLARIS – the thought trail is always there somewhere), which is weird because people have said that my wife looks like Natascha McElhone, and given her role in SOLARIS it seems eerily appropriate to have at least three copies of Natascha McElhone walking around London.
In the end Dyer seems to want to have his cake and eat it: he writes a book that is a summary of a film whilst explaining how boring it is to do that, and argues that his is a “non-summary” since it takes longer to read than it would to watch the film (I don’t think that would even be true if I was a slightly faster reader). He also doesn’t seem to like films very much, or at least he’s a man who knows what he likes. He’s never seen THE WIZARD OF OZ, all horror films are rubbish, the Coen brothers are “witless”, BELLE DE JOUR and BREATHLESS “sucked” and were “unwatchable”, L’AVVENTURA is “the nearest I have ever come to pure cinematic agony”… no wait, that one’s fair enough. Despite his obsession with STALKER he hated Tarkovsky’s follow-up NOSTALGHIA (1983) so much that he has never seen his final film THE SACRIFICE (1986). I thought I’d seen STALKER a fair few times but apparently not really because, according to Dyer, to watch it on a television is “a crime again nature”. I see that last month in New York Dyer presided over a screening of the film which was interrupted every few minutes for a conversation amongst Dyer and the panel, something I’d balk at far more than the idea of watching it on television. However the little stories he throws up about Tarkovsky and his approach to filmmaking are gold, and when he tones down the self-satisfaction a touch and isn’t going out of his way to be arch his insights on STALKER are thought-provoking and frequently very funny.