Saturday, 10 February 2007

Tarkovsky and Time

Watching many films which use slow motion for effect gives rise to the question of time in film making. Tarkovsky seemed to be able to create time in his films, to slowdown time, speed up time and play with the concept of time in general exploring its dimensions character through the lens of the camera and its relationship to the speed of the film. Tarkovsky does use slow motion in his films but even then it is not noticeable as an effect or something which is artificially induced in the process of editing.

One example of this characteristic is particularly evident in the film Andrie Rublev. In the scene after the taking of Vladimir there is a lull in the action. A group of soldiers are battering down the door of the cathedral where the local population have taken refuge. The sound of the ramming is a set beat repeated over and over again. The two princes, Russian and Tartar are patiently waiting almost unconcerned with the proceedings sitting on their horses who also seem to be waiting patiently, resting so to speak. The repose of the riders and the horses contrasts with the rhythmic beat of the battering ram. The whole effect creates a sensation of two strands of time operating simultaneously. When the doors of the cathedral are finally breached, the two princes and soldiers burst through the open doors and the two time strands are united with their combined action, that is the entrance into the cathedral.

This episode marks the beginning of a kind of fall of civilisation and is followed, historically, by a period of desolation in Russia and to some extent, if I remember rightly it marks a period of desolation in Andrie Rublev's artistic and spiritual state, which for Russian icon painters are one and the same thing. The spiritual and the artistic are combined in the activity of painting icons. This period of desolation ends in Russia and in the film and for Andrei Rublev, with the final scene of the tolling of a huge bell which has been cast by a young boy whose father, the master bell maker was killed in the preceding upheaval. The scene is fraught with tension as there is no guarantee that the bell will ring true as the secret of casting the bell may have been lost with the death of the boy's father. Two of the workers start to swing the hammer which creaks with the rhythmic swinging creating a beat which seems to echo (in my mind) the rhythm of the pounding of the cathedral doors which I just mentioned above. As the hammer approaches closer to the side of the bell, the tension and anticipation increases until suddenly we are released and from this state with the relief and joy of the first deep peal of the bell which resonates around the waiting crowds. Its supposed to be, I believe, for Tarkovsky a moment of renewal and transformation in the film. Once again two strands of time which are identified in the rhythm of the battering ram and the rhythm of the bell being tolled are organically unified in the overall structure of the film. The moment of the first sound of the bell is similar to the moment when the doors of the cathedral are breached. The circle has been closed and there is a spiritual restoration with the pealing of the bell. The rhythm of the battering ram and the scene with the bell and the consequent transformation of the scene to a new rhythmic and visual structure are mirrored in each other which unifies the opposition of their content.

The bell scene is almost identical to a scene in Ridley Scott's film about Christopher Columbus. He uses the scene to mark I presume the establishment of civilisation in the New World, However it appears to be added into the film seemingly with little or no purpose other than a good scene. The fact that the church is destroyed later in a storm adds little to the significance of the scenes inclusion in the film. Incidentally the writer of Andrei Rublev, Director Andrie Konchalovsky, appeared on a Russian TV programme and was quite critical of Ridley Scott albeit in a different context. I wonder if the two are connected and if Konchalovsky had the bell ringing scene in the back of his mind when he made his comments.