Quotes from "Sculpting in Time" by Andrey Tarkovsky

On poetic logic in films –

I find poetic links, the logic of poetry in cinema, extraordinarily pleasing. They seem to me perfectly appropriate to the potential of cinema as the most truthful and poetic of art forms. Certainly I am more at home with them than with traditional theatrical writing which links images through the linear, rigidly logical development of the plot. That sort of fussily correct way of linking events usually involves arbitrarily forcing them into sequence in obedience to some abstract notion of order. And even when this is not so, even when the plot is governed by the characters, one finds that the links which hold it together rest on a facile interpretation of life’s complexities.

But film material can be joined together in another way, which works above all to lay open the logic of a person’s thought. This is the rationale that will dictate the sequence of events, and the editing which forms them into a whole. The birth and development of thought are subject to laws of their own, and sometimes demand forms of expression which are quite different from the patterns of logical speculation. In my view poetic reasoning is closer to the laws by which thought develops, and thus to life itself, than is the logic of traditional drama. And yet it is the methods of classical drama which have been regarded as the only models, and which for years have defined the form in which dramatic conflict is expressed.

Through poetic connections feeling is heightened and the spectator is made more active. He becomes a participant in the process of discovering life, unsupported by ready-made deductions from the plot or ineluctable pointers by the author. He has at his disposal only what helps to penetrate to the deeper meaning of the complex phenomena represented in front of him. Complexities of thought and poetic visions of the world do not have to be thrust into the framework of the patently obvious. The usual logic, that of linear sequentiality, is uncomfortably like the proof of a geometry theorem. As a method it is incomparably less fruitful artistically than the possibilities opened up by associative linking, which allows for an affective as well as a rational appraisal. And how wrong it is that the cinema makes so little use of the latter mode, which has so much to offer. It possesses an inner power which is concentrated within the image and comes across s to the audience in the form of feelings, inducing tension in direct response to the author’s narrative logic.

Think of Mandelstam, think of Pasternak, Chaplin, Dovzhenko, Mizoguchi, and you’ll realise what tremendous emotional power is carried by these exalted figures who soar above the earth, in whom the artist appears not just as an explorer of life, but as one who creates great spiritual treasures and that special beauty which is subject only to poetry. Such an artist can discern the lines of the poetic design of being. He is capable of going beyond the limitations of coherent logic, and conveying the deep complexity and truth of the impalpable connections and hidden phenomena of life.

Without such perception, even a work that purports to be true to life will seem artificially uniform and simplistic. An artist may achieve an outward illusion, a life-like effect, but that is not at all the same as examining life beneath the surface. I think in fact that unless there is an organic link between the subjective impressions of the author and his objective representation of reality, he will not achieve even superficial credibility, let alone authenticity and inner truth.

You can play a scene with documentary precision, dress the characters correctly to the point of naturalism, have all the details exactly like real life, and the picture that emerges in consequence will still be nowhere near reality, it will seem utterly artificial, that is, not faithful to life, even though artificiality was precisely what the author was trying to avoid.

Masterpieces are born of the artist’s struggle to express his ethical ideals. Indeed, his concepts and his sensibilities are informed by those ideals. If he loves life, has an overwhelming need to know it, change it, try to make it better – in short, if he aims to cooperate in enhancing the value of life, then there is no danger in the fact that the picture of reality will have passed through a filter of his subjective concepts, through his states of mind. For his work will always be a spiritual endeavour which aspires to make man more perfect: an image of the world that captivates us by its harmony of feeling and thought, its nobility and restraint. As I see it then, if you stand on firm moral ground there is no need to shy away from greater freedom in your choice of means. Moreover, that freedom need not necessarily be restricted to a clear plan which obliges you to choose between certain methods. You also have to be able to trust solutions which present themselves spontaneously.

There are some aspects of human life that can only be faithfully represented through poetry. But this is where directors very often try to use clumsy, conventional gimmickry instead of poetic logic. I’m thinking of the illusionism and extraordinary effects involved in dreams, memories and fantasies. All too often film dreams are made into a collection of old-fashioned filmic tricks, and cease to be a phenomenon of life.


Thanks for sharing.

I have ever only watched two Tarkovsky films (Ivan’s Childhood, and maybe half of Solaris?)

This gave me a new appreciation of Ivan’s Childhood. The first time I watched it, I was 17 or so, and I was immensely confused. Some parts of that movie were more like a feverish dream rather than a story.

Rethinking this, I have come to see that Tarkovsky probably wasn’t trying to tell a story at that point. Rather than mechanically narrating whatever happened to Ivan during the war, he was more intent on describing the ravaged inner world of a teenager: fear, longing of his family, reminiscence of the peaceful past, and above all, hatred, intense burning hatred against the Germans. This hatred had become his sole purpose in life.

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