“Offbeat” Artist of the Month: Andrei Tarkovsky
When we think of artists, we tend to think of painters and sculptors. People who create stationary creations out of limited materials. Google’s definition of “art” is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” Notably, the examples of art are paintings or sculptures. However, there are many artists who defy this assumption — one of those types being filmmakers. Films certainly fit the definition of “art”, being the expression/application of human creative skill and imagination that produce extreme beauty or emotional power. This definition fits especially so with the widely influential and trail-blazing Andrei Tarkovsky.
In 1932, Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky was born in the village of Zavrazhye in Ivanovo Oblast to Arseny Tarkovsky, a famous Russian poet, and Maria Vishnyakova, a proof-reader. Andrei deeply adored his father and was heavily influenced by him, his later films even including his father’s poetry. However, when Tarkovsky was four his parents separated and his father left the family. He would go on to remarry twice while his mother never remarried again. The split profoundly impacted Tarkovsky, and he would later heavily touch on it in his possibly most famous film Mirror (1975).
Maria wanted her son to be educated in the arts, an interest that Tarkovsky prospered in — despite his regular rebellion against his mother (and deep affinity for his infrequently present father). He routinely attended music school and art classes while growing up in Moscow. This thorough education in the arts would give him a deep sense of creativity and introspection. Most of all, he was attracted to poetry — his future films often mimicking the visual imagery and experimental nature of that type of writing style. It should be noted that he was raised in a primarily women-run household, living with his mother, grandmother, and sister, all the while his father was primarily absent. This is important due to Tarkovsky’s notable treatment and handling of the female characters in his movies, which many have discussed.
In 1951, he graduated high school and entered the Institute for Oriental Studies in Moscow to study Arabic. He dropped out by his second year, either due to apathy or health reasons. Regardless, Tarkovsky then went on a research expedition to the river Kureikye near Turukhansk in the Krasnoyarsk Province. It was during this trip that Tarkovsky made the radical decision to pursue film.
In 1954, he applied to the highly prestigious the State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK). Due to its esteemed reputation, admittance was extremely competitive. Tarkovsky managed to pass the entrance exam, being 1 of 15 students out of 500 applicants to be accepted. There, he was taught under noted film director Mikhail Romm. It was here that he truly found his passion and creative drive. Tarkovsky was heavily influenced by French New Wave and Italian Neorealist, and became a huge lover of filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Luis Bunuel, Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman and Alain Resnais. He was so enamored with these directors that he’s even quoted as saying, “I am only interested in the views of two people: one is called Bresson and one called Bergman.”
After graduating from VGIK, Tarkovsky would go on to make profound and visually stunning films, such as Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Solaris (1972), Mirror (1975), and Stalker (1979). He was a major success within the film scene, earning the admiration of some of his biggest heroes such as Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa. The former director even had this to say about Tarkovsky’s output: “My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle… Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”
Tarkovsky’s influence can be seen not only in film as a whole but in many modern day directors that have achieved great success themselves, such as Lars Von Trier to Krzysztof Kieslowski. Far Out Magazine described how Tarkovsky “showed the world how it was possible to turn the visual narrative of cinema into true poetry. Throughout his life, he tried to come to terms with questions of time, space, human existence and metaphysical paradoxes. His films are the manifestation of his anxieties, swirling in beautiful patterns across the screen while overwhelming the audience with complete mastery.”
Truly, Tarkovsky’s output is an esoteric experience that can’t be properly described due to their penetrating atmospheres and heavy moods. The best way to properly understand him is to sit down and watch one of his fabulous films!