Andrei Tarkovsky's Martyrolog on...

The Witch

The published screenplays are all combined 'Witch/Sacrifice' versions. But what about 'The Witch' as such? Did it ever exist in a somewhat complete version? We tried tracing this story in the 'unabridged' Martyrolog, a task made much easier thanks to Dr. Kuśmierczyk's extensive crossreferences index, and here is what we came up with. Andrei writes about 'The Witch' almost in a 'stream of consciousness' manner, just putting on paper fragments of ideas — he, and the Strugatskys, knew very well what it was all about... but to us it all looks a bit confusing, and quite exciting too! Larissa Tarkovskaya in the documentary Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky provides a very quick summary: on his birthday the Professor is told by his friend, the Doctor, that he has an incurable cancer. On the advice of the insane Otto the Professor visits a witch which cures him. From the Polish edition of Martyrolog, ed. and trans. by Seweryn Kuśmierczyk. Retranslation by Jan at Nostalghia.com.

Layla Alexander writes: "My friendship with Andrei began in Rome, when he was shooting Nostalghia. We met several times there. I remember very well the first meeting on May 21, 1982. [...] On that spring day we spoke a lot about sorcery. Andrei introduced me to his Italian colleague as la strega, sorceress or witch. When I protested that I didn't want to be either witch or sorceress, he asked in surprise what I had against witches? Didn't I know that the Russian word for witch, vedma, came from the verb vedat: to know. [...] The film The Sacrifice was initially to be called The Witch. But there was already a film with such a title, and neither in Swedish nor in English did the word originate from the verb to know, which Andrei regarded as very important." [ Reference: Layla Alexander, Secrets and Sacraments of Andrei Tarkovsky, Kino, Vol 26, No 10, 1992. The complete text can be found here ].


7 September
        [...] Subjects worth screen adaptations:
1. Kagol (about Martin Bormann's trial),
2. Physicist — dictator (different variants),
3. The House with a Tower, based on a novel by Friedrich Gorenstein,
4. Calls,
5. The Deserters,
6. Joseph and His Brothers
7. Matryona's House by Solzhenitsyn,
8. Dostoievsky,
9. A White Day. As soon as possible!
10. A Raw Youth by Dostoyevsky,
11. Joan of Arc 1970,
12.The Plague, based on Camus,
13. Two Saw the Fox


14 April
        [...] I've got seven definite ideas which I could do abroad:
1. Kagol,
2. Doctor Faustus,
3. Hamlet (film). Write a second version,
4. Hamlet (stage play),
5. Crime and Punishment,
6. The Renunciation,
7. New Joan of Arc,
8. Two Saw the Fox,
9. Joseph and His Brothers,
10. Hoffmanniana,
11. An Italian Journey.

1980  (The second extended trip to Italy to negotiate the contract for Nostalghia)

20 April, Sunday
        I spent the whole day at Tonino's.
        We attempted to watch with Lora Woody Allen's film Manhattan. I left in the middle. Monstrous boredom and a totally unglamourous actor (Woody Allen) who wants to be charming.
        I don't know why I remembered today the idea for the screenplay Two Saw the Fox.
        Perhaps at the end — having watched on television some leader's speech about the outbreak of the war — one of them commits at night suicide and then it turns out it was a film on TV, not a real war.
        I met with Luciano Tovoli. He will be available in two weeks.
        Tonino came up with an idea of shooting a series of two-, three-minute etudes staged by Tarkovsky. For example: rain or snow falling, a glass of water shattering, a shadow on the wall, etc. ...
        The eczema on my head has moved to my forehead. I have to do something about this. See a doctor?


8 May, Friday
        Visited Arkady Strugatsky. I decided not to continue our cooperation over The Witch. Arkady says he doesn't feel well, he wants to undergo treatment at some cardiological institute where they will naturally forbid him to work. I feel sorry for him but he has been bothering me for four months. He doesn't feel well but he drinks and on top of that he wants to get all the work done. Obviously he won't be able to do this.
        I was feeling ill. The stream of water again, I'm literally looking at everything through a stream of falling water. And the headache. Spasms? It has happened several times now.
        I shall write The Witch myself. A propos The Witch. Kalyagin* ought to be poor, in rags, unshaven, pitiful, and happy (nobody understands why). Marina has returned to me two of grandmother's small icons which one wears around the neck, God... what a grandmother I have!

* [Tarkovsky here uses an actor's real name as a stub. Aleksandr Kalyagin was at one time Tarkovsky's choice for the role of Otto]

11 May, Moscow
        The Witch.
        (The title isn't very fitting. I'd like to find a title without folkloristic accents, a more general one, less pseudo-Russian.)
        Must begin working with Arkady Strugatsky who pushed the idea of three authors (including Boris Strugatsky) even if he does not participate (as I understood it) in writing the screenplay. The first variant was written almost to my dictation. When I read it I was practically embarrassed to see how indiscriminately Arkady had accepted my ideas.
        Here is the result of our latest (work) meeting with Arkady: Arkady's tape recording concerning the first variant (critical remarks).
        We have the functions of the characters, we have the dramaturgy, but no characters themselves, the episodes are grandiloquent, not artistic. This could even distort the sense.
        Depths of despair: not as in Gorky but a world our hero has never seen. People he has never met and would never meet.
        The prologue: the surnames should not be Russian.

Episode 1.  Oscar — does he exist or not?
2.  Philosophy — too simplistic and too apparent. The girl who offers the hero a video recording in the first episode is a secretary in the last one. The birthday is the reason to play back the tape. The hero ought to be more refined, less democratic. Cold and keeping to himself. Ernest (?) — is an old friend. He knows Maxim's (?) character and his views. This is very significant for building up the scene of conveying the news about the illness.
3.  The conversation about death is deeper, showing the participants' characters.
4.  Marta does not seem to be a friend. The character created not so much from a sociological point of view but because to its unique traits.
5.  Depths of despair not as in Gorky, yet for Maxim an extraordinary situation.
6.  The bus is unnecessary. Let her walk, with him following her. She charms him.
7.  Imprecise answers. The world is governed by love.
        At the last meeting Kalyagin calls himself a demon of correctness, he talks about the necessity of excising the tumour of history. Immortality of humanity (art, philosophy, religion) is contained in those achievements human spirit is elevated to — it's all rubbish, speculation, falsehood. At the end of the scene paramedics show up and take Oscar away. He is a runaway from a lunatic asylum. Perhaps in this scene it turns out the new arrivals are not paramedics and doctors (just like Oscar who is not insane, simply different).
        The finale: a scene in the waiting room. They wait here. Kalyagin is here as well. Marta shows up too (they leave together). The secretary. The deputy. People come in but they do not always leave. Sometimes there are stretchers, buckets, other items of that sort.
        Have to write Arkady and ask him to work. That everything depends upon him, upon his decision. Give him a chance. Return the borrowed page.

14 June, Moscow
        Remove the scene at the bar, it is "foreign" and it didn't come out right. "Professor facing real life," its base manifestations, must be worked out differently and from a different angle.
        Work out the story of "Kalyagin." When he calls on Professor to receive the money, he should begin explaining why he is driven to help the Professor regain his health. This means not only forcing the Professor to give up relying on all the papers he authored but also an attempt by Kalyagin to say something about himself — about the holy men and the immortals, about esoteric sciences, about knowledge of people's fates, etc. Nevertheless, to say what is most important — an explanation of his role — he will be unable to do. There will be ringing of the telephone and he won't be able to escape in time. There will appear pseudodoctors and pseudoemployees of a neighbouring psychiatric hospital. There will also appear a girl among them, the same one who some time ago presented Professor with the videocassette of his speech.
        It is now made clear that the doctors are fake: when men in white overalls (or green perhaps?) take Kalyagin away, Professor notices that they did not arrive in an ambulance but, say, by taxi. Also, they all appear in the street only after they have taken off their smocks and packed them.
        In the finale on the other hand, they telephone the Professor again (Kalyagin? The girl?) and they ask him to come (to explain everything) under a certain address. Professor goes there. A waiting room: as if dentist's or law offices. Applicants are waiting. The girl — the secretary [male] — the sister (an acquaintance). A young man bringing jars and buckets positioning them in places previously occupied by patients who entered the office. The appearance of Maria. Professor and Maria look at each other. (Their last meeting ended with Professor being thrown out.) They leave the waiting room where everything could have been explained. Everything. Then Professor's farewell to the house and leaving with Maria (?). Leaving twice — that's not too good. Perhaps before the waiting room? A farewell to the house, the old way of life?
        The esoteric content is important. The title reminiscent of the name of its philosophy?
        THANATOS or THE GREAT THANATOS. No, obviously not.

3 September, Thursday, Myasnoye
        [...] Seneca. Letters to Lucilius. Letter XXX could be useful in creating the character of the Philosopher at the beginning of The Witch (the title is not right). [...]

1982  (The third trip to Italy (leaving Russia permanently), with Larissa)

26 March
        And what if the story of the impostor [female] burnt at the stake was added to The Witch? Perhaps the finale of The Witch seems so weak to me (they both happily walk away in rain) because happy end remains here unchallenged.
        And perhaps she begins to lie? From the very beginning? This is her character trait, not merely some detail important from the beginning. But I don't intend to create a story of their relationship. In one word, I have to think it over.


28 February, Rome
        I'm copying the diary entry dated 7 September, 1970.
        Films I would still like to make.
1. Kagol (about Martin Bormann's trial).
2. Two Saw the Fox.
        From the thirteen titles only one has been made: The Mirror (A White Day). The ten remaining ones dropped out as a matter of course.

2 March, Via di Monserrato
        [...] A plan for the screenplay Two Saw the Fox.
        1. The walk (poetry, nature, unconstrained rhythm).
        2. The war is announced (television, walking back home).
        3. The prayer. The promise (a conversation with God, monologue).
        4. Peace again (a miracle).
        5. The fire (he sets his house on fire, the promise).
        6. At the hospital (have I gone crazy or not? But they did announce the war!)

8 March, Tuesday, Via di Monserrato
        I sent two proposals to Stockholm: Hamlet and The Witch. (Anna-Lena Wibom has received the letter.)

7 May, Saturday, Via di Monserrato
        [...] The Witch: as the philosopher is burning the witch, he is sitting close to the fire (meditating) and feels that he himself begins to smoulder.
        The Witch: a conversation on the meaning of life. What is its basis? Everyone presents a point of view.

22 May, Via di Monserrato
        [...] I signed a contract with Anna-Lena Wibom for The Witch. [...]

28 June, Thursday, San Gregorio
        Have to make a plan for The Sacrifice. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to put the two concepts together: The Witch and The Sacrifice, taking best bits from both? But then the whole thing would be too long. I'm tempted to make a short film, 1 hour and 40–50 minutes.

11 August, San Gregorio
        [...] The Witch, i.e. The Sacrifice.
        Son who is forbidden to speak — he has just had an operation of his vocal cords — at the end says something very important defending his father (tradition) and having encountered revolutionary ideas of stupid young people, he imparts a spiritual justification for the necessity of those ideas by connecting with tradition.
        He offers a new point of departure: renunciation of violence, return to the roots, harmony, unity. Against the evolutionary idea (Mandelstam). Unity with true harmony, its understanding.
        A new awareness. Rejection of by-products of the impressions of others, searching for one's own path (Castaneda).

  Hieratic, that is holy nature of poetry is based on the conviction that man is the foundation of all other things in the world.

  The spiritual constitution of a poet disposes towards catastrophism... the culture of poetry is created by the desire to prevent catastrophe...

14 August, San Gregorio
        I prepared a new plan for The Witch (The Sacrifice).
        1. A bad dream.
        2. The birthday and the cassette with the speech.
        3. The father and the son.
        4. The walk.
        5. The war begins.
        6. Night. The prayer. (The promise: never to lie). The phone rings. (Who is calling?)
        7. The witch. The vow of honesty.
        8. The morning without the war. (The philosopher goes home).
        9. The philosopher runs away from home (the son) to the witch.
        10. The witch tells a lie.
        11. Auto-da-fé
        12. Finale. The father tells his son everything and he understands. Forgiveness.
        Long. For now everything is exact.
        How much I would like to make a film of seven episodes maximum: 1 hour 30 — 1 hour 50 minutes.

17 August, San Gregorio
        [...] The Witch:
        Give an example of a logical train of thought representing a convincing argument. Show three contradictory conclusions. Prove sensibility and demagogy of logical construct which is an intellectual game unable to direct man's actions in a historic and social sense. Three monologues.

"Only then do we set ourselves free from external opression, when we set ourselves free from internal slavery" — Berdyayev

20 November, Sunday, San Gregorio
        [...] The Sacrifice.
        The latest plan (August 14) was very heavy-handed, it was put together for no reason. Perhaps like this then:

1.  A walk with his son.
The son is seven years old. His throat is bandaged: his tonsils have been removed recently. That's why the conversation is not so much a dialogue but a monologue. Express their love for one another.
2.  A TV appearance by the head of state.
A war broke out. Atom bombs will soon be dropped.
Birthday. (Whose? — the father's or the son's?). A celebration that didn't happen.
The guests. The panic.
3.  The prayer.
Professor is praying. He is ready to sacrifice even the love for his son, he is ready to burn down his house. He drinks a full glass of alcohol. The telephone.
A conversation about "the witch."
4.  The witch.
"Love." In the morning Professor comes back home.
5.  The morning without the war.
Professor tells his friend everything. (Who conveys it to Professor's wife who was worried abour her husband's condition.)
6.  The ambulance.
Professor understands he has to fulfil the promise given to God. He sets his house on fire. The ambulance arrives and takes him to the hospital. Am I right? (Professor is thinking). Who is he — a madman who dreamt up the end of the world — or the world's saviour, someone who attained this honour. Finally Professor's gaze meets his son's. His son shouts something to him. Professor is taken away in the ambulance.
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