Alexander Gordon

Student Years

Alexander Gordon was a VGIK co-student, friend, and eventually also brother-in-law, of Andrei Tarkovsky's. The following are a few excerpts from his article Student Years, which was written for the publication About Andrei Tarkovsky, Memoirs and Biographies, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1990 ISBN 5-01-001973-6.

On The Killers
Because our institute didn't have enough equipment, the students had to work on films in twos and threes. The two of us asked a fellow student, Marika Beiku, to work with us. We chose her because she was kind and easy going. The story of how we shot Hemingway's The Killers is a simple one. In the spring Romm told us what we would have to do — shoot only indoors, use just a small group of actors and base the story on some dramatic event. It was Tarkovsky's idea to produce The Killers. The parts were to be played by fellow students — Nick Adams by Yuli Fait, Ole Anderson the former boxer, of course, by Vasily Shukshin. The murderers were Valentin Vinogradov, a directing student, and Boris Novikov, an acting student. I played the cafe owner.

The institute had very few props. We brought everything from home, from relatives and friends. I remember Andrei brought a round wall clock and his grandmother's small case for Shukshin. In the institute studio we fixed up an American bar (something that was regarded as the symbol of depravity) with bottles that bore foreign labels. It was a major event in the institute; students came to the set on guided tours.

We divided the story into three parts. I was in charge of the scene with the boxer Shukshin. The main scene in the cafe where the murderers, who were wearing black coats, hats and gloves, waited for their victim. Andrei and Marika did that, but Andrei was definitely in charge. Tarkovsky was serious about his work, but jolly at the same time. He gave the camera students, Alvarez and Rybin, plenty of time to do the lighting well. He created long pauses, generated lots of tension in those pauses, and demanded that the actors be natural. There was no music, just talking and the whistling of one of the bar custmers, played by Andrei himself.

Romm praised the film. And our fellow students liked it too.

On Mikhail Romm
From the very outset we never ceased to be amazed by Romm. In the beginning he shocked us with the statement that a student can't be taught to be a director! A person can be taught to stage a scene, edit and learn the basic laws and methods of cinematography, but this is not what's most important. Romm said that his main job was to help us think or at least not hinder us. At that moment Andrei's face expressed deepest satisfaction.

Romm later wrote: "A class consists of about fifteen students, future directors or actors. A good teacher, an experienced one, knows that everything will be all right if two or three of the students are particularly talented. The teacher essentially may not have to teach at all. The students will teach each other and learn on their own. If there is a group of good students who define the direction of the class, its essence and system of thinking, the entire level will rise enormously... Shukshin and Tarkovsky, who were exact opposites [...], worked side by side and this was very useful to the whole class. It made things exciting and contradictory. And very many gifted people gathered around them."

Mikhail Romm, Selected Works, in three volumes, Vol 2, Iskusstvo Publishers, Moscow 1981.

On Divine Intervention, or Not...
[Circa 1955:] The summers in Tarusa were wonderful. [...] We sat for a long time by the fire, baked potatoes and talked. Andrei knew just how to do a campfire, and chopped tree branches for beds. We went to sleep late, when it was completely dark. Marina was easily frightened; whe imagined all sorts of horrors. [...] The wind was howling, the trees rustled and branches made crackling sounds. It was mysticism to say the least! And in the morning we laughed over our night fears. That night Andrei told us about something that had happened to him when he was on a geological expedition in 1953. He was laying in a hunter's hut all alone one windy night like that one; the trees were rustling and a storm was coming. Suddenly he heard someone say "Get out of here!" It was a clear quiet voice; Andrei didn't move a muscle. Then he heard it again: "Get out of here!" Andrei ran out of the hut, wether in response to the command, either out of fear, or for some other reason he couldn't explain himself. Right then an enormous larch cracked like a match by a powerful gust of wind, fell on the hut right over the place where he had been lying just a minute before... Although we were full of anxiety that night we were skeptical about his story. Andrei kept insisting that it really had happened to him. He was smart enough, though, not to argue with us confirmed materialists, so we changed the subject,

On the Small, but Significant
He was not interested in the world of the known and repeated truths. Sometimes he was literally shaken by his insight into the future, the unexplored. He was intuitively drawn to this, attracted by it... He could see something interesting and deep in small things, in the insignificant manifestation of existence. Once late at night we were walking to his house. We walked along the sidewalk, past the trees, and the street lights played a game of shadows and lights. The shadows from the branches and our bodies appeared in front of us, circling around our feet like a carousel, vanishing behind us and once again appearing before us. This feeling of extacy with our youth, with life itself, this bewitching expression of the moment, excited Andrei. He suddenly stopped, stood quietly for a moment, then said: "You know, that's what I'll do, I'll shoot it! These step, these shadows... It's possible; I'll do it for sure!" I'll always remember him as he was then — excited and happy.
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