Gonzalo Blasco

An Interview with Marina Tarkovskaia and Alexander Gordon

The following brief interview with Marina Tarkovskaia and Alexander Gordon was conducted on the morning of November 10, 2003 in Zaragoza, Spain, by Gonzalo Blasco. The interview is © www.andreitarkovski.org, and is reproduced here in English translation with their kind permission. Questions had been selected and agreed upon ahead of time by Gonzalo Blasco of andreitarkovski.org and Trond Trondsen of nostalghia.com. The interview was translated into English by Trond and Gonzalo based on the original Spanish transcript, which is located here. All photos on this page are © Gonzalo Blasco. Further photos and articles from Marina and Alexandr's visit to Spain may be found here, on andreitarkovski.org [Spanish].

Gonzalo Blasco: Is it true that Tarkovski's editor, Lyudmila Feiginova, secretly kept a print of the first cut of Andrei Rublov — containing the scenes censored by Soviet officials — in her home, under her bed?

Marina Tarkovskaia: Yes, that is correct. Feiginova was a woman who was very dedicated to her work, and she admired Andrei very much. After the first screening of Andrei Rublov, which was seen by only a few privileged people, they were ordered to trim the film, and so they did. The film was reduced from the 205 original minutes down to three hours. She decided — entirely on her own — to take care of the original print, which didn't see the light of day until 1988 when the film was finally screened again.

Did she expose herself to danger by keeping that material.... in the Soviet era?

MT: No, it did not pose any particular danger. Nobody knew about it, and nobody would have cared anyway. Feiginova was a highly professional — and very interesting — person. While working on the films of Tarkovski she would often suggest significant changes during the editing of the film. For example, in Mirror, Feiginova was the one who proposed that the scene with the stutterer should open the film. That scene was based on a memory Andrei had from the house of his mother; it was something he had watched on TV. The scene was originally intended for the middle of the film, but Feiginova suggested that it should be the opening scene of Mirror — and Andrei agreed. Another scene which Feignova rearranged was that of the monologue of Stalker's wife. This scene takes place in the bar, and it's intended place in the film was just after the chat of the three protagonists, before taking off for the Zone. Feiginova however suggested that it would be more interesting if the scene appeared at the very end, after Stalker's return. To Andrei this did not seem appropriate at first, since the scene had been shot in the bar, with interiors different from those of Stalker's house. Feiginova responded: "Nobody will notice that it was shot elsewhere, because they will all be intently concentrating on the actress," and true enough: nobody notices this little detail unless it is pointed out to them, as [Alissa Freindlikh's] performance is so utterly captivating.

There is great interest among Tarkovski fans in a script called Konsentrat (a.k.a. Extract), about whether or not it was actually shot during the VGIK years. Was it just a script, and nothing more? How did it come into being? Were any parts of the script ever realized on film?

MT: It was not exactly a script, it was more like a short story. It is an essay Andrei wrote during the VGIK entrance examination. It was written in a single sitting, and consists of six hand-written pages. For this work, Andrei was awarded the highest grade, a "5". The story is based on his experiences during his trip to Siberia in the summer of 1953. Andrei worked as an assistant with a scientific expedition that was sent to Siberia by the Gold Institute of Moscow... though the real intention of the expedition was not to search for gold, but rather to search for diamonds... natural diamonds for industrial use, as these were in high demand by the USSR. The story was called Konsentrat, because in the process of analyzing rocks, a procedure had to be followed in which rocks were "concentrated" four times in order to analyze its content. The expedition was surrounded by great mystery, it was considered a state secret. But the story was never shot — it was never produced for the screen. Many years later, I and Alexander wrote a script for the film studio of Moscow (Sverdlovsk, now Yekaterinburg) for the production of a documentary. In the script for this documentary, we actually incorporated some sequences from Andrei's Konsentrat. I and Alexander worked very hard on this, and presented to the producers an extensive script, but, nevertheless the producers of the film chose to use a very stripped-down version of our work, and they did not show us the finished film prior to its premiere. At that point we decided that we did not want our name in the end credits of the documentary. The film was a documentary, and it contained a wide range of material, including the fragments based on Andrei's Konsentrat.

What is the title of this documentary, and in what year was it made?

MT: It is called Andrei Tarkovski's Taiga Summer, and it was completed in 1995, or perhaps it was 1993. The documentary was shot on celluloid, not on video.

Is it true that there was a huge fire at the VGIK which destroyed some film material shot by Andrei Tarkovski,... such as the short There Will be no Leave Today?

Alexander Gordon: No, that must be false. There never was a fire at the VGIK, as far as I am aware. But I can imagine how such rumours may have started spreading. The Central Television, as it was called at the time, once in a while cleaned out its archives. Back in the 1970s, and prior to that, works like There Will be no Leave Today were generally considered to be of very little importance, mere didactic works, and films like that were routinely purged from the archives. When the name of Tarkovski eventually became more recognized, there was great regret over the fact that his student short had not been preserved. But, miraculously, the original negative had actually survived! The negative came to light about five or seven years ago — some time between 1995 and 1997 — when a retrospective of the works of Andrei was to be held by the Museum of Cinema in Moscow. The director of the Museum, Naum Kleinman, put a huge effort into investigating the matter, and actually managed to locate the negative! It was a negative of good quality, and they struck a new print for that retrospective.

Is there a similar story associated with The Killers?

AG: No, VGIK had kept a copy of The Killers. But only a positive had been conserved, not the original material...

MT: ... the original negative had been destroyed. Though, for years pirate copies of the film circulated on video cassette abroad, most likely out of France. The origin of that material is not known.

Does there exists surviving footage from the first version of Stalker?

MT: No, I don't think so. Feiginova, who handled the editing, may very well have saved some material, which later got transferred to Gosfilmofond, but I do not know for certain. Perhaps some fragments were conserved. In any case, the second version of the film was better.

How much was Tarkovski influenced by the classic Japanese directors, such as Mizoguchi?

AG: Tarkovski, from the beginning, while in the cinema academy, showed great interest in everything that was being screened in the cinemas of Moscow. It so happened that at the time several very interesting Japanese films were being screened in Moscow, by directors such as Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, and other less familiar names. These directors seemed to Andrei to be very original, at least in form of expression. For example, in some scenes negative images were used, something Tarkovski did shortly thereafter, in Ivan's Childhood. It was not mere imitation, but rather a living interest in anything new that emerged from the outside. We were in a group which was very interested in Italian cinema, in the films of Giussepe de Santis, Vittorio de Sica... and everything that constituted the Italian neo-realism.

There Will be no Leave Today is a film very different from other films Tarkovski has done... Please tell us more about it. Who did what?

AG: This is important History... perhaps in my memory it occupies 15 or 20 pages, though I will give you only a brief review. With respect to the contribution done by the two directors — I and Andrei — I believe that Andrei contributed the majority. We wrote the script together right at the start. There was an additional scriptwriter, who was subsequently replaced by another group of scriptwriters. Collaboration was very good during this first stage. During the second stage, Andrei finished up the script, with the scenes in the hospital and the story of the volunteer who detonates the bomb — these ideas were Andrei's. It was a jovial atmosphere, we discussed the scenes in the evening. The main storyline was created in the beginning, when we wrote the script, and no great changes were made to it. It was very easy work. Some difficulties did arise, such as when we had to obtain the light tank for the soldiers, or troops to help close off the place of the shooting of the film, etc... The students of VGIK participated, although the main role was interpreted by a very famous actor, Oleg Burisov.

In what city was There Will be no Leave Today shot?

AG: It was shot in Kursk. The actors were people from the provinces, who happily worked without receiving any money — they just appreciated the chance to appear in a film. The shooting lasted for three months, and the editing took an additional three months. We received strong support from the Army, who helped us constantly along the way.

There Will be no Leave Today is a film with a great budget,... there are scenes with dozens of extras, many actors, historically accurate clothing, and so on. How can a school have such great resources at its disposal?

AG: The film was a co-production between the VGIK and the official television: the VGIK contributed equipment and a small budget, but the Television organization pumped much money into the production. All those means were transformed into which we see in the final product, on the screen. This film was no more than a propaganda film, intended to be aired on television on the anniversary day of the WWII victory over the Germans. At the time, there was only one TV station and it would often screen propaganda material on the greatnesses of the USSR. This particular film was broadcast on TV for at least three consecutive years. But this did not make the film particularly famous, because you could see films like that on TV all day, at the time.

Andrei elected to use very conventional music in this film, while in his subsequent films he gave much more attention to the soundtrack...

AG: At that time, it was very common to contract a composer to write music for a specific film. We recognized that the music was not original, but Andrei wasn't too concerned about that. He subsequently began contracting composers to do original pieces for him, until Solaris, at which point he began to make use of music by the great classic composers.

There Will be no Leave Today is a very "conventional" film — were you and Andrei in any way forced to accept the script?

AG: No, the script was made entirely by us. VGIK proposed that we make a practice-film intended for TV audiences, a propaganda piece on the victory of the USSR over the Germans, and so on... And we just chose an easy, uncomplicated script. We did not set out to do a masterpiece, our focus was on learning the elementaries of filmmaking, through making a film that was relatively uncomplicated and also easy for the people to consume. Andrei was happy with this. He had no problems with this approach. end block

Marina and Sasha in Park GŁell, Barcelona, Spain, November 2003

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