Maria Chugunova interviews Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky speaks about color vs. black-and-white cinema

This is an excerpt of a transcript of an interview with Tarkovsky, conducted by Maria Chugunova for To the Screen, 12 December 1966. In the following excerpt he speaks about color vs. black-and-white film, Andrei Rublov, Antonioni, and Kurosawa. See this page for additional comments on usage of color in cinema. Reference: The first English translation of this interview (in its entirety) appears as an Appendix in Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970-1986, Seagull Books Private Limited, Calcutta, 1991, pp. 356-358. ISBN 817046083-2. English translation by Kitty Hunter-Blair.

What is your view of colour?

At the moment, I don't think colour film is anything more than a commercial gimmick. I don't know a single film that uses colour well. In any colour film the graphics impinge on one's perception of the events. In everyday life we seldom pay any special attention to colour. When we watch something going on we don't notice colour. A black-and-white film immediately creates the impression that your attention is concentrated on what is most important. On the screen colour imposes itself on you, whereas in real life that only happens at odd moments, so it's not right for the audience to be constantly aware of colour. Isolated details can be in colour if that is what corresponds to the state of the character on the screen. In real life the line that separates unawareness of colour from the moment when you start to notice it is quite imperceptible. Our unbroken, evenly paced flow of attention will suddenly be concentrated on some specific detail. A similar effect is achieved in a film when coloured shots are inserted into black-and-white.

Colour film as a concept uses the aesthetic principles of painting, or colour photography. As soon as you have a coloured picture in the frame it becomes a moving painting. It's all too beautiful, and unlike life. What you see in cinema is a coloured, painted plane, a composition on a plane. In a black-and-white film there is no feeling of something extraneous going on, the audience can watch the film without being distracted from the action by colour. From the moment it was born, cinema has been developing not according to its vocation, but according to purely commercial ideas. That started when they began making endless film versions of classics.

What about Antonioni?

The Red Desert is the worst of his films after Il Grido. The colour is pretentious, quite unlike Antonioni usually, and the editing is subservient to the idea of colour. It could have been a superb film, tremendously powerful, if only it had been in black-and-white. If The Red Desert had been in black-and-white, Antonioni wouldn't have got high on pictorial aesthetics, he wouldn't have been so concerned with the pictorial side of the film, he wouldn't have shot those beautiful landscapes, or Monica Vitti's red hair against the mists. He would have been concentrating on the action instead of making pretty pictures. In my view the colour has killed the feeling of truth. If you compare The Red Desert to La Notte or L'Eclisse it's obvious how much less good it is.

What about colour in your own film?

We only used it in Rublov's paintings.

What would you say about the transition from black-and-white to colour?

I think it's well done. It's not too obvious.

Just now you mentioned film versions of the Classics. You're very fond of Dostoievsky, and have written about him a lot. Would you like to make a film of any of his novels?

Yes, I should like to make a film of Crime and Punishment, and of The Possessed. But I wouldn't touch The Brothers Karamazov. The novel achieves its effect through a mass of detail, and a confused, cumbersome composition.

What do you think, have there ever been any successful screen versions of Dostoievsky?


What about Kurosawa?

His Idiot is a wonderful film. Setting the film at the present time and on his own national soil makes a very interesting film version. It's on quite a different principle, and actually very exciting. Imagine making Electra in a modern setting...

If you were to screen Dostoievsky, would you give it a contemporary setting?

No, I would definitely set it in its own period, but I would write a completely new screenplay. I would probably include in the action the things that Dostoievsky puts into his extraordinary profound descriptions. They are almost the most important thing, they carry the weight of the whole idea of the book.

Could you explain why everyone in this country is so keen on film versions of books?

It's because they have no ideas of their own. And of course it's not easy to make a film with a modern plot. If you stand for the truth, then you have to speak the truth. And if you do that it's not always going to please everyone. So directors turn to adaptations. The ideas are already in the prose, and the plot has been constructed.

What was the reason for the differences between the screenplay for Rublov and the shooting script?

There were various reasons. In the first place the original version was not particularly good, in the second place it was too long, even in the Director's Version, and therefore it had to be adapted while work was going on. For instance the scene of the swan hunt, which was the first one I cut, was pretentious, it was too "ancient Russian," it had nothing to do with the central idea.

Your film is said to be too cruel and depressing.

I don't find it so. I should say it was truthful. Anyhow, I was trying to make it express what we feel about the age of Rublov.  end block

back navigation
[ Top ] [ Links ] [ Bibliography ] [ Documentaries ] [ Graphics ] [ Photos ] [ Diaries/Memoirs ] [ Topics ] [ News ] [ Home ]