Working with Andrei on Stalker
Shavkat and Andrei, friends for more than 20 years, did not work
together for long on this project. Shavkat left Stalker for
personal reasons after only a brief period. Their cooperation on
Stalker is little more than a footnote in film history, but
we think the below may be of interest to some of our readers.
The following is an excerpt from:
Shavkat Abdusalamov, Feedbeck Effects, translated by Sergei Sossinsky.
Published in About Andrei Tarkovsky, Memoirs and Biographies, Progress
Publishers, Moscow 1990. ISBN 5-01-001973-6 (also available in Russian, see this
site's Bibliography section).
It was the summer of 1977. I received a telegram in Tarusa:
TELEPHONE STOP TARKOVSKY OFFERS WORK STOP LEONID KALASHNIKOV
I called to learn the details. I abandoned wife, daughter, Oka River,
Valley of Dreams, Boris-Musatov, Marina Tsvetayeva - everything I had
lived with that summer in Tarusa. I went to Tallinn with Leonid. I
had already worked with Kalashnikov on Klimov's Agony. Andrei
came to us in the hotel. We went down to the cafe, drank brandy at
someone's expense and talked. Andrei seemed to be recovering. He had
failed both with Rerberg and with Boim. They had parted. It happens,
not only in the cinema. He was not sorry about the designer, but with
Georgi Rerberg he had made The Mirror. It was late, we were
being turned out of the cafe. And we had only just reached emotional
"Finally, I've found a designer!"
"What prevented you from doing it earlier?"
"Your whim," he replied.
I had been unfair: He had invited me to do Solaris but
together with Mikhail Romadin. I had refused: "There should be only
one designer," I had said then.
Andrei never forgave mistakes. It was my refusal that he called a
whim. He remembered it. He could hold a grudge for a long time, and
sometimes he would threaten you. But there was something childish in
it. He never took revenge on anyone. He took everything with him,
like a man.
Next morning the three of us went forty kilometers away from Tallinn.
What we saw there was an old dilapidated electric plant, a river
polluted by chemical waste, tanks covered with reddish-green spots of
rust and scrap metal strewn all over the place, mostly from airplanes.
"They tried hard," said Kalashnikov vaguely.
"Boim," Andrei smirked. "You're friends?"
I didn't answer, Andrei was being unfair. Boim was simply not his
most precise choice, as was also the case later with Knyazhinsky. It
was not difficult to guess what their basic error was. It was
unrelatedness. Everything was overdone, but actually seemed
insufficient to the eye. Andrei demanded more. The picture showed
the technical victim, and not a drop of the human. One felt no pity
for the damaged gun, one felt sorry for the people who had died. And
the latter was absent. And Andrei agreed with me. All my work was
reduced to removing the superficial. A lot proved to be superficial.
Then I repainted the hangar, made it match the landscape in tone, and
made gates with barbed wire. The latter was outside the Zone. I
modeled an old bus with the the "driver" immobilized at the wheel. I
recall having suggested to make a bus out of transparent plastic as if
it were being X-rayed. Andrei was carried away by the idea. Later it
turned out that to implement the idea it was necessary to apply, at
the very least, to the top echelons of the Defense Ministry. In the
end we began to set up still life on the ground by centimeter. It was
a sort of self consolation. You can see it in the film. I remember
him powdering the bush leaves in the foreground with bronze. He was
doing it with the selflessness of a child. The camera remained idle,
I remained idle and the actors were idle. I don't remember him
working in some special way with the actors. He simply made them do
the same thing over and over again. Most often it ended with the
shooting being called off.
We did not work together for long...
At the time I was painting a picture, I had envisaged it for a long
time. It was of small size, but it is a breakthrough, and I owe the
breakthrough to a premonition of Andrei's death. [...] The picture
shows a stripling with a cup in his hand, above him is an horizontally
outspread figure, it is flattened, as if existing in another
dimension. The stripling is bald - physical vulnerability,
spontaneity and openness. Andrei likes those first pictures of mine
for the same reason. It was from them that he modeled his Stalker.
He had been approaching that personage for a very long time. What I
derived from my wildness he took from culture.
At four Andrei learned to read, at eleven-twelve he leafed through
Leonardo. At ten I was inventing different ways of escaping from
another children's colony. Andrei's father abandoned his children
perhaps to write poetry. I don't know whether that was so. My father
Fazyl (which means "enlightened"), arrested at the end of 1937, was
lumbering in the taiga of Siberia at the time. What was there in
common? Nothing, only Andrei and I turned out to be next to each
other. I had not read books: we were too beaten for that.
I don't remember what year it was when Andrei introduced me to his new
wife. He called her by a diminutive name. She was large, voluptuous,
and warm. I thought at the time: "This homely lady is exactly what he
needs." There was borshch for dinner. The table was laid in
the living room. Home. The fragrant freshness of a child in bed, the
top storey, large windows and what was particularly impressive (after
my tiny room), his own study where we attempted to talk after the
borshch. It was then that I began to notice changes in Andrei.
It was still a long way to "hostile bourgeois," but the turn had been
taken. Soon he started waring a doe-skin jacket with a trimming of
cords. I was tempted to ask: "How are our brothers the Apaches
I had known his first wife Irina. She was quite different, open but
far from cozy. She was the very antithesis of coziness.
Self-expression was her thing. She could have become Tarkovsky's
girl-friend. Girl-friends cannot lose - leaving wives far behind. It
was also at Yuri's [Yuri Kochevrin] that we met. She is still with
him. A male character. I liked her, she was of the same breed as
Andrei. She bore him a son, Arseny and retained his last name.
Who knows, perhaps it was for this reason , for our love to Irina that
Larisa divorced Andrei from his past. At Stalker we already
openly failed to understand each other. All that was warm and homely
between us had already been used up. The outlines of a big-fish stood
out clearly in her in the cold breeze of the Baltic Sea.
In the evenings Andrei brought together the main part of the group for
a reading of the ninth version of the screenplay. From time to time
he looked up from the text and asked me how I saw a certain scene. I
replied, apparently, very much to the point. Andrei nodded in
agreement, occasionally exclaiming "Excellent! Don't forget it, write
it down..." I was soaring, I felt cramped in the hotel room, I
generated not only fresh forms and textures but also ideas. Andrei
guessed that I was rushing into battle; he spurred me on, the game
inspired us. But gradually a dense atmosphere began to form at these
readings. Irony started to prevail in my flights of fancy. Andrei
grew nervous. Larisa did not leave us alone for a minute. We were
already surrounded by her "henchmen." She took no part in our talks,
but she controlled them, and how! She would sail in with a cup of
tea, go round with the sugar, just as voluptuous, not warm any longer
but hot, stuffy like a quilt. Andrei was exasperated: "Larisa!" But
Larisa did not hear. A quilt absorbs sound. Her own "henchmen"
subsequently said that Larisa's attacks began with these readings. It
was at them that she brought Rerberg out of the game; he was a
cameraman with a director's way of thinking, and his name had to be
taken into consideration at least. This was always troublesome.
Particularly when one is offered "the syrup of genius" together with
Kalashnikov and I stopped coming to Andrei's. Andrei was upset. But
he refused to read in our rooms. Finally we summoned up all our nerve
and went to Andrei's. Having discussed the screenplay once more,
Andrei got up and came up to me, and it so happened that I said: "Give
me the text for a few days, I'll rewrite it. Your's is not legible."
We did not have a copy of the screenplay for ourselves. He only read
it to us. The screenplay featured only dialogues. There were no
comments. He knew where each scene would be filmed, and this seemed
sufficient to him. But we, in particular, had to organize the
environment for the dialogues. That was exactly what I intended to
do, asking him to give me the text for a few days. Larisa hissed.
She was at the center of a broken circle. Only several seconds were
left before the eruption. Kalashnikov and I retreated. Poor Leonid
couldn't calm down all the way back: "Why, I thought... I'll
never work with a genius again!"
What a joyful person he could be! Knowing that much was given to him,
he showed off like a youngster. When I left him working on
Stalker he was raving at me. Then he quieted down, began
sending his best regards, even from abroad. And then there were only
rumors of different kinds, and then one, irreversible, reeking of
death, the end which one refused to believe. [...]
Names in this article:
- Shavkat Abdusalamov (b. 1938) is a soviet artist.
- Leonid Kalashnikov (b. 1926) is a soviet cameraman.
- Yuri Kochevrin (b. 1932) is a prominent economist, a close friend of Tarkovsky's. Abdusalamov first met Tarkovsky at Kochevrin's country home.
- Irma Raush (b. 1938), actress, Tarkovsky's first wife. Subsequently switched to
film directing, assuming the name Irina Tarkovskaya. Currently directs for Gorky Film Studios
Andrei and Irma had a son, Arseny, whom Tarkovsky refers to in his Diaries as Senka.