Tarkovsky vs. Tarkovsky
The following is an excerpt from the proposed English translation
of Tarkovsky vs. Tarkovsky by Olga Surkova (originally
published in Russian as: Tarkovskii i ya, Zebra E /
Dekont+ / EKSMO, Moscow 2002, see our Bibliography
Ms. Surkova was a friend of the Tarkovskys for
many years and is a co-author of what was eventually to become
Sculpting in Time. Her position of being both a film critic
and a close family friend provides her with remarkable insight
into the great director's life and work, although her unique
perspective may seem controversial to some. The book is currently
being translated by Kirill Galetski to whom we owe this fragment.
which explains why it took such a long time to write this book
and why it was nevertheless written
It would seem that I should have written the first book on Tarkovsky.
Who other than me, as they say, was dealt that hand?
I became acquainted with him during the filming of
Andrei Rublyov. And then for almost twenty years we were
connected through the most intimate of friendships between me and his
second family — for a time he and I were even relatives. The
relationship lasted all the way until the start of the filming of The
Sacrifice. After Larisa, Tarkovsky's wife, I was the first to
see the freshly completed screenplay.
It so happened that I was the only one who had the opportunity to
observe Tarkovsky at work and the metamorphoses he underwent not only
in the motherland, in Russia, but also in the West, where he and I
were fated to end up at the same time, and there was a time when we
both saw in this the "Hand of God."
What is most important is that all this time, I
was privy to the "holy of holies" — his creative visions, hopes
and disappointments, professional problems and flashes of intuition.
This sharing was particularly generous when Tarkovsky offered for me
to become the co-author of The Book of Concordances. Ten years
on, this book appeared in the West under the title Sculpting in
Time, revised and completed by me in accordance with his
considerations and wishes.
Why was I nevertheless silent for so long, while works studying the
phenomenon of Andrei Tarkovsky appeared one right after the other?
Why was I getting by with small articles, essentially in a state of
inaction, as if paralysed?
There are several reasons for this. Our
relationship was simple and unambiguous only on the surface. Indeed,
for many years I idolised him with childlike enthusiasm as a great
and persecuted artist. Oh, how typical this is for Russia!
Selfless and unflinching aid in the name of the triumph of Truth,
entire and absolute. Tarkovsky was surrounded with such people, who,
almost deifying him, were ready to serve not only him, but his
family, for no particular reason other than in the name of 'holy
art." There were ready to help him not only on the set, but at
home, in the household, procuring "grocery lists" of items that
were in short supply, inexpensive construction materials to build his
country home, furniture on credit and running small errands. This
gave meaning and enrichment to the life of every one of us who were
admitted to the inner circle. All the more so for me since I turned
out to be singled out from all these by the Master for the most
honourable role, creative collaboration — I could not even
dream of greater happiness!
However, in essence I gradually "grew out" of this image of a
rapt schoolgirl admirer of a "great artist," with whom I became
acquainted while a film school student. My "maturing" accelerated
the more pronounced the contradictions between Tarkovsky's
declamations of exalted and "selfless" spiritual values and his
"day-to-day practice" became. It was then that I decided for
myself to divide these two spheres of existence of the artist: to
concentrate on his creative endeavours and disregard the mundane side
of his life.
The time that is sculpted in his films holds traces of his difficult
and often unsuccessful struggles with himself, his inability to cope
with the corrosion that gradually ate away his soul, treacherously
crawling over the screen. His films are truly and uniquely
interesting as objective proof of this struggle.
For a long time I did not, could not or did not want to notice the
signs of that erosion which is noticeable on screen and which fully
elucidates Tarkovsky's unique artistic and human destiny to me. We
were friends, or more precisely Tarkovsky endowed me with his
friendship, and I wanted so much, turning a blind eye to everything,
to simply believe and love the ideal — "Ah, deceiving me is not
difficult; I myself am glad to be deceived..."
What is more, we worked together, and I doggedly tried not to notice
sometimes very deplorable "trifles," never suspecting that
everything was moving towards such a rapid and unexpected unraveling
of not only our relationship, but alas, his entire fate... But let's
not get ahead of ourselves — indeed, I've written an entire book
on this subject...
Before writing, I had to definitively "cool
down" and calm down, gain some "distance" from the events that
affected me so deeply. I started writing a book about Tarkovsky right
after what was for me a dramatic falling out with him in 1984, when
it seemed that he was full of strength and had a bright future ahead
of him — but that was a different book. I had to re-think and
change my mind about everything from scratch, devastated as I was by
his death. After all, at the end of the day, come what may, I so
endlessly loved, and subsequently so bitterly hated all of what
connected me to Tarkovsky, Larisa, their everyday lives, lifestyle
and milieu. My soul had to be freed from many years of captivity; my
thoughts had to become clear in order for me to be able, like the
stuttering boy in the prologue to The Mirror, to have the
confidence to say, "I can speak!"
The Book of Concordances, on which
Tarkovsky offered me to work, was originally conceived together with
the well-known film historian Leonid Kozlov as a dialogue between a
film critic and a director, but the book did not come about with this
co-authorship. In the process of working, it seems to me, I came to
understand why their collaborative effort did not materialize.
Tarkovsky was too authoritarian, so the prospective "dialogue
between a film critic and a director" invariably turned into his
monologue, which demanded a reformation of the criticism that would
govern the undertaking. My intuition was correct, so the next
manifestation of the book, rewritten by me yet another time,
respecting Tarkovsky's wish to "have his own book," was
Sculpting in Time and has one author on the cover. He not only
could not accommodate a full-fledged co-author, but even a
commentator and interviewer, which in essence I was in the Book of
Concordances, illustrating and reinforcing his theoretical
ruminations with examples from his own artistic works.
Tarkovsky was very mindful to comments, observations and formulations
that "happened" to be in his ever more rigorously forming
conceptualisation, which was developing, expanding and systematising
his ripening ideas. He needed a midwife who would "deliver" and
"nurse" these ideas.
It was evidently in this capacity that I suited
him, for he never tried to rid himself of my co-authorship in Moscow
and he asked me to come to Italy to finish writing the chapter on
Nostalghia and the afterword when we had signed contracts for
publishing The Book of Concordances in the UK and the
Netherlands and... for some reason, Tarkovsky signed a publishing
contract in Germany on his own.
It was not enough to say that through our years of interaction I
learned to understand him through his utterances — I even
understood his glances... My identification with his thought
processes was so great that the following curious occurrence took
place. When we were still living in Moscow, Tarkovsky really did not
like to meet with journalists, even more so with Western ones,
because he was afraid they would write "something wide of the mark
and premature." One time he entrusted me to meet in his stead with
an Italian journalist from Unità and answer all of the journalist's
questions on his behalf. Tarkovsky did not even verify "his"
answers — and so, obviously, the interview came out under his name.
However, if suddenly I were to express views that were diametrically
opposed to his own, then Tarkovsky would fulminate and become vexed,
like a child, at best perplexed: "What are you talking about? I
don't understand you!" He would sum up his point of view with his
habitual, "irrefutable" argument: "Why, it's only natural!"
He did not know how to debate, how to assemble an argument and make a
case — he simply had no doubts about his own rectitude. He took any
objection or even lack of understanding badly, and went immediately
and aggressively on the offensive. This calls to mind one incident at
a press conference at the Rotterdam Film Festival.
That evening, he talked a great deal about national culture,
asserting that "culture cannot be translated into another language
in principle." One could not say that this assertion was
self-evident, all the more so for the Dutch, who take pride in their
multicultural society. Therefore, it was with some bewilderment that
they turned to Tarkovsky with a question, naively counting on his
elaboration: "What, in your view, is «culture»?"
His reply was terse and exasperated: "If you came here and you
don't even know what culture is, then I really don't know what
I'm doing here talking with you at all!"
For me as a person who knew him and loved him, there was much that
was touching and naïve about this single-mindedness, something
childlike and helpless. Strange as it was, it was in times like these
that I felt myself to be an "adult" with him, ready to
immediately come to his aid, break out with commentary and
clarifications, following, naturally, his inner logic in order to
elucidate what it was he really meant. This helped with our work on
the book and he really did need me for this. However, he was a
capricious and wayward "child," often unsatisfied, convinced that
everywhere and always he had to do everything "himself."
I reckon that by force of this same extended childhood he himself
firmly believed that the Iskusstvo publishing house was about to
publish our manuscript. I remember when he was hurrying me to
complete the work, he suddenly was in a tiff with: "Well? Are we
delayed? Well, I was told at the publisher's that they'll
«green-light» the book."
Of course, I did not try to convince him otherwise, supposing that
"blessed are those who have faith," but I did not myself believe
in such a turn of events, not even for a second, firmly knowing that
I was writing a manuscript "to be put on the shelf" and for the
"history of cinema."
Owing to my collaboration with Kozlov, I inherited a file folder with
a plethora of segmental, unsystematised writings from both Tarkovsky
himself and Kozlov: here there were rough drafts of articles and
notes of a biographical nature, some of which I have made public in
this book. In what follows, I tried to collect and replicate all of
what I heard from Tarkovsky, both from dedicated conversations with
me and from other sources and occasions. All the more so since any
Tarkovsky dinner table morphed into a podium for expression of his
reflections on art, on the role of the artist in the modern world, on
this world itself and the place of cinema within it.
However, a dialogue between Tarkovsky
and me did not come about, even
though the further our personal and professional relationship
developed, the more adamantly the real necessity for one gelled in
So I regard this book, which is devoted more to biographical issues
rather than to the creativity of Andrei Tarkovsky, as an outgrowth of
our collaboration, as a discovery of an opportunity to enter into a
dialogue with him after all, to speak my mind, unburden myself and
address issues with a measure of the "earnestness" that he never
tired to invoke. Truth be told, we are once again in inequitable
positions — now I am carrying on a dialogue with a partner in
conversation who, alas, is no more, but who is like one that
continues to be next to me unto this day because our conversation has
In The Mirror, Tarkovsky admitted that he
"kept having the same dream." Later, when the film came out, he
lamented that this dream vanished without a trace, as if it had
totally dissipated from his memory: the past became detached and went
somewhere else forever, pitilessly and irrevocably.
working on this book, I, on the other hand, cherished the secret hope
that I would once and for all rid myself the agonizing burden of our
shared past, which weighed heavily upon me and sometimes seemed more
real than my real life. I will not lament that the book will possibly
free me of certain recurring dreams in the hope that my eternally
aching "sadness" about Andrei Tarkovsky will become ever more
"bright," as his favourite poet once said.