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Roger Ebert and Jonathan Rosenbaum on Tarkovsky

This following material, taken from Nostalghia.com news archives, is © Nostalghia.com; it may not be reproduced without the express permission of Trond T. and Jan B.; it may be quoted in part, provided credit is given to Nostalghia.com.

January 21, 2003

Chicago Sun-Times, January 19, 2003: Roger Ebert publishes what is (to the best of our knowledge) his first ever review of a Tarkovsky movie: Tarkovsky's Solaris. The author, in an otherwise thoughtful and well-written review, finds fault with Tarkovsky's work and (surprisingly) suggests that Harvey Weinstein et al. might have been able to improve upon things... by the use of scissors. Mr. Ebert did not return our request for further clarification. For the record, we do not consider Tarkovsky's oeuvre to be perfect—Tarkovsky himself would be the first to admit so—but we hardly consider Mr. Weinstein (however sensitive a soul he may be) even remotely qualified to improve upon Tarkovsky's work. We pause for a moment, and reflect upon what Andrei said in 1973 about the then recent Cannes Film Festival:

Interviewer: You took your film to Cannes. What did you think about the other films that were shown there?

Tarkovsky: I was astonished by how low the standard was. I don't understand. On the one hand everything I saw was highly professional, on the other it was utterly commercial. For example, they would treat a subject that was bound to be of concern to everybody: the problem of the working-class movement, or the relationship between the working-class and other sections of the population. And all of it was done with such an eye to the audience, with such a desire to please... One really had the impression that all the films had been edited by one and the same person. But in film the most important thing of all is to be aware of the inner rhythm. So, what can only be individual had become commonplace, hackneyed. It is extraordinary. Even Fellini's film about Rome, the most interesting film of all—it was shown outside the festival proper—is a sort of game of give-away played with the audience, the editorial rhythm is so slick that one feels offended on behalf of Fellini. I remember pictures of his where the shots, the length of the shots, and their rhythm, were tied to the inner state of the character and the author. But this picture has been made with an eye for what is going to please the audience. I find that repugnant. Anyhow, the film tells us nothing new either about Fellini himself or about life. [ more ]

January 22, 2003

A brief follow-up to yesterday's column:

Our alert readers were quick to inform us that Roger Ebert actually has reviewed an additional Tarkovsky film, namely The Sacrifice. The review is, in our mind, not particularly well-written, but you may wish to check for yourself.

Another reader called our attention to the fact that Jonathan Rosenbaum in his review of Tran Anh Hung's excellent movie Cyclo also mentions the name of Harvey Weinstein, but not in a positive light:

[...] And at Cannes this year an even more prominent critic from the New York Times told me she thought Harvey Weinstein would have "improved" Dead Man if Jim Jarmusch had allowed him to recut the picture. I think it's obscene to grant critical approval to any distributor who proceeds in this fashion [...]

Since Roger Ebert appeared unwilling to comment further on his own Weinstein remark, we thought it reasonable to ask Jonathan Rosenbaum to comment on it instead. Mr. Rosenbaum had not yet had occasion to read Ebert's review in full, but promptly provided us with the following while on his way to the airport:

From: Jonathan Rosenbaum
To: Nostalghia.com
Subject: Tarkovsky/Weinstein
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2003 13:47:42 -0600

It's too bad.  I suspect that Roger may live  to  regret  having  made
such  a statement, though maybe I'm wrong in supposing this.  I wonder
how Roger would feel about  Weinstein  recutting  his  favorite  Woody
Allen and Spike Lee movies.

> "And at Cannes this year an even more prominent critic  from  the  New
> York  Times told me she thought Harvey Weinstein would have "improved"
> Dead Man if Jim Jarmusch had allowed him  to  recut  the  picture.   I
> think  it's  obscene to grant critical approval to any distributor who
> proceeds in this fashion."

That was Janet  Maslin  I  was  referring  to,  by  the  way.   As  an
expression  of artistic and journalistic corruption, I think it speaks
for itself.  If Roger said something similar about Tarkovsky's work, I
can  only  say  I  deeply  regret  it.   But  I  also realize that the
mainstream valorizing of Weinstein that's  been  going  on  for  years
makes  such  a  conclusion  logical  and  unsurprising.   Furthermore,
without suggesting any conspiracy theory, I don't think the fact  that
Disney  produces  Roger's  TV  show  is  entirely irrelevant to such a
conclusion — especially  because  Miramax,  owned  by  Disney, already
determines which of the films it controls that Roger can review on the
show by deciding what clips to make available.


Mr. Rosenbaum also touches upon some of these points in his book Movie Wars. Tarkovsky-related Rosenbaum film reviews accessible online: [ One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich | In Space, No One Can Hear You Sweat ]

January 25, 2003

Roger Ebert, the only motion picture critic to have won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism [ bio ], submitted the following in response to the issues discussed in our January 21 newsbrief:

From: Roger Ebert
To: Nostalghia.com
Subject: Re.: Solaris Review
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2003 13:22:31 -0500

Film for 100 years has been about an eye to the audience and a desire to
please. So have theater and music, for 2000 years. One can of course be
pleased at a higher level, but Tarkovsky's fault as an artist was complete
indifference to his audience.


Mr. Ebert has said before, in a different forum, that he has indeed read Tarkovsky's book Sculpting in Time. We therefore find it quite puzzling that he would make such a statement. Because, Tarkovsky was not at all indifferent to his audience. The following three quotes come to mind.

From Sculpting in Time:

I have to admit that even when professional critics praised my work I was often left unsatisfied by their ideas and comments—at least, I quite often had the feeling that these critics were either indifferent to my work or else not competent to criticise: so often they would use well-worn phrases taken from current cinema journalese instead of talking about the film's direct, intimate effect on the audience. But then I would meet people on whom my film had made an impression, or I would receive letters from them which read like a kind of confession about their lives, and I would understand what I was working for. I would be conscious of my vocation: duty and responsibility towards people, if you like. (I could never really believe that any artist could work only for himself, if he knew that what he was doing would never be needed by anybody. [...]).

From Tarkovsky in Italy:

There are two basic categories of film directors. One consists of those who seek to imitate the world in which they live, the other of those who seek to create their own world. The second category contains the poets of cinema, Bresson, Dovzenko, Mizoguchi, Bergman, Buñuel and Kurosawa, the cinema's most important names. The work of these film-makers is difficult to distribute: it reflects their inner aspirations, and this always runs counter to public taste. This does not mean that the film-makers don't want to be understood by their audience. But rather that they themselves try to pick up on and understand the inner feelings of the audience.

Taken from The Tolstoy Complex, the following is based on mimeograph notes of statements made by Tarkovsky at the Telluride Film Festival on September 3, 1983.

If we want to write a poem we only need a pencil and a piece of paper. The painter can work alone in front of his canvas only. A book is a book even if it remains unpublished. Franz Kafka did not publish anything during his lifetime. Johann Sebastian Bach was—compared to his son—practically unknown. But all of his works have been preserved on paper. But one cannot create a film alone. In order to make a film one first of all must secure the funding. Perhaps it's true that cinema was born to serve as entertainment. But it's not true that cinema is entertainment. Cinema is a highly poetic form of art. [...] Cinema is a great art. But it won't reach its heights as long as realisation of film depends on money and as long as money decides whether the film is made or not.

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