Christmas morning, Tyrone, 2006. Nothing moves. But then, even on a normal morning, nothing moves here. The best word I can think of to describe the weather is “indifferent”. It is neither unseasonably warm, nor particularly cold. There is no frost. There is not even mist. I have the christmas gift I wanted – Pynchon’s 1,046 page (count them!) epic ‘Against the Day’. But back to Paris now…
For those of you just joining us: you should read what I wrote yesterday. I’m writing about the weekend devoted to Mr. Tarkovsky at the Cinematheque Francaise, in Paris. The reading by Denis Lavant of Tarkovsky’s diaries was a particularly strange and intense experience. The reading was broadcast live, direct, on France Culture. We were repeatedly advised to arrive on time and to be totally silent during the performance. Mr. Lavant read from Tarkvosky’s diaries dealing from the period just after the filming of “Stalker” in the 1970s to his death in Paris in the mid-1980s. Although he was only a few metres from us, we heard Lavant’s voice transmitted in perfect fidelity from overhead loudspeakers rather than from his own mouth, which was slightly disconcerting. But hey, that’s radio. Slides projected at oblique angles on the blank cinema screen provided an impressionistic succession of images — Tarkovsky, the actors that worked with with, scenes from his films, his family, the scrawl of his handwriting.
Tarkovsky’s life was a endless struggle against the forces of soviet bureaucracy, and he died in exile, in Paris. One particular story: after they had filmed the first part of “Stalker” the exposed film was sent off to Mostar Films, the state-run agency, to be processed. They had to get in the queue, of course, with all the other films. To wait and to wait. But — incredibly — during the processing, the film was destroyed. I imagine it being shredded into a million fragments by a machine possessing all the grace and poise of a tractor. They asked for money to shoot the film again. They were refused. They were only able get the cash to continue shooting after making up a story that they were actually filming the sequel…
Tarkovsky’s last film, ‘The Sacrifice’ was projected on the following Wednesday. I’m going to write about, I think, either today or tomorrow. Tarkovsky because seriously ill just after they had finished filming “The Sacrifice”. He moved to Paris, was taken in by the French government; Lavant read the letter he wrote to Mitterand, asking him intercede with the Soviet administration for him to let his family join him. His physical condition deteriorated. In his diaries, he wrote about the films he would make if he was reprieved, if he was granted more time.
And this is where, incredibly, that Tarkovsky’s story intersected that of people whom I actually know, completely by chance, here in Paris. Arriving at “the Mirror” on Saturday, I met by chance a certain Mr. Seagull; and leaving the film, I met his friends. They very graciously invited us to their apartment where we took toast and tea, like in “Prufrock” I suppose. They have been making films in Paris for many years now, and in the 1980s they had a editing suite in their Belville apartment which was unique in the city. One of their friends was Chris Marker, who knew Tarkovsky, who had filmed a documentary on Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky needed to make some final edits to “The Sacrifice” and the friends of Mr. Seagull were the only ones in the city who had the equipment he needed. They received a tall laconic swedish assistant of Tarkovsky’s who edited all night in their flat, departing at dawn, bringing the edits to show Tarkovsky where he lay dying in his bed on the other side of the city.
I’m reminded (as always) by Milosz, and his line about “…the crowds of the unborn/For whom we will be just an enigmatic legend.” Milosz and Tarkvosky were real people, and they led real lives, and there is no reason that their lives from time to time may intersect our own. The chain perhaps extends further back than that; I know someone who met Milosz; and Milosz’ uncle, Oscar Milosz, had met that other Oscar, Oscar Wilde; in only three steps I am already back at the end of the 19th century.
But now I have to go and attend to the christmas dinner; more to follow, if and when time permits.