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Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room

Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room - Geoff Dyer Back in the 1980's I used an iffy videotape to record a rare television showing of the classic films Solaris and Stalker by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. I didn't think I would want to keep them. I certainly didn't expect that more than twenty years later I would be watching Stalker while reading a book about it. The author, Geoff Dyer, would not be impressed: "One cannot watch Stalker on TV for the simple reason that the Zone is cinema;" he says, "it does not even exist on telly."Zona reads like a director's cut commentary from a man obsessed by this spellbinding film. One mark of a great work of art is that it affects people and draws them back to it time and again - Stalker certainly has that effect on Geoff Dyer. (Me too, even though I am the very opposite of a cinephile. I seldom watch films. I never got rid of that tape though - I knew I would watch it again someday.) Stalker is a very strange film. It's based on the book Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers (albeit with most of the sci-fi aspects removed by Tarkovsky) in which a 'Stalker' guides people through a Forbidden Zone at the heart of which is The Room in which your deepest wish comes true. Because Stalker is long and slow-moving it would be possible to read the book while 'watching' the film, were it not for Dyer's circumambient footnotes in which he digresses into personal memories and making comparisons and connections with other films. It is those digressions that make Dyer such a fascinating writer, along with his luminous devotion to the film:"From here on we are in a realm of loveliness unmatched anywhere else in cinema. We are able to believe in something blatantly untrue, an amendment to the idea that men were put on earth to create works of art: that the cinema was invented so that Tarkovsky could make Stalker, that our greatest debt to the Lumière brothers is that they enabled this film to be made."Zona is never stuffy; and at times, Dyer's reverence switches to irreverence as his dry commentary teases some aspects of the film, such as Stalker's bedroom attire. Pointing out that at the start of the film: "...he sleeps without his trousers but with his sweater on. "As before, he keeps his sweater on - his sweater, which is dirty, soaking and stinky-looking, ripe for the starring role in an advertisement for the latest breakthrough in biological detergents."There is a black dog in Stalker and it reminded of another work of art that haunts me for reasons I find difficult to pin down: [a:John Berger's 1999 novel King: A Street Story, in which a day in the life of a homeless couple is seen through the eyes of a stray dog. Coincidentally, Dyer has also written a book about Berger. I found myself wondering if it was the same dog.