Singular books about singular movies

CoverYes there are heaps of books about movies. But a less common is A book about A movie.

Or, as Zona is subtitled – A Book about a film about a journey to a room.

Zona is all about Stalker, a film by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. Author Geoff Dyer (a brilliantly droll Brit who graced the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival this year) talks us through what is happening on the screen and his reactions to it.  I shudder at the thought of having the commentary turned on a DVD, but in a way this is just a booky version of that – but with way more room for digressions. Geoff goes on a bit about his childhood, and how his wife is a dead ringer for Natasha McElhone. We get to that via Tarkovsky made the original Solaris, and Natasha starred in the more recent adaptation of Solaris with George Clooney as lead).

This could/should be a literary subgenre. The film and your reaction to it, and digressions. It probably is only going to work when you are in the hands of a expert writer like Dyer.

It’s very odd that someone talking about a movie you’ve never seen is a brilliant read. I wonder what it’s like for someone who has seen the movie?

A review of Zona by Sukhdev Sandhu in The Guardian sums up with:

Beyond the book’s bravura formalism and in spite of the suspicion that it could be viewed as a highbrow take on live-blogging, it’s Dyer’s ability at moments like this to make pilgrims of his readers and to lead them on a journey in search of truths about love and about the nature of happiness that make Zona such an exhilarating achievement.

We have Stalker on DVD and other Tarkovsky stuff.

coverAnother good little volume about a movie is Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. It is all about director Todd Haynes’ underground classic in which the tragic demise of Karen Carpenter is reenacted with dolls.

Freaky (and yet utterly compelling) stuff.

Are there any other books about a movies you reck0n are worth reading?

And if you were to write about a movie, which one would you deconstruct and report on? I’d do my alltime favourite movie Excalibur or the fantabulous TV movie version of Ivanhoe starring Anthony Andrews and Sam Neill!


I am completely in awe of the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. The Russian director, who died in 1986, created an ouevre of films that are singularly profound, powerful and beautiful.

There is no doubt that his films are long, slow, and difficult (kind of like a good book) and in no way do they belong within the same classification as most modern cinematic fare. Many are in Russian of course, though after his funding was cut off by the Communist Party he defected to the West and his last two films were made in Italian and Swedish. His masterpiece Andrei Rublev is three hours long, in black and white with Russian subtitles and tells the story of the 14th Century Russian Orthodox monk and religious icon painter in seven chronologically disparate episodes. What I can’t describe in this facetious plot summary is the use of sound and music, the beautiful cinematography and the sense of profound wisdom emanating through the film straight from the auteur himself. It is also a cutting allegory about the plight of the artist in Russia under it’s varying political regimes (in this example feudal Russian lords and Mongol hordes, but clearly meant to include Tarkovsky’s own repressive Communist Party funders).

If these details fail to put you off, I highly recommend his breathtaking films which reward in ways more profound than any other films I’ve seen. Unfortunately, not all of his films are currently held by the library (you can borrow most from Alice’s), though you could watch the Steven Soderbergh remake of Solaris (both are based on the novel by Polish author Stanislaw Lem) which isn’t a bad film but is nothing like the Tarkovsky. The titles the Library does hold are Ivan’s Childhood which is his first film, it is an interesting watch though not as full-developed stylistically as his later works.  There is also The Mirror, which is a stunning autobiographical work. This is a difficult first Tarkovsky to watch as it uses images amd techniques from his other films to tell an elliptical and non-linear autobiographical story. It is still very beautiful though and rewards after a few viewings. At 108 minutes it’s also mercifully short compared to his other films.

What the library has recently acquired, and this is very exciting, is a new volume edited by Nathan Dunne on the work of Tarkovsky. It contains a series of chapters which collect together critical essays written by various authorities on aspects of Tarkovsky’s work. The written pieces are quite academic and are not all adulatory, which is refreshing. Contributors include critical heavyweight Jean Paul Sartre and contemporary directors who say things like; “I have a picture of Tarkovsky on the wall of my office, when I’m making an aesthetic decision I look at it and think ‘What would he do?'” The book is also generously filled with beautiful still images from the films, and it is marvellous just to open it and browse through without reading a word. Also featured are a chronology and translations of some of Arseni Tarkovksy’s (the director’s famous poet father) poems which are used in the films.

This book is highly recommended, though if anybody wants to read it I suppose I’ll have to return my copy, which I really, really don’t want to do.