what i've been reading
throw the ball back thursday: super bowl iii

andrei rublev (andrei tarkovsky, 1966)

The day after the Golden Globes, Eileen Jones wrote a fired-up piece titled “Against Meryl Streep”, with the subtitle, “Meryl Streep’s speechifying at the Golden Globes was the worst thing to happen since Trump’s election.” Whatever you think of Jones (and she seems to have pissed off a lot of people), she does have a way with words:

“That I should live to see the day when Meryl Streep’s speechifying at a Hollywood awards show is admired as solemnly and discussed as fervently as Lincoln’s second inaugural address is a personal nightmare.”

“[S]he brought to the Golden Globes all the fiery rhetoric she used to play Margaret Thatcher in a recent admiring biopic”.

“She strikes me as about the worst possible spokesperson imaginable for the Left in an era of working-class rage”.

This inspired me to buy her book, Filmsuck, USA, which doesn’t disappoint. We disagree on the value of a lot of movies, but I find her writing smart and fun to read. She announces her intentions with the first sentence: “That loud sucking noise you hear is American cinema going down the drain.”

The book is devoted to American films, which she doesn’t think live up to their possibilities. She doesn’t talk much about foreign films, but she does talk about “art films”. “[W]e tend to rely on stupid premises like Art Film = Good Film. And when I say ‘we’ I mean ‘you’: I swing exactly the other way, being far more inclined to regard with suspicion any film selling heavy doses of ‘artistry’."

Now, I have no idea what Jones thinks of Andrei Rublev, or the work of Tarkovsky in general. It is clear from her writing that Jones has a vast knowledge of film, and that her interests reach beyond what you might suspect from the quotes I am cherry-picking here. (As one example, Jones, who teaches in the Film Department at Cal, teaches a course on the History of Avant-Garde Film.)

I mention all of this because I experienced something of a disconnect, watching Andrei Rublev after reading Jones on Rango (she loves Gore Verbinski), “David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the Audience That Loves This Kind of Crap”, and Peter Greenaway (“I can’t stand Greenaway films, can’t even stand to hear descriptions of Greenaway films.”) Here I was, settling in to a three-hour art-house classic, and I couldn’t get Eileen Jones out of my head.

Andrei Rublev survived. I’ve been afraid of his movies for years, only seeing one (Ivan’s Childhood a couple of years ago ... I liked it ... and I saw Solaris so long ago I don’t remember anything except I hated it). But I did what I could to put my concerns out of mind, and for the most part, it was a success.

Tarkovsky certainly wouldn’t have approved of my method of watching, but he did make it easy for me. Andrei Rublev comes in two parts, a total of eight segments, giving me many opportunities to stop for a bit and think about what I was seeing. (OK, at one point, I replied to an email I’d gotten from Jones.) The film gives the story of the title character, a famous 15th-century Russian painter. From what I can gather, the film doesn’t appear to be a stickler for accuracy about that life. Instead, Rublev stands in for people like him: artists, people of faith, members of communities. Tarkovsky isn’t didactic about his representation of the 15th century. He presents it to us, and leaves it to us to imagine how different life was then, at the tail end of the Middle Ages. The film looks beautiful ... the cinematographer, Vadim Yusov, worked with Tarkovsky on several films. I found the acting rather inscrutable, perhaps because my ear wasn’t clicking with the Russian. But the actors served well as visual representations of their characters.

The entire thing almost works like an 8-part miniseries, although that impression might be amplified by the way I watched it. Three hours at one time would have felt a bit much. If my piecemeal approach to watching the film is too impure for you, add a point to my rating. #26 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10.

Comments