Sculpting in Time_on life and Art with Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrey Tarkovskiy

Date of Birth

4 April 1932Zavrazhye, Yuryevets Raion, Ivanovo Oblast, Russian SFSR, USSR [now Russia] 




Date of Death

29 December 1986, Paris, France (lung cancer)


Birth Name

Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky



5′ 7½” (1.71 m)


 “We have almost totally lost sight of the beautiful as a criterion of art”


The most famous Soviet film-maker since Sergei M. EisensteinAndrey Tarkovskiy(the son of noted poet Arseniy Tarkovsky) studied music and Arabic in Moscow before enrolling in the Soviet film school VGIK. He shot to international attention with his first feature, Ivan’s Childhood (1962), which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. This resulted in high expectations for his second feature _Andrei Rublyov (1969)_, which was banned by the Soviet authorities until 1971. It was shown at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival at 4 o’clock in the morning on the last day, in order to prevent it winning a prize – but it won one nonetheless, and was eventually distributed abroad partly to enable the authorities to save face. Solaris (1972), had an easier ride, being acclaimed by many in the West as the Soviet answer to Kubrick’s ‘2001’ (though Tarkovsky himself was never too fond of it), but he ran into official trouble again with The Mirror(1975), a dense, personal web of autobiographical memories with a radically innovative plot structure. Stalker (1979) had to be completely reshot on a dramatically reduced budget after an accident in the laboratory destroyed the first version, and afterNostalghia (1983), shot in Italy (with official approval), Tarkovsky defected to the West. His last film, The Sacrifice (1986) was shot in Sweden with many of Ingmar Bergman‘s regular collaborators, and won an almost unprecedented four prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. He died of cancer at the end of the year.

Larisa Tarkovskya (1964 – 29 December 1986) (his death) 1 child
Irma Raush (1960 – 1963) 1 child


One of his teachers at VGIK was Mikhail Romm.

Friend of Sergei Parajanov, who was best friends with Mikhail Vartanov. All were graduates of the legendary Russian film school VGIK and met many times; the latter’s Russian Academy Award-winning Parajanov: The Last Spring (1992) features a poetic chapter on the the friendship of Parajanov and Tarkovsky.

Father of Andriosha Tarkovsky, son of Arseni Tarkovsky.

Although it was his most widely seen film outside of the Soviet Union, he reportedly regarded Solaris (1972) as his least favorite of the films he directed.

He said that children understood his films better than adults.

Tarkovskiy was born in Zavrazhye village, Yuryevets area, Ivanovo Region, Russian SFSR, USSR. That place goes now by the address of Zavrazhye, Kadyy area, Kostroma Region, Russian Federation.

Member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 1982.

“Dear Andrei Retrospective” held at the 2007 Navarra International Documentary Film Festival with Marina Tarkovsky and Alexander Gordon in attendance.

Buried in Orthodox Graveyard for Russian Emigrés in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, France.

Profiled in “Films and Dreams: Tarkovsky, Bergman, Sokurov, Kubrick and Wong Kar-Wei” by Thurston Botz-Borsnstein. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008.

Ingmar Bergman hailed him as “the most important director of all time”.

Wrote the Book ‘Sculpting in Time’. In it he explains and discusses his views on cinema, cinema as an art, his own films and the use of poetry in his films.

He was an admirer of the films of Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman. Both older filmmakers later praised Tarkovsky’s own films.

In almost every movie he made, there is a shot or a sound of water dripping.

Personal Quotes

My purpose is to make films that will help people to live, even if they sometimes cause unhappiness.

Always with huge gratitude and pleasure I remember the films of Sergei Parajanov which I love very much. His way of thinking, his paradoxical, poetical . . . ability to love the beauty and the ability to be absolutely free within his own vision.

An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn’t exist, for the artist doesn’t live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world. This is the issue in Andrei Rublev(1966).

[on directing] No “mise en scène” has the right to be repeated, just as no two personalities are ever the same. As soon as a “mise en scène” turns into a sign, a cliché, a concept (however original it may be), then the whole thing – characters, situation, psychology – become schematic and false.

The only condition of fighting for the right to create is faith in your own vocation, readiness to serve, and refusal to compromise.

Instead of attempting to capture these nuances, most unpretentious ‘true-to-life’ films not only ignore them but make a point of using sharp, overstated images which at best can only make the picture seem far-fetched. And I am all for cinema being as close as possible to life – even if on occasion we have failed to see how beautiful life really is.

So much, after all, remains in our thoughts and hearts as unrealized suggestion.

I think in fact that unless there is an organic link between the subjective impressions of the author and his objective representation of reality, he will not achieve even superficial credibility, let alone authenticity and inner truth.

Cinema is an unhappy art as it depends on the money. Not only because a film is very expensive but is then also marketed like cigarettes, etc.

S C U L P T I N G  in T I M E

Andrey Tarkovsky, the genius of modern Russian cinema—hailed by Ingmar Bergman as “the most important director of our time”—died an exile in Paris in December 1986. In Sculpting in Time, he has left his artistic testament, a remarkable revelation of both his life and work. Since Ivan’s Childhood won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1962, the visionary quality and totally original and haunting imagery of Tarkovsky’s films have captivated serious movie audiences all over the world, who see in his work a continuation of the great literary traditions of nineteenth-century Russia. Many critics have tried to interpret his intensely personal vision, but he himself always remained inaccessible.

In Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky sets down his thoughts and his memories, revealing for the first time the original inspirations for his extraordinary films—Ivan’s Childhood, Andrey Rublyov, Solaris, The Mirror, Stalker, Nostalgia, and The Sacrifice. He discusses their history and his methods of work, he explores the many problems of visual creativity, and he sets forth the deeply autobiographical content of part of his oeuvre—most fascinatingly in The Mirror and Nostalgia. The closing chapter on The Sacrifice,dictated in the last weeks of Tarkovsky’s life, makes the book essential reading for those who already know or who are just discovering his magnificent work.

“If Sculpting in Time could be distilled to a single message, it would be this: Content and conscience must come before technique—for any artist in any art form.”

—Los Angeles Times Book Review

My hope is that those readers whom I manage to convince, if not entirely then at least in part, may become my kindred spirits, if only in recognition of the fact that I have no secrets from them. — Tarkovsky

Sculpting in Time
Reflections on the Cinema

By Andrey Tarkovsky
Translated from the Russian by Kitty Hunter-Blair (excerpt: table of contents and introduction).

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter I: The beginning
  • Chapter II: Art—a yeaming for the ideal
  • Cllapter III: Imprinted time
  • Chapter IV: Cinema’s destined role
  • Chapter V: The film image
    • Time, rhythm and editing
    • Scenario and shooting script
    • The film’s graphic realisation
    • The film actor
    • Music and noises
  • Chapter VI: The author in search of an audience
  • Chapter VII: The artist’s responsibility
  • Chapter VIII: After Nostalgia
  • Chapter IX: The Sacrifice
  • Conclusion
  • Notes


Some fifteen years ago, as I was jotting down notes for the first draft of this book, I found myself wondering whether there really was any point in writing it at all. Why not just go on making one film after another, finding practical solutions to those theoretical problems which arise whenever one is working on a film?

For many years, however, my professional biography was none too happy; the intervals between films were long and painful enough to leave me free to consider—for want of anything better to do—exactly what my own aims were; what are the factors that distinguish cinema from the other arts; what I saw as its unique potential; and how my own experience compared with the experience and achievements of my colleagues. Reading and rereading books on the theory of cinema, I came to the conclusion that these did not satisfy me, but made me want to argue and put forward my own view of the problems and the objectives of film-making. I realised that I generally came to recognise my own working principles through questioning established theory, through the urge to express my own understanding of the fundamental laws of the art form which has become a part of me.

My frequent encounters with vastly differing audiences also made me feel that I had to make as full a statement as possible. They seriously wanted to understand how and why cinema, and my work in particular, affected them as it did; they wanted answers to countless questions, in order to find some kind of common denominator for their random and disordered thoughts on cinema and on art in general.

I have to confess that I would read with the greatest attention and interest—at some moments with distress, but at others with huge encouragement—the letters from people who had seen my films; during the years I was working in Russia these built up into an impressive and variegated collection of things people wanted to know, or which they were at a loss to understand.

I should like to quote here some of the most typical of these letters in order to illustrate the kind of contact—on occasion one of total incomprehension—that I had with my audiences.

A woman civil engineer wrote from Leningrad: ‘I saw your film, Mirror. I sat through to the end, despite the fact that after the first half hour I developed a severe headache as a result of my genuine efforts to analyse it, or just to have some idea of what was going on, of some connection between the characters and events and memories…. We poor cinema-goers see films that are good, bad, very bad, ordinary or highly original. But any of these one can understand, and be delighted or bored as the case may be; but this one?! . . .’ An equipment engineer from Kalinin was also terribly indignant: ‘Half an hour ago I came out of Mirror. Well!! . . . Comrade director! Have you seen it? I think there’s something unhealthy about it . . . I wish you every success in your work, but we don’t need films like that.’ And another engineer, this time from Sverdlovsk, was unable to contain his deep antipathy: ‘How vulgar, what trash! Ugh, how revolting! Anyhow, I think your film’s a blank shot. It certainly didn’t reach the audience, which is all that matters . . .’ This man even feels that the cinema administration should be called to account: ‘One can only be astonished that those responsible for the distribution of films here in the USSR should allow such blunders.’ In fairness to the cinema administration, I have to say that ‘such blunders’ were permitted very seldom—on average once every five years; and when I received letters like that I used to be thrown into despair: yes, indeed, who was I working for, and why?

I would be given some glimmer of hope by another kind of letter, expressing puzzlement, but also the genuine wish to understand what the writer had seen. For instance: ‘I’m sure I’m not the first or the last to turn to you in bewilderment and ask you to help them make sense of Mirror. The episodes in themselves are really good, but how can one find what holds them together?’ A woman wrote from Leningrad: ‘The film is so unlike anything I’ve ever seen that I don’t know how to go about it, how to appreciate either the form or the content. Can you explain? It’s not that I lack understanding of cinema generally . . . I saw your earlier films, Ivan’s Childhood and Andrey Rublyov.They were clear enough. But this is not…. Before the film is shown the audience should be given some sort of introduction. After seeing it one is left feeling cross with oneself for being so helpless and obtuse. With respect, Andrey, if you are not able to answer my letter in full, could you at least let me know where I could read something about the film?…’

Unfortunately I had nothing to advise such correspondents; no articles came out aboutMirror, unless one counts the public condemnation of my film as inadmissibly ‘elitist’, made by my colleagues at a meeting of the State Institute of Cinematography and the Union of Cinematographists, and published in the journal, Art of Cinema.

What kept me going through all this, however, was my growing conviction that there were people who minded about my work, and were actually waiting to see my films; only it was apparently in nobody’s interests to further this contact with my audience.

A member of the Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences sent me a notice published in their wall newspaper: ‘The appearance of Tarkovsky’s film, Mirror aroused wide interest in IPAS as it did all over Moscow.

‘By no means all who wanted to meet the director were able to do so; nor, unfortunately, was the author of this notice. None of us can understand how Tarkovsky, by means of cinema, has succeeded in producing a work of such philosophical depths. Accustomed to films as story-line, action, characters and the usual “happy ending”, the audience looks for these things in Tarkovsky’s films, and often enough leaves disappointed.

‘What is this film about? It is about a Man. No, not the particular man whose voice we hear from behind the screen, played by Innokentiy Smoktunovsky. It’s a film about you, your father, your grandfather, about someone who will live after you and who is still “you”. About a Man who lives on the earth, is a part of the earth and the earth is a part of him, about the fact that a man is answerable for his life both to the past and to the future. You have to watch this film simply, and listen to the music of Bach and the poems of Arseniy Tarkovsky; watch it as one watches the stars, or the sea, as one admires a landscape. There is no mathematical logic here, for it cannot explain what man is or what is the meaning of his life.’

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… But more of that later…)

A woman wrote from Gorky: “Thank you for Mirror. My childhood was like that…. Only how did you know about it?

“There was that wind, and the thunderstorm . . . “Galka, put the cat out,” cried my grandmother…. It was dark in the room… And the paraffin lamp went out, too, and the feeling of waiting for my mother to come back filled my entire soul… And how beautifully your film shows the awakening of a child s consciousness, of this thought!… And Lord, how true… we really don’t know our mothers’ faces. And how simple… You know, in that dark cinema, looking at a piece of canvas lit up by your talent, I felt for the first time in my life that I was not alone…’

I spent so many years being told that nobody wanted or understood my films, that a response like that warmed my very soul, it gave meaning to what I was doing and strengthened my conviction that I was right and that there was nothing accidental about the path I had chosen.

A worker in a Leningrad factory, an evening class student, wrote: ‘My reason for writing is Mirror, a film I can’t even talk about because I am living it.

‘It’s a great virtue to be able to listen and understand… That is, after all, a first principle of human relationships: the capacity to understand and forgive people their unintentional faults, their natural failures. If two people have been able to experience the same thing even once, they will be able to understand each other. Even if one lived in the era of the mammoth and the other in the age of electricity. And God grant that people may understand and experience only common, humane impulses—their own and those of others.’

Audiences defended and encouraged me: ‘I am writing on behalf, and with the approval of, a group of cinema-goers of different professions, all acquaintances or friends of the writer of this letter.

‘We want to let ! you know straight away that your well-wishers and the admirers of our talent. who all wait the appearance of every film you make, are far more numerous than might appear to be the case from the statistics in the journal, Soviet Screen. I don’t have any comprehensive data, but not one of the wide circle of my acquaintance, or of their acquaintances, has ever answered a questionnaire about particular films. But they go to the cinema. Admittedly not of often, but they always want to go to Tarkovsky films. It’s a pity your films don’t come out very often.’

I must admit it’s a pity for me too…. Because there’s so much I still want to do, so much to be said, so much to finish—and apparently I’m not the only one to whom it matters.

A teacher from Novosibirsk wrote: ‘I’ve never written to an author to say what I feel about a book or a film. But this is a special case: the film itself lifts the spell of silence and enables one to free one’s spirit from the anxieties and trivia that weigh it down. I went to a discussion of the film. “Physicists” and “Lyricists” were unanimous: the film is compassionate, honest, relevant—all thanks to the author. And everyone who spoke said, “The film is about me.”‘

Or again: ‘This is from an old man, already retired, and interested in cinema even though my professional field had nothing to do with art (I’m a radio engineer).

‘I am stunned by your film. Your gift for penetrating into the emotional world of adult and child; for making one feel the beauty of the world around one; showing the true, instead of the false, values of that world; making every object play a part; making every detail of the picture into a symbol; building up to a philosophical statement through an extraordinary economy of means; filling every frame with poetry and music…. All these qualities are typical of your style of exposition, and yours alone…

‘I should very much like to read your own comments on your film. It’s such a pity you seldom appear in print. I’m sure you have plenty to say!…

To be honest I put myself in the category of people who are best able to give form to their ideas by arguing—I entirely subscribe to the view that truth is reached through dispute. Left to study a question on my own, I tend to fall into a reflective state which suits the metaphysical bent of my character and is not conducive to an energetic, creative thought process, since it affords only emotional material with which to construct a—more or less well-ordered— framework for my ideas.

One way and another it was contact with audiences, by letter or in person, that pushed me in the direction of this book. In any case I shan’t for a moment blame those who question my decision to embark on abstract problems, any more than I shall be surprised to find an enthusiastic response on the part of other readers.

A working woman from Novosibirsk wrote: ‘I’ve seen your film four times in the last week. And I didn’t go simply to see it, but in order to spend just a few hours living a real life with real artists and real people…. Everything that torments me, everything I don’t have and that I long for, that makes me indignant, or sick, or suffocates me, everything that gives me a feeling of light and warmth, and by which I live, and everything that destroys me—it’s all there in your film, I see it as if in a mirror. For the first time ever a film has become something real for me, and that’s why I go to see it, I want to get right inside it, so that I can really be alive.’

One surely couldn’t hope for greater acknowledgement of what one is doing. My most fervent wish has always been to be able to speak out in my films, to say everything with total sincerity and without imposing my own point of view on others. But if the vision of the world that has gone into the film turns out to be one that other people recognise as a part of themselves that up till now has never been given expression, what better motivation could there be for one’s work. One woman sent me on a letter written to her by her daughter, and the young girl’s words are, I think, a remarkable statement about artistic creation as an infinitely versatile and subtle form of communication:

‘. . . How many words does a person know?’ she asks her mother rhetorically. ‘How many does he use in his everyday vocabulary? One hundred, two, three? We wrap our feelings up in words, try to express in words sorrow and joy and any sort of emotion, the very things that can’t in fact be expressed. Romeo uttered beautiful words to Juliet, vivid, expressive words, but they surely didn’t say even half of what made his heart feel as if it was ready to jump out of his chest, and stopped him breathing, and made Juliet forget everything except her love?

‘There’s another kind of language, another form of communication: by means of feeling, and images. That is the contact that stops people being separated from each other, that brings down barriers. Will, feeling, emotion—these remove obstacles from between people who otherwise stand on opposite sides of a mirror, on opposite sides of a door…. The frames of the screen move out, and the world which used to be partitioned off comes into us, becomes something real . . . And this doesn’t happen through little Andrey, it’s Tarkovsky himself addressing the audience directly, as they sit on the other side of the screen. There’s no death, there is immortality. Time is one and undivided, as it says in one of the poems. “At the table are great-grandfathers and grandchildren… ” Actually Mum, I’ve taken the film entirely from an emotional angle, but I’m sure there could be a different way of looking at it. What about you? Do write and tell me please…’

This book was taking shape all through the period when my professional activities were suspended, an interlude which I have now forcibly brought to an end by changing my life; it is intended neither to teach people nor to impose my point of view on them. Its main purpose is to help me to find my way through the maze of possibilities contained in this young and beautiful art form—still, in essence, so little explored—in order to be able to find myself, fully and independently, within it.

Artistic creation, after all, is not subject to absolute laws, valid from age to age; since it is related to the more general aim of mastery of the world, it has an infinite number of facets, the vincula that connect man with his vital activity; and even if the path towards knowledge is unending, no step that takes man nearer to a full understanding of the meaning of his existence can be too small to count.

The corpus of theory relating to cinema is still slight; the clarification of even minor points can help to throw light on its basic laws. This is what has prompted me to put forward a few of my own ideas.

I have only to add that this book has been put together from half written chapters, notes in diary form, lectures; and discussions with Olga Surkova, who came to the shooting of Andrey Rublyov when she was still a student of film history at the Institute of Cinematography in Moscow, and then, as a professional critic, spent the following years in close collaboration with us. I am indebted to her for the help she gave me throughout the writing of the book.

 “The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning it to good”

In the closing paragraph of Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky makes his final appeal, speaking to us as confidants:

Finally, I would enjoin the reader — confiding in him utterly — to believe that the one thing that mankind has ever created in a spirit of self-surrender is the artistic image. Perhaps the meaning of all human activity lies in artistic consciousness, in the pointless and selfless creative act? Perhaps our capacity to create is evidence that we ourselves were created in the image and likeness of God? — Tarkovsky

Following the superb notes on Sculpting time, we need to quote perspective is that “since finishing Sculpting in Time last week, I’ve found myself viewing film (and all art in general) from a new perspective”. He also states “We see this debate all the time: Film as “just entertainment” vs. film as “something more.” I’d been leaning towards the latter for several years; this book has completed that shift.”

“I’ve never read another book like Sculpting in Time. In it Tarkovsky speaks as eloquently about art as he does faith and philosophy, and does so in a remarkably kind, concerned voice. To him, his subject —the unique ability of the cinematic image to touch the soul and inspire spiritual improvement — is quite literally a matter of life and death. “The goal for all art,” he writes, “unless of course it is aimed at the ‘consumer’, like a saleable commodity, is to explain to the artist himself and to those around him what man lives for, what is the meaning of his existence. To explain to people the reason for their appearance on this planet; or if not to explain, at least to pose the question” (36). And again: “The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning it to good” (43).

That we understand the gravity of this statement is more than a simple intellectual or rhetorical exercise for Tarkovsky. Throughout the book (but most notably in its “Conclusion”) he speaks in the voice of a trusted elder, as if determined to pass along the wisdom gained from experience and inspiration while time allows. That he was already suffering from terminal cancer when completing the book makes it all the more affecting.

In the closing paragraph of Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky makes his final appeal, speaking to us as confidants:

Finally, I would enjoin the reader — confiding in him utterly — to believe that the one thing that mankind has ever created in a spirit of self-surrender is the artistic image. Perhaps the meaning of all human activity lies in artistic consciousness, in the pointless and selfless creative act? Perhaps our capacity to create is evidence that we ourselves were created in the image and likeness of God? — Tarkovsky

In the margin of my copy I scribbled, “Now that is how to finish a book.” Although my own appreciation of his sentiment is due, in large part, to our shared religious faith, I trust that such a faith is by no means a prerequisite for his readers. I can’t stress enough how refreshing it is to read a filmmaker speak of his craft using terms like “truth,” “love,” “sacrifice,” and (especially) “beauty.” Tarkovsky writes, “We have almost totally lost sight of the beautiful as a criterion of art” (168). It’s a criticism of the commercial cinema that is both blatant and absurd — in an era when weekend box office grosses have become the stuff of water-cooler conversations, the word “beauty” is as alien to “movies” as Tarkovsky himself is to most American movie-goers.

The greatest compliment I can give Sculpting in Time is to say that when I finished reading it I took a deep breath and watched his film, The Mirror, three times. Forgive my hyperbole, but Tarkovsky has quite honestly challenged me to adjust my entire understanding of film and of its potential.

Much of Sculpting in Time is devoted to Tarkovsky’s fascinating and detailed explanation of his methods as a filmmaker. He addresses both his stylistic techniques and, more specifically, how he put them into practice in each of his seven films (Ivan’s Childhood, The Mirror, and The Sacrifice are given the most attention; Stalker and Solaris the least). Chapter V is the longest chapter and should probably be the starting point for anyone who is interested in Tarkovsky, but not in reading the entire book. The chapter is broken into six film elements:

The Film Image

Tarkovsky begins the chapter by acknowledging that a concept like “artistic image” could never be “expressed in a precise thesis, easily formulated and understandable” (104). And that is precisely the point. For him, the potential of cinema lies in the unique ability of the film image to communicate Truth more effectively (or affectively) than language. The image is able to reveal the totality of the universe and allows the viewer to experience simultaneously complex and contradictory feelings.

Tarkovsky argues that such an image is captured only when the director abandons all attempts at objectivity, building instead from his own personal storehouse of memory and experience.The Mirror is the most obvious example of this principle put to practice — it is a film filled with images from Tarkovsky’s own childhood. His approach to the film image (in a nutshell) is that an image based on Truth (even a completely subjective truth) will resonate much more strongly with an audience than will a cliched image that comes pre-loaded with supposedly objective symbolism. Works for me. I can barely make it through The Mirror without crying.

Time, Rhythm and Editing

“Sculpting in time” is Tarkovsky’s metaphor for the construction of a film’s rhythm. Notice that the emphasis is put on time and rhythm, rather than on editing, which Tarkovsky considers little more than an assembly process. This distinction clearly separates him from his Soviet predecessors like Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Kuleshov, whose experiments in montage Tarkovsky refers to as “puzzles and riddles,” intellectual exercises that require too little of the audience.

Instead, he writes, “rhythm . . . is the main formative element of cinema” (119). He uses a short film by Pascal Aubier to illustrate his point. The ten-minute film contains only one shot: the camera begins on a wide landscape, then zooms in slowly to reveal a man on a hill. As the camera gets closer, we learn first that the man is dead, then that he has been killed. “The film has no editing, no acting and no decor,” Tarkovsky writes. “But the rhythm of the movement of time is there within the frame, as the sole organising force of the — quite complex — dramatic development” (114). Like the Aubier example, Tarkovsky’s films are marked by long takes (most notably in the bookends of The Sacrifice) and slow, beautifully choreographed camera movements.

Scenario and Shooting Script

For Tarkovsky, the greatest challenge associated with developing a script is maintaining the integrity of the film’s inspiration — “it almost seems as if circumstances have been deliberately calculated to make [the director] forget why it was that he started working on the picture” (125). For this reason, he argues that the director must also be the writer, or he must develop a partnership that is founded on complete trust. The majority of this section is devoted to The Mirror — Tarkovsky uses it as a case study of his method. Fascinating reading.

The Film’s Graphic Realisation

This section offers a glimpse of how Tarkovsky worked on set, describing his approach to collaboration. “It is essential that [the crew] should not be in any way mere functionaries; they have to participate as creative artists in their own right, and be allowed to share in all your feelings and thoughts” (135). He talks specifically about his relationship with the camera-man, who he refers to as a “co-author,” and explains how he worked with Georgi Rerberg and Vadim Yusov. This section is featured prominently in Directed by Andrey Tarkovsky, the documentary that is included on The Sacrifice DVD.

The Film Actor

Again, Tarkovsky’s approach (in this case, to directing actors) is a distinct break from the Soviet tradition, particularly that of Stanislawski. While he sees much value for the theater in what has become known as method acting, he argues that film actors, like their directors, should find inspiration in subjective experience. “The one thing the film actor has to do is express in particular circumstances a psychological state peculiar to him alone, and do so naturally, true to his own emotional and intellectual make-up, and in the form that is only right for him” (141). Free to perform without restraint, the actors then provide the director true experience from which he selects the “stuff” of his film.

Music and Noises

Tarkovsky’s discussion of sound, not surprisingly, begins with its relationship to the cinematic image: “But music is not just an appendage . . . It must be an essential element of the realisation of the concept as a whole . . . it must be so completely one with the visual image that if it were to be removed from a particular episode, the visual image would not just be weaker in its idea and impact, it would be qualitatively different” (158). As is often the case when one attempts to write about music (who said it’s like “dancing about architecture”?), Tarkovsky slips more noticeably here into poetic (rather than hard, practical) language. It makes for wonderful reading, but I’m still unsure about his exact approach: “Above all,” he writes, “I feel that the sounds of this world are so beautiful in themselves that if only we could learn to listen to them properly, cinema would have no need of music at all” (162).

My function is to make whoever sees my films aware of his need to love and to give his love, and aware that beauty is summoning him. — Tarkovsky

And yes, dear readers, the PDF of Sculpting Time. Click below:

As in:



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