Scenes from the motion picture “2012.” Courtesy Columbia Pictures.This guest article on 2012 was written by E. C. Krupp, Director of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and is reprinted with permission from Sky & Telescope Magazine. The publisher and the author reserve all rights. All opinions are the author’s own.
The year 2012 is acting like a badly behaved celebrity. Frightful rumors and gossip are spreading. Already more than a half dozen books are marketing, to eager fans, astronomical fears about 2012 End Times. Opening in theaters on Friday, Nov. 13, will be 2012, a $200-million disaster movie that seems designed to break all records for disaster spectacles — with cracking continents, plunging asteroids, burning cities, and a tsunami throwing an aircraft carrier through the White House. The movie’s ominous slogan: “Find out the truth.” Two other major movies about the 2012 doomsday are also reported to be in the works.
Anyone who cruises the internet or all-night talk radio knows why. The ancient Maya of Mexico and Guatemala kept a calendar that is about to roll up the red carpet of time, swing the solar system into transcendental alignment with the heart of the Milky Way, and turn Earth into a bowling pin for a rogue planet heading down our alley for a strike.
None of it is true. People you know, however, are likely becoming a bit afraid that modern astronomy and Maya secrets are indeed conspiring to bring our doom. If people know you’re an astronomer, they will soon be asking you all about it.
Here is what you need to know.
Birth of a Notion
We”ve had similar scares in the recent past, but none quite like this. The last time the world got all worked up over the mystical turning of a calendar was the false Millennium of Jan. 1, 2000. Never mind the actual Y2K computer-date bug. True-believer authors (and their imitators) published scary and/or hopeful books about the moment’s prophetic potential to catch an immense cosmic wave and change everything for either good or ill. Borrowing a forecast from Nostradamus, the 16th-century French riddler, author Charles Berlitz predicted catastrophe in his 1981 book Doomsday 1999. Berlitz (fresh off books on Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle), warned that 1999 could inflict flood, famine, pollution and a shift of Earth’s magnetic poles. He also spotlighted the planetary alignment of May 5, 2000, and warned that it could bring solar flares, severe earthquakes, “land changes” and “seismic explosions.”
In the 1990s an entire “Earth Changes” movement swelled into being as the end of the century neared, with all sorts of Millennial expectations — earthquakes, plagues, polar axis shifts, continents sliding into the sea, Atlantis rising and more. In England, the Sun tabloid predicted a “marvelous millennium of joy, peace, prosperity.”
When Jan. 1, 2000, came and went with nothing worse than ski-lift passes printing the date as 1900, the focus shifted to “5/5/2000″ several months later. Most believers in the power of planetary alignments forgot the failure of earlier lineups to induce disaster. The “Jupiter Effect” cataclysm predicted for March 10, 1982 (named for the 1974 book about it by John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann) commanded headlines but never materialized.
Throughout history, end-of-the-world movements missing their mark number in the “hundreds of thousands at the very least, says Richard Landes, historian at Boston University and director of its Center for Millennial Studies. But people eager for the world to end are not to be denied, and this time, of course, all will be different.
What exactly is the Maya calendar about to do? On Dec. 21, 2012, it will display the equivalent of a string of zeros, like the odometer turning over on your car, with the close of something like a millennium. In Maya calendrics, however, it’s not the end of a thousand years. It’s the end of Baktun 13. The Maya calendar was based on multiple cycles of time, and the baktun was one of them. A baktun is 144,000 days: a little more than 394 years.
Scholars have deciphered how the Maya calendar worked from historical texts and ancient inscriptions, and they have accurately correlated so-called Maya Long Count dates with the equivalent dates in our calendar. Just as we number our years counting from a historically and culturally significant event (the presumed birth year of Christ), Maya times were numbered from a date endowed with religious and cosmic significance: the creation date of the present world order. A Long Count date is the tally of days from that mythic startup. Most experts think the start point corresponds to Aug. 11, 3114 B.C.
Most of the Maya calendar intervals accumulate as multiples of 20. An interval of 7,200 days (360 × 20) was known as a katun. It takes 20 katuns to complete a baktun (20 × 7,200 = 144,000 days). Although some ancient inscriptions turn 13 baktuns into an important reset milestone, others imply that the calendar simply keeps running. For instance, it takes 20 baktuns to make a pictun.
No one paid much attention to the end of Baktun 13 until fairly recently. In 1975 Frank Waters, a romantic and speculative author, devoted a brief section to the subject in his book Mexico Mystique. He identified the 13-baktun interval as a “Mayan Great Cycle,” overestimated its duration as 5,200 years, and equated five such cycles with five legendary eras, each of which ends in the world’s destruction and rebirth. There is no genuine Maya tradition behind any of this.
Waters also miscalculated the date when the calendar would supposedly pull down the shades. “The end of the Great Cycle . . . will occur Dec. 24, 2011 A.D.,” he announced, when the world “will be destroyed by catastrophic earthquakes.” Exact date aside, the doomsday ball was now rolling.
Another book in 1975 also spotlighted the Maya calendric roundup. Dennis and Terence McKenna discussed it in The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching. That book at least got the Baktun-13 end date right: Dec. 21, 2012. It also noted that the date is the winter solstice, when the Sun will be “in the constellation Sagittarius, only about 3 degrees from the Galactic Center, which, also coincidentally, is within 2 degrees of the ecliptic.” The McKennas continued, “Because the winter solstice node is precessing, it is moving closer and closer to the point on the ecliptic where it will eclipse the galactic center.” In reality this event will never happen, but it hardly matters. The McKennas linked the whole arrangement with the concept of renewal and called 2012 a moment of “potential transformative opportunity.”
Broader interest in 2012 caught on beginning in 1987. In The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology, José Argüelles (an “artist, poet, and visionary historian” according to the dust jacket) linked the 13-baktun period with an impalpable “beam” from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. According to Argüelles, the Maya knew when we entered this beam and when we would leave it, and set their 13-baktun cycle to mark our passage through it accordingly. The beam, he asserted, operates as “invisible galactic life threads” that link people, the planet, the Sun, and the center of the Galaxy. Neither Maya tradition nor modern astronomy supports a belief in any such beam. It stemmed instead from Argüelles’s personal philosophy, which emphasizes “the principle of harmonic resonance.” Argüelles also concluded that the planets are “orbiting harmonic gyroscopes” that “play a role in the coordination of the beam,” which advances the development of anything with DNA. The year 2012, therefore, will bring a rosy version of the apocalypse.
If this sounds a bit familiar, you’re right. In 1987 Argüelles and his followers predicted, with worldwide fanfare, that Aug. 16–17 of that year would bring a Maya-Galactic “Harmonic Convergence.” That event turned into a global phenomenon, with thousands gathering at Earth’s “acupuncture points” to create a “synchronized and unified bio-electromagnetic collective battery.” Unfortunately, the date passed with nothing more than colorful newspaper stories and a Doonesbury satire. (A character explains earnestly that that the alignment could bring either “mass unification of divine and earth-plane selves,” or perhaps nuclear annihilation. “Either way there will probably be a crafts fair.”)
Galactic Guessing Games
Fast-forward to 1995. That year John Major Jenkins packaged several of these themes into Maya Cosmogenesis 2012. According to Jenkins, the winter-solstice point and the centerline of the Galaxy will line up exactly on Dec. 21. Arguing that this motivated the Maya to contrive the calendar to end on that date, Jenkins concludes that it will be “a tremendous transformation and opportunity for spiritual growth, a transition from one world age to another.”
In fact, astronomy cannot pinpoint such a “galactic alignment” to within a year, much less a day. The alignment depends on the rather arbitrary modern definition of the galactic equator, and/or the visual appearance of the Milky Way. There is no precise definition of the Milky Way’s edges — they are very vague and depend on the clarity of your view. (Jenkins says that he personally established the Milky Way’s edges by viewing it from 11,000 feet, far above anywhere the Maya lived.) So to give a precise visual position for its centerline is not meaningful.
Jenkins did acknowledge that the winter-solstice Sun actually crosses the center of the Milky Way anytime between 1980 and 2016. Elsewhere he expands this approach zone to a 900-year period, and settles for an imprecise alignment to which Dec. 21, 2012, is arbitrarily and circularly assigned. Real astronomy does not support any match between the Baktun-13 end date and a galactic alignment. The advocates both admit and ignore this discrepancy.
It’s almost a sidelight that the winter-solstice sun will never actually “eclipse” the galaxy’s true center, the pointlike radio source marking the Milky Way’s central black hole. Moreover, the winter-solstice sun won’t even pass closest to it on the sky for another 200 years. What did the Maya themselves think about End Times? There is no evidence that they saw the calendar and a world age ending in either transcendence or catastrophe on December 21, 2012. Some Maya Long Count texts refer to dates many baktuns past 13 and even into the next pictun and beyond. For instance, an inscription commissioned in the 7th century A.D. by King Pacal of Palenque predicts that an anniversary of his accession would be commemorated on Oct. 15, 4772.
In all of the Long Count texts discovered, transcribed, and translated, only one mentions the key date in 2012: Monument 6 at Tortuguero, a Maya site in the Mexican state of Tabasco. The text is damaged, but what remains does not imply the end of time.
The Secret NASA Conspiracy
Some advocates for the 2012 catastrophe say that what will actually cause the devastation is an alignment of planets. There is no planet alignment on the winter solstice in 2012. Nonetheless, advocates of doom connect the fictional alignment to astrological predictions or groundless claims about a reversal of Earth’s magnetic field and unprecedented solar storms. Many internet postings and guests on all-night apocalyptic radio have elaborated on these themes.
In particular, several threads of irrational thought have created an internet phantom, the secret planet Nibiru. It’s the bowling ball, and Earth is the pin. There is no such planet, though it is often equated with Eris, a plutoid orbiting safely and permanently beyond Pluto. Some insist, however, that a NASA conspiracy is in play and that Nibiru, looming in on the approach, can already be seen in broad daylight from the Southern Hemisphere. It was supposed to become visible from the Northern Hemisphere, too, by last May, but like a fickle blind date, it stood up those awaiting it.
Others on the Web, confused about the supposed alignment of the winter-solstice sun with the Milky Way’s center, have declared that the Sun is now plummeting to the Milky Way’s center and dragging Earth with it. The predicted result? Earth’s polar axis will shift. Most of what’s claimed for 2012 relies on wishful thinking, wild pseudoscientific folly, ignorance of astronomy, and a level of paranoia worthy of Night of the Living Dead.
So maybe the Maya were on to us after all. The clock is ticking. And it’s the end of the world as we know it.
E.C. Krupp, a Sky & Telescope contributing editor, is Director of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.
2012 – A Scientific Reality Check
On December 16, 1992, 8 days after its encounter with Earth, the Galileo spacecraft looked back from a distance of about 6.2 million kilometers (3.9 million miles) to capture this remarkable view of the Moon in orbit about Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPLThere apparently is a great deal of interest in celestial bodies, and their locations and trajectories at the end of the calendar year 2012. Now, I for one love a good book or movie as much as the next guy. But the stuff flying around through cyberspace, TV and the movies is not based on science. There is even a fake NASA news release out there… So here is the scientific reality on the celestial happenings in the year 2012.
Nibiru, a purported large object headed toward Earth, simply put – does not exist. There is no credible evidence – telescopic or otherwise – for this object’s existence. There is also no evidence of any kind for its gravitational affects upon bodies in our solar system.
I do however like the name Nibiru. If I ever get a pet goldflish (and I just may do that sometime in early 2013), Nibiru will be at the top of my list.
The Mayan calendar does not end in December 2012. Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period, but then – just as your calendar begins again on January 1 – another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.
There are no credible predictions for worrisome astronomical events in 2012. The activity of the sun is cyclical with a period of roughly 11 years and the time of the next solar maximum is predicted to occur in the period 2010 – 2012. However, the Earth routinely experiences these periods of increased solar activity – for eons – without worrisome effects. The Earth’s magnetic field, which deflects charged particles from the sun, does reverse polarity on time scales of about 400,000 years but there is no evidence that a reversal, which takes thousands of years to occur, will begin in 2012. Even if this several thousand year-long magnetic field reversal were to begin, that would not affect the Earth’s rotation nor would it affect the direction of the Earth’s rotation axis… only Superman can do that.
The only important gravitational tugs experienced by the Earth are due to the moon and sun.There are no planetary alignments in the next few decades, Earth will not cross the galactic plane in 2012, and even if these alignments were to occur, their effects on the Earth would be negligible. Each December the Earth and Sun align with the approximate center of the Milky Way Galaxy but that is an annual event of no consequence.
The predictions of doomsday or dramatic changes on December 21, 2012 are all false. Incorrect doomsday predictions have taken place several times in each of the past several centuries. Readers should bear in mind what Carl Sagan noted several years ago; “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, the burden of proof is on the people making these claims. Where is the science? Where is the evidence? There is none, and all the passionate, persistent and profitable assertions, whether they are made in books, movies, documentaries or over the Internet, cannot change that simple fact. There is no credible evidence for any of the assertions made in support of unusual events taking place in December 2012.
For more information on the silliness surrounding December 2012, see:
Olé for CUBAN ZOMBIES! This movie is probably the freshest thing to come in the ridiculously overcrowded zombie movie productions (somebody said “World War Z”?).
Being Cuba’s first real horror movie, “Juan Of The Dead” comes as a Latin take on zombie comedy flicks, reminiscing “Shaun Of The Dead”, but just a little, as it has it’s own unique dimension.
It’s 50 years past the famous Castro revolution in Cuba and a horde of zombies are coming to make Chaos. Mistakenly taken as dissidents paid by the US (actually if the US Gov could, they probably would..) first, they are soon going to meet with zombie-killer Juan and his posse. Havana has never been so bloody.
As Germain Lussier puts it for slashfilm.com (and we totally subscribe it):
“I would rip off someone’s jaw to see Juan of the Dead right now. That’s how cool this first trailer is for what Latino Review calls “Cuba’s 1st Horror Film” is. Written and directed by Alejandro Bruges, Juan of the Dead takes place 50 years after the Cuban Revolution, where the island is overrun by zombies the government swears were sent by the United States. Social commentary aside, it’s then up to one man to attempt to solve the problem. Part Shaun of the Dead (obviously) but with a grittier look more akin to something culty and cool like Six-String Samurai, you’ve gotta see this bad-ass trailer for Juan of the Dead.”
Check out the official site at http://www.juanofthedeadmovie.com
Directed by: Alejandro Brujes
Starring: Alexis Díaz de Villegas, Andrea Duro, Jorge Molina, Luis Alberto García, Blanca Rosa Blanco, Jazz Vilá, Elsa Camp, Susana Pous, Andros Perugorría, Eliecer Ramírez
Alejandro Brugués has stated that the English speaking character’s unspoken plan was to steal Granma, the yacht Fidel Castro used to sail to Cuba, from the Museum of the Revolution in Havana and use it to sail off the island.
The testicle scene between Lázaro and his son is not a “natural occurrence”. Lázaro’s bits are made from plastic.
Juan de los Muertos was made with the support of the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficas – Icaic, Canal Sur, Televisión Española and the collaboration of Junta de Andalucía, Ibermedia, Cinergia and Universidad De Guadalajara.
Socialism’s Sacred Cows Suffer Zombie Attack in Popular Cuban Film
By VICTORIA BURNETT
HAVANA — The day after Havana is invaded by the living dead, Juan and Sara emerge from their dilapidated apartment building to find the streets filled with people roving aimlessly, their wide eyes blank.
Javier Galeano/Associated Press
The filming of the new Cuban horror spoof “Juan of the Dead” last December in Havana.
The suggestion that 52 years of socialist rule have turned Cuba into a zombie state, a central conceit of the new Cuban horror spoof “Juan of the Dead,” is daringly irreverent satire in a country that takes its revolution with deadly seriousness.
But instead of being forced underground, the movie was included in an officially sanctioned film festival last week where Cubans flocked to see it in such numbers that the police had to intervene and extra screenings were added. Its camp humor notwithstanding, this crude, low-budget splatter film has become an improbable landmark in the gradual opening of Cuban culture.
“Cinema reflects what’s going on around us,” said Carlos Hernandez, 47, a street performer who was among the 1,300 people in the audience at a screening on Thursday. “There are openings. The walls around what you can and can’t say are starting to crumble.
“There’s an irreverence in the movie that reflects the wider irreverence felt by a lot of young people.”
“Juan of the Dead” is by no means the first Cuban film to examine the darker aspects of life on the island or to poke fun at Cubans’ hardships. Several feature films produced over the past two decades, with or without state sponsorship, have critiqued issues like homosexuality, exile and social inequality.
But Juan’s gleefully mischievous pot shots at Cuban sacred cows, from government-controlled media to Fidel Castro himself, are unusually risqué, reflecting a growing cinematic freedom in a country where open criticism of the political system is barely tolerated. Because they are embedded in the constructs of a popular action genre, the film’s cheeky gags are ensured a broad audience.
The shifts in Cuba’s film industry mirror the broader reality on the island, where President Raúl Castro has gradually reduced the role of the state, cutting subsidies and public-sector jobs and opening space for private enterprise in a bid to salvage the economy.
Filmmakers and moviegoers said the zombie film, Cuba’s first, reflected an emerging diversity in Cuban film as less-expensive digital technology has allowed an explosion of independent movie production. It also signaled the coming of age of a group of filmmakers who grew up during the post-Soviet era, when the destitute Cuban state lost its near-monopoly on Cuban cinema.
For decades, the state-financed Cuban Institute of Cinematic Art and Industry controlled the production and distribution of Cuban film and to a large extent defined Cuban cinema, which was viewed as an important pillar of the revolution. The institute produced some highly acclaimed films, including Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s “Memories of Underdevelopment” in 1968, and the Oscar-nominated “Strawberry and Chocolate,” about the relationship between a gay man and a committed Communist, in 1993.
But the institute’s budget dropped dramatically after the fall of the Soviet Union, and it turned to joint productions with countries like Spain to survive.
The digital revolution, which took off in Cuba over the past 10 years, kindled a surge in independent film, from shorts and video clips to features.
Film experts said the fact that the five Cuban feature films in competition at the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema this year were shot digitally, most of them with minimal input from the institute, was a watershed.
“It is a reflection of what’s going on in Cuban cinema,” said Juan Carlos Cremata, a Cuban director whose ultra-low-budget feature film “Chamaco” is competing at the festival. “The most interesting things happening in cinema today are happening outside the institute.”
Mr. Cremata said he made “Chamaco,” which deals with sexual exploitation and abuse, without institutional help so he could retain creative independence.
“Juan of the Dead” — the title is an homage to the campy zombie touchstone “Dawn of the Dead” and its spoof “Shaun of the Dead” — cost about $3 million, the most expensive Cuban movie to be produced on the island with private financing and virtually no input from the institute. It was produced by a Spanish company and one founded by young Cuban filmmakers.
“Juan of the Dead” tells the blood-drenched tale of a slacker who decides to save the island from an invasion of cannibalistic zombies. As the zombies turn Havana into a gory circus of flying limbs and severed heads, the nightly news anchors continue to calmly assert the government line, that the attacks are not the work of the undead but dissidents in the pay of the United States.
The film is scattered with allusions to traumatic moments in Cuba’s recent history: Cubans flee the zombies in makeshift boats that recall the raft-borne exodus of 1994; the darkened, shuttered streets, one character says, echo the “special period” of economic hardship after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“Cuban reality is so incredible that there are things in the movie that seem like you made them up, but in fact they are based on truth,” said Alejandro Brugués, the 35-year-old director, who was born in Argentina but grew up in Cuba. “I just put zombies in the scenario, instead of real people.”
Mr. Brugués insisted that that the film is “social commentary, not political.”
Still, the movie includes a couple of digs at the paramount leader of the revolution, Fidel Castro, who is rarely the butt of jests on the big screen. The last zombie standing, with his back to the audience as the credits roll, wears a familiar olive-green uniform with the revolutionary motto “Until victory, always” emblazoned on his jacket.
A version of this article appeared in print on December 11, 2011, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: Socialism’s Sacred Cows Suffer Zombie Attack In Popular Cuban Film.
Some movies can change the way your perception works. They are like good drugs or deep meditation. We searched the web and IMDB to find some of the essentials you cannot die without seeing. So here you have a selection of 48 less 1 movies as a must.
The most famous Soviet film-maker since Sergei M. Eisenstein, Andrey 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.
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.
In almost every movie he made, there is a shot or a sound of water dripping.
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
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
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 Longpauses.com.
Longpauses.com 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: