Many writers will tell you that writing ‘short’ is often a much tougher discipline than writing ‘long’ – a short story can be more demanding than a novel. In the case of writing about a life’s oeuvre, as Sean Martin has attempted with his recent book, Andrei Tarkovsky, the task is daunting indeed, for the Russian director is an idiosyncratic and demanding auteur. Kamera books has a strong track record in publishing short, pithy overviews of directors, genres and national cinemas. The series is largely successful in providing credible and accessible introductory volumes for the interested and curious cinema-goer and fledgling film students. Both groups are well served by Martin’s book, which does justice – in a brief 196 pages of text proper – to the complex, semi-autobiographical visual poetry that constitutes Tarkovsky‘s cinema. In chapters that cover his seven major films, Martin writes with a fine turn of phrase that reveals a firm critical understanding and sensitivity to the filmmaker, to wit: ‘Poetry, for Tarkovsky, is the form of linguistic expression that is as close as we can get to life itself; it is a manifestation of truths beyond language.’ Of Nostalgia he writes: ‘It is as if Tarkovsky is heeding the advice of Robert Bresson in the film – more so than in any of his previous work – â€œBe sure of having used to the full all that is communicated by immobility and silence.â€ If Stalker is one of the great films of silence, then Nostalgia is one of the great films of immobility…’ The author’s stated intent for this volume is ‘to serve as a short overview of Tarkovsky’s work for those unfamiliar with it, or as a stimulus to go back and re-watch the films for those already acquainted with them’. It succeeds on both counts.
The appropriately named publishers FAB and Headpress both immerse themselves in the muddy waters of transgressive cinema and liminal spaces and places. What links FAB Press’s Flesh and Blood Volume 2 and Headpress’s Dark Stars Rising is their mutual celebration of authors – cinematic and otherwise – whose integrity of vision or simple bloody-mindedness (literally and figuratively) is enmeshed in their work and often indistinguishable from their lives. Hence, in Dark Stars Rising, Shade Rupe presents a vast collection of interviews undertaken over the years with many artists who may fairly be put into the camp of extremist cinema. In a set of 27 interviews – more conversations really, as the author notes – some fascinating words are spoken by the likes of Gaspar Noé, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Udo Kier and Hermann Nitsch, each of whom takes the reader on a journey – often circuitous – into his mind and work. Rupe is a game interviewer but too often takes a chummy, near-schmoozy approach to his subjects; he occasionally gets lost in his own vast references and misses chances to probe more deeply into his subject’s opinions, observations or downright misguided ideas. A trifle too hagiographic in his approach then – but forget about my niggling: this collection provides an insider’s guide to the fringes of culture and takes us joyfully into the liminal hinterlands of cinema and art.
Not dissimilar in its cultural territory but significantly different in approach and subject matter, Harvey Fenton’s new book is a miscellany of interviews and historical/cultural essays about various fringe or geek (in the best sense of the word) cinematic tastes. It is a delicious potpourri about good old exploitation and ‘cult’ cinema. Indeed, there is a piece by Robert G. Weiner on that hoary old carny barker of a film producer, the legendary Dwain Esper, who, along with those other film biz rascals, Kroger Babb, David Friedman and Willis Kent, made going to the ‘sin pit’ such a satisfactory guilty pleasure. Carl T. Ford contributes a worthy piece on Dušan Makavejev and Sweet Movie, while Kier-La Janisse’s piece, ‘Boccaccio’s Bastards: the Decameron from Pop to Porn’, makes a unique cine-historiographical job of tracing the bawdy Italian’s major work as it has evolved in various cinematic interpretations – rarely culminating in a masterpiece to match the source material. Topics range from body horror to Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses – linked nicely in this collection through its connection to the various incarnations of Le Fanu’s vampire novella, Carmilla, which is the focus of Jonathon Scott’s engaging chapter, ‘The Female of the Species: Fantale’s Karnstein Trilogy’. There follow interviews with John Landis (which is not as probing as might have been hoped), Alan Birkinshaw, Geoffrey Wright and Paul Verhoeven discussing ‘the politics of pulp’. Flesh and Blood Volume 2 has been long anticipated and is a worthy successor to the original collection. It is certainly a must-have addition if you enjoyed (and coveted) the first volume. Both Headpress and FAB deserve praise for the kind of tangential cinematic materials with which they so joyfully engage.
James B. Evans