Saturday, 3 June 2017

Like a picnic in the park prepared by supermodels

I appreciate that this is some 45 years late, but I would like to review Andrei Tarkovsky's cinematic adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris.

Would like to, but I'm not sure I'm any the wiser.  It took me two evenings to get through it, and even then I fell asleep.  I jolted awake and found Kris Kelvin wandering around in his underwear.  I don't remember him undressing.  How much did I miss?  And did it explain the lingering close ups of a Bruegel landscape?  Or any of the other overlong and pointless scenes, almost too many to count?  Like the tedious elongated motorway scene, confusingly through a Japanese city?  I can only assume the editor was trussed up in the boot.

I suppose a starting point would be to regard this as Soyuz to, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey's Saturn 5.  America got a man to the moon and back.  Russia didn't.  America produced a film worth re-watching.  Russia didn't.  I don't want to make anything of the limited special effects, reflective of technology and budget then available.  But the vision, regardless of how it's realised?  Wood panelled libraries filled with books?  Big comfy swivel chairs?  Candelabra?  If there's one thing we all know about space it's that there ain't much space in space.  And, remember, this was made when the world was already familiar with what life in a spacecraft looked like.

My copy of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die doesn't seem to have a problem with such issues, and credits it as a "sci-if masterpiece".  IMDB gives it 8.1/10.  They make it sound like a picnic in the park with supermodels.  A picnic prepared by supermodels, maybe: not much, spread too thin.  But this is what they say:

"A brilliant experience of duration and big ideas combined with ascetic production values, Solaris is an argument against the ambivalence of lived reality in favour of fantasy's all-inclusive satisfaction.  Through Kris's journey from indifferent outsider to being literally the centre of a world created just for him, we see the unmaking of a rational mind by sheer desire.  As such, Tarkovsky's film uses the widescreen frame and lengthy takes to organise truly beautiful imagery.  In this fashion, Solaris externalises interior states to embody the mood of its protagonist."

Even with a first degree in philosophy and a masters in philosophy and psychology, I'm not sure what this all adds up to.  Other than Emperor's new clothes.

You see, film is good for seeing and hearing things, but not good for emotions - I recall Clive Hopkins, who taught a screenwriting workshop I attended almost a quarter of a century ago, hammer home the point that a screenplay should have what you see and what you hear and nothing else.  When you get into the world of sights and sounds that supposedly signify emotions I think you need emotional gullibility as much emotional intelligence to buy completely in.  A film can't take you inside the head like a book can, despite claims otherwise.  You're always outside looking in.  It's the difference between being on an acid trip and being in the same room as someone on an acid trip.

But whenever you hold your hand up and say that you just don't get such semiotics, or Rothko or Miro or fauvism, or practically any poetry that doesn't scan or rhyme, you inevitably run the risk of being branded a philistine.  Poor you, brain so limited that it thinks post-structuralism is what holds fences up.  It's the peer pressure that stops you pointing and shouting 'arse' when all around you are declaring it art.

But this is arse.  It's clearly arse.  The book may be brilliant - it's been filmed three times, and the Soderbergh version is a taut 98 minutes - but the film is arse.

Didn't Goebbles argue that if you make the lie big enough then it will be believed?  It's the same with art.  Art or arse?  In the medium distance we can all spot buttocks wobbling.  But Leviathan arse?  So big we can't avoid having our faces pressed up close?  That chocolate starfish begins to resemble some exotic plant, all leathery leaves, folds and ridges.  Anal hairs get mistaken for antannae, listening for signs of alien life against the cosmic background radiation.  Blemishes can be mistaken for beauty.

But it's still arse.

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