Alexander Gordon was a VGIK co-student, friend, and eventually also brother-in-law, of Andrei Tarkovsky's.
The following are a few excerpts from his article Student Years,
which was written for the publication About Andrei Tarkovsky, Memoirs and Biographies, Progress Publishers,
Moscow 1990 ISBN 5-01-001973-6.
|On The Killers
Because our institute didn't have enough equipment, the students had
to work on films in twos and threes. The two of us asked a fellow
student, Marika Beiku, to work with us. We chose her because she was
kind and easy going. The story of how we shot Hemingway's The Killers
is a simple one. In the spring Romm told us what we would have to do — shoot only indoors, use just a small group of actors and base the
story on some dramatic event. It was Tarkovsky's idea to produce The
Killers. The parts were to be played by fellow students — Nick Adams
by Yuli Fait, Ole Anderson the former boxer, of course, by Vasily
Shukshin. The murderers were Valentin Vinogradov, a directing
student, and Boris Novikov, an acting student. I played the cafe
The institute had very few props. We brought everything from home,
from relatives and friends. I remember Andrei brought a round wall
clock and his grandmother's small case for Shukshin. In the institute
studio we fixed up an American bar (something that was regarded as the
symbol of depravity) with bottles that bore foreign labels. It was a
major event in the institute; students came to the set on guided
We divided the story into three parts. I was in charge of the scene
with the boxer Shukshin. The main scene in the cafe where the
murderers, who were wearing black coats, hats and gloves, waited for
their victim. Andrei and Marika did that, but Andrei was definitely
in charge. Tarkovsky was serious about his work, but jolly at the
same time. He gave the camera students, Alvarez and Rybin, plenty of
time to do the lighting well. He created long pauses, generated lots
of tension in those pauses, and demanded that the actors be natural.
There was no music, just talking and the whistling of one of the bar
custmers, played by Andrei himself.
Romm praised the film. And our
fellow students liked it too.
|On Mikhail Romm
From the very outset we never ceased to be amazed by Romm. In the
beginning he shocked us with the statement that a student can't be
taught to be a director! A person can be taught to stage a scene,
edit and learn the basic laws and methods of cinematography, but this
is not what's most important. Romm said that his main job was to help
us think or at least not hinder us. At that moment Andrei's face
expressed deepest satisfaction.
Romm later wrote: "A class consists of about fifteen students, future
directors or actors. A good teacher, an experienced one, knows that
everything will be all right if two or three of the students are
particularly talented. The teacher essentially may not have to teach
at all. The students will teach each other and learn on their own.
If there is a group of good students who define the direction of the
class, its essence and system of thinking, the entire level will rise
enormously... Shukshin and Tarkovsky, who were exact opposites [...],
worked side by side and this was very useful to the whole class. It
made things exciting and contradictory. And very many gifted people
gathered around them."
Mikhail Romm, Selected Works, in three volumes, Vol 2, Iskusstvo Publishers, Moscow 1981.
|On Divine Intervention, or Not...
The summers in Tarusa were wonderful. [...] We sat for a long time
by the fire, baked potatoes and talked. Andrei knew just how to do a
campfire, and chopped tree branches for beds. We went to sleep late,
when it was completely dark. Marina was easily frightened; whe
imagined all sorts of horrors. [...] The wind was howling, the trees
rustled and branches made crackling sounds. It was mysticism to say
the least! And in the morning we laughed over our night fears. That
night Andrei told us about something that had happened to him when he
was on a geological expedition in 1953. He was laying in a hunter's
hut all alone one windy night like that one; the trees were rustling
and a storm was coming. Suddenly he heard someone say "Get out of
here!" It was a clear quiet voice; Andrei didn't move a muscle. Then
he heard it again: "Get out of here!" Andrei ran out of the hut,
wether in response to the command, either out of fear, or for some
other reason he couldn't explain himself. Right then an enormous
larch cracked like a match by a powerful gust of wind, fell on the hut
right over the place where he had been lying just a minute before...
Although we were full of anxiety that night we were skeptical about
his story. Andrei kept insisting that it really had happened to him.
He was smart enough, though, not to argue with us confirmed
materialists, so we changed the subject,
|On the Small, but Significant
He was not interested in the world of the known and repeated truths.
Sometimes he was literally shaken by his insight into the future, the
unexplored. He was intuitively drawn to this, attracted by it...
He could see something interesting and deep in small things, in the
insignificant manifestation of existence. Once late at night we were
walking to his house. We walked along the sidewalk, past the trees,
and the street lights played a game of shadows and lights. The
shadows from the branches and our bodies appeared in front of us,
circling around our feet like a carousel, vanishing behind us and once
again appearing before us. This feeling of extacy with our youth,
with life itself, this bewitching expression of the moment, excited
Andrei. He suddenly stopped, stood quietly for a moment, then said:
"You know, that's what I'll do, I'll shoot it! These step, these
shadows... It's possible; I'll do it for sure!" I'll always remember
him as he was then — excited and happy.