Shavkat Abdusalamov
 


Working with Andrei on Stalker.


It was the summer of 1977. I received a telegram in Tarusa:

I called to learn the details. I abandoned wife, daughter, Oka River, Valley of Dreams, Boris-Musatov, Marina Tsvetayeva - everything I had lived with that summer in Tarusa. I went to Tallinn with Leonid. I had already worked with Kalashnikov on Klimov's Agony. Andrei came to us in the hotel. We went down to the cafe, drank brandy at someone's expense and talked. Andrei seemed to be recovering. He had failed both with Rerberg and with Boim. They had parted. It happens, not only in the cinema. He was not sorry about the designer, but with Georgi Rerberg he had made The Mirror. It was late, we were being turned out of the cafe. And we had only just reached emotional intimacy.

"Finally, I've found a designer!"

I asked:

"What prevented you from doing it earlier?"

"Your whim," he replied.

I had been unfair: He had invited me to do Solaris but together with Mikhail Romadin. I had refused: "There should be only one designer," I had said then.

Andrei never forgave mistakes. It was my refusal that he called a whim. He remembered it. He could hold a grudge for a long time, and sometimes he would threaten you. But there was something childish in it. He never took revenge on anyone. He took everything with him, like a man.

Next morning the three of us went forty kilometers away from Tallinn. What we saw there was an old dilapidated electric plant, a river polluted by chemical waste, tanks covered with reddish-green spots of rust and scrap metal strewn all over the place, mostly from airplanes.

"They tried hard," said Kalashnikov vaguely.

"Boim," Andrei smirked. "You're friends?"

I didn't answer, Andrei was being unfair. Boim was simply not his most precise choice, as was also the case later with Knyazhinsky. It was not difficult to guess what their basic error was. It was unrelatedness. Everything was overdone, but actually seemed insufficient to the eye. Andrei demanded more. The picture showed the technical victim, and not a drop of the human. One felt no pity for the damaged gun, one felt sorry for the people who had died. And the latter was absent. And Andrei agreed with me. All my work was reduced to removing the superficial. A lot proved to be superficial. Then I repainted the hangar, made it match the landscape in tone, and made gates with barbed wire. The latter was outside the Zone. I modeled an old bus with the the "driver" immobilized at the wheel. I recall having suggested to make a bus out of transparent plastic as if it were being X-rayed. Andrei was carried away by the idea. Later it turned out that to implement the idea it was necessary to apply, at the very least, to the top echelons of the Defense Ministry. In the end we began to set up still life on the ground by centimeter. It was a sort of self consolation. You can see it in the film. I remember him powdering the bush leaves in the foreground with bronze. He was doing it with the selflessness of a child. The camera remained idle, I remained idle and the actors were idle. I don't remember him working in some special way with the actors. He simply made them do the same thing over and over again. Most often it ended with the shooting being called off.

We did not work together for long...

[...]

At the time I was painting a picture, I had envisaged it for a long time. It was of small size, but it is a breakthrough, and I owe the breakthrough to a premonition of Andrei's death. [...] The picture shows a stripling with a cup in his hand, above him is an horizontally outspread figure, it is flattened, as if existing in another dimension. The stripling is bald - physical vulnerability, spontaneity and openness. Andrei likes those first pictures of mine for the same reason. It was from them that he modeled his Stalker. He had been approaching that personage for a very long time. What I derived from my wildness he took from culture.

At four Andrei learned to read, at eleven-twelve he leafed through Leonardo. At ten I was inventing different ways of escaping from another children's colony. Andrei's father abandoned his children perhaps to write poetry. I don't know whether that was so. My father Fazyl (which means "enlightened"), arrested at the end of 1937, was lumbering in the taiga of Siberia at the time. What was there in common? Nothing, only Andrei and I turned out to be next to each other. I had not read books: we were too beaten for that.

[...]

I don't remember what year it was when Andrei introduced me to his new wife. He called her by a diminutive name. She was large, voluptuous, and warm. I thought at the time: "This homely lady is exactly what he needs." There was borshch for dinner. The table was laid in the living room. Home. The fragrant freshness of a child in bed, the top storey, large windows and what was particularly impressive (after my tiny room), his own study where we attempted to talk after the borshch. It was then that I began to notice changes in Andrei. It was still a long way to "hostile bourgeois," but the turn had been taken. Soon he started waring a doe-skin jacket with a trimming of cords. I was tempted to ask: "How are our brothers the Apaches doing?"

I had known his first wife Irina. She was quite different, open but far from cozy. She was the very antithesis of coziness. Self-expression was her thing. She could have become Tarkovsky's girl-friend. Girl-friends cannot lose - leaving wives far behind. It was also at Yuri's [Yuri Kochevrin] that we met. She is still with him. A male character. I liked her, she was of the same breed as Andrei. She bore him a son, Arseny and retained his last name. Who knows, perhaps it was for this reason , for our love to Irina that Larisa divorced Andrei from his past. At Stalker we already openly failed to understand each other. All that was warm and homely between us had already been used up. The outlines of a big-fish stood out clearly in her in the cold breeze of the Baltic Sea.

In the evenings Andrei brought together the main part of the group for a reading of the ninth version of the screenplay. From time to time he looked up from the text and asked me how I saw a certain scene. I replied, apparently, very much to the point. Andrei nodded in agreement, occasionally exclaiming "Excellent! Don't forget it, write it down..." I was soaring, I felt cramped in the hotel room, I generated not only fresh forms and textures but also ideas. Andrei guessed that I was rushing into battle; he spurred me on, the game inspired us. But gradually a dense atmosphere began to form at these readings. Irony started to prevail in my flights of fancy. Andrei grew nervous. Larisa did not leave us alone for a minute. We were already surrounded by her "henchmen." She took no part in our talks, but she controlled them, and how! She would sail in with a cup of tea, go round with the sugar, just as voluptuous, not warm any longer but hot, stuffy like a quilt. Andrei was exasperated: "Larisa!" But Larisa did not hear. A quilt absorbs sound. Her own "henchmen" subsequently said that Larisa's attacks began with these readings. It was at them that she brought Rerberg out of the game; he was a cameraman with a director's way of thinking, and his name had to be taken into consideration at least. This was always troublesome. Particularly when one is offered "the syrup of genius" together with tea.

Kalashnikov and I stopped coming to Andrei's. Andrei was upset. But he refused to read in our rooms. Finally we summoned up all our nerve and went to Andrei's. Having discussed the screenplay once more, Andrei got up and came up to me, and it so happened that I said: "Give me the text for a few days, I'll rewrite it. Your's is not legible." We did not have a copy of the screenplay for ourselves. He only read it to us. The screenplay featured only dialogues. There were no comments. He knew where each scene would be filmed, and this seemed sufficient to him. But we, in particular, had to organize the environment for the dialogues. That was exactly what I intended to do, asking him to give me the text for a few days. Larisa hissed. She was at the center of a broken circle. Only several seconds were left before the eruption. Kalashnikov and I retreated. Poor Leonid couldn't calm down all the way back: "Why, I thought... I'll never work with a genius again!"

[...]

What a joyful person he could be! Knowing that much was given to him, he showed off like a youngster. When I left him working on Stalker he was raving at me. Then he quieted down, began sending his best regards, even from abroad. And then there were only rumors of different kinds, and then one, irreversible, reeking of death, the end which one refused to believe. [...]


Shavkat and Andrei, friends for more than 20 years, did not work together for long on this project. Shavkat left Stalker for personal reasons after only a brief period. Their cooperation on Stalker is little more than a footnote in film history, but we think the above may be of interest to some of our readers. --Nostalghia.com editors.

The above is an excerpt from: Shavkat Abdusalamov, Feedbeck Effects, translated by Sergei Sossinsky. Published in About Andrei Tarkovsky, Memoirs and Biographies, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1990. ISBN 5-01-001973-6 (also available in Russian, see this site's Bibliography section).

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