I’ve been reading the novel that “suggested” Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Roadside Picnic, by the Strugatsky Bros. It came out a couple of years ago in a new translation, which caught up with the Russian editions that now include things that didn’t pass the Soviet censor. Excellent novel, although of course it is nothing like Tarkovsky’s movie. Imagine a Russian Blade Runner and you would be closer to the feel of the book.
The book is hardly mentioned in Geoff Dyer’s account of Tarkovsky’s movie, Zona. Nor, I think, does Dyer mention a phonetic coincidence that I think would have highly interested Tarkovsky – namely, that Zona, in the language of the Fore people of New Guinea, meant ghost wind. That wind from the north was blamed for the fact that women and children with “kuru” would tremble uncontrollably. In reality, kuru was caused by a novel form of ritual honoring the dead that spread among New Guinea people in the twentieth century, and that involved eating the brains of the corpese. This produced spongiform encephalopathy, which brought about trembling, hallucinations and death. A very Zona like phenomenon.
All of which is simply a hook, on which I want to hang some remarks about Tarkovsky and receptive dozing. Some friends visited us last week and we talked briefly about sleeping while watching a movie or tv – a subject that fascinates me. There are certain rare works that induce receptive dozing – that is, they induce a half-awake state in which the work does its business. Proust and Kafka are always tending towards this point, but I think it is more truly native of another media, film. Tarkovsky in particular is a master of the hypnogogic devise – like dripping water – and the sense of time slowed down (as I’ve been told is the sensation of those involved in car accidents – everything starts happening extremely slowly); for some people, this is the cue for going to sleep entirely, and cutting the thread with the work, but for others, what happens is related to lucid dreaming. The sensory input drifts in, like the wreckage from some downed ship. I’ve seen Stalker three times, but I don’t know if I have “seen” it like I saw “Blade Runner”. Rather, I’ve slept it.