By Jeffrey Overstreet
Have you ever become such an admirer of somebody that you made a fool of yourself over it?
I’ve been a raving psycho-fan at times. It began with life-sized “standees” of a particular pop star in my bedroom. Later, I snuck through a concert hall’s back door while a rock star did a sound-check. Years later, meeting Sam Phillips, I think I glimpsed a tremor of fear in her eyes as I raved about what her music has meant to me.
A few years ago, I saw how much worse it can get. A reader of my reviews started “ambushing” me in various locations. He’d spy on me, find out my favorite haunts, then wait for me there. Once during a downpour, he literally jumped out of the bushes; he’d been hiding there and hoping I’d pass by just so he could talk at me. When he started intruding at my office and annoying coworkers, I took strong measures to end it.
I’m glad I never reached that level of psychosis. I’ve learned a lot about restraint and courtesy by working as a journalist and interviewer. But sometimes I still want to know: What is the best way to be an admirer? How can a fan connect with his hero without embarrassing himself?
Let me congratulate Dmitry Trakovsky. Here’s a role model for how to be a super-fan.
Dmitry has a favorite filmmaker: the world-renowned and revered filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. And he had given his admiration a shape. At twenty-three years old, he made a documentary celebrating his hero. He’s currently presenting it at various festivals, special screenings, and Tarkovsky retrospectives around the world, and he’s taking orders for the DVD.
His film Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky—yes, a young man named Trakovsky has filmed a tribute to Tarkovsky—is more than a fan letter. What could have been a self-serving attempt to publicly connect himself with a great artist has become instead an artful and admirable work of “stalking.”
Now, don’t get me wrong: Andrei Tarkovsky died in 1986. So “stalking” the man who made Stalker, Solaris, Andrei Rublev, and The Sacrifice is tricky.
Dmitry does it by collecting the testimonies of Tarkovsky scholars, filmmakers who were influenced by his work, and some of his former collaborators and actors. He even interviews the famous director’s son.
Some may find Dmitry’s own presence in the film distracting—he frames the whole project as his own quest for deeper understanding—but I found it an effective decision. He’s inviting us on a journey with him, restraining himself to the role of a humble observer and student. He leaves the speeches, insights, and epiphanies to the experts. And they paint vivid, memorable pictures of the great Russian filmmaker.
But Dmitry goes beyond testimonies from “talking-heads.” He makes an admirable beginner’s attempt to practice the very filmmaking tactics that made the man he admires a great artist.
He says in an Artist’s Statement on his website, “As I shot...I would seek to capture the unique flow of time within my subject, instead of simply recording something for its representational significance alone. In this regard, luckily, I was assisted by each of my fifteen interviewees, all of whom spoke of Tarkovsky with unfeigned depth, sincerity, and emotion. Consequently, there are no talking heads in this movie, and meaning may just as often be found in between words as through them.”
Personally, I think he’s overstating it. There are a lot of “talking heads” in this movie. But the way Dmitry treats them makes this a fresh, compelling documentary. He is patient, using long takes, and letting his interviewees offer substantial testimonies. Further, he captures wonderful silences, interruptions, and environmental details. This allows viewers to make intuitive connections on their own, enriching the experience with more than mere information.
(He also captures one unbelievable moment of coincidence that may be the funniest accident I’ve ever seen in a documentary.)
It’s a very personal journey for Dmitry. He and his family emigrated from Russia to the U.S. in 1987, the year after Tarkovsky’s death to cancer. Dmitry first “fell in love” with the works of the great Russian filmmaker while he was studying medicine and Buddhism in college. So he set out to visit the important places in Tarkovsky’s life, hoping to understand better why he is so drawn to the master’s mysterious artistry, and to get a sense of what his legacy means in the world today.
He didn’t know how to start. “I wasn’t a filmmaker yet,” he confesses.
But when he traveled with his father to visit a monastery in Northern California, he began ruminating on how to approach a filmic tribute to Tarkovsky.
While he was discussing his idea with the abbot of the monastery, he made a startling discovery. “At that moment...there was another monk sitting in the corner of the room and reading some Byzantine text and eavesdropping. He raised his hand timidly and asked for permission to speak.... The abbot granted him permission. He said ‘Actually I became a monk because of Tarkovsky.’”
That led to the first of many revealing, astonishing conversations that now make up the chapters of the film Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky. Just as Dmitry was readying to head out in search of Tarkovsky’s ghost, it seems Tarkovsky’s ghost leapt out of the bushes to surprise him, and accompany him on his journey.
Who was stalking whom?
[In Part Two of this review, I’ll share some of the highlights of Dmitry’s search for Andrei Tarkovsky.]