Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Rerberg and Tarkovsky: The Reverse Side of Stalker

With the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster inching closer, I plan to revisit Tarkovsky's Stalker, a film that seems indelibly twinned with the catastrophe, and to preface this screening, I watched the 2009 documentary Rerberg and Tarkovsky: The Reverse Side of Stalker, at the w/end, a long and engrossing film about the troubled production of Tarkovsky's great work. Georgi Rerberg who photographed Mirror and was originally assigned to shoot Stalker was sacked from the production when the footage he shot was deemed unsatisfactory. Worse still, Rerberg was blamed for not adequately testing the film stock when it was discovered to be unusable, resulting in the scrapping of Stalker draft 1. Tarkovsky burned thru a second cameraman and a second abandoned version of Stalker before completing the version released in 1979, but Rerberg’s reputation was destroyed by the experience, compounded by Tarkovsky’s snide and harmful comments made about Rerberg in the French edition of his diaries.

Georgi Rerberg on the camera platform with Tarkovsky and actor Alexander Kaidanovsky to the left

Igor Mayboroda’s documentary is a harsh rebuttal of those diary entries and unsurprisingly Tarkovsky doesn’t come out of it particularly well, the director placing the blame for the disaster of Stalker on his cameraman, after Tarkovsky himself pushed Rerberg beyond the limits of what the film stock could handle. Tarkovsky’s wife Larissa actually emerges worst from the film, the consensus was that she was an arch manipulator, bitter about not landing the role of the Stalker’s wife. Having watched the documentary, I feel like Margarita Terekhova from Mirror, sitting on the fence. Rerberg was treated terribly by Tarkovsky but I can’t take the leap of faith that Rerberg was a genius, a reputation which rests by and large on his extraordinary work in Mirror. Ironically though it’s the finished version of Stalker that earns the shoddiest treatment, the film is all but dismissed along with Alexander Knyazhinsky’s stunning camerawork, apart from one singled-out shot of Rerberg’s that survived the reportedly 19 final cuts - the memorable pan across the scummy toxic lake. Still, for Stalker and Tarkovsky fans, the film is required viewing and can be seen here  (with excellent English subs).

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