Fire & Bach: A Video Essay On Andrei Tarkovsky

During his time, Tarkovsky was very much aware of film still being a young artform. In an attempt to ennoble it, he filled his films with citations from the Renaissance – both visual and auditory. Paintings appear all over his films: Hunters In The Snow is shown in both Solaris and Mirror, Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypse in Ivan’s Childhood, the icons of Andrei Rublev. So too is classical music used: most notably Bach, of whom Tarkovsky was a great fan (‘Andrei Tarkovsky’, Sean Martin, p. 1926). The theme to Solaris is a reworking of part of Ich ruf’ zu, Herr Jesu Christ by Edward Artemiev, and his final film, The Sacrifice, uses a section from Matthäus Passion. Interestingly, the latter can be heard being briefly whistled by the Writer at one point during Stalker.

Despite his striking visual language, Tarkovsky was never interested in symbolism in his films. “Why the repeated images of wind, fire and water? I really don’t know how to deal with such questions.” (Tarkovsky: Films, Stills, Polaroids & Writings, p. 31). But just as The Zone carries with it a weight of deeper meaning just by its very conception, perhaps so too do these elemental images. Particularly fire, which seems to swell, shrink and alter in purpose over the course of his work. At times a beacon of warmth, or an instrument of prayer, and at others a force of destruction and chaos. The film which seems to capture all of these is Nostalgia, which contains contrasting sequences of both a single humble candle and a crazed protester setting himself alight.