Books

'Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room' Is a Departure for Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer casts a typically idiosyncratic eye over Tarkovsky's Stalker and ends up illuminating more about himself than about the film.


Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room

Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN: 0307377385
Author: Geoff Dyer
Price: $24.00
Format: Hardcover
Length: 240 pages
Publication Date: 2012-02
Amazon

Geoff Dyer has never been the kind of writer who gets hung up on a pet subject and spends his career examining and re-examining it. He has written about music, in his jazz book But Beautiful; photography, in The Ongoing Moment; and literature, in Out Of Sheer Rage, which chronicles Dyer’s failed attempt to write a biography of D H Lawrence and in doing so manifests itself as the excellent – if only scantly biographical – book about Lawrence that it turned into.

As such, a book about film would seem to be a timely addition to his oeuvre. But Zona is nonetheless a departure for Dyer, not only in that it broaches yet another subject area, but also in the fact that it is a close reading of a single text: Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, Stalker.

The film can be summarised very briefly. Its setting is a mysterious closed-off area known as the Zone – Dyer describes it as ‘a place of uncompromised and unblemished value’ – and its titular character is a guide who escorts people through the Zone. In Tarkovsky’s film, the Stalker is accompanying a writer and a professor; their ultimate destination within the Zone is the Room, where it is said that the innermost wishes of anyone who enters will be granted.

The film follows the Stalker and his clients on their journey to and from the Zone: as such the plot is essentially straightforward and linear, but due to the peculiar physics of the Zone, the route that both characters and viewers must take is circuitous and often unclear. Tarkovsky ensures that the journey is a protracted one, lingering over almost every shot.

While Dyer goes into considerable detail at times, the central narrative of Zona consists of him talking his readers through the film. The nature of Tarkovsky’s lingering means that, although the film lasts two and a half hours, a simple scene by scene account would fill considerably less pages. The fact that Zona is as long as it is (though it is by no means a lengthy book) is partly due to the nuggets of technical and contextual information that Dyer provides, but mostly due to his numerous digressions. He states at one point that he had originally planned a book of 142 short sections, one for each shot, but says he lost track of where some of the shots ended and began. This is probably for the best, as a more rigidly structured book would presumably require him to compromise his style.

Almost all of the digressions are worthwhile: in fact, the highly subjective recollections and musings are surely the reason why anyone who is familiar with Dyer’s work reads him. In this book, however, many of them are treated as supplementary to the main body of the text, which is a shame. There are many long footnotes: these are printed in equally sized font to the rest of the book, and some of the them span several entire pages, but they have nonetheless been reduced to the status of footnotes.

The best of them give us some insight into Dyer’s character: for example, when he describes installing a DVD projector in his home, declaring that ‘great cinema must be projected’. However, setting up the equipment proves to be more trouble than it’s worth; he complains that many canonical films turn out to be terrible. This passage makes it clear that Dyer is not a film buff through and through, and his interest in Stalker is made more interesting in itself.

Many prospective readers will wonder whether you need to have seen Tarkovsky’s film in order to appreciate Zona. Indeed, having seen Stalker, a few of years ago, I was sure to watch it again before reading the book, but a screening is probably not necessary, since Dyer covers the entire narrative of the film. Perhaps a more pertinent question is whether Zona will make you want to watch Stalker.

Anyone who has not seen the film will no doubt find their curiosity piqued by the book. Dyer picks up on little details that readers might wish to see for themselves. Rather than analysing he observes, allowing potential viewers to draw their own conclusions: this is certainly the best strategy for writing about a film as inconclusive as Stalker.

He teases out Tarkovsky’s occasional moments of humour, too, such as the incongruous ringing telephone that the characters find in the Zone: these moments are to an extent subsumed in the film’s philosophy and aesthetic, but Dyer allows them to shine on their own terms. Rather endearingly, he also finds unintentional humour, bringing home the fact that he is a more of a regular viewer than a film critic. The fact that the Stalker sleeps in a dirty jumper is a source of considerable amusement to him.

But at times Dyer risks becoming too self-involved to fully convey his enthusiasm for the film. He is clearly more interested in writing about his own relationship with Stalker than about the film itself, and while this is to some degree the point of the book, it means that his close reading approach feels rather out of place.

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.