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

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image