(james benedict brown) on the road

Guilty cinematic pleasures

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 25 March, 2008

With the death of Arthur C. Clarke last week, a number of critics and reporters touched upon the film which with he is perhaps most famously remembered – 2001: A Space Odyssey, although as Philip Hensher writes in today’s Independent, that’s a shame since Clark’s only real input was to co-adapt the book for a screenplay. In fact, as Clark himself wrote in his companion to the film, The Lost Worlds of 2001, “the nearest approximation to the complicated truth” is that the screenplay should be credited to “Kubrick and Clarke” and the novel to “Clarke and Kubrick” (thanks to the many Wikipedia contributors helping me find that quote).

So it is, perhaps, insincere to remember Clarke with the film of 2001, when one considers how many other books he published during the course of his lifetime. Our fascination with the filmed adaptation of 2001 is perhaps as much because of our cultural obsession with the reclusive Stanley Kubrick, a director who produced so few films relative to his contemporaries and yet who has left film such a broad and meaningful legacy.

I must confess to being a fan of Kubrick, not just because of the films themselves, but also because of the convoluted and often eccentric processes that lead to their creation. I’m intrigued, fascinated and inspired by the creative life of this unusual director. I suspect I could be part of a generation that is as interest in the back story as the story itself. Wikipedia isn’t just interesting for discovering the facts about a film, but also the trivia behind the production.

I am not only a young Kubrick-ite, but also a naïve Tarkovsky-ite. It was a little under a year ago that I indulged in a Friday night of Andrei Tarkovsky at the Strasbourg Cinema Odysée, when a rare original print of Stalker (1979) was presented in a shabby basement screen. This week I’ve finally found the time to complete another installment in Tarkovsky’s career, the enigmatic and much-discussed Solaris (1972).


I’ve ownd the DVD of Solaris for years now, but simply hadn’t got round to watching it in its entirety. This time I didn’t have the luxury of a cinema screen, just a shabby little laptop, but with enough pillows and cushions and a dark enough room I could just about imagine that I wasn’t watching it in bed but in a darkened French cinema (perhaps the best place to enjoy Tarkovsky?).

I don’t have the quote to hand to corroborate it, but from reading Tarkovsky’s diaries and other material, I’m lead to believe that it was one of the director’s least favorite films. It is too late to console the deceased Tarkovsky, but Stanisław Lem, the author of the novel Solaris liked neither Tarkovsky’s effort nor Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 adaptation. The problem with both films (and perhaps even the book) is that it is an essentially humanist exploration of memory, love and loss set on a space station. Were it not set on a space station, it might not be mistaken for science fiction, but because of the space suits and setting Solaris is often dismissed or celebrated as a work of science fiction.


I feel guilty, therefore, for partly loving the film as a work of science fiction. Tarkovsky may have tried very hard to create a film that was not identified within one particular genre, but he is – as far as I know – the only Soviet Russian filmmaker who made something resembling a science fiction film behind the Iron Curtain. I could be proved wrong, and I would welcome recommendations for other USSR sci-fi flicks. I would just feel very guilty for not enjoying them as they were intended to be.

That said, I’m still on the look-out for a DVD copy of the utterly inexplicable 1981 Czech horror film Upír z Feratu – about a vampire rally car that drinks the blood of its drivers through a carnivorous accelerator pedal.

I have adored and devoured every film of Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky that I have seen, but sometimes not for the reasons that those directors might have wanted or expected. The information explosion that has been fueled by the contemporary user-edited generation of web portals and sources makes us all much more aware of the conditions and climate in which works of cinema, art or architecture were created. It may lead us to enjoy things for different reasons, but at least it introduces us to new works.


One Response

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  1. Lucie Ferrante said, on 26 October, 2008 at 20:33

    If you are still looking for The Ferat Vampire… it´s available at a Japanese e-shop for 45 USD or Super Strange Video website for 20 USD. But you are right that it is quite hard to find.

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