dormant images /by claus löser
On 1 May 1981 of all days Andrei Tarkovsky‘s movie Stalker opened in some cinemas in the GDR. The news of this curious, cryptic, philosophical and in every respect unusual work spread like wildfire in the circles of people seeking ways out of the intellectual dilemma of everyday existence under really existing socialism. How was this possible? The fact that it was from the Soviet Union of all places that a film reached us that struck these hidden chords in us? Because the amazing thing was that we immediately felt at home in this apparently hermetically sealed world of the Zone. This was by no means because occasionally in common parlance the GDR was still called the Zone! This banal connection didn‘t even occur to us. Rather it appears as if through this film sentiments were formulated that had long slumbered within us, as if through the Stalker more or less dormant images were being awakened. It is quickly said that a single work of art could be in a position to characterise a whole generation. There it would first have to be clarified how this generation is to be defined. Nevertheless, it appears to me that such a characterisation exists here. There was life before Stalker. And there was a different one afterwards.
Frustrated by the banality and hopelessness of our situation and totally lacking in any expectations of the indigenous film production of DEFA, this film proved that under far more difficult circumstances it was possible to create unique works of art. Now there were no more excuses – neither for the opportunist contortions of the established film makers nor for ourselves. We who as young poets, painters, musicians and even film makers were seeking our own language experienced enormous encouragement in this search. If in the USSR – a country where, as we knew, people were still being locked up in jail or in psychiatric institutions because of slight deviations from the norm – if in such a country a film with such an autonomous effect could could emerge, then it was finally time to stick our necks out a bit more than we had so far dared to do.
Tarkovsky‘s earlier movies, above all Andrei Rublev, had already sent out important impulses into the independent arts scene of the GDR. Stalker was an even more important watershed. Several artists who were attempting to counter the state monopoly of images with something quite different or to infiltrate it, now felt immensely motivated. Cinematic works by Lutz Dammbeck (Einmart), Cornelia Schleime (Das Puttennest) or Flanzendörfer (eisenschnäbelige krähe) are inconceivable without Tarkovsky. My own cinematic attempts to walk were also directly inspired by Tarkovsky. And in the process they were also accompanied by misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
To a certain extent it was ludicrous to want to recreate the great elegiac movements, the epic breadth and the philosophical depth of Tarkovsky with Super-8 cameras developed for family recordings or with 16 mm cameras (of Soviet design!). Very soon this already came up against technical limits. Because Quarz and Krasnogorsk brand cameras worked with wind-up motors that only allowed very short sequences. Of course, the great master was also part of the system – only this system was far more contradictory than it presented itself for us with our GDR experiences. Thus involuntarily our perception transformed Tarkovsky‘s films into something else, amalgamated them with our own experiences and desires, made them into projections in a dual sense. The creator of Stalker was a sort of holy man for us, and so more a patron saint than an artist, let alone a human being. This superimposition created something new, but also interfered with our view of the realities. For example, it was almost impossible to decipher the subtle humour hidden in his movies. This would have contradicted the martyr myth.
When Tarkovsky left the Soviet Union in 1983 and worked in the West until his death on 29 December 1986, a premonition of the futility of it all was fulfilled, which again confirmed our opinion. Also in the GDR all utopian potentials had been exhausted. In the USSR the attempts at reform came just as late as in the East of Germany. The room where all desires would be fulfilled did not exist.
Claus Löser, February 2015