Property of a Lost Thing

…”Everything that I had lost

Is mine, irretrievably mine

So distant from me that it is abandonment.”

Mario Benedetti

Property of a Lost Thing 

 
 

The phrase “losing my religion” is an expression from the southern region of the United States that means losing one’s temper or civility, or “being at the end of one’s rope.” Michael Stipe told The New York Times the song was about romantic expression.

He also told Q that “Losing My Religion” is about “someone who pines for someone else. It’s unrequited love, what have you.”

Stipe compared the song’s theme to Every Breath You Take by The Police, saying, “It’s just a classic obsession pop song. I’ve always felt the best kinds of songs are the ones where anybody can listen to it, put themselves in it and say, ‘Yeah, that’s me.'”

 
 

Michael Stipe participated on the production, packaging and photography of the album’s artwork, alongside Frank W. Ockenfels

 
 

The song was released as the first single from the group’s 1991 album Out of Time. Based around a mandolin riff, Losing My Religion was an unlikely hit for the group, garnering heavy airplay on radio as well as on MTV due to its critically acclaimed music video. The song became R.E.M.‘s highest-charting hit in the United States, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and expanding the group’s popularity beyond its original fanbase. It was nominated for several Grammy Awards, and won two for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Short Form Music Video.

The music video for Losing My Religion was directed by Tarsem Singh. As opposed to previous R.E.M. videos, Michael Stipe agreed to lip sync the lyrics. The video originated as a combination of ideas envisioned by Stipe and Singh. Stipe wanted the promo to be a straightforward performance video, akin to Sinéad O’Connor‘s Nothing Compares 2 U. Singh wanted to create a video in the style of a certain type of Indian filmmaking, where everything would be “melodramatic and very dreamlike”, according to Stipe.

 
 


Still from The Sacrifice (A. Tarkovsky, 1986)

 
 

Still from Losing my Religion music video

 
 

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio, c. 1601–1602. This picture is probably related to Saint Matthew and the Angel (1602) and the The Sacrifice of Isaac (1603), all having a model in common

 
 

“Consider this…” (around minute 2:26)

 
 

Final scenes

 
 

Martirio di San Pietro (Crucifixion of Saint Peter), Caravaggio, 1600

 
 

The video begins with a brief sequence inside a dark room where water drips from an open window. Buck, Berry, and Mills run across the room while Stipe remains seated. A pitcher of milk drops from the windowsill and shatters, and the song begins. Director Singh drew inspiration from the Italian painter Caravaggio and Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky‘s The Sacrifice . The video is laden with religious imagery such as Saint Sebastian and Hindu deities, portrayed in a series of tableaux.

 
 

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The Issue of Happiness

“This world is not a place where we can be happy. It wasn’t created for man’s happiness, though many believe this is the reason of our existence. I think we are here to fight, so that good and evil can clash within us, and good may prevail, thus enriching us spiritually. It’s difficult to say whether we are happy or not: it doesn’t depend on us… There are times when one regrets being born, but life also gives us surprising things that, alone, are worth living. The issue of happiness doesn’t exist for me: happiness as such doesn’t exist.”

Andrei Tarkovsky

 
 

Sculpting in Time

Andrei Tarkovsky was hardly the first or only filmmaker to engage with questions of temporality in film. Michelangelo Antonioni (obsessed with ennui and empty spaces), Andy Warhol (given to provocatively long running times) and Chantal Akerman (fixated on everyday ritual and minutiae) all made important contributions to the “cinema of duration,” to use a term coined by the critic André Bazin.

 
 

 Andrei Tarkovsky

 
 

But Tarkovsky, whose famous long takes signal a profound mistrust of the rapid montage of revolutionary Soviet cinema, was perhaps the most single-minded believer in the transcendent ability of the moving image to express what he called “the course of time within the frame.” He spoke of “the pressure of time” and described the process of finding a film’s rhythm as “sculpting in time” — a phrase that provided the title for his collection of essays.

In the Light of Individual Experience

 Images from the set of Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

 
 

“Anyone who wants can look at my films as into a mirror, in which he will see himself. When the conception of a film is given forms that are life-like, and the concentration is on its affective function rather than on the intellectual formulae of poetic cinema (where the aim is manifestly to provide a vessel for ideas) then it is possible for the audience to relate to that conception in the light of individual experience.”

Andrei Tarkovsky

Sculpting in Time

First Meetings From that Side of the Mirror

Andrei Tarkovsky used his own parents as actors in The Mirror (1975). His mother appears throughout while his father reads one of his own poems, First Meetings

 
 

 
 

We celebrated every moment of our
First meetings, like an epiphany,
Alone in the entire world.
You were more daring, and lighter than a bird’s wing,
On the stairs, like dizziness,
Running down over the step and leading
Through the moist lilac to your domain,
From that side of the mirror’s glass.

 
 

 
 

When night set in, grace was given
To me, the altar gates
Were opened, and in the darkness
Nakedness shined and slowly bowed,
And, waking up: ‘May you be blessed!’
I said and knew, that my blessing

Was audacious: you slept,
And the lilac reached out from the table to touch
Your lashes with the universe’s blue
And the lashes, touched by the blue,
Were calm, and your hand was warm.

While in the crystal, the rivers pulsed,
The mountains smoked, the seas glimmered,
And you held a crystal sphere
On your palm, and you slept on the throne,
And—righteous God!—you were mine.

 
 

 
 

You woke up and transfigured
The daily human vocabulary,
And your speech was filled to the throat
With a full-bodied force, and the word ‘thou’
Revealed its new sense and it meant: ruler.

 
 

 
 

In the world everything was transfigured, even
Simple things—the basin, the jug,—when
Between us stood, as if on watch,
The stratified and solid water.

We were led, not knowing where.
Before us stepped out, as if mirages,
Miraculously built cities,
The mint itself was lying beneath our feet,
And birds were following the same path as us,
And fish were jumping out along the river,
And the sky opened out before our eyes…

When fate followed behind us on the trail,
Like a madman with a razor in his hand.

Arseny Tarkovsky

 
 

Portraits of American artist and sculptor Joseph Cornell, by Duane Michals

A Candle Burned Out a Feast

nostalghia2Stills from Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkosky, 1983)

 
 

My sight, my strength, dims,
Two invisible adamant spears;
My hearing deafens, full of distant thunder
And the breathing of home;
The knots of my tensed muscles have weakened,
Like grey oxen on a ploughed field;
Two wings at the back of my shoulders
Don’t shine anymore in the night.

I am a candle, I burned out at a feast.
Gather my wax in the morning,
And this page will prompt you
How to cry and what to be proud of,
How to give away the last third
Of joy and die easily,
And under the shade of an inadvertent home
How to burn as posthumously as a word.

Arseny Tarkovsky

My Sight, My Strenght, Dims

They Burned Their Bridges Behind Tarkovsky

 Although Tarkovsky did not openly oppose the Soviet system, his work heavily emphasized spiritual themes, that were at conflict with the official anti-religious atheist ideology, prompting the KGB to open a file on him

 
 

Offret (The Sacrifice) was the final film by Andrei Tarkovsky, who died shortly after completing it. The Sacrifice originated as a screenplay entitled The Witch, which preserved the element of a middle-aged protagonist spending the night with a reputed witch. However, in this story, his cancer was miraculously cured, and he ran away with the woman. Tarkovsky wanted personal favorite and frequent collaborator Anatoly Solonitsyn to star in this picture, as was also his intention for Nostalghia, but when Solonitsyn died from cancer in 1982, the director rewrote the screenplay into what would become The Sacrifice and also produced Nostalghia with Oleg Yankovsky as the lead. The Sacrifice lead Erland Josephson played major character Domenico in the 1983 production.

 
 

 
 

Most of the film takes place inside or around a house specially built for the production. The climactic scene at the end of the film is a long tracking shot in which Alexander burns his house and his possessions. It was done in a single, six minute, fifty second take, often incorrectly identified as Tarkovsky’s longest take. The shot was very difficult to achieve. Initially, there was only one camera used, despite Sven Nykvist‘s protest. While shooting the burning house, the camera jammed, ruining the footage. (This disaster is documented in documentary entitled Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and the documentary One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich.)

The scene had to be re shot, requiring a quick and very costly reconstruction of the house in two weeks. This time, two cameras were set up on tracks, running parallel to each other. The footage in the final version of the film is the second take, which lasts for several minutes and ends abruptly because the camera had run through an entire reel in capturing the single shot. The cast and crew broke down in tears after the take was completed.

The film reflects Tarkovsky’s respect for the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. It was set in Sweden on the island of Gotland, close to Fårö, where many of Bergman’s films had been shot. Tarkovsky wanted to film it on Fårö, but was denied access by the military.

Erland Josephson was a recurring figure in Bergman productions, especially from Hour of the Wolf onwards; counting that 1968 production, he acted in nine of his films before The Sacrifice. The film’s production designer, Anna Asp, had previously won an Academy Award along with Susanne Lingheim for the sumptuous décor of Fanny and Alexander, and also worked on Autumn Sonata and Bergman’s 1984 television film After The Rehearsal. The Sacrifice was filmed by Bergman’s favourite cinematographer, Sven Nykvist. Additionally, one of Bergman’s sons, Daniel Bergman, worked as a camera assistant

The camera work is slow, containing the hallmarks of Tarkovsky and cinematographer Sven Nykvist. The film’s soundtrack includes three distinct pieces: the passionate aria Erbarme dich, mein Gott from Johann Sebastian Bach‘s St. Matthew Passion, soothing Japanese flute music played by Watazumi Doso Roshi, and eerie traditional chants from the Swedish forests.

 
 


In 1965, Tarkovsky directed the film Андрей Рублёв (Andrei Roublev or The Passion According to Andreiabout the life of Andrei Rublev, the fifteenth-century Russian icon painter.

 
 

During the summer of 1979, Tarkovsky traveled to Italy, where he shot the documentary Voyage in Time together with his long-time friend Tonino Guerra. Tarkovsky returned to Italy in 1980 for an extended trip during which he and Guerra completed the script for the film Nostalghia. During 1981 he traveled to the United Kingdom and Sweden. During his trip to Sweden he had considered defecting from the Soviet Union, but ultimately decided to return because of his wife and his son. Tarkovsky returned to Italy in 1982 to start shooting Nostalghia. He did not return to his home country.

 
 

Opening credits of The Sacrifice.

 
 

Leonardo da Vinci‘s painting Adoration of the Magi, seen in the opening credits and referenced in the film, depicts the ceding of a pagan world to a Christian one. Tarkovsky’s theological scheme is not as clear-cut: Alexander is an atheist who turns to God, but salvation depends on persuading a witch to sleep with him, or so he’s told by the Friedrich Nietzsche-quoting postman who arrives bearing telegrams and perhaps a divine message or two.

The concluding annihilation is powerful not least for its ambiguity: an act of faith, madness and transfiguration.

 
 

Cover art of  Зеркало (The Mirror ). In this 1975 art film, Tarkovsky paid homage to Leonardo Da Vinci and Bach’s St Matthew Passion for first time. It is a highly autobiographical and unconventionally structured film drawing on his childhood and incorporating some of his father’s poems. Tarkovsky had worked on the screenplay for The Mirror since 1967, under the consecutive titles Confession, White day and A white, white day.

 
 

Given the sheer beauty and unwieldy philosophical ambition of Tarkovsky’s films, it’s not too far-fetched to suggest that his true heir is Terrence Malick — a filmmaker whose approach to space and time is fragmented where Tarkovsky’s is unified but who shares with the Russian a mystical connection to nature and the elements and a compulsion to pose unanswerable questions with utmost seriousness and sincerity. (“The Sacrifice” opens and closes with the image of what you might call a tree of life.).

 
 

One prominent element in Nostalghia (1983) is fire – Heraclitus’ source of all things – which serves as a symbol of hope and destruction/despair at the same time, as one witnesses the ending for the two male leads in the film.
 
 

Some Russians burned their bridges behind Tarkovsky, but they wouldn’t destroy the strength of his legacy. It crossed after us.

To Be or Not to Be (The Melancholy Dane)

“To be, or not to be” is the famous opening phrase of a soliloquy in William Shakespeare‘s play Hamlet. Debate surrounds its meaning, and that of the speech, but most agree that it asks the fundamental question “why live?” and gives the desolate answer that death might be worse.

Hamlet speaks this on his entry to Act 3 scene 1 (known as the ‘nunnery scene’ because of the Hamlet/Ophelia dialogue after the speech) which is when Polonius and Claudius put into effect their plan, hatched in Act 2 scene 2, to watch Hamlet with Ophelia to determine whether, as Polonius thinks, his ‘madness’ springs from “neglected love”. They have planted her where it is his habit to walk and think and concealed themselves to observe the encounter. Until he notices Ophelia at the end of the speech Hamlet thinks he is alone.

 
 

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, with Yorick’s skull. Photographer: James Lafayette, c. 1885–1900)

 
 

John Barrymore in the greatest success of his theatrical career with Hamlet in 1922, which he played on for 101 performances as the Melancholy Dane, breaking Booth’s record. In February, 1925 he successfully presented his production in London despite the so-called apathy extended toward American Shakespearean actors in Britain.

 
 

Laurence Olivier’s 1948 moody black-and-white Hamlet won best picture and best actor Oscars, and is still, as of 2013, the only Shakespeare film to have done so. His interpretation stressed the Oedipal overtones of the play, and cast 28-year-old Eileen Herlie as Hamlet’s mother, opposite himself, at 41, as Hamlet.

 
 

The great Shakespearean actor Sir John Gielgud (who played Hamlet over 500 times in six productions), his protégé Kenneth Branagh and Sir Derek Jacobi in a BBC radio production of Hamlet .