Mirroring Tarkovsky

by Launa Bacon


Russian Filmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, who passed away in 1986 in Paris, is most known for his films Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1972), The Mirror (1975) and Stalker (1979).  Tarkovsky’s first feature film was Ivan’s Childhood in 1962 which earned him international acclaim and was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film festival in 1962.

Tarkovsky is the most famous Russian filmmaker since Eisenstein. His visionary approach to cinematic time and space, as well as his commitment to cinema as poetry, mark his oeuvre as one of the defining moments in the development of the modern art film. Although he never tackled politics directly, the metaphysical preoccupations of his films provoked ongoing hostility from the Soviet authorities.

Andrei Tarkovsky

Film director Ingmar Bergman said of Tarkovsky,  “Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” (1)

Of any film created, the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s art film The Mirror has had the greatest influence on my video work.   Tarkovsky’s imagery has become etched into my consciousness and has become a part of my memory, his cinematic inner world echoes in mine. 

The Mirror (1975) is loosely autobiographical, unconventionally structured and incorporates poems composed and read by the director’s father, Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky’s films are characterised by metaphysical themes, extremely long takes, and memorable images of exceptional beauty.  Recurring motifs are dreams, memory, childhood, running water accompanied by fire, rain indoors, reflections, levitation, and characters re-appearing in the foreground of long panning movements of the camera.  The film magically combines dream imagery, childhood memories, and newsreel footage with natural contemporary scenes.

My video, I Sat Beauty on My Knees and I Found Her Bitter,  (2011) incorporates imagery directly referencing “The Mirror.”


I Sat Beauty on My Knees and I Found Her Bitter,  Launa Bacon, 2011, 6:52 min.



The Mirror, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975


I Sat Beauty on My Knees and I Found Her Bitter, Launa Bacon, 2011, 6:52 min.


Additionally, my other video, “Sculpting in Time,” 2012, gets its title from Tarkovsky’s book of film theory, “Sculpting in Time, Reflections on the Cinema,” published in 1986.    In the book, Tarkovsky discusses his working principles though questioning established theory.  He uses the process of pure observation and ideas of imprinted time and memory.  Cinema’s capacity for capturing time was, in his view, its most important feature. He favored long takes that allowed the time flowing through an individual shot to take effect on an audience. His contemplative, imagistic style emphasized the integration of characters with the world around them, both through their positioning in the frame and through the slow, probing camera movements he frequently employed. Like Antonioni, he proposed a cinema based on the rapt observation of the present moment as opposed to a plot-driven preoccupation with what will happen next.

Though his use of observation, he states that the  “artistic image cannot be one-sided:  in order justly to be called truthful, it has to unite within itself dialectically contradictory phenomena.” (2) 

There are two over-arching elements in Tarkovsky’s images that are arresting.  One is the artist has the capability to examine the object form the outside, possessing a timeless element into the moments. And the other, the fact that the imagery affects us simultaneously in two opposite ways.  The main character, played by the actress, Margarita Terekhova is at once attractive and repellent.  There is something inexpressibly beautiful about her and at the same time repulsive, fiendish.  It has an element of degeneracy – and of beauty.  The portrait of the heroine has the capacity to both enchant and repel. 

In regards to “pure observation” Tarkovsky makes the link that if time appears in cinema in the form of fact, the fact is given in the form of simple, direct observation.  The basic element of cinema, running through it from its tiniest cells, is observation. (3)

Tarkovsky points out how Sergei Eisenstein also of used the principles of pure observation.  Eisenstein quoted some examples of this through haiku:


As it passes by                                      The dew has fallen,

The full moon barely touches           On all the spikes of blackthorn

Fishhooks in the waves.                     There hang little drops.


The Mirror captures this idea of pure observation by creating dreams and memories we are asked to share with him here.  His evocative use of nature, memory and dreams is visually stunning.  Tarkovsky created the most visually stunning and captivating filmmaking imaginable.

1.  Title quote of 2003 Tarkovsky Festival Program, Pacific Film Archive

2.  Andrei Tarkovski, Andrey Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time, Relflections on the Cinema (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), p. 54.

 3. ibid. p. 66.