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# Дата: 8 Июл 2012 19:35 - Поправил: Роман

On the same page
A pair of eccentric novels that have been brought undiminished to the silver screen

Bangkok Post, 25.06.2012

Ung-Aang Talay

Great books have only rarely been made into great films. There are exceptions, most of them based on 19th-century classics, but the memorable movies that had their origins in books of fiction have usually been adapted from lesser novels or from stories

This is especially true of the unique, eccentric works of literature that must tantalise screenwriters. Books like Faulkner's The Sound And The Fury, Joyce's Ulysses, and Melville's Moby Dick, despite some committed attempts, have evaded them completely.

Movies that do take on seemingly unfilmable novels like Sterne's Tristram Shandy or Burroughs's Naked Lunch tend to dance around them rather than to interpret them faithfully on the screen.

But every once in a while a director feels such a strong affinity with an unlikely book that he does succeed in bringing it across undiminished to the screen. In an afterward to the recent new translation of Roadside Picnic, a 1972 science fiction novel by the Russian brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, the latter refers more than once to Andrei Tarkovsky's "brilliant film adaptation" of the book.

By now, outside of Eastern Europe, most people are probably more familiar with the Tarkovsky film, Stalker, than with the novel that inspired it. But reading the book with Tarkovsky's treatment of it in mind is an enlightening experience.

Stylistically, Roadside Picnic reads the way science fiction novels usually did back in the days before the genre became respectable, though it has an original and ponderable idea at its core: A few decades before the story begins, aliens landed at a few spots around the world, stayed for a while, found nothing to interest them, and went on. But they left behind different artefacts and phenomena, probably just rubbish and excess baggage, that defy much of what the world's scientists know of physics.

Most are extremely dangerous, and the areas where they exist, called Zones, are walled off with entry forbidden. Freelance smugglers called "stalkers" do sneak in, however, and bring out certain items, which they sell on a highly-organised black market.

Some of the book's most striking passages have to do with these extraterrestrial discards. They are described only to the extent that they are perceived and understood by the stalkers, so that most are as mysterious to the reader as they are to the smugglers who retrieve them.

Troughs of "hell slime" are dreaded but the book never explains exactly what it does. There are "spacells" _ inexhaustible batteries that reproduce themselves; "shriekers", objects that emit loud sounds that upset dogs; and the "Golden Sphere", seen by only one stalker and supposedly capable of granting a person's deepest and most genuine wishes.

Roadside Picnic follows the experiences of stalker Redrick Schuhart from his early ventures into a Zone, which seems to be in North America near the Canadian border, at age 23 until his eventual encounter with the Golden Sphere nine years later.

It is mentioned several times in the book that the children of stalkers are often born deformed or endowed with odd powers, and Schuhart does have a little girl who is covered with hair. His wife hates his work and wants him to stop, but he makes a final excursion when a disabled fellow stalker reveals the location of the Golden Sphere. His encounter with it results in a revelation that seems almost God-given.

In his film adaptation, Stalker, Tarkovsky picks up on to the allegorical potential of the Stalker and the Zone, with its wish-granting heart. He shears off the plot involving Schuhart and his fellow stalker-smugglers and retains only the incomprehensible Zone and the central presence of a single stalker, whom he leaves nameless. Like Schuhart, he has a daughter who has been affected by the zone, but the nature of her mutation is not hinted at until the film's magnificent concluding scene.

The great enigma that haunts Roadside Picnic (and is shared by Stanislaw Lem's novel, Solaris, also creatively adapted by Tarkovsky) _ the appearance of phenomena that can probably never be understood by the Earth's science _ comes across powerfully in the film.

In the film, the stalker does not bring anything out of the Zone, but acts as an illegal guide for those who want to go in to find its centre, where the Golden Sphere has been replaced by a room with a telephone in it. Like the sphere, this room perceives and fulfils a visitor's deepest wish.

Tarkovsky makes sure viewers get the point by including the story of a man who reached the room, returned to his home where he became immensely rich, and later killed himself, undoubtedly having realised that he was just another materialist.

In fact the wish-fulfilling focal point that the Strugatsky Brothers plant in the heart of the Zone is the narrative's worst danger point _ it skates very close to cliche _ and the film handles it less adroitly than the book does.

Tarkovsky unleashed a fit of melodrama involving a concealed nuclear weapon, no less, that fits nicely into his allegory but feels hysterical and overwrought as drama. The novel's handling of the idea, with its happy revelation in the very last line, is less lofty but more convincing. The movie adds a coda, not found in the novel, that links with the Strugatskys' conclusion and adds a mindboggling revelation of its own.

As Boris, the surviving Strugatsky brother, acknowledges, Tarkovsky's very different take on Roadside Picnic does full justice to the challenging and very fertile idea it is built on. The book and the film complement each other beautifully. Each enriches the other. A very different kind of book, the Hungarian writer Gyula Krudy's The Adventures Of Sinbad, found an ideal cinematic interpreter in the director Zoltan Huszarik. Creating his film Szinbad (spelled the Hungarian way) was an achievement of a very different kind from what Tarkovsky did with Roadside Picnic, since the essence of the Krudy book is not a philosophical concept but a literary style and the almost ineffable state of mind that it evokes.

Krudy's world is so much a thing unto itself that Hungarians used the word "Krudyesque" in the same way that people use "Kafkaesque". He was very prolific, but the Sinbad stories, written soon after the turn of the 20th century, are his most popular work.

They follow the thoughts, perhaps dreams, perhaps posthumous wanderings of a man who calls himself Sinbad after the Arabian Nights tale. Early on in the stories included in George Szirtes's English language version it is revealed that he is dead, and the free-flowing stream of encounters with different women, memories, associations and fantasies include what seem to be memories of a suicide, or perhaps even more than one death.

He is a sensualist who lives only for women and the pleasures of the table, and the entire book is a stream of vividly evoked sensual impressions. The only way to describe Krudy's proto-surrealistic style, with its long, constantly blossoming sentences, is to quote it:

"It was at this time, one autumn night _ just as the autumn moon was sitting like a tipsy old man in the branches of the poplar tree, when all manner of intangible shadows flitted from garden to garden so that it seemed as if night were spontaneously producing animal and vegetable forms of its own, when faithful likenesses rendered in oils grew bored of leaning all day on their frames and stepped out into deserted rooms, when the stories of [the 19th-century writer] Kisfaludy trembled on the tables of old houses and pages turned over by themselves _ it was then that Sinbad arose from the dead."

Most of the connected stories describe encounters with women with whom he has had affairs in the past. One or two of them, either in reality or in Sinbad's imagination, commit suicide because of him. A madame named Monkey (Majmunka in the film), the only one who treats him like the undisciplined child that he is, talks with him about the past and feeds him soup. All of these accounts blend into an iridescent blur. After completing The Adventures Of Sinbad there is a feeling of having dreamed it rather than having read it. Summarising it is impossible, as the above paragraph makes clear.

How can such a book be filmed?

Director Huszarik finds a counterpart for Krudy's long, constantly shifting descriptions, with their networks of associations, in a stream of stunning images, some lasting only the briefest fraction of a second, that poetically compress the past, present and future of different relationships into each brief scene.

The film opens with an onrush of these images _ opening flowers, water dripping off of weathered wood, globules of oil floating on soup, glowing coals, pressed, dried flowers, old photographs.

Many of the images suggest things that are dead or lost in the past, and a feeling of melancholy and nostalgia hangs over them.

Huszarik includes scenes that do not appear in Szirtes's translation of the Sinbad stories. One of the most memorable of them is a meal that Sinbad eats while talking to a waiter who, it is revealed, was the first husband of a woman who left him for Sinbad before being rejected and committing suicide by jumping into an icy pond. All of this is seen in split-second images interspersed between stylised shots of food, photographed with a dazzling beauty that would require Krudy's stylistic genius to be described.

A poll of Hungarian writers and filmmakers chose Szinbad as one of the three best Hungarian films ever made, but it may be that, like Ruiz's Proust film Time Regained, a knowledge of its source is necessary to fully appreciate it. But those who do read the book first will find that, like Tarkovsky's Stalker, it shows literature and the cinema in perfect communication.


# Дата: 8 Июл 2012 21:14

I have not read the new English translation of "Roadside Picnic", and nor, for that matter, the earlier one, only the Russian original. From the comparison of that original to the critique by Mr. Talay above I can imagine only two possibilities: either the new translator, Olga Bormashenko, or Mr. Talay has botched his or her job miserably. Therefore I have a question to ask. Has anyone here read both this new translation and the Russian original text? How do they compare to one another?


# Дата: 21 Июл 2012 12:26

Цитата: Умник
Therefore I have a question to ask.

Я, так себе, подумал.
Стоило, нормальному мушику, уеее хать, ради говённого язычка?

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