Ivan’s Childhood: Reflections Beyond the River
There are things that will always be out of our grasps. Some of these things are tangible objects, a beautiful man or woman, a better job, more money, and the struggle seems all the more fruitless because you know, deep inside, these things can be obtained, have been by others. But not you. Then, there are those dreams for which we reach that we will never touch, impossible goals, conceivable, but, ultimately unattainable, and the struggle seems all the more beautiful for it. Andrey Tarkovskiy’s Ivan’s Childhood exists in this dreamscape. It is a film of smoke, of water, of substances that refuse to take shape. It is the past that can never be altered. It is the future that will never come.
Still, we reach.
Ivan (Nikolai Burlyayev) is a child of war, a soldier, courageous and agile and headstrong the way only an adolescent can be. He crosses through enemy swamps undetected. He refuses to cough up answers. Around him, his temporary guardians plot to send Ivan to military school, away from the front, and the inherent dangers of the battlefield, but Ivan will not be swayed. He has no concept of Ivan as child. There are vague recollections of youth that come to him in dreams, in which he’s playing with his mother, or a young girl who might be his sister, but these moments are gone. These people are dead. Ivan finds counterpoint in the company of adults. Will he be the braggadocios Captain Kholin? Or, perhaps he is more like the young Galtsev. Director of Photography Vadim Yusov shoots Galtsev and Ivan as equals from the moment the two are introduced, and Ivan stands tall in frame against Galtsev’s interrogations. Ivan meets his gaze. They are doubles. Later, as Ivan tells his story of escape from boarding school, Galtsev is seen in the mirror, listening intently, as if he, himself, is Ivan, reflecting back a decade, to some distant past, when he was someone else entirely.
Or maybe Ivan will turn out like the derelict he meets while attempting to go AWOL. The man is a crazy soul in wont of a nail, which he has misplaced ages ago. Still, he searches amongst the rubble of the house where his family, like Ivan’s, has been killed. “Oh, Lord,” he says. “When will this all end?” He locks himself behind what’s left of his gate. For him the war is lost. It has been for some time.
When Ivan dreams, he is staring down a well with his mother, looking at the impossible reflection of a star in the shape of a cross. He reaches, and his hands are in the water, so close, but the star is a mirage. Even in his sweetest dreams of youth, salvation is an abstract concept. “You needn’t get so worked up over the smallest things,” a voice advises, and now Ivan’s mother is gone, too, has become a symbol, far above Ivan, who, trapped by his longings, cannot escape the well he’s crawled into.
Ivan is a symbol, though, too. He is youth, and he is vitality, and for this reason Kholin (Valentin Zubkov), against all better judgment of, hey, having a prepubescent boy on the front-line fighting Germans is a stupid idea, keeps him close. When Ivan is around, there is still some semblance of hope and innocence. He is a glimpse beyond the war, perhaps to Kholin’s own childhood, when things were simpler. Kholin is trapped also, exhausted by battle, by disappointment and death. A beautiful nurse, Masha (Valentina Malyavina), catches his eye and Kholin pursues her in the woods, but there is nothing genial about his seduction. He is verbally aggressive, physically imposing. When the two kiss, it is against Masha’s will, and Kholin holds her tight, above a deep crevasse, as if, could he will himself to let go, she would disappear forever, perhaps never having existed to begin with.
A song, played in a devastated bunker on a battered phonograph, reminds the men of her. “They tell Masha not to go beyond the river” a voice croons, as Kholin and Galtsev sit in silence. “They tell Masha not to love the young man.” It is a song of transgression, of lost innocence, an innocence which Kholin destroyed in the woods, which the war destroyed in Kholin. The real Masha enters the room while the song plays, but Masha is being transferred, and Ivan has disappeared, and only the record is there to comfort them that, yes, at one time, there was more to life than this terrible bunker, this omnipresence of war, the quantity of which can only be measured by its own stinking void of loss.
The film ends with two juxtaposing sequences. The first is documentary footage of the aftermath of World War II, blown out buildings, corpses lining the street. The wife and daughters of the infamous Nazi, Joseph Goebbels, whom he poisoned with cyanide, lay next to his charred body. Ivan is now just a photograph in on a report, disposed from whatever file it was kept in. He’s been captured, tortured, killed. What did they expect?
Part of Ivan, though, is elsewhere, on a pristine beach, with his mother. He drinks from a bucket, a body of water easily consumed, contained, not like the well with its illusion of heaven, or the river of the song with its mysterious dangers, or the swamp, which looks so much like the sexual awaking of the woods, but offers only gunfire and bloodshed, or the ocean Ivan runs along in his dream, or in his death, chasing a young girl, his sister, his mother, Masha, until he outruns her (and what’s he chasing now?), his arm outstretched, so pathetic, so inexperienced, and we see ourselves in him, and he is real.
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Ivan’s Childhood: Reflections Beyond the River
MAGNUM OPUS - THE STUFF DREAMS ARE MADE OF (NEW MIXTAPE TRACK!)
She could never be as close as she appears to.
I gotta wonder if she sees me in her rear view.
And so I’ll go where I hope the road disappears to.
I know, you know, I know, you know I hear you.
Spesh to Death
It always starts with a phone call,
and a frozen proposal to hold on
from a rum soaked tongue that you wrote off,
dial tone corroded, droning ghost talk.
Drowning, road block, detour, car crash,
median bleeds in the street light, start back.
Camel Fats bloat and erode through the hard pack.
Finally arrive, dead eye from the bar staff.
Single malt albatrosses,
nauseous, sucking at the faucet. Lost in
exhaustion, caught up in collusions of truth and
the fruitless pursuit of a beautiful youth,
who, through ruses and pseudonyms moved you,
and grew to imbued the milieu you were rooted in
with coups, revolutions, and blues.
Who’s got answers? Who’s got proof?
Who’s got an address? Who’s got a line?
Who’s got conviction and who’s gonna dime?
Who’s gonna roll up their sleeves, get beastly
and try to beat the Nietzsche outta you completely?
Bleeding by the liter and obliterating scenery,
incinerating any inner civil plea for reasoning.
Vehemently fleeing, leaving every piece you broke.
Lips so close you can taste her smoke.
I could never be as close as I appear to.
She’s gotta wonder if I see her in my rear view.
And so I’ll go where I hope the road disappears to.
You know, I know, you know, I know I hear you.
It always ends with a slow song
and a prolonged note like so long
hope, like no I don’t promote any
notions of love choked cut throat throes.
So apropos that these photographs snapped
could capture the passion of having you
tactfully crawl right back to me. What scandal?
We handled the whole goddamn thing masterfully.
Two doubles of velvet straight
to celebrate several devilish traits,
and revel in peddling malevolent trades,
inevitably leveling pendulum weights,
to settle the last loose venomous thread.
One sentiment left, and we put it to bed.
A gentleman’s threats are as good as his enemy’s
debts. - - Correct?
Who are you lying for? Who’d you protect?
What are you crying for? What’d you expect?
Who’s gonna roll up the street discreetly,
and leave me serene in the feverous evening?
Retreating from the treasonous repeater that you’re squeezing,
every piece of me believing the uneasiness is fleeting.
Last kiss from a lipstick smeared cigarette.
Barrel so close I can taste its breath.
Like the Video? Learn More About Film Noir
…and say she steps out of the shadows, and there’s her holster, empty, as it seems. When she comes in for a kiss, you step back, or she steps forward again. This could be a dance, and now you’re kissing, too, but only because you’re buying time, because you’re afraid. Because where’s the pistol?
This is Noir Week, an artistic conspiracy between Ill Stills, Arison Cain, and Magnum Opus, and if you follow the trail long enough, you just might catch a killer, or a spy, or a bullet. This week, we’ll be seeped in the tenebrous pulp of film noir, giving Ill Stills readers a crash course in femme fatales, the denigration of the American justice system, and feverous, Word War II paranoia. As always, be wary of spoilers, though no amount of information could ever ruin these classics. Before we begin, do yourself a favor and check out early Ill Stills noir (The Third Man, Rebecca) and neo-noir (Memento, Fallen Angels) posts.
DAY ONE: Fritz Lang’s Fury and the Immolation of the Old Guard
In, 1934, following a meeting with then propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, Fritz Lang fled a Germany teeming with Nazi corruption and careening toward a war the horrors of which the United States public, and government, was fervently attempting to ignore. Lang had been labeled a Jew. Another year in Germany, he could have been head of UFA, as Goebbels promised, or he could have been killed, shot dead for a word, one with which he did not even identify. Escape was a Hobson’s choice.
So, it’s no surprise that Lang’s first film in the United States would be Fury, in which the justice system collapses on itself, and men are (hard) boiled down to one of two words - innocent, or guilty. Spencer Tracy plays Joe Wilson, aw shucking his way through an honest life, when a police officer pulls a gun on, and incarcerates him. The evidence? Five dollars of counterfeit cash and a pocket full of peanuts. This is happening, America, Lang said with his lens. These are dark time, America, he screamed with his mise-en-scène. That aw-shucks shit ain’t gonna cut it, he threatened as, on screen, even the public has turned against Wilson, defenseless in his jail cell, while the swell of something monstrous mutated overseas.
In a small town, in the heart of the United States, a lynch mob forms and burns Joe Wilson alive, because, to them, he’s guilty, and after all, they must protect their town from these internal threats, threats who may even seem familiar, like a forgotten face from the grocery store, or the man who pumps the gasoline, but they are not familiar. They are others. Now, two new words are worth killing over, “us” and “them.”
Wilson isn’t dead, however, and in a quintessentially noir moment, brilliantly captured by cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg, he arrives in the doorway of his old apartment, obscured by shadows and a tilted brim, face twisted in a heart-stopping grimace, and yeah, probably packing heat. He’s not the same man he once was. In fact, he’s not a man at all. Now, he’s just a word, “guilty”. He’s one of “them”.
It only took a moment in American cinema for the hero to become the villain, a new era was ushered into the theaters, and the old guard was done for. Just a few years earlier, films like Public Enemy and Scarface reassured the audience, often with advisories or disclaimers, that the men they were seeing on the screen was one of “them”, a crook, an infestation in the heart of American values, in American justice. Fritz Lang exposed the lie, and said “Joe Wilson is you,” and he said “Joe Wilson is me, too,” and he said “the line between a good man and a public enemy is very, very thin.”
Welcome to Noir Week, the forecast is black.
Hey film fans! It’s Sunday, and that means it’s time to treat yourselves! So, while I’m hard at work on my write up for The General, take a brief moment to bask in the rock glory of my good friend Arison Cain, and follow his tumblr, Kobiyashi Maru. Yes, that is a Star Trek reference. Don’t act like you didn’t know.
Rebel Without a Pulse,