On the occasion of the publication of the novelist-essayist Geoff Dyer’s latest digressive interpretive rhapsody, Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, the New York Institute for the Humanities, in conjunction with the Illustration Department at Parsons The New School for Design, will be presenting a screening of the film in question, the legendary Soviet master Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece Stalker, introduced by Mr. Dyer, but then interrupted, every half hour or so, by a conversation among a distinguished panel of Tarkovsky fanatics.
Stalker (1979), the last film Tarkovsky completed before leaving the Soviet Union, takes place in a dystopian near future “in our small country” (a formulation designed to get the script past the censors), where a wide geographical zone has been cordoned off in the wake of some mysterious calamity (an alien landing, a lethal accident of some sort?), and though hardly any who enter it ever return, a few insanely brave (or perhaps just insane) individuals persist in trying to break into the territory in the hopes of making their way to a mysterious room in which their deepest wishes will somehow be realized. With eerie echoes back toward a sort of gulag-in-reverse and uncanny anticipations forward toward the Chernobyl catastrophe of 1986, the film follows one such Stalker as he leads two other men, Writer and Professor, into the forbidden territory.
About the Participants
GEOFF DYER is one of the most deliciously (indeed deliriously) various writers around. Today based in London, he was raised in Cheltenham, England, the only child of a sheet-metal worker father and a cafeteria lady mother, and went on to study English at Oxford, under scholarship. The author of four novels, including most recently Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, he is as well known for his booklength essays, ranging from Ways of Telling (1987) on his hero, English art and social critic John Berger, whose Selected Essays he also edited; through But Beautiful (1991), a lyric celebration of Jazz; The Missing of the Somme (1994), on the memory of World War I; Out of Sheer Rage (1997), an ecstatic rant on not being able (and yet somehow still managing) to write about DH Lawrence; and The Ongoing Moment (2005) a rhapsodic vantage on photography. He has also authored several collections, including Anglo-English Attitudes (1999); Yoga for Those who Can’t be Bothered to Do It (2003); andOtherwise Known as the Human Condition (2011), which just won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. He was recently accorded a regular column in the NY Times Book Review. And now comes his foray into cinema, Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, on legendary Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece, Stalker.
MICHAEL BENSON‘s work focuses on the intersection of art and science. His fourth book for Abrams, Planetfall, comes out this fall. A photographer, writer, filmmaker, book-designer, and exhibitions producer, in the last decade he has staged a series of increasingly large-scale exhibitions of planetary landscape photography internationally, mostly under the title Beyond. Benson takes raw data from NASA and European Space Agency archives and processes it, creating large-format images of landscapes beyond direct current human experience. He’s also an award-winning filmmaker, with work that straddles the line between fiction and documentary, as in his study of the propagandistic wellsprings of the Yugoslav wars. Benson recently worked with director Terrence Malick to help produce space and cosmology sequences for Malick’s film Tree of Life, and his work was also incorporated in Patricio Guzman’s 2011 filmNostalgia for the Light. Benson lived in the USSR on and off for many years, at first by virtue of the fact that his parents, both Russia scholars, served two terms as diplomats at the US Embassy in Moscow, and later as he covered Russian underground culture for Rolling Stoneduring the mid-1980’s glasnost period.
PHILLIP LOPATE, Professor and Nonfiction Director at Columbia’s Graduate Writing Program, is the author of three personal essay collections–Bachelorhood (1981), Against Joie de Vivre (1989), and Portrait of My Body (1996); two novels; two poetry collections; a memoir of his teaching experiences, Being With Children (1975); a collection of his movie criticism,Totally Tenderly Tragically (1998); and an urbanist meditation, Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan (2004). Getting Personal: Selected Writings was published by Basic Books in 2003. He is also a celebrated anthologist, with such volumes as The Art of the Personal Essay (1994); Writing New York (1998), and American Movie Critics (2006), along with a series collecting the best essays of the year, The Anchor Essay Annual. His two most recent books are At the End of the Day, a collection of poetry, and Notes on Sontag. Lopate, whose essays, fiction, poetry, film and architectural criticism have appeared in The Paris Review,Bookforum, Harper’s Magazine, and The New York Times, is a longtime member of the New York Institute for the Humanities. In his essay about Solaris for the Criterion Collection, Lopate writes of Tarkovsky: “Though he made only seven features, thwarted by Soviet censors and then by cancer, each honored his ambition to crash through the surface of ordinary life and find a larger spiritual meaning, to heal modern art’s secular fragmentation by infusing it with metaphysical dimension. To that end, he rejected Eisensteinian montage and developed a demanding long-take aesthetic, which he thought better able to reveal the deeper truths underlying the ephemeral, performing moment.”
WALTER MURCH is one of the preeminent sound and film editors in the world today, having worked on films ranging from THX 1138 and The Conversation to Julia, The Godfather movies,Apocalypse Now, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The English Patient, Jarhead, and countless others. He is the author of a thin classic of a book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye (2001) and was the subject of Michael Ondaatje’s The Conversations (2002). In his spare time he translates the Italian wartime journalist Curzio Malaparte into poetry (a book of such efforts is due out from Counterpoint this coming fall), and, ever since his days researching a screenplay on the life of Kepler, has been dabbling as well in gravitational astrophysics.
FRANCINE PROSE‘s work, as prolific as it is various, includes fifteen novels (including Blue Angel, nominated for a National Book Award in 2000, and her latest, My New American Life), three short story collections (including Guided Tours of Hell); a half dozen books of nonfiction, including books on Sicily, Caravaggio, Gluttony, Reading Like a Writer; and Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife (2009). A contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, the recipient of numerous grants and awards, she is a Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bard College, a past president of the Pen American Center, and a member ofIboth the American Academy of Arts and Letters and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A film of her novel, Household Saints, was made in 1993. She is a longtime member of the New York Institute for the Humanities.
DANA STEVENS is a film critic at Slate, and a regular on the magazine’s weekly cultural podcast the Culture Gabfest. She has a doctorate in comparative literature from UC Berkeley, and joined Slate in mid-2003, writing the magazine’s Surfergirl column on television and pop-culture. Before joining Slate she wrote under the pseudonym “Liz Penn” on her own (now defunct) web website/blog called the High Sign. She has written for the New York Times, theWashington Post, Bookforum, and the Atlantic, and has appeared on several occasions on PBS’s Charlie Rose and WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show.
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