One reason could be that, freed from commercial pressures, many Russian filmmakers (especially the later ones) sought to create that ultimate film, a film that goes way beyond our idea of a source of instant gratification that goes best with a large popcorn serving. Russian filmmakers sought to create art that was parallel to what was achieved by Saul Bellow, Garcia Marquez, Juan Miro or Henry Moore in their respective fields. But of course, few people associate feature films with a longer life and greater purpose than its ticket stub.
The early masters of Russian cinema; Eisenstein and Pudovkin, were mainly focused on making propaganda movies but are the most famous in the western world for their use of montage. Though their movies had a crude feel about them, both Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein), The End of St Petersburg (Pudovkin) and Mother (Pudovkin) are arguably the best propaganda movies ever made (together with Leni Riefenstahl's Triump of Will) . One can argue that anyone who has seen these movies and Fritzlang’s Metropolis will need to have a fairly good reason for not having become a communist after watching these melodramatic masterpieces.
Once the silent period was over and the
Tarkovsky’s early works are cute emotion filled “decent” films such as The Steamroller and the Violin, a film about a friendship between an operator of steamroller and a boy that is made difficult by class realities. It is his later works such as Solaris and Stalker that set him apart from any other director. While both Solaris and Stalker are seemingly sci-fi movies, they have little to with sci-fi and deal rather elegantly with man’s psychological dilemmas. In Solaris, a psychologist has to confront his conflicting emotions when he is sent to an awkward space station where memories from past come back to life in flesh and blood because of a strange magnetic field. In Stalker, my favorite film, a tour guide takes people to the Zone, where something mysterious and alien had happened once. Once he takes a scientist and an author along for such a trip and the movie is all about the perspectives each has about life. The Stalker keeps stressing on a man’s need to believe something, the scientist reveals his need for personal glory and revenge, while the author constantly expresses cynicism on all aspects of life, science, geometry while hating the stalker and his faith for its hypocrisy. The Zone, after all is probably nothing more than the Stalker’s imagination. With few but beautiful dialogues with long pauses between them, beautiful images of natural landscapes and great background score, Stalker is as good as the best modern novel one would have read.
Tarkovsky’s dreamy images and constant exploration of the mind in his movies had inspired many filmmakers such as another great Parajanov (Shadows of Our Ancestors, The Color of Pomegranates) who tried to make an artwork out of every shot. With the fall of
Though they were frequently at odds with censor boards for diverting from the idea of social realism, the dreamy works of Tarkovsky, Parajanov and Sokurov have shown how different and majestic films could be from popular notions about films. Only if they were to have been more popular in lands where supposedly everyone was free.