When I discovered the first films of Tarkovsky, it was a miracle. I suddenly found myself before a door to which I had never had the key…a room which I had always wished to penetrate and wherein he felt perfectly at ease. Someone was able to express what I had always wished to say without knowing how. For me Tarkovsky is the greatest filmmaker.

Ingmar Bergman
Ivan's Childhood is Andrei Tarkovsky's Citizen Kane. It heralds the arrival of a cinema talent so enormous that not only must the proverbial bar be raised, but the entire reason for its very existence must be re-examined. Unlike Orson Welles, however, who never duplicated the genius of his first film, Tarkovsky went on to make six more masterpieces. So far as I know, he's the only film director who ever batted 1.000.

The genesis of Tarkovsky's first feature after completion of The Steamroller and the Violin, his thesis film at VGIK, the Soviet State Film School, is surprising: he inherited the directing job after another filmmaker's work was deemed unacceptable by the Director-General of Mosfilm in 1960. This was a mixed-blessing, of course, since the young Tarkovsky would have to shoot faster, smarter—not to mention cheaper—than one E. Abalov, the man whose inadequacies helped birth a titan.

Tarkovsky and his cameraman Vadim Yusov began work on June 16, 1961 (Bloomsday, by happy synchronicity, for those who enjoy such Joycean ironies). The scant eight months he spent completing the film was a record for Tarkovsky and, significantly, he was officially complimented for coming in 24,000 rubles under budget.

What the Soviets got for their money was, by all accounts, a work of genius.

A newcomer to the exotic and supremely demanding world of Andrei Tarkovsky would do well to begin with Ivan's Childhood (also known as My Name Is Ivan). The narrative is for the most part chronological, though dreams and memories and reveries—all hallmarks of Tarkovsky's method—play a central role in the story's unfolding.

The title character Ivan is the farthest thing imaginable from a "typical" war-movie hero—he is a twelve-year-old Russian boy whose entire family has been killed by Nazis. The orphan is employed by the Russian army as a spy behind German lines. If this sounds sentimental and contrived, be assured, the film was based on true accounts in the youth newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, of very young scouts who distinguished themselves along the Dneiper River in 1941.

Tarkovsky, true to his calling as consummate artist, used every opportunity to embrace the inherited project as his own. He was himself a child of World War II, exactly Ivan's age. The lyrical examination of the relationships between fantasy and reality, dreams and awakening, poetry and horror, is the subject matter of every film he ever made. He speaks of his early work in Sculpting in Time, the must-read manifesto for ANY serious student of film:

Ivan is a child consumed by an adult passion. He loses his childhood in the war and dies because he lived like a grown-up. The whole film must be built around the boy's character, but there must be sequences which show clearly that he is a child. There is one concrete detail in the story—Ivan playing at war—which shows this in the most harrowing way.

Everything in this film must be profound, terrible and true. There is no room here for romance and adventure. The boy must not be the pride and joy of the regiment, he must be its grief. They all suffer when he goes "over the river". It is the boy's adult passion that makes them suffer with him.

I am simply in love with the subject. I was his age when the war began. His situation is that of my generation.

You must not miss the theme of Russia, in the texture and character of the locations. We have to bring out the problem of the Russian character, and its psychology.

—Andrei Tarkovsky
Ivan's Childhood is an astonishing work from the hand and mind of one so young. His delineation of the complex relationships between the child spy and the veteran soldiers who essentially become his surrogate family is remarkable. His formal application of the filmmaker's tools stun even a casual observer. I occasionally leave the film rolling on a big-screen television as a sort of "reminder" of how beautiful even the simplest of the artist's compositions can be (though Tarkovsky would probably scoff at such a cavalier notion). Passersby are usually mesmerized, much like people who see and smell a Picasso for the first time. Tarkosky's cinematographer says this:
When we were doing Ivan's Childhood he was young (28), he had no experience, he didn't know much about the role of the cameraman, the set designer, and also of the director. But I was never his teacher. During the filming of Rublov we worked together, we searched, we studied together. By then we already had certain experience—for us this was an especially interesting time. We searched for truth... I am a cameraman, a technician, thus I can say: this can be done, I can undertake this assignment. But Tarkovsky frequently could not understand the limitations and this ignorance made him bold—he thought things would be easy to do and he could have very daring ideas, he could invent anything, in total freedom. Namely, thinking up images (visions, imaginary scenes)—this is exactly how we shot. We didn't invent anything, no new film technique, but we did frequently create a kind of new expression. I am certain: at the technical level, during the photography, we've found something that was relatively new, fresh. Do you recall, for example, that scene in the forest with the officer and the woman? Tarkovsky said one had to shoot this scene from below the ground level, so I created something that could hold the camera in that position, so it photographed our hero from the interior of the earth. In those days there were no films applying this style. Today, of course, one can find such scenes.

—Vadim Yusov, cinematographer of The Steamroller and the Violin, Ivan's Childhood, Andrei Rublyov, and Solaris.
Ivan's Childhood demonstrates, preternaturally, the authorial genius of the young man who was to become the greatest of all filmmakers. The cinematic vocabulary that Tarkovsky discovered in his first film and the themes he began to explore evolved throughout the ensuing 25 years of his career, culminating in his masterpiece, The Sacrifice in 1986.

As the official Soviet entry, Ivan's Childhood was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1962.

Through poetic connections feeling is heightened and the spectator is made more active. He becomes a participant in the process of discovering life, unsupported by ready-made deductions from the plot or ineluctable pointers by the author.

The method whereby the artist obliges the audience to build the separate parts into a whole, and to think on, further than has been stated, is the only one that puts the audience on a par with the artist in their perception of the film. And indeed from the point of view of mutual respect only that kind of reciprocity is worthy of artistic practice.

It makes no difference to me how the public receives and interprets my films. I make films in such a way as to create a certain spiritual state in the viewer. As a result he cannot remain unchanged after watching the film. But what the viewer thinks about my film's style is unimportant to me.

Viewers search for meanings as if this was some sort of a charade. I know of no work of art whose meaning would be clear to the degree demanded by some. When they listen to music, read a novel or watch a play they frequently encounter fragments they don't understand. It's a normal state of the relationship toward a work of art. But when they go to the cinema—they demand complete clarity, total understanding. I am against discrimination in art. Clarity is not most important.

The world created by an artist is as complex as the world that surrounds him.

—Andrei Tarkovsky

Ivan's Childhood (1962)

Directed by
Andrei Tarkovsky

Written by Vladimir Bogomolov
Mikhail Papava

Nikolai Burlyayev .... Ivan
Valentin Zubkov .... Captain Kholin
Yevgeni Zharikov .... Lieutenant Galtsev
Stepan Krylov (I) .... Corporal Katasonych
Nikolai Grinko .... Colonel Gryaznov
Dmitri Milyutenko .... Old Man
Valentina Malyavina .... Masha
Irma Raush .... Ivan's Mother
Andrei Konchalovsky .... Soldier
Ivan Savkin
Vladimir Marenkov

Also Known As:
Childhood of Ivan (1962)
Ivan's Childhood (1962)
My Name Is Ivan (1963) (USA)
Youngest Spy, The (1962)
Runtime: 95 / USA:84
Country: Soviet Union
Language: Russian / German
Color: Black and White
Sound Mix: Mono
Certification: Argentina:16 / Finland:K-16 / Germany:16 / Sweden:15

Tarkovsky—Cinema as Poetry, trans. Natasha Ward, London: Faber and Faber, 1989
The films of Andrei Tarkovsky—A Visual Fugue, Vida T. Johnson and Graham Petrie,Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.
Sculpting in Time, Andrey Tarkovsky, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998

On Hollywood and filmmaking:

Below the Line

sex drugs and divorce

a little life, interrupted
  1. Hecho en Mejico
  2. Entrances
  3. Sam's Song
  4. Hemingway and Fortuna
  5. Hummingbird on the Left
  6. The Long and Drunken Afternoon
  7. Safe in the Lap of the Gods
  8. Quetzal Birds in Love
  9. Angela in Paradise
  10. And the machine ran backwards

a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon

I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind

Below the Line
completion bond
Film Editing
Film Editor
Final Cut Pro
forced development
HD Video
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Sven Nykvist
Wilford Brimley

21 Grams
Andrei Rublyov
Apocalypse Now Redux
Ivan's Childhood
The Jazz Singer
The Sacrifice
We Were Soldiers
Wild Strawberries

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