Stalker was not Tarkovsky’s final film, but it was likely the movie that eventually killed him. Why don’t more people know the story behind this? Barely any of the reviews I’ve read mentioned how toxic the shooting environment of the film was. The only review that alludes to it is Sheila O’Malley’s, though she believes that Tarkovsky had cancer before shooting Stalker. This little-discussed aspect of the film made me curious so I did some googling. The sound designer, Vladimir Sharun, provides a bleak explanation of how he thinks Tarkovsky and others on set contracted cancer.
“We were shooting near Tallinn in the area around the small river Piliteh with a half-functioning hydroelectric station,” says Vladimir Sharun. “Up the river was a chemical plant and it poured out poisonous liquids downstream. There is even this shot in Stalker: snow falling in the summer and white foam floating down the river. In fact it was some horrible poison. Many women in our crew got allergic reactions on their faces. Tarkovsky died from cancer of the right bronchial tube. And [Anatoliy] Solonitsyn too. That it was all connected to the location shooting for Stalker became clear to me when [Tarkovsky’s wife] Larissa Tarkovskaya died from the same illness in Paris…”
That’s dark. It depressed me to think that this could happen to a group of people who were just trying to make art. Sorry if I passed that on to you.
And now the weekly rundown. I didn’t cover Berlin as much as I’d hoped (it was less covered here than Sundance, in fact). There were many movies that gathered three reviews, but few that went beyond that. You can find them all at the Index and Rankings.
All three new releases were added extremely late in the week (Keep Quiet and The Great Wall on Friday and How Heavy This Hammer only minutes ago, since its run at the Made in NY Media Center got so little attention).
The Party (Potter)
The Great Wall (Zhang)
Beat the Devil (Huston)
Cinema of the Past
John Huston’s Beat the Devil (United States • 1953)