Friday, February 17, 2012

Two on Dyer's Zona

Geoff Dyer interviewed in Guernica.

ASH Smyth: So, a whole book about a single Russian movie. How did that happen? You make it sound like you were sitting watching Stalker one afternoon, for the twenty-fifth time or whatever, and then just found yourself in the middle of a paragraph of notes and realized that this was what you were writing, right now.

Geoff Dyer: Um, well, the exact story, which you might decide is too boring to tell, is that I went to hear this [Werner] Herzog talk at the BFI, and then picked up the program and saw they were showing Stalker, with a debate about Stalker, and then I was immediately thinking “Shit, I’d like to be on that panel!” And then I started thinking of ways in which I could surreptitiously get myself invited on, and then I thought “Oh, I’ll write something for the Guardian,” and arranged to do that. And no sooner had I done that—the guy said “800 words?” and I thought I’d just do that quickly—than I kept ringing him back asking for more and more words, but of course he can’t just say “Yeah, we’ll devote the whole of this issue to you!” and so it very quickly became a source of frustration. By then, I was really up and running. So I went with it, though I wasn’t thinking, at this early stage, that there’d be a whole book’s worth. I really didn’t know how much there would be to say. All I was aware of was that the saying was enjoyable.

ASH Smyth: So how did it happen, literally? Did you sit through it another n-million times? You say that you’d wanted to write it in 142 chapters, one for each take…

Geoff Dyer: Yeah, that was a little thing that sort of blossomed and then faded. I was working through it pretty much in order, but then there came a point when I did have the film going on a computer, just to make sure it was a reasonably accurate record of things. I felt it was important that I didn’t have things in there that were wildly wrong. Though I could see the attraction of that, given that part of the nature of the Zone is that you’re not sure what’s there. “Did that bird really disappear?!” I allowed myself a certain amount of leeway, but it’s pretty reliable.

And Jonathan McCalmont (who you should be reading whether he's talking Tarkovsky and Dyer or not):

Every time Zona reaches a particularly juicy point in Stalker, Dyer wrenches us out of the film and into a digression drawing on film theory, the history of film, the life of Tarkovsky or the life of Geoff Dyer. Sometimes, these digressions will go on for a number of pages before returning to the film itself and sometimes these digressions will be unpacked in a series of footnotes that can also go on for a number of pages before returning us either to the original digression or to the substance of the film itself. As a result of this somewhat unorthodox structure, reading Zona is an exercise in juggling book marks and flipping back and forth between different points in the book in order to a) follow Dyer’s unravelling lines and thought and b) remember how these vast digressions relate back to the substance of the film. Initially, I took all of this page-flipping to be nothing more than a product of the same authorial insensitivity that prompts academics to produce works that have all of their footnotes at the end of the text despite there frequently being hundreds of the fuckers. However, around the time I had two fingers jammed between pages of Zona and Dyer was encouraging me to flip forward thirty or forty pages, the penny finally dropped: Dyer is intentionally wrenching us out of the flow of the text. Far from being a bug, Zona’s tendency to spiral away from a train of thought or the text of the film is actually a feature, a deliberate aesthetic choice.

So that's another one on my wishlist, if anyone's listening. (How can one not read a man who goes to listen to Herzog and finds himself writing a book when thinking up excuses to appear on a panel to discuss a film? Also: "I’d seen that film The Return by…whatever the guy’s name is, but I hadn’t really thought about it much." *snort*.)

1 comment:

km said...

Dyer's columns and essays are always worth reading. The couple of essays that he wrote for the Times Book Review were very good.