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A digressive but impassioned mash note to a film that defies easy summary.

A personal meditation on Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker—though, this being a Dyer (Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, 2011, etc.) book, it’s about plenty more besides.

Stalker is a relatively obscure entry in Russian director Tarkovsky’s oeuvre, but it’s exceedingly receptive to critical analysis. The film follows three archetypes—Writer, Professor and Stalker—in a mysterious and heavily guarded wilderness as they ponder the meaning of life. Dyer doesn’t provide a critical analysis of the film so much as a scene-by-scene walkthrough of it, just to see where it takes him—which is pretty far. He riffs on The Last of the Mohicans, Chernobyl, his affinity for particular brands of knapsack, the effect of aging on one's enthusiasm for cultural consumption, and more. At his most far-flung, he recalls his squandered opportunities for ménages à trois. Such digressions are vintage Dyer: Inserted as footnotes or parentheticals, they sometimes go on for so long that it can be hard to recall the scene in the movie that prompted the comment in the first place. He delivers a few too many hokey puns, and he sometimes overreaches to argue for the film’s ongoing influence. (A claim that the film works as a 9/11 allegory is particularly forced.) The lack of a strong thesis is frustrating, and ultimately this is a lesser Dyer book. However, it gets over on his enthusiasm for the film and on his infectious admiration of Tarkovsky’s philosophical reach. The “room” at the center of Stalker represents our need to locate our deepest desires, Dyer explains, and in that context maybe talking about those failed three-ways was necessary after all.

A digressive but impassioned mash note to a film that defies easy summary.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-37738-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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