Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room by Geoff Dyer; Pantheon, 228 pages ($24). Andrei Tarkovsky's "Stalker" is not just a film to Geoff Dyer. It is a crucial cornerstone to his sensibility. "If I had not seen 'Stalker' in my early twenties, my responsiveness to the world would have been radically diminished." But then Dyer, to the world of film, is no ordinary all-too-professional footnotist to the ever-expanding world of "film culture," which, even though a fraction of its former exploding self a few decades ago, is still profiting those whose former passions have long since drowned in Films-as-Data.
But then Dyer is no ordinary writer about anything. "But Beautiful" isn't like any other jazz book widely known. "The Ongoing Moment" isn't exactly like other books about photography and "Out of Sheer Rage" isn't like anyone else's D.H. Lawrence book either.
Here is a book about a film obsession by a man who, early on, admits that Michelangelo Antonioni's masterwork "L' Avventura" is "the nearest I have ever come to pure cinematic agony The only way I was able to get through it was by saying to myself I can't bear this another second, even though there was not actually such a thing as a second in 'L' Avventura.' A minute was the minimum increment of temporal measurement When I finally emerged into the Parisian twilight, I was in my early thirties."
Everything is germane in a Dyer book, especially those things other, more dutiful and focused (and less gifted) writers would consider woefully off the subject -- his father's affection for choc-ices, for instance, or his own admission that alcohol consumption in movies always makes him thirsty. "French films, predictably, make me crave red wine but whites with a chateau on the label look pretty good too. Whiskey looks good in Westerns. ('Men swaggering into saloons. Thirsty from cattle drive.') Beer looks good anywhere. And not just in films."
How much more interesting a book about a film obsession can be when the world and the self are really the subjects. Especially Geoff Dyer's self.
-- Jeff Simon