Photomediations: A Reader

Photomediations: A Reader

'The Cinematograph as an Agent of History’

Excerpt: ‘One could argue that, ever since its emergence, the task of faithfully representing reality has been imposed on cinema because of its ability to capture motion. And it is precisely the notion of movement that brings together – and separates – the complex and interrelated histories of photography and film. Both media have been burdened with claims about their supposed objectivity as something that shapes and defines their ontology. It is also because of its extensive use in science, for example in providing records of surgical operations, that it was traditionally believed, especially in the early days of the medium, that cinema’s main destiny was to document reality. Among those who held this view was an internationally renowned Pole, Boleslaw Matuszewski (1856-1944), who was convinced that film’s most important role was to faithfully capture the world as it was. Matuszewski was a keen theorist, photographer (he owned two photographic studios: one in Paris, one in Warsaw) and filmmaker. This essay revisits Matuszewski’s understanding of the cinematic apparatus as a witness of history in relation to Karen Barad’s notion of agential realism. A clear tension between the objective and subjective approach to filmmaking is revealed once we allow the claim that the cinematic apparatus is not just a witness to history but also its active agent.’

Published in Photomediations: A Reader (Open Humanities Press, 2016), co-edited with Joanna Zylinska


Experiments in She-ness: Women and Undependent Cinema

Experiments in She-ness: Women and Undependent Cinema

'Ciné, ma vérité: Memory as a Creative Force in the Process of Constructing Subjectivities'

Excerpt: ‘The main impulse behind this essay is to explore some of the themes and methods I employed in Batum (2016, Super8, 12 mins), a film that takes as its starting point my personal experience of near drowning in the Black Sea of Batumi, Georgia. As such, Batum is induced with a desire for an auto-ethnographical self-interrogation as I wish to move towards creating a personal cartography of my experiences. Images that feature in the film are a constellation of memories that are mine (one may think of Roland Barthes’ punctum here), and those that I acquired through the knowledge of history and culture (Barthes’ studium). The latter ones I call prosthetic and they are exemplified here by the poems of Osip Mandelstam and Joseph Stalin, among other cultural tropes. Mikhail Bulgakov’s unpublished play Batum resonates throughout my film, least of all in its title. While making Batum I was set to explore a certain displacement of identity that emerges when we encounter past experiences. I sought to experience how memories become fiction once recorded and how in this process of recording, the camera itself held a mysterious agency. I am, above all, always interested in ways in which film, as one of the technologies of memory, can be seen as an innovative creator of memories themselves. The complex relationship between personal and collective memories often subverts the social and political identity constructions, which I tend to explore in my films.’

Published in Experiments in She-ness: Women and Undependent Cinema (Albuquerque: Basement Films, 2016), edited by Bryan Konefsky, David Camarena and Angela Beauchamp


BORO, L'ÎLE D'AMOUR: The Films of Walerian Borowczyk

BORO, L'ÎLE D'AMOUR: The Films of Walerian Borowczyk

‘The Postcard Never Sent: Guy de Maupassant and Rosalie Prudent’s Cinematic Confession’

Synopsis: This experimental text constitutes an exploration of the themes present in Guy de Maupassant’s story “Rosalie Prudent,” (1886) as prompted here by Walerian Borowczyk’s epony- mous adaptation (1966). My wish in this experiment is to propose a fictional dialogue between a few near-contemporary figures who shared an affinity with certain cultural trends and philosophical concerns; namely realism, fatalism, and the nature of man. Borowczyk’s ascetic, clinical interpretation of “Rosalie” has brought my attention to some particular features of de Maupassant’s story. Rosalie Prudent’s suffering and the tragedy of her destiny are illuminated and enhanced by Borowczyk’s use of camera and sound, as well as the employment of a rigorously minimalist mise en scène. All of this, as I will indicate in this chapter, injects de Maupassant’s cruel realism with more contemporary appeal. What emerges is Borowczyk’s take on motherhood, woven into an image of unflinching fatalism.

Accompanied by my collage, Cher Maître (2014).

Published in BORO, L'ÎLE D'AMOUR: The Films of Walerian Borowczyk (New York: Berghahn Books, 2015), co-edited with Kuba Mikurda and Michal Oleszczyk


The Story of Sin: The History of Surrealism in Polish Cinema

The Story of Sin: The History of Surrealism in Polish Cinema

‘A Cruel Imagination: Roman Polanski’s Early films’

Synopsis: This chapter explores Roman Polanski's early films, such as Murder (1957), The Lamp (1958), When Angels Fall (1959), among others, in relation to the aesthetics of Surrealism and his later iconic productions, such as Chinatown (1974).

Excerpt: ‘A dark land of repressed memories, a place invaded with contingencies, Chinatown is not as much a geographical location, as it is a state of mind that Jake (Jack Nicholson) does not want to revisit. But destiny takes its course as he, like many of Polanski’s characters, loses against the cruelty of one’s fate and a morally corrupt world.’

Published in The Story of Sin: The History of Surrealism in Polish Cinema (Krakow: ha!art, 2010; bilingual publication in Polish and English), edited by Kamila Wielebska and Kuba Mikurda


Un-dependently Yours: Imagining a World Beyond the Red Carpet

Un-dependently Yours: Imagining a World Beyond the Red Carpet

'On Scorpios, Leather (and Satin) Jackets and the Importance of Experimental Film Festivals'

Excerpt: ‘[…] But I am interested here in another factor that makes experimental film festivals important: ways in which the avant-garde infiltrates the mainstream and art cinema. An example: in Nicolas Winding Refn’s highly celebrated ‘art house blockbuster’ Drive (2011), its main character, referred to as driver (Ryan Gosling), wears a quilted satin jacket with a stitched scorpion at the back (now perfectly marketed by Amazon as ‘DRIVE SCORPION BOMBER HARRINGTON QUILTED SATIN JACKET HAVE GOLDEN SCORPIO AT BACKSIDE’). Like Sailor’s (Nicolas Cage) leather jacket in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), the scorpion jacket acts as a ‘symbol of individuality’ and a ‘belief in personal freedom.’ In Refn’s words, the jacket also functions as homage to one of the most iconic examples of avant-garde film, naturally, here we have Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964) in mind. (The slowness of Drivel, as well as of Refn’s other films scan, can certainly be compared to Anger’s avant-garde masterpiece.) Alfred Hitchcock famously acknowledged the impact of such avant-garde classics as Un Chien Andalou (Buñuel, and Dalí, 1929) L’Age d’Or (Buñuel, 1930), Entr’acte (Clair, 1924), The Fall of the House of Usher (Epstein, 1928) and The Blood of a Poet (Jean Cocteau, 1930) on his own work.’

Published in Un-dependently Yours: Imagining a World Beyond the Red Carpet (Albuquerque: Basement Films, 2015), edited by Bryan Konefsky, River Quane and David Camareno


Polish Cinema in a Transnational Context

Polish Cinema in a Transnational Context

‘Krzysztof Zanussi’s co-productions as a challenge to the notion of national cinema’

Excerpt: 'There are at least two ways of looking at Krzysztof Zanussi's co-productions: from the point of view of their funding, distribution, and exhibition, or from the perspective of their themes and style in relation to the director’s Polish work. This chapter pays attention to the latter aspect of his work and argues against a common view among many Polish critics that Zanussi’s coproductions demonstrate a certain regression and lack of style in the director’s oeuvre. Considered here are three films in particular:  Imperative (West Germany/France, 1982), Bluebeard (West Germany/Switzerland, 1984), and Paradigm (West Germany/France/Italy, 1985).'

Published in Polish Cinema in a Transnational Context (Rochester: Rochester University Press, April 2014), edited by Ewa Mazierska and Michael Goddard


The Struggle for Form: Perspectives on Polish Avant-Garde Film, 1916-1989

The Struggle for Form: Perspectives on Polish Avant-Garde Film, 1916-1989

“'The inexpressible unearthly beauty of the cinematograph': The Impact of Polish Futurism on the First Polish Avant-Garde Films”

Excerpt: ‘Nonetheless, as a contemporary researcher of Polish avant-garde film, I find myself in a privileged position of having access to a wide array of materials that have been previously unavailable. This makes it possible to claim that in order to fully assess the nature of Polish avant-garde film, we need to go back to its relationship with avant-garde movements that emerged in the 1920s. In this article I look at the impact of Polish Futurism (1919 – 1922) on the first Polish avant-garde films made in the 1930s. The focus here will be particularly on Kurek’s Rhythmical Calculations, and despite the fact that much has been written on the work of the Themersons, aspects of Europa (Europe, 1932) and Calling Mr Smith (1943, UK) will be revisited here in relation to Polish Futurism. Although these films have been present in a theoretical discourse, it is my contention that the impact of Polish Futurism on them has been understated. Tadeusz Miczka’s article ‘Cinema as optic poetry: On attempts to futurise the cinematograph in Poland of the 1920s and 1930s’ (1998) remains the most comprehensive account of the relationship between Polish Futurism and avant-garde film and it serves as a starting point in my enquiry.’

Published in The Struggle for Form: Perspectives on Polish Avant-Garde Film 1916-1989 (Columbia University Press, July 2014), co-edited with Michael O’Pray


On Fragmentation: Alternative Film/Video Research Forum

On Fragmentation: Alternative Film/Video Research Forum

'Grasping Fragmentary Evidence: Jalu Kurek’s Rhythmical Calculations (1934) and the Notion of Photogénie’

Synopsis: This chapter discusses the fragmented nature of early Polish avant-garde film with the particular attention to Jalu Kurek's film Or (Rhythmical Calculations, 1934) and its links to the French concept of photogénie.

Excerpt: 'Throughout the 1920s the leading Polish film critics Leon Trystan, Karol Irzykowski, and Stefania Zahorska had expressed their disappointment with the poor quality of Polish films. They believed that this was due to substandard scriptwriting and a lack of artistic talent within the industry. Against such a background the concept of photogénie interested these critics, as well as the emerging avant-garde filmmakers, primarily because it allowed for an exploration of the aesthetic values of film. It also appealed to the Poles because one of the leaders of the French Impressionist avant-garde (1919-1929) and the key supporter of photogénie in film – Jean Epstein – was himself a Pole.'

Published in On Fragmentation: Alternative Film/Video Research Forum, 2012-2013 (Belgrade: Academic FilM Center/Student City Cultural Center, 2014), ed. Greg de Cuir, Jr.