Dada, Futurism and Pure Cinema: An Evening with the Polish Avant-Garde Film, Curated by Kamila Kuc, Friday, 17 April, 19.00, Guild Cinema
Excerpts from Programme Notes:
Stefan + Franciszka (Tomasz Pobóg-Malinowski, 1974-5), 18mins, colour and black and white, 16mm
While pacing up and down on the terrace of his London house, Stefan Themerson says at one point, ‘I am not a noun, I’m a verb’, meaning that for a long time he didn’t exist, now he does exist, and soon he will stop existing. And these are the characteristics of a verb rather than of a noun. The scene is set in Maida Vale, where Stefan and his wife, the painter, Franciszka Themerson have lived for many years. Both were born in Poland, where during the 1930s they became important pioneers of the film avant-garde, experimenting with ‘cameraless’ photography and inventing photograms in motion. Source: GV Art Gallery.
The Three Surviving Films by Franciszka and Stefan Themerson
The Adventure of a Good Citizen (1937), 10 mins, black and white, 35mm
Called by the filmmakers themselves ‘an irrational humoresque’, in which every obvious poetical aspiration of the decent citizen can be seen by all. ‘The main hero is Everyman, a citizen and obedient worker, who takes literally the statement: There won't be a hole in heaven if you go backwards.’ (…) The Adventure of a Good Citizen turned out to be as provocative as the march backwards: despite the warm response of the more enlightened critics, it was attacked by the press and badly received by the public. It was booed and screening was suspended. Source: Marcin Gizycki, ‘The Films of Franciszka and Stefan Themerson’, LUX Online.
Calling Mr. Smith (1943), 10 mins, colour, 35mm
This surviving poetic documentary uses a fusion of cartoon animated images with photomontages, photograms, double exposure shots, as well as saturated and solarised imagery to convey the filmmakers’ moral and philosophical stance towards the Nazi atrocities. The film poses a question: how Germans, who in the past produced such cultured people, can be so barbaric now? Bach’s music is played interchangeably with the Nazi hymn ‘Horst Wessel Lied’, which is acoustically distorted to add a sense of irony. The majority of slides used in the film were hand-made and filmed through colour filters and newsreel footage, mixed with still images. Source: Kamila Kuc, The Struggle for Form: Perspectives on Polish Avant-Garde Film 1916-1989 (co-edited with Michael O’Pray, Columbia University Press, July 2014).
The Eye and the Ear (1944-45), 1o mins, black and white, 35mm and 16mm
‘Rhythm is not the only sort of structural pattern common both to visual and to musical phenomena. It is perhaps significant that some notes are called high (which is a ‘visual’ term) and some others low. We say light, clear, limpid sound, and we say dark, thick, turgid. We often speak about melodic line, a gentle, undulating line, or a violent and angular; it may be a line of simple design, or decorated with an arabesque of notes’ (Stefan Themerson). Source: Marcin Gizycki, ‘The Films of Franciszka and Stefan Themerson’, LUX Online.
Polish Avant-Garde Films in Reconstructions
Europe II (Piotr Zarebski, 1988), 14 mins, black and white, 35mm
Reconstruction of Franciszka and Stefan Themerson’s Europa (1932). The Themersons’ Europa (1931-2) was based on a Futurist poem-script of the same title by Anatol Stern (1925). The poem is a Dada-like apocalyptic vision of the world, filled with rage against politicians and the socio-political situation in Europe.
Rhythmical Calculations (Jalu Kurek, 1934), 4mins, black and white, 35mm.
Reconstruction by Ignacy Szczepanski and Marcin Gizycki (1985). Destroyed in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation, Or (Rhythmical Calculations) was originally an eight-minute piece, which constituted a mixture of figurative and non-figurative elements. (…) In its quickly changing images and the move between abstract and figurative imagery, the film corresponded with Ballet Mécanique (Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy, 1923-1924) and Marcel Duchamp’s Anémic Cinéma (1926). Source: Kamila Kuc, ‘Grasping Fragmentary Evidence: Jalu Kurek’s Rhythmical Calculations (1934) and the Notion of Photogénie’, Greg de Cuir, Jr., ed., On Fragmentation: Alternative Film/Video Research Forum, 2012-2013 (Belgrade: Academic Film Center/Student City Cultural Center, 2014).
This screening was possible thanks to the kind support of various individuals and institutions: Jasia Reichardt, Nick Wadley and Robert Devcic of the Themersons Estate (GV Gallery, London); Ben Cook of the LUX Centre (London), Tomasz Pobóg-Malinowski and Marcin Gizycki; Wytwórnia Filmów Oswiatowych (Lodz) and Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej (Warsaw). Funded by the New Mexico Humanities Council.