The Struggle for Form

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

KAMILA KUC
MICHAEL O’PRAY
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/kuc-16982
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    The Struggle for Form
    Book Description:

    This is the first comprehensive English-language account of the Polish avant-garde film, from its beginnings in the early decades of the last century to the collapse of communism in 1989. Taking a broad understanding of avant-garde film, this collection includes writings on the pioneering work of the internationally-acclaimed Franciszka and Stefan Themerson; the Polish Futurists' (Jalu Kurek, Anatol Stern) engagement with film; the Thaw and animation (Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk, Andrzej Pawlowski, Zbigniew Rybczynski); documentary (Natalia Brzozowska, Kazimierz Karabasz, Wojciech Wiszniewski), Polish émigré filmmakers (Roman Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski, Andrzej Zulawski) as well as essays and documentation on the highly influential Film Form Workshop (Józef Robakowski, Ryszard Wasko, Wojciech Bruszewski). Including a mix of historical writings from early film magazines with commissioned essays, this book constitutes an important source on the rich, complex and diverse history of the Polish film avant-garde, which is presented from the perspective of both British (A. L. Rees, Jonathan Owen, Michael O'Pray) and Polish (Marcin Gizycki, Ryszard Kluszczynski, Kamila Kuc) authorities on the subject. This book is thus an indispensable introduction to the theories and practices of critically important avant-garde artists and filmmakers.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85065-0
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)
    Michael O’Pray and Kamila Kuc

    This book was conceived as an introduction to a film avant-garde that, despite its almost mythological reputation, especially around the Film Form Workshop, we felt was sorely under-represented in the English-language literature on avant-garde film. The selection of writings gathered here range in origin from the early period of Polish cinema, the opening decades of the twentieth century, to roughly the late 1980s. This cut-off point for obvious reasons seems appropriate and not simply an art historical device. The end of the Cold War and collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 was one of the most important and profound...

  6. CHAPTER ONE THE THEMERSONS AND THE POLISH AVANT-GARDE: WARSAW – PARIS – LONDON
    (pp. 7-30)
    A.L. Rees

    Polish artists between the two world wars shared a passion for the new art of cinema with such early – and diverse – modernists as Man Ray and Fernand Léger, who made films themselves, and those like Picasso, Malevich and Heartfield, who planned to do so. Among the prime movers for a Polish avant-garde cinema were members of the Constructivist movement. Like its sister groups in the Soviet Union, Holland and Germany, Polish Constructivism was both rationalistic - in its search for aesthetic purity - and socially utopian, in its faith that machine-age functionalism could build a new cultural order...

  7. CHAPTER TWO ‘THE INEXPRESSIBLE UNEARTHLY BEAUTY OF THE CINEMATOGRAPH’: THE IMPACT OF POLISH FUTURISM ON THE FIRST POLISH AVANT-GARDE FILMS
    (pp. 31-56)
    Kamila Kuc

    The films of Franciszka and Stefan Themerson are often recognised internationally as the only Polish avant-garde films of the 1930s, while the period preceding them remains a distinctly under-researched field, particularly in the English-speaking world. To claim, however, that other avant-garde films existed before and were made simultaneously with the Themersons’ work in Poland seems somehow controversial, since most of this material did not survive. For example, as early as 1916, Feliks Kuczkowski made his first animated piece,Flirt krzesełek(Flirting Chairs), according to his principle of ‘synthetic-visionary’ film.² If they had survived, his creations would have been the first...

  8. EXCERPTS FROM THE ‘ARCHIVES’ OF THE POLISH AVANT-GARDE
    (pp. 57-64)
    Kamila Kuc

    Because it is the nature of the avant-garde to pose a challenge to traditional modes of expression, its artists had to rely on alternative routes of communication. Many key activities that formed the art of the avant-gardes found their reflection in a variety of publications, be they artists’ books or small art magazines. Poland was no exception.

    This short presentation of examples from the printed press can only give a taste of the rich array of materials that were circulating among the main avant-garde centres of Poland – Warsaw, Cracow, Poznań and Łódź – and were often distributed abroad (Berlin,...

  9. CHAPTER THREE THE SEARCH FOR A ‘MORE SPACIOUS FORM’: EXPERIMENTAL TRENDS IN POLISH DOCUMENTARY (1945–1989)
    (pp. 65-82)
    Mikołaj Jazdon

    The term ‘avant-garde’ has been rarely used with reference to Polish post-war documentary film.¹ This does not mean, however, that at that time Poland was not producing any formally innovative films. On the contrary, the ‘experimental’ element has been an important driving force behind the development of documentary film in Poland in the post-war period. If one is to define the nature of such experiments and their relationship to what is generally understood as ‘avant-garde film’, the most coherent approach is to speak of the presence of certain elements in the Polish documentary film between 1945 and 1989. In 1958...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR AVANT-GARDE AND THE THAW: EXPERIMENTATION IN POLISH CINEMA OF THE 1950s AND 1960s
    (pp. 83-92)
    Marcin Giżycki

    The 1958 Expo Exhibition in Brussels included an international competition for experimental films. Never before, or after, was there a festival that gathered together works of such diverse artists as Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Robert Breer, Shirley Clarke, Maya Deren, Georges Franju, Abel Gance, Claude Gorretta, Yoram Gross, Hy Hirsh, John Hubley, Ian Hugo, Lewis Jacobs, Lawrence Jordan, Nelly Kaplan, Peter Kubelka, Len Lye, Willard Maas, Marie Menken, Stan VanDerBeek, Jean Mitry, François Reichenbach, Alan Tanner, Agnes Varda and John Whitney. All together, a hundred and thirty-three films from twenty-nine countries were shown, with the American film being represented by...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE AVANT-GARDE EXPLOITS: THE CULTURAL HIGHS AND LOWS OF POLISH ÉMIGRÉ CINEMA
    (pp. 93-116)
    Jonathan L. Owen

    A memorable running gag in Walerian Borowczyk’s 1967 animated featureLe Théâtre de M. et Mme. Kabal(The Theatre of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal) concerns the voyeuristic exploits of Mr. Kabal. Confined to a barren Absurdist nowhere with his formidable, Ubuesque wife, the diminutive Kabal brings himself some relief by peeping through binoculars at bikini-clad girls – live-action and full-colour apparitions whose appeal can only be enhanced by their ontological superiority over the cartoon, monochrome Kabals. Such scenes may evoke the shopworn image of the Eastern bloc citizen peering in from a world of drabness and stringency at the sensuous...

  12. CHAPTER SIX THE MECHANICAL IMAGINATION – CREATIVITY OF MACHINES: FILM FORM WORKSHOP 1970–1977
    (pp. 117-136)
    Ryszard W. Kluszczyński

    Today, Polish art of the 1970s produces various reactions. All too frequently, opinions on the subject are not based on research, and sometimes are extremely subjective based on mere likes or dislikes. In addition, some historians and critics intellectually linked to the avant-garde paradigm of the 1960s have constructed through the use of very selectively gathered materials a rejection of the different, radical, inelegant and iconoclastic actions of artists who reigned in the following decade. Unfortunately, they rarely state clearly which type of artistic activity they prefer; rather, one art rather than the other is simply closer and dearer to...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN THE 1980s: FROM SPECIFICITY TO THE NEW TRADITION – AVANT-GARDE FILM AND VIDEO ART IN POLAND
    (pp. 137-142)
    Ryszard W. Kluszczyński

    The 1980s have brought with them many different artistic forms. The term ‘pluralism‘ became the most widely used description of today’s art. This, however, does not mean the birth of completely new creative forms or new media. On the contrary, we can observe a renewed interest in the styles and tendencies of the past, such as the return of expressionism and Surrealism or the Dadaistic poetry of scandal. Heterogeneous works now appear which embrace in their form elements and tendencies which formerly functioned separately.

    In contemporary avant-garde cinema throughout the world, the return of these tendencies can be seen sometimes...

  14. FILM FORM WORKSHOP: MANIFESTO AND ARTISTS’ STATEMENTS
    (pp. 143-154)
    Michael O’Pray

    As was also the case with other film movements and groups in Europe and the USA at the time, in the 1960s and 1970s, many members of the Film Form Workshop wrote fairly extensively about their work and explored ideas and theories about film and other media. Uniquely perhaps, they were also responsible for one of the few manifestos relating to experimental film in the post-war period. They also formed one of the few cohesive film groups to arise out of the period. Like the British filmmakers who centred their activities largely around the London Film-Makers Co-op set up by...

  15. CHAPTER EIGHT A REBELLION À LA POLONAISƐ
    (pp. 155-162)
    Mateusz Werner

    In the Soviet Union or Communist Poland, where cultural life was ruled by the totalitarian dictatorship with the help of its political censorship, phrases like ‘artistic rebellion’, ‘aesthetic transgression’, ‘avant-garde’ and ‘struggle for freedom of expression’ would be used as commonly as they were in France or the US. What they stood for, however, was something completely different. This seems to go without saying – and yet do wereallykeep it in mind while comparing the works of, say, Sergei Eisenstein and D. W. Griffith or Kazimir Malevich and Barnett Newman, or while going into analogies between the artistic...

  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 163-174)
  17. FILMOGRAPHY
    (pp. 175-178)
  18. INDEX OF NAMES
    (pp. 179-182)