Visions of Avant-Garde Film: Polish Cinematic Experiments from Expressionism to Constructivism

By Kamila Kuc | Go to book overview

Preface

If history is the past interpreted for the present, it follows that every generation
needs its own history, rewritten with a different emphasis and from new
viewpoints.

—Eileen Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema 1907–1915

A HISTORY OF POLISH avant-garde film exists in fragments.1 Most sources cover particular filmmakers and movements rather than the subject as a whole. In the English-speaking world, it is generally believed that the first ever attempt at making an avant-garde film in Poland was Apteka (Pharmacy, 1930), by Franciszka and Stefan Themerson. While the Themersons are generally considered the leaders of Polish avant-garde film (their work certainly being the most innovative at the time), the film projects of their contemporaries more often than not remain obscured. It has been assumed that during 1918–1939 Polish avant-garde films existed only as unrealized projects. So far no methodology has been developed for a critical assessment of the films destroyed during World War II. This is the case with the works of Feliks Kuczkowski, who began making animated films in 1917. Had they survived, they would have been the first examples of Polish avant-garde film. The unrealized projects of Mieczysław Szczuka, Karol Irzykowski, Teresa Żarnower, and Jan Brzękowski, as well as the films of Jalu Kurek, Jerzy Gabryelski, Janusz Maria Brzeski, Kazimierz Podsadecki, Jerzy Zarzycki, and Tadeusz Kowalski, were scripted and some were made prior to or simultaneously with the work of the Themersons. They have been marginalized because most assessments in film histories take as their main criterion only films that existed only in their material form.2 The unmade, lost, and unrealized films to this day reside outside the main discourse.3 Using the most recent approaches, such as those of Ian Christie, Giuliana Bruno, and Pavle Levi, allows us to revisit the many common assumptions about avant-garde film in general and here these will be applied to Polish avant-garde film in particular. My book, in line with the above sources, takes a more unorthodox view, based on the inclusion of unrealized and lost projects as crucial contributions to the development of an avant-garde film in Poland.

The only surviving examples of Polish avant-garde film are the three films by the Themersons: Przygoda człowieka poczciwego (The Adventure of a Good Citizen, 1937), Calling Mr Smith (1943), and The Eye and the Ear (1944–1945). The

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