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

By Kamila Kuc | Go to book overview

2
Discovering Medium Specificity
The First Polish Claims for Film as Art

To name the cinema in relation to the neighbouring arts is just as unproductive
as naming those arts according to the cinema: painting—“immobile cinema,”
music—“the cinema of sounds,” literature—“the cinema of the word.” This is par-
ticularly dangerous in the case of new art. It is an expression of a reactionary cult
of the past (passeism): calling come new phenomenon according to old ones.

—Yuri Tynyanov, “Fundamentals of Cinema”

AS THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER showed, the origins of Polish discourse concerning the specificity of film date back to the late 1890s. This chapter demonstrates that some preoccupations of the 1920s avant-garde film were already signposted in numerous texts written in the 1910s. For example, Karol Irzykowski’s 1913 article “Śmierć kinematografu?” (“Death of the Cinematograph?”) anticipates many subjects discussed in his book The Tenth Muse: The Aesthetic Issues of Cinema published a decade later, as particularly relevant to animated and abstract film.1

Polish film criticism of the 1910s constitutes a mélange of opposing ideas, ranging from enthusiastic declarations about the artistic status of film to combative statements that film would never become art.2 The main focus of this chapter is on the positive responses to the idea of cinema as art. These responses fit Kazimierz Wyka’s second model of early Polish twentieth-century art, which is more aligned with explorations of the formal qualities of a work of art rather than its patriotic qualities.


Early Critiques of the Polish Film Industry:
Karol Irzykowski’s Man Behind the Lens, or Suicide for Sale

As elsewhere, in the first two decades of its existence in the Polish territories, the cinematograph was generally perceived as mass entertainment. The possibility of it ever becoming an artistic medium was mostly dismissed. Critics such as Irzykowski voiced their dissatisfaction with the majority of Polish film productions. He argued for a drastic improvement in their quality in order to adjust the public’s taste in films. This, he believed, would eventually lead to a demand for more artistically sophisticated cinema.3

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