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

By Kamila Kuc | Go to book overview

3
The Earliest Polish Experiment
with Artist Film
Feliks Kuczkowski’s Animation in the
Context of the International Avant-Garde

THE MOST UNDERRESEARCHED area of Polish film history concerns the years before the 1920s. I have addressed this in the previous chapters by analyzing the character of early Polish film thought (1890s–1910s). This chapter focuses on the output of the Kraków-based amateur draftsman-turned-filmmaker Feliks Kuczkowski (aka Canis de Canis, 1884–1970). An oddity in the Polish territories, Kuczkowski is the only known figure in Polish cinema to have begun working with animated film as early as 1917 and to have remained within the borders of Poland.1 Sadly, apart from a few existing frames, none of Kuczkowski’s “syntheticvisionary” stop-motion animation films have survived. Despite the fact that the actual appearance and nature of Kuczkowski’s films remain a subject of speculation, upon close examination of the fragmented evidence (his memoirs, remaining stills, and contemporary critical writings), it is safe to say that had his films survived, Poland would have had “the purest avant-garde cinema” prior to the avant-garde films of the 1920s inspired by futurism, Dada, and constructivism.2 It has been argued that his “visionary” concepts influenced such internationally renowned figures of Polish animation as Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk.3

Nonetheless, this lack of primary material poses serious obstacles in negotiating the filmmaker’s place within the history of avant-garde film. One might argue that any critical judgment of Kuczkowski’s work is conjectural. Stressing the importance of the “protocinematic” phase during which films often existed in the form of unrealized projects, I argue for the consideration of Kuczkowski’s films, as well as his noncinematic interventions, as part of the history of avantgarde film.

However, to write about films that were never made as part of the avantgarde tradition requires a momentary ignorance as far as the gap between the intention and the execution of an idea is concerned. Nonetheless, using the approaches proposed by Ian Christie and Pavle Levi allows me to argue that, despite the absence of primary evidence, Kuczkowski’s efforts were crucial to the development of later avant-garde film in Poland. Kuczkowski’s film-related activities

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