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

By Kamila Kuc | Go to book overview

4
Karol Irzykowski’s Tenth Muse
Animated Film as the Highest Form
of Film Art

WHEN KAROL IRZYKOWSKI first wrote about animated film in 1913, he had not yet seen any examples of such films. It was on the pages of The Tenth Muse: The Aesthetic Issues of Cinema (1924) (figure 4.1) that his thoughts on the genre were finally crystallized. Irzykowski was an established literary critic and writer, whose novel Pałuba (The Hag, 1903) was compared to the likes of Marcel Proust and André Gide and influenced the leading Polish modernist writer, Witold Gombrowicz.1 My main interest here is in Irzykowski’s theory of animation, which, I will propose, developed largely through his interest in the work of Feliks Kuczkowski. In The Tenth Muse Irzykowski considered this rather mysterious character “a true innovator of Polish cinema” and placed his films in the highest category of film—“cinema of pure movement.”2 Irzykowski’s fascination with Kuczkowski’s films is also linked to his admiration for the fantastic worlds that he admired in Paul Wegener’s films. The allure of such films demonstrates his enthusiasm for romanticism and German idealist philosophy, particularly that of Johann Fichte and Friedrich Schelling.

However, Irzykowski did not always think of film as an art form in the same way as he did about painting or sculpture. It was through the German critical thinker Rudolf Maria Holzapfel’s concept of proper and improper arts that Irzykowski saw animation as the only example of film art. Irzykowski’s significance to the Polish avant-garde film and its discourse has not yet been fully assessed and here I will suggest that much of his thinking about film was relevant to avant-garde film of the 1920s and 1930s.

While the contribution to film studies of some non-English writers such as Béla Balázs has been widely acknowledged, largely because his major work, Visible Man or the Culture of Film (1924), was originally written in German, The Tenth Muse, the leading piece of Polish 1920s film criticism, remains available mainly in Polish, with small passages having been translated into English.3 This study offers newly translated parts of Irzykowski’s book, particularly those relating to his theory of animation and pure film.

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