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

By Kamila Kuc | Go to book overview

6
Polish Avant-Garde Films, Discourses,
and the Concept of Photogénie

IN THE JUNE 1924 edition of Hans Richter’s avant-garde magazine G, the following review of the contemporary Polish art scene appeared:

Nothing at all is happening in Poland. People are sleeping quite miserably and
peacefully, and even their dreams are not very demanding. There is no art and
no talent…. The situation with art is worse. It lacks autonomy: it is simply
dominated by various influences from French and sometimes German art.1

As this study has shown, the influence of French and German culture on Polish artists and filmmakers of the 1920s was indeed considerable. It is striking how the above review failed to acknowledge the presence of the new and dynamic film culture, which had been flourishing since the late 1910s. The 1920s witnessed additional developments in the area of Polish film criticism, as marked by Karol Irzykowski’s Tenth Muse and seen in numerous Polish filmmakers’ and critics’ responses to the French concept of photogénie.2 The main preoccupation of this chapter is to further elucidate the links between theory (the writings of Irzykowski, Leon Trystan, Jalu Kurek, and Stefania Zahorska) and practice (the films by Kurek, Jerzy Gabryelski, Tadeusz Kowalski and Jerzy Zarzycki, and Franciszka and Stefan Themerson, along with Jan Brzękowski’s unmade scenario) through the concept of photogénie. I demonstrate that films and their discourses contextualize each other and that such an approach is particularly beneficial to the understanding of avant-garde films. Through a discussion of the relationship between photogénie and other contemporary developments, namely, montage, this chapter aims to show the multiplicity of cinematic approaches that occurred parallel to one another throughout the 1920s and 1930s, thus challenging the review that opens this chapter.


Polish Film and Film Thought in the 1920s

The 1920s were economically difficult for the Polish film industry because of the heavy taxes imposed on it.3 As early as the 1910s, as discussed in chapter 1, the majority of Polish film critics were dissatisfied with the poor quality of Polish films. They blamed substandard scriptwriting and a lack of artistic talent within the slowly progressing industry. Such criticism appeared in the pages of newly

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