Poland Cinematography in the First Half of 20th Century
According to topmbadirectory, two names are to be remembered among the pioneers of Polish cinema: the photographer Piotr Lebiedzinski, who mounted five photographs on a glass cliché and then projected them in rapid succession, and Kazimierz Prószyński, who built the pleograph, a device for animating photographs fixed on film celluloid. Prószyński thus created about fifteen views between 1903 and 1904, immediately surpassed by the competition of the Lumière brothers. With the latter collaborated the operator Bolesław Matuszsewski, who also worked in Russia at the Romanov court and made films mainly of a medical nature (operations, mental illnesses). The first feature film, Antoś po raz pierwszy w War-szawie (Anton’s First Visit to Warsaw) by the French operator Georges Meyer, a short story about the experiences of a provincial in Warsaw, appeared on the screens in 1908. The first feature film with a subject, Dzieje grzechu (Story of a sin) by Antoni Bednarczyk, from the novel by S. Żeromski, dates back to 1911: the first films of national production were in fact mostly adaptations of classics of the theater and literature, according to a trait that will remain characteristic of Polish cinema. Meanwhile, since the early twentieth century many projection rooms and offices of foreign distribution houses were opened. Poland regained independence in 1918 (in the last decades of the eighteenth century Russia, Prussia and Austria had divided the whole country); cinematography developed immediately and rapidly, albeit amidst great economic, technical and organizational difficulties. In the 1920s there were more than 100 studios, the most important of which were Sfinks, Leo-Film and Falanga, but most of the film heritage of the period has been destroyed. While the level of films produced – which were mostly based on novels of national literature – remained modest, cinema theory and film journalism developed, finding echoes and interlocutors beyond the Polish borders: if Matu-szewski had already published in 1898 Une nouvelle source pour l’histoire (création d’un dépôt de cinématographie historique) and La photographie animée. Ce qu’elle est, ce qu’elle doit être on documentary cinema, the literary critic Karol Irzykowski, with Dziesiąta Muza. Zagadnienia estetyczne kina (1924, Decima Musa. Problems of cinematographic aesthetics) highlighted the aesthetic potential of the new art. The same interest in cinema demonstrated the literary and artistic avant-garde (J. Kurek, T. Peiper, JM Brzeski, S. and F. Themerson). The sound came late, in 1930, with Michał Wasyzński’s Kult ciała (The cult of the body), but did not raise the artistic quality of the national production, which throughout the 1930s remained centered on comedy and the popularity of the actors, placing second slowly the figure of the author. Among the production organizations, the most advanced was START (Stowarzyszenie Miłosników Filmu Artystycznego, Association of Art Film Supporters), founded in 1929, sensitive to social reality, active both in theoretical work and in the making of films, especially avant-garde short films. The association broke up in 1935, but the authors who would stand out in the late 1940s mostly came from this laboratory. In the panorama of Polish cinema between the two wars, the production in Yiddish deserves a mention, representing the problems and daily life of the Jewish population, reaching an international audience, especially among emigrants to the United States.
During the Second World War, Polish cinema was destroyed by the Nazis, but some operators and directors managed to work underground, to become active post-war paintings: the liberation from Nazism and the construction of the socialist state allowed the rebirth of cinema, placed under state control is free from commercial problems. As was also happening in other countries overwhelmed by the conflict, we turned to war themes, starting with Zakazane piosenki (1947, Forbidden Songs) by Leonard Buczkowski, a highly popular film that told with humorous notations an ordinary day during the occupation of Warsaw. Dramatic re-enactments that became cinema classics were Ostatni etap (1948; L ‘ last stage) created by Wanda Jakubowska and Ulica graniczna (1948; Fiamme su Warsaw) by Aleksander Ford, both among the founders of START. Jakubowska, arrested in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz and Ravensbrück, wanted to stage life in the concentration camps, while Ford’s film evokes the life of families locked up in the ghetto, a theme taken up with genius by Roman Polański in The pianist (2002; The pianist).
Those were the years of the hegemony of socialist realism and propaganda films, but some films remain memorable, demonstrating for the first time a typical feature of Polish cinema: the tighter the grip of censorship would become, the greater the creativity of cinematographic works. With the nationalization of cinematography, which took place by decree on November 13, 1945, the production and distribution of the films were placed under the control of the state company Film Polski: the production was decentralized and entrusted to groups of directors, autonomous units with expressive tendencies similar, led by an art director, a literary director and the head of production. In the studios in Łódź and Wrocław, feature films were shot, again in Łódź the educational films and the very short films of Se-ma-for, in Warsaw the documentaries and the cinematographic news, in Bielsko-Biala the animation. Awarded at Cannes in 1954, A. Ford’s Piątka z ulicy Barskiej (The Five on Barska Street), based on the novel by K. Koźniewski, tackled the problem of the re-education of displaced young people after the war. Memorable works of the period are also Celuloza (1954, Cellulosa) and Pod gwiazdą frygijską (1954, Under the Phrygian star) by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, in those years perhaps the best known name abroad, author of films immersed in an atmosphere full of eroticism and at the same time charged with a disturbing reflection on power. The name of Wojciech Jerzy Has also crossed national borders, attracted by the stories of the past where solitary characters move in a hostile and labyrinthine world. 1956 marked an epochal change in the history of the country, with the rehabilitation of personalities who had suffered the persecutions of Stalinism, in particular of W. Gomułka. An opening period also began in the field of cinema that lasted until around 1961: thanks to the new climate, foreign films were able to circulate in greater numbers, as well as Soviet films of the 1920s, previously condemned because they were considered formalists. The young people who came out of film school and entered the production groups gave life to the ‘Polish school’, which was characterized by a decisive style and by the lack of conformity in dealing with the current events of the country and the budget of the country from new points of view. its recent past. The novelty was evident with the debut of Andrzej Wajda in the film Pokolenie (1955, Generation), short story, based on the novel by B. Czeszko, about the tragedy of a generation that had experienced adolescence under German occupation, a coming-of-age story that leads to heroism. Kanał (1957; The Damned of Warsaw) highlighted one of the most decisive characteristics of the director’s style, romanticism expressed as an inevitable move towards tragedy. Despite the certainty of the defeat, the heroes protagonists of the films of the Polish school proceeded against the current of history: the actor Zbigniew Cybulski perfectly represented this character. His Maciek in Popiół i diament (1958; Ash and diamonds) again by Wajda, a right-wing militant who carries out an attack on a member of the Communist Party and then dies in turn, launched him on the international scene making him compare to James Dean. A point of reference for Wajda himself and of opposite sign for his disenchanted style was Andrzej Munk, author of Eroica (1957) who, despite the high-sounding title, tackled the theme of the Warsaw Uprising by choosing a grotesque figure and an anti-hero protagonist, a small trafficker who realizes the futility of the fight. In Zezowate szczęście (1960, The cross-eyed fortune) again by Munk, Bogumił Kobiela instead plays a conformist who is always a little behind his time. Czesław Petelski, Stanisław Lenartowicz, Jan Batory, Janusz Morgestern, Witold Lesiewicz, Janusz Nasfeter are the new names that appeared in the late 1950s. Their themes go back to post-war times without tragic accents, rather attentive to aesthetic research and the articulated description of Polish reality: A change of scene was taking place and some new perspectives such as psychological introspection appear in novelist Tadeusz Konwicki’s film debut with Ostatni dzień lata (1958; The Last Day of Summer) directed with Jan Laskowski. Starting from the early 1950s, a film poster school developed in Poland, which quickly became one of the best in the world. At the end of the decade, animation cinema began to establish itself (often by designers who had already made themselves known as poster designers), in which the names of Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica stand out.