Saturday, January 23, 2021

Walerian Borowczyk + Jan Lenica - Dom (1958)

                                                                                                        Music by Wlodzimierz Kotonski

"Those of a certain age will remember the Eastern European cartoons that appeared regularly on British TV during the hours assigned for children’s programming.  Their mood, colour-scheme, and graphic style was totally different from American or British fare, and so was the music: herky-jerky jazz or whimsically abstract electronic music.  Most nations in the Communist Bloc had their own state-run animation studio, but Czechoslovakia and Poland were the leading country.  Associated with Warsaw’s Studio Miniatur Filmowych, Jan Lenica was a giant of Polish animation whose graphic design talents also extended to postage stamps, movie posters, children’s book illustration, and the creation of sets and costumes for the theatre.   

"Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk  are two giants of Polish animation  - Poland probably was the leading country in the world for animation for much of the post-War period in fact, the number of talented directors and designers and amazing films is staggering.  Lenica and Borowczuk use stop-motion and cut-outs: photographs and illustrations from the 19th Century, moved around in a deliberately stilted and non-naturalistic way. The atmosphere is very Central European, a macabre absurdism that’s equal parts Eugene Ionesco, Franz Kafka, Max Ernst, and Bruno Schulz. Everything works according to dream logic. The music plays a vital role in the creation of this distinctive mood -  Wlodzimierz Kotonski, like his compatriot Eugeniusz Rudnik, contributed frequently to the animations pouring out of Warsaw animation houses like Studio Miniatur Filmowych - SR

"Lenica took an interest in many arts. A noted director of animated films, he stood out as one of the finest artists of the Polish school of posters, and made satirical drawings and book illustrations and designed theatre costumes. His posters, prints and drawings were shown at exhibitions in Poland and abroad....  No record of the top international achievements in animated film would be complete without mention of two Polish artists, Borowczyk and Lenica. Their joint film from 1957, Był sobie raz / Once Upon a Time, followed by Dom / House from 1958 and Lenica's individual films triggered a revolution, turning this peripheral genre into an art capable of communicating the most complex, difficult and serious messages.

"Lenica said that 'I have always liked to move at the periphery of Art, at the crossing of genres. [...] I have enjoyed [...] combining elements which were seemingly distant, if not quite foreign, blurring the borders between adjacent areas, transplanting noble qualities to "lower" genres, in other words - quiet diversion".

"Before Borowczyk and Lenica's films appeared, the animated film was such a less valuable genre in Poland. Considered to be addressed to children, it was devoid of major artistic let alone philosophical aspirations, and was ideology-driven in addition. Marcin Giżycki writes that, 'Lenica and Borowczyk's brilliance did not reveal itself in technical innovation or inventiveness; on the contrary, it was demonstrated in their nonchalant approach to existing techniques and conventions. [...] Their films made no secret of the simplicity of means they utilised, camouflaged nothing, their movement and montage as simplified as possible. Just a few pieces of coloured paper, old photographs, junk objects, fragments of found drawings'."

"When asked about the innovativeness of their first joint films, dubbed experimental by critics, Lenica ascribed it to their unfamiliarity with previous achievements in the genre. The fact is that the cutout technique used by Borowczyk and Lenica in their first films, and then by Lenica in several of his subsequent film, successfully produced effects that were funny and satirical, surrealistically grotesque, and as absurd and horrific as Ionesco and Kafka. Lenica did not find this formula satisfying for long, however, and having parted with Borowczyk, he went on to make combined films, live films, films with photographic stills and, finally, cartoons."
                                        - Culture.Pl


"Borowczyk... was an accomplished visual artist, scriptwriter, stage designer, director of animated and feature films, and writer....  Beside animated films, short feature films that the critics hailed as masterpieces, and interesting full-length productions, he was one of the main creators of the Polish poster school and, first and foremost, of artistic erotic cinema. He made satirical drawings, sculptures and film sets, and exhibited his works in Poland and abroad. 

"Marcin Giżycki was accurate when he wrote that 'in animated films ... there were two eras: before and after Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk'...   The presence of humour deserves to be stressed, both in Borowczyk's animated films and his feature films. This was often black humour, in many cases absurd, grotesque and not without reason evoking associations with surrealism. This was the case with The Magician (1959) and School (1958). Sometimes, though, a film, even an animated one, had an air of peril.... It is also worth noting the way Borowczyk used photographs in his films. Even as a young man, wrote Urszula Czartoryska (Fotografia 11/1961), Borowczyk took a lot of photographs, and liked putting together pairs of photos in such a way as to give the impression of movement when you looked at them. He used photography extensively in the film House (1958). Here, he and Lenica even used photographs made by the pioneer of cinema, Jules Marey, stripping Marey's shots down to their constituent parts and introducing jerky movement akin to the first ever films. In School (1958) Borowczyk used almost exclusively his own photos (taken with Lenica), made specially for this film. After filming on a trick-table, 400 photos turned into a 9-minute film, a grotesque protest against military drill which strips people of personality. 

"Marcin Giżycki noted that both artists headed toward Melies in their animations. Lenica was closer to Feuillade's films about Fantomas and Chaplin's burlesques. Borowczyk, though he made the colourful, Melies-style The Astronauts (1959), moved towards trick film. It is a fact that photographs often played a more important role in his animated films than drawings. With time, actors appeared as well, treated - as the critics emphasised - just like animated characters."

Jan Lenica posters for movies etc