When back in 1995 I read The Dogme Manifesto I pissed myself laughing. My favourite words of course were “bourgeois”, “anti-bourgeois”, “decadent”. I immediately started cursing the caviar-eating communists, that is, rich Westerners who, under the alert eye of good-humoured policemen defending their right of free speech, were drinking the most expensive Russian vodka and lauding the communist revolution. “You should have tried making an independent film in socialist Poland, smart-ass motherfuckers.” It was probably my bitterness speaking, as, remembering It’s not what one dreams of... I definitely wasn’t a fulfilled filmmaker.
The Danish made a lot of good films, Manifesto remained an amusing curio, and I, green with envy, bragged to beautiful women that I had already been that clever 15 years earlier and not because well-being had made me soft but because I had had to think hard how to make a film without Big Brother’s permission. Anyway, I could fairly boast that I had anticipated Dogme.
So why then do I myself say that the FIRST INDEPENDENT POLISH FEATURE FILM was my Animation, made three years later? Because It’s not what one dreams of... never existed publicly, it was brutally stopped and never stood a chance of post-production finish. All that’s left is a silent editing copy. The negatives were confiscated and disappeared forever, as did the sound tapes and the entire film documentation. Part of the blame definitely lay with the revolutionary times we were living in: It’s not… was filmed in the summer of 1980, just days before the Solidarity insurrection. But responsibility should also be laid at the door of one man, a certain famous film director, Piotr S. This is what happened.
The acrobatics we had to practice when filming to beat the omnipotent control of the Warsaw Pact authorities, how many people took pains to help us just to see if we would succeed – that’s another story that ought to be filmed one day. Female friends’ husbands, son-in-laws’ aunts, old school friends, army buddies – they all helped, pushed, let in, signed, covered up, lent, borrowed and convinced others.And a miracle happened, and one afternoon I could show the first edited copy of the film. But not even the most enthusiastic “Hi ho! Hi ho!” would help to finish it: we had to start talking to film officials, because somebody had to allow us inside a professional film studio. What usually happened was that you had to show your material to some big wigs, survive their comments and then do what had to be done. One of those invited to sit on the panel and whose vote was supposed to give me the green light from the pen pushers was the aforementioned famous film director, a certain Piotr S.
The committee that day was quite a big gathering, lots of people spoke, not everybody liked me, but the fact that the film had been made at all was so unprecedented that everyone was generally in agreement: let’s get it finished. I was basking in the warmth of their approbation, the more so as on the road to this moment I had upset not more than one of them. Then the famous film director, a certain Piotr S., finally opened his mouth: he said it wasn’t a film, it was shit, and a waste of time and money. He was most vehement about what would happen to the world if any punk from the street started making films without anyone’s permission; that I must be from a very degenerate family if I could scorn our socialist rules so ostentatiously and that there was no way he would allow this film to happen. Also sprach Piotr Szulkin.
There was great consternation but the famous director wouldn’t let anyone contradict him: he dealt out a few more words of wisdom, out of the blue praised a scene in the film in which two women kiss, then raised his head and his arse and left. I battled despairingly with the communist Moloch for many months to give my film a chance. Then martial law was imposed and It’s not… stopped mattering to anybody.
What’s the film about? A young man decides to sail around the Lake District to find a tree which had once allegedly witnessed some mysterious events. He moons around Warsaw asking questions, then finally embarks on a boat in the random company of a rebellious teenager and somebody’s stranded wife. On the trip, he meets the beautiful Agata, who has supposedly been dead for years and who is secretly connected to some hoodie wandering around the woods with a bayonet on the end of his old rifle. Agata wants our hero to stop his pathetic search and to go back to the bright lights of the City. They make love. There’s a forester, big and ugly, who also tells our hero to leave the dark woods. But the headstrong boy doesn’t listen, and wanders between trees, lakes and empty churches, and when he at last declares that he understands everything – gets the rusty bayonet in his stomach (deservedly…). We then see him back in Warsaw, where this time he’s searching for Agata.
The photographer who, 15 years before Dogme, did all the night filming for me on black and white 16 mm tape was Tomasz Cichawa. We worked mainly on borrowed non-electric cameras, so sometimes the length of the camera springs decided the length of the shot. The picture of It’s not what one dreams of... preserves its feeling of mystery in the style of la Nouvelle Vague. To finish the film though the sound would have to be recorded from scratch. With today’s computers it’s would merely be a matter of 10 minutes’ work.
As already mentioned, there are enough anecdotes about the filming of It’s not… to fill a book, my personal favourite involving the beautiful Beata Madej, who played Agata. A wonderful friend, a sensational card player, and a glorious human being. When filming the Lake District scenes, we camped in a popular sports centre. In the rooms next to us was an East German Olympic team polishing their form so they could grab all the medals. Every day they woke up with sun and went to bed just as we were starting to celebrate a successful day’s work. Our loud music could have probably been heard on the moon, not to mention the lakes, I still remember Nazareth’s ”Hair of the dog” frying our brains. The poor Germans, pale with insomnia, begged us to let them get some sleep but I have to admit that as any other rarely sober genius I wasn’t very charitable to the rest of society. Somehow they managed to get hold of Beata, big-hearted polyglot. She came to me and turning down the music said: Jerzy love, I know Germans do genocide, but let them get some sleep.”
IT’S NOT WHAT ONE DREAMS OF… 1h 12m
As not a single piece of paper has survived I don’t remember the names of some of the people involved, for example the actress who played Małgosia as a teenager. Let me know if you recognise her. The main parts were played by Bartłomiej Madej, Beata Madej, Lidia Grześ and Roman Starczak. I can also identify Alicja Seipp, Stanisława Bochniarz and myself, 5 stones younger. And Krzysztof Planeta – hats off gentlemen! – legendary boss of the Student Film Centre Stodola, produced it all.
Animation… I can still remember downing brandy with film star Jurek Bończak in Remont club after a long day’s shooting and teasing him about his small Fiat 126p, calling it a scooter – I was driving around in an old Merc diesel at the time – and how Jurek insisted he would win a race with me any day. And so, completely smashed, beautiful and immortal, we raced through the dark winter Warsaw night down to Ursynow, where Jurek lived. A Fiat and a Merc.... the only type of formula racing there was in socialist Poland.
Jurek was not a fan of Animation and neither was another of today’s big shots, Janusz Józefowicz, who back then was a student at the State Theatre School. He starred in the film along with a few friends from his year: Ewa Kiełbratowska, Ania Majcher, Mariusz Czajka, Leszek Abrahamowicz, and others whose names I can’t now recall. Although Janusz and I smoked more grass than Mazovian farmers burned in the springtime, it was all “after hours” and shouldn't have had anything to do with money, fame and women, which after all was the whole point of making a film. No one really understood my vision of “creating reality” so I didn't bother getting involved in discussions about whether there was any point in doing anything more complex than breathing in the Poland of 1983.
And believe me, there was good reason for my doubts. We had just experienced a euphoric wave of freedom in '81 only to be clubbed over the head by the introduction of martial law – we were in limbo. Every now and again the Militia (socialist police force) would kill someone in broad daylight and we really didn't know if we should be grateful to be alive or despair our state of vegetation. Half the decent folk were terrified of returning from abroad and the other half, that was us, kept getting passports and travelling back and forth. Although you weren't really allowed to do hardly anything, I (along with other “seditious” film makers) put the sound track to my film in the army’s film-making unit and edited it in the state film and television studio! The 80s in Poland were totally schizophrenic, no logic whatsoever and no one, NO ONE, knew which way it was all heading or when and how it might end. To witness Walesa's game of poker and the moment when East Germans would ask for refuge in Polish embassies, we first had to live through two thousand eight hundred days, one after the other, night after night. “Luke-warm summers and cold, cold winters”, without the hope that usually accompanies the spring. Struggling through glue. Which is why, like it or not, in 1983 Animation had to be a pure and personal portrait, totally non-derivative. Twenty five years later, smoking my cigar on a bench in the garden with the pigeons cooing in the background, I can tell you what it was all about.
First of all, music. Since composers began to feel constrained writing just a music score they started adding video to it. My main pursuit since I was 13 has been listening to very loud music. Everything else has just happened around it. So when, later on, my passion evolved into film making it seemed the natural order of things for the two, music and film – like oxygen and hydrogen in a fuel cell – to create their own energy. I had always thought of adding images to the songs that played around me from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep. Not just abstract pictures but a "real" story with real acting, describing those same uncontrollable emotions we experienced when listening to our music. I say we, because listening to music on your own just didn't make sense at all. Like wanking: needs must, but it's always better to do it with a girl, right?
Thus we arrive at number two: love. True love, unstoppable, not acknowledging responsibility, humiliation, respect or the future. Listen to what the heroine says. She's not crazy, that's what it was like. Teenage girls asking "Jean-Paul Sartre said...... how do you understand that?” or "Have you heard Penderecki's Utrenja (Morning Prayer)? Let’s listen to it together, ‘cos I don't know what's happening to me!" Intellect was our aphrodisiac and exaltation was our social identification. We were always in love and even though we fucked like rabbits there was always something missing. We searched for our Grail, sure of only one thing: it existed, we just needed to listen to Yes (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, Black Sabbath), turn the sound up full, fuse our lower body parts and look into each others’ eyes. Or closing them, breathe together, mouth to mouth. We didn’t go out shopping, there was no pornography available – we entertained ourselves with Cortazar and Witkacy, Freud and Nienacki. To the rhythm of Santana, Zappa or Hendrix, every beast found his beauty. Love was the only thing that mattered, nothing else. The concept of money didn’t exist. It belonged to the world of our parents, trivial, despicable, and if it intruded on us – hostile.
I myself was very lucky: the love bestowed on me would have been enough by today's standards for a small town. During the legendary spring of ‘81 the most beautiful seventeen year old girl in Warsaw ran away from home for me. I took her back to her parents twice and in the end gave up: that was point 9 on the Richter scale, Atlantis and Pompey brought together. She played Pure Love in Animation: the girl in the white dress trying to save the main characters’ relationship from the Great Creator (Bończak).
And that’s what Animation is all about. Filmed on 16 mm tape with long sequences lasting minutes, a natural soundtrack and fantastic acting. A concert with loud music playing from start to finish, dark shots of dancing mimes and erotic scenes filmed only by candlelight. I always take care to warn people that it’s a long, boring film, depicting the artist's fear of the world and his arrogance, his inability to compromise. But as long as there are boys who feel more comfortable with a philosophical treatise on a bench in the park than with a bulging wallet in a shopping centre, and as long as there are girls who love them for what they are, Animation will have an audience.
To sum up, here are a few sentences from a review: “It takes place in Poland―that is to say, nowhere. There is a house in a snowy forest inhabited by the Writer, who has no human needs. There is the Girl, who falls in love with the Writer, there is his Wife and his Lover. They all move around in an unreal world constructed by the Great Creator (director? writer? the writer’s thought personified?) There is also a Pantomime Theatre, whose rituals provide the key to the mystery. An amazing, sometimes shocking, poetic film. Amazing because it is closer to the ancient tragedies – mime artists, like the Greek chorus, comment on or even provoke events – than the films of today that pretend to be real life. Ostentatiously anti-psychological, stunningly aggressive music, erotic rituals, iconoclastic lectures on the subject of love. Poetic in both language and mood.”
ANIMATION, 1h 55m
Actors: Bartłomiej Madej, Ewa Kiełbratowska, Katarzyna Wrońska, Jerzy Bończak, Ewa Milde, Ryszard Bacciarelli, Jadwiga Konwerska, Janusz Józefowicz, Anna Majcher, Mariusz Czajka, Leszek Abrahamowicz and others including „Stodoła” Pantomime Theatre
Music: King Crimson, Bill Bruford, Patrick Moraz, United Kingdom
Scenography, art and graphics: Wojciech Gryniewicz
Montage: Barbara Ciechanowicz
Sound: Janusz Mendel
Camera: Waldemar Grabus
Written (based on Zbigniew Nienacki's The Seducer) and directed by JERZY SEIPP
Don't go chasing the devil – you may find him inside you