Szulkin 3 - too bad

Szulkin made six feature films.  The first four are free on ninateka.pl till the end of September (without English subtitles).  To me the best of this series of semi futuristic metaphors is “Obi-oba, the end of civilisation” (koniec cywilizacji). 

Some of its images are hard to forget.  For example a crazed, starved crowd fights over the food, a pulp from shredded books and the bible, dispensed from large overhead tube. 

The second in the series “The ward of the worlds: next century” got the main prize at a film festival where Sam Peckinpah headed the jury.   Szulkin recalls that during the festival Peckinpah stopped him on the street and asked “Are you Szulkin?” When Szulkin confirmed, Peckinpah responded “too bad”.  This exchange got some questioning in the book long interview with Szulkin, where its gist was - if I remember - that perhaps Peckinpah saw something in Szulkin that immediately telegraphed to him that Szulkin’s brilliance would for some reason not translate into a global success.  And it did not.  Very sad.


Szulkin. 2.

Rhythm and that which is beyond the screen. 

As a student Szulkin made a short “Everything”, which already shows enormous talent.  Reading about it and watching it reveals a huge gap between writing about film and the film itself.  Most of the descriptions of this short are uninviting and bland.   It is as if writers were helpless facing the medium that at its best (and that’s the case with Szulkin) can’t be reduced to or even justly described by words.

Since the concept is based on rhythm and non-vulgar metaphors it is very difficult if not impossible to describe the essence of those short seven minutes (unless a reviewer were a poet and wrote a poem, but that does not happen in film criticism). 

On screen much effort has been made to open the space that the film is portraying.  It is the space that transcends the images, the emotional and mental (and social) sphere that the rhythmic visual and auditory structure points to.  And that space, although easier to name is still more than a few sentences that could possibly describe it. (I am not even trying)


Another Szulkin’s short, “Working Women” is based on a smilier rhythm, space expansion, this time more directly hitting the social.    It is devastating in its diagnosis.   The communists hated it.


Szukin’s most abstract short of the three mentioned here is called “Copyright film polski”.  It is another exercise in opening the perception space, if I may risk a term.  Here Szulkin works with   juxtaposition of sequences, sound and images, fabric of images and rhythm again.  This time his social observation hides behind an existential, abstract dimension.   It is a very short piece, almost a joke,  yet very disturbing.



Szulkin. 1

"Obi-Oba.  The End of Civilization"  
by Piotr Szulkin

Almost genius.  A genius.

Earlier this month a remarkable film director passed away.  His name was Piotr Szulkin.   Or rather, his name is Piotr Szulkin.  Due to a combination of weird and often moronic (on my part) factors I wasn’t really familiar with his work.   He was only five years older and started studying at the Polish Film Schol five years before me.   Having spent the last week watching his films and reading his book long conversation with two film scholars (Zyciopis published by korporacja halart) I am floored by his film and intellectual vision. 

For starters: a few thoughts from the beginning of his conversation/book: “the screen doesn’t lie, it always exposes.  It exposes value or stupidity.”  At first I bucked at this with “well, does it make stupid some people who are smart and intelligent yet not talented in film whose work falls flat, clearly not?”  However, upon a bit of thinking one has to say that clearly yes, there are no excuses.   Screen is a powerful, dangerous and unforgiving medium.  Whoever touches it has to be aware of the dangers it imposes.   The same goes for any creativity.  Does the same goes for any other kind of human activity?

Szulkin states that will be talking mostly about that which moved him to create his films and about that which influenced him to give them their specific shape.  He calls it metaphorical but can’t remove it from anecdotal, which is a more vulgar, confined and yet sometimes necessary to explain things.   Because, as I understand this thought, the metaphorical can only reveal itself through facts and occurrences. 

Talking about his father, Szulkin uses a phrase “my father was a physicist, touching the threshold of a genius”.  Further comments reveal that Szulkin had an uneasy relationship with his father and that he wanted somehow to relate/debate/perhaps spare with him.  Strangely, this “touching the threshold of a genius” phrase could be applied to Piotr Szulkin as well. 

The word “touching”, or “hooking onto”, or “almost” is the key here.   Looking at Szulkin’s films I sense that he was indeed a cinematic genius and yet analyzing his career and the reception of his work it seems that there was something small yet vital missing in him, or around him that prevented him to enter the very top level of world cinema.


Art and Sex

 On Chesil Beach
by Ian McEwan

This meditation on the nature of creative energy does a lot with staging and lenses to explore the subject.   The story is anchored between two females (the mother and the wife) who - while both artists - manifest the creative/sexual energies in opposing ways.   The mother is “out there” in her nakedness, madness and connection to more complex layers of reality, the wife is restrained, cold.  

It is the restrained one who achieves the recognition as an artist.   The guy in between - with his uncomplicated sexuality ends up only a consumer (of art).  His promise - he got the highest mark at the university - does not translate into professional success.  Hers - she got the highest mark too - brings her eventually fame and artistic fulfillment.  

Every time  Edward visits his mother the camera and the set design switch gears.  This beautifully shows “the mother’s” sphere, her influence, the potential she brings to Edward.   Which he does not seem to understand.

There is an amazing shot of a piano recital where Florence assists in turning pages.  A long, sensuous camera move along the piano to the male player and then to Florence reveals the interaction between sensuous/sexual and artistic within Florence. 

The “why couldn’t they have sex before marriage” is just a gimmick in this story.  Perhaps there isn’t enough of their pre-marital “negotiations” to make it more believable.   As is, “the beach” revelation feels a bit contrived. 

Still, the film is trying and mostly succeeding in addressing that which usually is trivialized or misunderstood or just unseen.

I just checked out an interview with Ian McEwan on

Two things are intriguing: he reveals that Sam Mendes was supposed to direct it.  Holy Cow!   Now the energy angle becomes more obvious.   It probably would have gone even higher with Mendes.

Also, McEwan says there is a lot of him in Edward.  (not the wedding night though, he says with a smile).  Since Edward is the opposite of McEwan in terms of success and contentment (so it seems watching McEwan talking) this admission reveals a yet another layer of the primal energy manifesting itself in life.


We’re all stuck here

 LA 92

A very powerful documentary archival footage build up showing how frustration starts, boils and explodes.   Two things particularly moved me:  an Asian woman standing in a broken window of a store (probably her own) with her arms outstretched to stop the looters and yelling repetitiously with tears, anger and disbelief:  "This is America!", "This is America!", "This is America!"

Another is a quote from Rodney King.  It seems that everybody was focused (with various levels of appreciation) on his "Can we all get along", but he also said "I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while."  The latter transcended the here and now of Los Angeles in 92.  Is is always shocking current, important and forgotten.


Listen to a whisper

Excellent HBO documentary on Steven Spielberg.   Turns out he values not knowing prior how a scene would look like.  Panic is his cherished MO.  Only then he comes up with good ideas.  Interesting, that his process is emotional and visceral - not over thought.  Although clearly an overall strategy has to be applied, his approach to a scene is instinctual. 

In Jews - what you don’t see is generally scarier than what you do see (there is very little of the shark in the film.)

His camera movements (which to him is the directing) are always more than giving the viewer a sense of space.     They always reveal something additional.

I remember from an older interview with Spielberg his amazement that “they” keep hiring him.  Then his guess that “they do, because he knows where to put the camera”.  That’s what it takes - the ability to select the best camera spot!

Also: there is a page with quotes from famous people.  Below there are a few among those by Spielberg that impressed me the most:
  • “You have many years ahead of you to create the dreams that we can’t even imagine dreaming.  You have done more for the collective unconscious of this planet than you will ever know.”
  • “Our one goal is to give the world a taste of peace, friendship, and understanding through the visual arts, the art of celebration of life.”
  • “All of us every single year, we’re a different person. I don’t think we’re the same person all our lives.
  • “Sometimes a dream almost whispers… it never shouts. Very hard to hear. So you have to, every day of your lives, be ready to hear what whispers in your ear. ”


Encounters in Berlin

 from the upcoming "The Body Philosopher" - 
a documentary about Richard Shusterman.

meanwhile, something that was meant purely as a preparatory step for the documentary above keeps making rounds:


the real documentary is coming:-)