Ethics from above

The space - before the screening 

 Jean Pierre Lasota-Hirszowicz 
about his friend Marek Siemek

"The View from a Cathedral" is mostly about friendship, loyalty and ethics.  Three main characters are philosophers Marek Siemek and Bronisław Baczko and astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Lasota-Hirszowicz

In a magical/ serendipitous turn of events the first public screening of the film took place in the astronomical observatory in Olsztyn.   The images were projected high above the viewers on a surface for the sky and the stars.

Later there was a panel on philosophy and film.  Philosophy represented - Dariusz Barbaszyński, Ph.D.,  film studies - Aleksandra Drzał-Sierocka, Ph.D., history - Artur Sobiela, Ph.D.,  film practice - yours truly.  The discussion was moderated by Magdalena Drozdowicz.

 the panel
the audience

The location seemed so natural and the subject discussed so fundamental  ("how can we...?", "is it possible...?", "why Siemek?") that only afterwards I realized the connection between the screen presence of the renown astronomer and the venue.  Furthermore it is prof. Lasota who in the film directly voices ethical concerns.

Siemek was a Kantian philosopher and so the statement "starry heavens above me and and the moral law within me" got a pretty appropriate framing due to the choice of the venue.  

Big thank you to Dorota Sepczyńska, Ph.D. who conceived and organized the event.  
  • “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence.”  -  Immanuel Kant
the panel photo by Wioletta Mądzelewska 


More of Siemek

Marek Żmiejewski talks about his friend, prof. Marek Siemek

Initially I posted on youtube a few interviews about Marek Siemek - I thought they would make a supplementary material for "The View from a Cathedral".   In the process of working with them however, I changed my mind.

I have made the interviews already online private and stopped uploading the new ones.  Out of the interviews I gathered in the process of making the film I have decided to cut another project, a companion of sort to "The View from a Cathedral."  It will most likely be named "Beyond a Cathedral".   Stay tuned. 


Mastery of flashbacks

"The Conformist" is the only movie that organically moves back and forth between flashbacks and the present.  Others, even the great ones, have jolts and require momentary re-organization of perception.  In "The Conformist" every step backward in time moves forward the narrative.   Another aspect of the flashbacks is that usually they act as a padding device or a cheap way out from the inability to sustain a tension of the present (for example "The man named Ove", or otherwise incredible "Femina" by Szulkin).  No so in "The Conformist".

On another subject:  There is an interesting dialogue between Storraro and Bertolucci about shooing "The Conformist".   Particularly the part when Storraro explains how he handled with light the Plato's metaphor of the cave.



Fantasy vs. reality

Game of Thrones
Dear C,

I appreciate your enthusiasm about “The Game of Thrones”.  I see how the accumulation and development of various motivations drive the narrative forward, how that creatively complicates the subplots and increases the “what next” heat and the consumer’s curiosity.  Still there are some aspects of the fantasy genre which I would like to clarify for myself and am rising to post them in its raw state here.

First a self-directed warning via a quote from Roger Ebert’s review of “Synecdoche, New York” (bzw. one of the very best flicks ever):

“I was instructed long ago by a wise editor, 
‘If you understand something you can explain 
it so that almost anyone can understand it.  If you don't, 
you won't be able to understand your own explanation.’ 
That is why 90% of academic film theory is bullshit. 
Jargon is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

Now, let me respond to a part of your letter:  No, I haven’t properly watched “The Game of Thrones” - just the pilot (twice) and a few fragments from the rest of the series.  Granted, the phrase “Winter is coming” is used around me a lot.   And I find a perverse pleasure in using it as well.  So, why haven’t I gotten in with the program? 

There is something about the fantasy genre that generally pushes me away.   I hope it’s not generational.  Neither the Star Wars movies, nor the Hobbit series nor the Game make me want to watch it more.   There are two, swimmingly contradictory, factors for that.  

The first is that I perceive the entire set up to be way too removed from our reality.  That which is here and now, broadly speaking, is so rich, complex and challenging that every time I see an attempt to extrapolate our humanness into a comic book set up (historical or futuristic) dressed in unreal make up, costumes and sets the first thing I perceive is the artificiality of such approach.   I suspect it comes down to the production design in those movies.

Then, on the opposite side: these films employ the contemporary rhythm of storytelling, traditional staging, optics, camera moves and editing.  To me it further  extenuates their “ontological suspiciousness” (sorry, can’t help myself). 

When watching something supposedly coming from a reality I don’t have a connection with I want to feel the new, the fresh, the unexpected also in the way the story is told.   Contrary to the prevailing opinion that we humans don’t change much throughout  history and that the basic ways we relate to the outside reality remain the same regardless of the external historical set ups I suspect we are much stronger than we think connected to the cultural and material environments.   If so than the way we tell stories from different epochs should reflect that.   Otherwise the application of a modern narrative set of cliches only makes the fantasy more “fantasy”.   That’s my issue with “The Game of Thrones”, which as a normal movie and contemporary storytelling is smooth, engaging, nice to consume and all that.  But to me it’s not convincing, due to the above factors.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  

There are people whose sensitivities and talents make me suspend my disbelief.   Directors like Kubrick (in Barry Lyndon, 2001) Tarkowski (in Stalker), Alfonso Cuarón (in Gravity), Piotr Szulkin (in Obi-oba, the end of Civilization), Michael Bay (in the Transformers series).   What?!  Bay?  The epiphany of the very comic book approach?   I am ready to defend the list:-)



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.