The Lodz Film School At MoMA
by Ryan Deussing
Founded in 1948 as a cog in Stalin’s propaganda machine, the Lodz Film
School turned in on itself and by the mid 1950’s was graduating
filmmakers that would go on to define an entire generation of post-war
Polish cinema — names like Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Roman
Polanski, and Krzysztof Kieslowski. Now 50 years old, the school has hit
the road with a series of films — predominantly shorts — that offers
the work of future masters in their formative stages as well as films
from one-time Polish film students you’ve probably never heard of.
Both types are interesting, especially those shot in the fifties and
sixties, which (perhaps due to pre-war camera equipment) come across as
lost classics from a bygone era when film noir was new wave. “End of the
Night,” a 1956 thesis film, is one of the few features in the program
and the only one billed as a collaboration between eight writers and
directors. The twin vices of jazz and cinema figure largely in the
story, which follows a gang of Polish thugs (including a pubescent Roman
Polanski) as they discover that the low-life isn’t all it’s cracked up
to be. Marek Piwowski’s short “Fly Catcher” (1966) turns the camera on
the oddball denizens of a late-night cafe, where mania spreads like food
poisoning until the cops arrive and start dragging people away.
Polanski’s talked-about short “Two Men and a Wardrobe” (1958) — in
which two men emerge from the sea carrying a piece of furniture, wander
around town, get frustrated, and return to the depths — is clever but
hokey compared to his “Break Up the Party” (1957), for which he hired a
street gang to crash an outdoor swing party and beat up the guests.
While the series seems to focus on the school’s first two decades, the
curators keep current by including examples of more recent student work.
Among these films, Malgorzata Szumowska’s “Silence” (1997) is an
evocative documentary depiction of early morning farm activity. Iwona
Siekierzynska’s “Nihilscy” (1995), an almost nonfiction film, depicts a
miserable Christmas dinner from the father-in-law’s perspective, as he
turns his video camera on his family. Perhaps the best of the new(er)
bunch is Mitko Panov’s sad and sweet “Hands Up,” (1985) which transforms
a real photograph of Jews herded in the ghetto into an imagined getaway
scheme. Panov will be on hand to present the opening night program
together with the school’s Rector, Henryk Kuba, and fellow graduates
Krzysztof Zanussi, Elzbieta Czyzewska, and Jerzy Skolimowski.
“The Lodz Film School of Poland: 50 Years” runs December 18, 1998 – January 10, 1999 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. For schedule info visit www.moma.org>.
[Ryan Deussing is a filmmaker and writer who divides his time between
Brooklyn and Manhattan.]