Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary Rewatch Cult-Classic Movies on Their New Video Archives Podcast

Quentin Taran­ti­no has count­less fans all around the world, increas­ing­ly many of whom are too young to ever have rent­ed a tape from a video store. But when those twen­ty-some­thing cinephiles learn his ori­gin sto­ry as a film­mak­er, they must sus­pect they missed out on a valu­able expe­ri­ence in the VHS era, what­ev­er its incon­ve­niences. When Taran­ti­no broke out in the nine­teen-nineties with Reser­voir Dogs and Pulp Fic­tion, he was pub­licly cel­e­brat­ed not just for those films, but for his hav­ing made them as a video-store-clerk-turned-auteur.

Indeed, it real­ly does seem true that Taran­ti­no’s cin­e­mat­ic sen­si­bil­i­ty owes some­thing to the years he’d spent exer­cis­ing his movie exper­tise behind the counter at Video Archives in Man­hat­tan Beach. When the store closed in 1995, the fresh­ly ascen­dant Taran­ti­no seized the oppor­tu­ni­ty to buy up its thou­sands of VHS tapes. Roger Avary, his fel­low Archives alum­nus and col­lab­o­ra­tor on the screen­play for Pulp Fic­tion, bought the Laserdiscs. Though much of Avary’s col­lec­tion has suc­cumbed to the “disc rot” that noto­ri­ous­ly afflicts that for­mat, Taran­ti­no’s col­lec­tion has held up for more than a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry.

Now Taran­ti­no’s pri­vate tape stash pro­vides the mate­r­i­al for his and Avary’s lat­est col­lab­o­ra­tion: The Video Archives Pod­cast, to which you can lis­ten on plat­forms like Apple Pod­casts and Stitch­er. On it, the two of them aim to re-cre­ate the vehe­ment­ly cinephile envi­ron­ment of Video Archives by dis­cussing the movies from its stock — after watch­ing them on the actu­al VHS tapes the store once rent­ed out. As Taran­ti­no explains it, each episode of The Video Archives Pod­cast will fea­ture three titles. But the con­ver­sa­tions will go well beyond the films them­selves, involv­ing details of the par­tic­u­lar home-video releas­es popped into the VCR as well as the his­to­ry of the dis­trib­u­tors that put them out.

Nat­u­ral­ly, the hosts also get into their per­son­al his­to­ries with these movies — which in some cas­es go back near­ly 50 years — as film-lovers and film­mak­ers. Owing to the need to intro­duce the show itself, in the first episode they dis­cuss only two pic­tures, both from the nine­teen-sev­en­ties: John Car­pen­ter and Dan O’Ban­non’s anti-estab­lish­ment sci-fi com­e­dy Dark Star, fol­lowed by Ulli Lom­mel’s rock-Mafia dra­ma Cocaine Cow­boys, which fea­tures a cameo from Andy Warhol. Rep­re­sent­ing a younger gen­er­a­tion is Avary’s daugh­ter Gala, pro­duc­er of the pod­cast, who in a mid-show seg­ment (and her own after-show) offers anoth­er per­spec­tive on the movies of the week. She clear­ly knows how to appre­ci­ate a cult clas­sic, even if she’s nev­er paid a late fee in her life.

via IndieWire

Relat­ed con­tent:

Quentin Taran­ti­no Gives a Tour of Video Archives, the Store Where He Worked Before Becom­ing a Film­mak­er

Quentin Taran­ti­no Reviews Movies: From Dunkirk and King of New York, to Soul Broth­ers of Kung Fu & More

Quentin Taran­ti­no Explains How to Write & Direct Movies

An Analy­sis of Quentin Tarantino’s Films Nar­rat­ed (Most­ly) by Quentin Taran­ti­no

The Last Video Store: A Short Doc­u­men­tary on How the World’s Old­est Video Store Still Sur­vives Today

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

Scenes from The Wizard of Oz Remastered in Brilliant 4K Detail: Behold the Work of a Creative YouTuber

The Wiz­ard of Oz came out more than 80 years ago, but there must still be a few among us who remem­ber see­ing it in the the­ater. Only they would have felt com­plete­ly the pow­er of its famous scene when Dorothy leaves black-and-white Kansas and enters the col­or­ful land of Oz. Much of the pow­er of art comes from con­trast, and this par­tic­u­lar con­trast could hard­ly have been a more per­sua­sive adver­tise­ment for the pow­er of Tech­ni­col­or. After a devel­op­ment his­to­ry of more than twen­ty years, that col­or motion-pic­ture process had by 1939 reached the stage of its tech­no­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion called “Process 4,” which enabled stu­dios to make use of not just some but all of the spec­trum.

This final form of Tech­ni­col­or enrap­tures view­ers even today, repro­duc­ing col­ors as it did at intense, some­times bor­der­line-psy­che­del­ic depths of sat­u­ra­tion. The process found its ide­al mate­r­i­al in the fan­ta­sy of The Wiz­ard of Oz, with its yel­low brick road (choos­ing whose exact shade inspired about a week of delib­er­a­tion at MGM), its ruby slip­pers (cal­cu­lat­ed­ly changed from the sil­ver shoes in L. Frank Baum’s orig­i­nal nov­el), and its host of set­tings and char­ac­ters with great chro­mat­ic poten­tial.

You can appre­ci­ate this un-repeat­ably for­tu­itous inter­sec­tion of con­tent and tech­nol­o­gy again in these scenes from an unof­fi­cial 4K restora­tion of the film post­ed by Youtu­ber Oriel Malik.

This is sure­ly the sharpest and most-detail rich ver­sion of The Wiz­ard of Oz most of us have seen, and, in those respects, it actu­al­ly out­does the orig­i­nal prints of the film. For some the image may actu­al­ly be too clear, mak­ing obvi­ous as it does cer­tain arti­fi­cial-look­ing aspects of the back­grounds and cos­tumes. But in a sense this may not run counter to the inten­tions of the film­mak­ers, who knew full well what genre they were work­ing in: even on film, a musi­cal must retain at least some of the look and feel of the stage. Yet it’s also true that the soft­er visu­al edges of the con­tem­po­rary ana­log print­ing and pro­jec­tion tech­nolo­gies would have enhanced the dream­like atmos­phere cre­at­ed in part by all those sur­re­al­ly vivid hues — which, accord­ing to die-hard Tech­ni­col­or enthu­si­asts, only real­ly come through on film any­way.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Tech­ni­col­or Rev­o­lu­tion­ized Cin­e­ma with Sur­re­al, Elec­tric Col­ors & Changed How We See Our World

The Com­plete Wiz­ard of Oz Series, Avail­able as Free eBooks and Free Audio Books

The Wiz­ard of Oz Bro­ken Apart and Put Back Togeth­er in Alpha­bet­i­cal Order

Dark Side of the Rain­bow: Pink Floyd Meets The Wiz­ard of Oz in One of the Ear­li­est Mash-Ups

Watch the Ear­li­est Sur­viv­ing Filmed Ver­sion of The Wiz­ard of Oz (1910)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

Cover Songs: Philosophy and Taxonomy on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #129


Is re-play­ing or re-record­ing a song writ­ten and per­formed by some­one else an act of love or pre­da­tion? Your host Mark Lin­sen­may­er is joined by Too Much Joy’s Tim Quirk, the Gig Gab Podcast’s Dave Hamil­ton, and the author of A Phi­los­o­phy of Cov­er Songs Prof. P.D. Mag­nus to talk about dif­fer­ent types of and pur­pos­es for cov­ers, look a lit­tle at the his­to­ry, share favorites, and more.

A few of the many cov­er songs we men­tion include:

This playlist includes most of the songs men­tioned in P.D.’s book.

To prep for this, in addi­tion to read­ing P.D.’s book (which is free), we looked at var­i­ous lists of best and worst cov­er songs of all time: from timeout.combestlifeonline.comRolling StoneRadio X. Also check out this episode of the Ghost Notes Pod­cast.

Fol­low us @news4wombats (for P.D.), @tbquirk@DaveHamilton, and @MarkLinsenmayer.

Hear more Pret­ty Much Pop. Sup­port the show at patreon.com/prettymuchpop or by choos­ing a paid sub­scrip­tion through Apple Pod­casts. This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts.

How Joni Mitchell Learned to Play Guitar Again After a 2015 Brain Aneurysm–and Made It Back to the Newport Folk Festival

Joni Mitchell almost quit the music indus­try in 1996, two years after releas­ing what crit­ics called her best album since the 70s, 1994’s Tur­bu­lent Indi­go. “I was in a los­ing fight with a busi­ness that basi­cal­ly, you know, was treat­ing me like an also-ran or a has-been, even though I was still doing good work,” she told an inter­view­er at the time. “Every­thing about the busi­ness dis­gust­ed me.”

But show busi­ness has nev­er real­ly been about the show or the busi­ness for Mitchell. From her deeply per­son­al song­writ­ing to her vocal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, she imbues her music with the deep­est parts of her­self. Then there’s her bril­liant­ly idio­syn­crat­ic gui­tar play­ing. “Her gui­tar does­n’t real­ly sound like a gui­tar,” Jef­frey Pep­per Rodgers writes at Acoustic Gui­tar. “The tre­ble strings become a cool-jazz horn sec­tion; the bass snaps out of syn­co­pa­tions like a snare drum; the notes ring out in clus­ters that sim­ply don’t come out of a nor­mal six-string.”

Mitchell “mas­tered the idea that she could tune the gui­tar any way she want­ed,” says David Cros­by. She tuned to “the num­bers in a date… a piece of music that I liked on the radio,” she says. “I’d tune to bird­songs and the land­scape I was sit­ting in.” Try­ing to dupli­cate Mitchel­l’s tun­ings is typ­i­cal­ly a fool’s errand; even she for­gets them. But “Joni’s weird chords,” as she says, are indis­pens­able to her sound. (She also says she’s only writ­ten two songs — one of them her first — in stan­dard tun­ing.)

In 1996, a dig­i­tal gui­tar ped­al that emu­lat­ed her tun­ings and allowed a greater range of sym­phon­ic tones brought her back to the stage. Or, to put it anoth­er way — what brought her back to music was the gui­tar, which is exact­ly what brought her back to the stage at this year’s New­port Folk Fes­ti­val — play­ing her first live set in 20 years after suf­fer­ing a brain aneurysm in 2015. (She last played New­port 53 years ago in 1969.) Noth­ing keeps Joni down for long.

In this case, how­ev­er, Mitchell did­n’t just for­get her tun­ings after her ill­ness. She for­got how to play the gui­tar alto­geth­er. She had to teach her­self again by watch­ing videos of her play­ing online. “I’m learn­ing,” she says in the CBS inter­view at the top. “I’m look­ing at videos that are on the net, to see where to put my fin­gers. It’s amaz­ing… when you have an aneurysm, you don’t know how to get into a chair. You don’t know how to get out of bed. You have to learn all these things again. You’re going back to infan­cy, almost.”

She’s come a long way since 2015, when she could nei­ther speak nor walk, “much less play the gui­tar,” notes NPR. “To be able to recov­er to the point of being able to per­form as a musi­cian is real­ly incred­i­ble,” says Dr. Antho­ny Wang, a neu­ro­sur­geon at Ronald Regan UCLA Hos­pi­tal. “Play­ing an instru­ment and vocal cord coor­di­na­tion, those sort of things are real­ly, super com­plex fine move­ments that would take a long time to relearn.” Mitchel­l’s com­mit­ment to mas­ter­ing her instru­ment again was unflag­ging.

See her above pluck out “Joni’s weird chords” on one of her Park­er Fly gui­tars in a solo sec­tion from the song “Just Like This Train” from Court & Spark. As we not­ed in an ear­li­er post, she was joined at New­port by a host of celebri­ty friends, includ­ing Bran­di Carlile, who sits with her in the CBS inter­view and con­firms the amount of “will and grit” she applied to her recov­ery. She’s sur­vived polio, per­son­al tragedy, the 60s, chain smok­ing, and a debil­i­tat­ing aneurysm: the 78-year-old liv­ing leg­end won’t be with us for­ev­er, but we might expect she’ll have a gui­tar in her hand when she final­ly makes her exit from the music busi­ness for the last time.

via NPR

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Joni Mitchell Sings “Both Sides Now” at the New­port Folk Fes­ti­val: Watch Clips from Her First Full Con­cert Since 2002

Hear Demos & Out­takes of Joni Mitchell’s Blue on the 50th Anniver­sary of the Clas­sic Album

How Joni Mitchell Wrote “Wood­stock,” the Song that Defined the Leg­endary Music Fes­ti­val, Even Though She Wasn’t There (1969)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

Visit Great Cities in the 1920s in Restored Color Film: New York City, London, Berlin, Paris, Venice & More

Woody Allen’s Mid­night in Paris stars Owen Wil­son as a Hol­ly­wood screen­writer on vaca­tion in the French cap­i­tal. Alas, the City of Lights as it is in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry does­n’t sat­is­fy him. When he walks his streets he thinks only of the nine­teen-twen­ties, when a trav­el­er in Paris could eas­i­ly cross paths with the likes of Paul Gau­guin, Hen­ri Matisse, and Edgar Degas — as well as expa­tri­ates from Pablo Picas­so and Dju­na Barnes to F. Scott Fitzger­ald and Ernest Hem­ing­way. Or so he imag­ines, at any rate, and so he goes on to expe­ri­ence when he finds him­self trans­port­ed back in time to the city of the “Lost Gen­er­a­tion” at each stroke of mid­night.

With the video above, you, too, can take a trip to nine­teen-twen­ties Paris — as well as nine­teen-twen­ties New York, Chica­go, San Fran­cis­co, Lon­don, Berlin, Stock­holm, Copen­hagen, Ams­ter­dam, Nice, Gene­va, Milan, and Venice. A com­pi­la­tion of peri­od footage sourced from the Prelinger Archives, it light­ly col­orizes, adds ambi­ent sound, and in oth­er ways enhances its dis­parate mate­ri­als to make them feel all of a piece.

And indeed, the clip plays almost as if shot by a sin­gle, and sin­gu­lar­ly ambi­tious, world trav­el­er of one hun­dred years ago. That hypo­thet­i­cal trav­el­er’s world is both ours — filled as it is with such rec­og­niz­able and ever-pho­tograph­able sites as the Eif­fel Tow­er, the gon­do­las of Venice, and the non-latex-clad cyclists of Copen­hagen — and not.

Whether tra­di­tion­al or mod­ern, the dress of every­one on the street looks neater and more for­mal than that worn by urban­ites in the main today. In some cities, horse-drawn car­riages still make their way through the traf­fic of bus­es, trams, and waves of seem­ing­ly iden­ti­cal per­son­al cars. (Ford man­u­fac­tured more than two mil­lion Mod­el Ts in 1923 alone.) The nine­teen-twen­ties brought rapid urban devel­op­ment in both the New World and the Old, as well as rapid devel­op­ment in motion pho­tog­ra­phy. Not for noth­ing was it the decade of the “city sym­pho­ny” film; for equal­ly good rea­son, it remains the decade of which many of us dream, even a cen­tu­ry lat­er, when we want to feel the exhil­a­ra­tion of moder­ni­ty.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch 1920s “City Sym­phonies” Star­ring the Great Cities of the World: From New York to Berlin to São Paulo

Expe­ri­ence Footage of Roar­ing 1920s Berlin, Restored & Col­orized with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

Nerves of Steel!: Watch Peo­ple Climb Tall Build­ings Dur­ing the 1920s.

Great New Archive Lets You Hear the Sounds of New York City Dur­ing the Roar­ing Twen­ties

Footage of Cities Around the World in the 1890s: Lon­don, Tokyo, New York, Venice, Moscow & More

Down­load 6600 Free Films from The Prelinger Archives and Use Them How­ev­er You Like

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

Watch 70+ Soviet Films Free Online, Courtesy of Mosfilm, the Hollywood of the Soviet Union

Recent­ly we’ve fea­tured films by Sergei Eisen­stein, a pio­neer of cin­e­ma as we know it, and Andrei Tarkovsky, one of the most respect­ed auteurs in the his­to­ry of the art form. They’re all free to watch on Youtube, as is Sergei Bon­darchuk’s epic adap­ta­tion of War and Peace from the late nine­teen-six­ties and Karen Shakhnazarov’s eight-part Anna Karen­i­na, which came out just a few years ago. For all this we have Mos­film to thank. Once the nation­al film stu­dio of the Sovi­et Union — equipped with the kind of resources that made it more or less the Hol­ly­wood of the U.S.S.R. — Mos­film remains in oper­a­tion as a pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny, as well as a Youtube chan­nel.

Mos­film’s playlist of Sovi­et movies now offers more than 70 Eng­lish-sub­ti­tled fea­tures, each one labeled by genre. The dozen come­dies cur­rent­ly free to watch include Leonid Gaidai’s mas­sive­ly suc­cess­ful crime-and-soci­ety com­e­dy The Dia­mond Arm (1969) and Eldar Ryazanov’s satir­i­cal Car­ni­val Night (1956).

The ver­sa­tile Ryazanov also direct­ed pic­tures of oth­er types for Mos­film, includ­ing the musi­cal Hus­sar Bal­lad (1962) and the melo­dra­ma Rail­way Sta­tion for Two (1982). A vari­ety of gen­res and sub­gen­res: Abram Room’s “love movie” Bed and Sofa (1927), Karen Shakhnazarov’s “mys­tic dra­ma” Assas­si­na­tion of the Tsar (1991), Vladimir Motyl’s “East­ern” (as opposed to West­ern) White Sun of the Desert (1970), and Georgiy Daneliya’s “distopia movie” Kin-dza-dza! (1986).

Of course, one need not search far and wide to see the Sovi­et Union itself described as a dystopia. Few today could deny the fatal flaws of Sovi­et polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic sys­tems, but then, those flaws were hard­ly unknown to Sovi­et cit­i­zens them­selves, even those in posi­tions of cul­tur­al promi­nence. View­ers today may be sur­prised at just how keen­ly some of these movies (Georgiy Daneliya’s “trag­ic com­e­dy” Autumn Marathon from 1979 being one clas­sic exam­ple) observe the nature of life behind the Iron Cur­tain. In this and oth­er ways, Sovi­et film has a greater vari­ety of sen­si­bil­i­ties and tex­tures than one might expect. And giv­en that Mos­film pro­duced more than 3,000 pic­tures dur­ing the exis­tence of the U.S.S.R. — includ­ing Aki­ra Kuro­sawa’s Der­su Uza­la, from 1975 — there remain many more to dis­cov­er, at least if the upload­ing con­tin­ues apace. View the entire playlist of Sovi­et films with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Free: Watch Bat­tle­ship Potemkin and Oth­er Films by Sergei Eisen­stein, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Sovi­et Film­mak­er

Watch the Huge­ly-Ambi­tious Sovi­et Film Adap­ta­tion of War and Peace Free Online (1966–67)

Watch Andrei Tarkovsky’s Films Free Online: Stalk­er, The Mir­ror & Andrei Rublev

Watch an 8‑Part Film Adap­ta­tion of Tolstoy’s Anna Karen­i­na Free Online

The Top 20 Russ­ian Films, Accord­ing to Rus­sians

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

Behold! A Medieval Graphic Novel Carved on an 14th Century Ivory Box

The Châte­laine de Ver­gy, a court­ly romance that was wild­ly pop­u­lar in the mid-13th cen­tu­ry, would’ve made a crowd pleas­ing graph­ic nov­el adap­ta­tion. It’s got sex, treach­ery, a trio of vio­lent deaths, and a cute pup in a sup­port­ing role.

See­ing as how the form had yet to be invent­ed, medieval audi­ences got the next best thing — a Goth­ic ivory cas­ket on which the sto­ry is ren­dered as a series of carved pic­tures that start on the lid and wrap around the sides.

In an ear­li­er video for the British Museum’s Curator’s Cor­ner series, Late Medieval Col­lec­tions Cura­tor Nao­mi Speak­man admit­ted that the pur­pose of such deluxe cas­kets is dif­fi­cult to pin down. Were they tokens from one lover to anoth­er? Wed­ding gifts? Jew­el­ry box­es? Doc­u­ment cas­es?

Unclear, but the intri­cate carv­ings’ nar­ra­tive has def­i­nite­ly been iden­ti­fied as that of The Châte­laine de Ver­gy, a steamy sec­u­lar alter­na­tive to the reli­gious scenes whose depic­tion con­sumed a fair num­ber of medieval ele­phant tusks.

In addi­tion to the ear­ly-14th cen­tu­ry exam­ple in the British Museum’s col­lec­tion, the Cour­tauld Insti­tute of Art’s Goth­ic Ivories data­base cat­a­logues a num­ber of oth­er medieval cas­kets and cas­ket frag­ments depict­ing The Châte­laine de Ver­gi, cur­rent­ly housed in muse­ums in Milan, Flo­rence, Paris, Vien­na, New York City and Kansas.

A very graph­ic nov­e­l­esque con­ceit Speak­man points to in the British Museum’s cas­ket finds the Duke of Bur­gundy break­ing the frame (to use comics ter­mi­nol­o­gy), reach­ing behind the gut­ter to help him­self to the sword the Châtelaine’s knight­ly lover has just plunged into his own breast.

Peer around to the far side of the cas­ket to find out what the Duke intends to do with that sword. It’s a shock­er that silences the trum­pets, qui­ets the danc­ing ladies, and might even have laid ground for a sequel: Chate­laine: The Duke’s Wrath.

Read Eugene Mason’s ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry trans­la­tion of The Chate­laine of Ver­gi here.

Watch more episodes of the British Museum’s Curator’s Cor­ner here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Book of St Albans, One of the Finest Medieval Man­u­scripts, Gets Dig­i­tized and Put Online

A Medieval Book That Opens Six Dif­fer­ent Ways, Reveal­ing Six Dif­fer­ent Books in One

Behold Medieval Snow­ball Fights: A Time­less Way of Hav­ing Fun

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Hundreds of Polish Films Free Online: Feature Films, Documentaries, Animations & More

The Pol­ish film indus­try has pro­duced a few inter­na­tion­al­ly-known auteurs, includ­ing Andrzej Waj­da, Krzysztof Kieślows­ki, and Roman Polan­s­ki, but a hand­ful of crit­i­cal­ly-laud­ed direc­tors can­not rep­re­sent the scope of any nation­al cin­e­ma. With­out a wider appre­ci­a­tion of Poland’s film his­to­ry, we lack cru­cial con­text for under­stand­ing its most famous artists. Now, a new archive called 35mm.online gives us hun­dreds of films and ani­ma­tions by Pol­ish film­mak­ers, a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to immerse one­self in the coun­try’s cin­e­mat­ic art like nev­er before.

Pol­ish film his­to­ry can broad­ly be divid­ed into films made before WWII and those made after, when the coun­try came under strict Com­mu­nist con­trol. The first peri­od includes a silent film indus­try that began with the ori­gins of cin­e­ma itself and made a star of actress Pola Negri, whose films were screened in Berlin with Ger­man-lan­guage title cards. Many movies made in the sound era took direc­tion, no pun intend­ed, from film­mak­er Alek­sander Ford, a cham­pi­on of Com­mu­nist aes­thet­ic the­o­ry. “Cin­e­ma can­not be a cabaret,” he once told the Sovi­et Kino mag­a­zine, “it must be a school.” Ford made real­ist films about social issues and pro­pa­gan­da films dur­ing the war.

In 1945, Ford took con­trol of the Pol­ish film indus­try as direc­tor of the nation­al­ized state pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny, Film Pol­s­ki. The com­pa­ny had a monop­oly on pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion, and exhi­bi­tion, and in Poland, as in most East­ern Bloc nations in the Cold War, the chal­lenge of evad­ing cen­sors put far more pres­sure on film­mak­ers than mar­ket demands. “Under the Com­mu­nist regime,” Dark Kuz­ma writes at Movie Mak­er, “Pol­ish author­i­ties waged war on moviemak­ers.… Any cri­tique of the Sovi­et Union or the Pol­ish Peo­ple’s Repub­lic was silenced,” begin­ning with a 1945 film titled 2x2=4, by Antoni Bohdziewicz.

Ford did­n’t last long as an admin­is­tra­tor, though he returned in the 50s to help advise and over­see pro­duc­tions. Film Pol­s­ki became the Cen­tral Office of Cin­e­matog­ra­phy in 1951, and enforced even stricter con­trols on Pol­ish film­mak­ers. But as con­trol of the film indus­try cen­tral­ized, aca­d­e­m­ic bureau­crats took over for savvy film­mak­ers like Ford. “Pol­ish cen­sors,” Kuz­ma notes, “were high­ly lit­er­ary, capa­ble of deci­pher­ing even the most sophis­ti­cat­ed ‘sub­ver­sions’ in books, news­pa­pers and oth­er writ­ten forms — but they were quite impo­tent when it came to eval­u­at­ing images.”

Pol­ish film­mak­ers could not make any overt nar­ra­tive cri­tiques and “were forced to learn how to say some­thing with­out say­ing it direct­ly, how to depict a real­i­ty that did not offi­cial­ly exist,” says Oscar-nom­i­nat­ed Pol­ish cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Ryszard Lenczews­ki. Neces­si­ty led to a cre­ative sym­bol­ic lan­guage view­ers had to decode:

This was a respon­si­bil­i­ty we all felt: to cre­ate lay­ered images, images with dou­ble mean­ings that dared view­ers to inter­pret them dif­fer­ent­ly. It was all in the details — like using wider lens­es to show things you would not be able to show any oth­er way. Some­thing may be occur­ring in the back­ground, slight­ly blurred. Some­times all the film needs was to not include some­thing or some­one in the frame. 

The need for clan­des­tine cin­e­mat­ic meth­ods became ful­ly appar­ent in 1982, when a com­mis­sion met and deter­mined even stricter rules for Pol­ish film, par­tial­ly in reac­tion to the film­mak­er Ryszard Buga­jski’s Inter­ro­ga­tion, an unspar­ing depic­tion of “Stal­in-era polit­i­cal life.” (See an excerpt­ed scene at the top). A tran­script of the pro­ceed­ings, which includ­ed Buga­js­ki, made their way out of the coun­try in secret and was report­ed on in The New York Times. Buga­js­ki feared his film would not see release, and he was right, though Inter­ro­ga­tion cir­cu­lat­ed in samiz­dat VHS form for years, attain­ing cult sta­tus. It was even­tu­al­ly released years lat­er and would become one of the most pop­u­lar films of the time.

After Inter­ro­ga­tion, Pol­ish film­mak­ers began to employ even more dis­tinc­tive sym­bol­ic vocab­u­lar­ies, from sci-fi satire in 1984’s huge­ly pop­u­lar Sexmis­sion (trail­er above), to the use of heav­i­ly sat­u­rat­ed col­ors, a fea­ture so many Pol­ish films of the 1980s and 90s share and which char­ac­ter­izes the work of Kieślows­ki, one of the most revered of Pol­ish direc­tors among Pol­ish and non-Pol­ish cinephiles alike. Best known for his ear­ly 90s tril­o­gy Three Col­ors: Blue, Red and White, the direc­tor began using spe­cif­ic col­ors to con­vey mean­ing ear­li­er in his career.

Cam­era oper­a­tor Sła­womir Idzi­ak, who worked on Kieślowski’s 1988 A Short Film About Killing (see trail­er above), remem­bers, “I shot the film in this hideous yel­low-green­ish col­or to sub­tly hint at the direc­tor’s idea that the coun­try could be a killer, just like the main char­ac­ter. I remem­ber one review­er in Cannes writ­ing that because the screen assumes the col­or of urine, it encap­su­lates the real­i­ty of Com­mu­nist Poland. That was beau­ti­ful.”

Film­mak­er Bar­bara Sass went on to make sev­er­al films in which spe­cif­ic col­or plays sig­nif­i­cant roles, start­ing with her 1980, fes­ti­val-win­ning debut, With­out Love. She sur­rounds her yel­low-haired main char­ac­ter, played by Doro­ta Stal­ińs­ka, with a sick­ly hos­pi­tal yel­low, then immers­es her in the dim red light of a pho­to­graph­ic dark­room. Her many lat­er films employed bold uses of col­or to sim­i­lar effect. These films rep­re­sent only a tiny sam­pling of the near­ly 4,000 Pol­ish films host­ed on 35mm.online, a joint project of the Pol­ish Film Insti­tute and “one of Poland’s old­est film stu­dios, Wytwrnia Filmw Doku­men­tal­nych i Fab­u­larnych (WFDiF), (Doc­u­men­tary and Fea­ture Film Stu­dios),” notes The first News

The col­lec­tion includes 160 fea­tures, 71 doc­u­men­taries 474 ani­mat­ed short films, and 10 ani­mat­ed fea­tures.  We’ve bare­ly scratched the sur­face of Pol­ish cin­e­ma his­to­ry and there are hun­dreds of ani­ma­tions yet to watch (read some of their grim descrip­tions at MetaFil­ter). So get to watch­ing at 35mm.online.

Note: To enable Eng­lish sub­ti­tles, click the “Enable Sub­ti­tles” but­ton beneath each film. (The first but­ton.) Then go to the “Sett­tings” but­ton and choose Eng­lish sub­tiles.

via MetaFil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

50 Film Posters From Poland: From The Empire Strikes Back to Raiders of the Lost Ark

An Intro­duc­tion to Stanis­law Lem, the Great Pol­ish Sci-Fi Writer, by Jonathan Lethem

Free Online: Watch Stalk­er, Mir­ror, and Oth­er Mas­ter­works by Sovi­et Auteur Andrei Tarkovsky

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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