Thursday, March 15, 2012

Shout, shout, let it all out: The primal scream of Andrzej Zulawski

Really, what can I tell you about Andrzej Zulawski's films? Or even about how to pronounce his name?...

Now, that's just uncalled for. I can at least try.

Easy part first: ON-jay zhoo-WAHV-ski. Roughly. (Thanks to this quite informative fan site for confirmation on that.)

Now, about those films. Um...


See, it's been a week tonight since I, courtesy of the current series at Brooklyn Academy of Music's Rose Cinemas, emerged into the Zulawskian universe like a mewling baby squeezing through the birth canal and tumbling out into the cold, blinding din of the world in a stream of effluvia (see I'm even talking a little like one of his characters now! - or writing, whatever). And in those seven days, my previous notions, however tentative, about what constitutes a "good movie," or whether that phrase even means anything, have been sorely tested and maybe permanently trans/malformed. I'll make a feeble gesture towards charting this process in a few entries over the next week or so.

I got a glimpse almost ten years ago when I first heard of the controversial-in-Europe, near-unknown-in-America, Polish expatriate filmmaker through Michael Atkinson's tantalizing article in the January-February 2003 issue of Film Comment, and sampled his one movie generally available on DVD in the U.S., Possession (now out of print). This all left me with slightly addled memories of being revolted, perplexed and enthralled, as well as a powerful hankering to see Zulawski's rarest film, the uncompleted science fiction epic On the Silver Globe, which immediately went onto my list of cinematic holy grails, near the top.  

Now, a little more than halfway through the first-ever complete U.S. retrospective of his dozen features, I've seen five and I'm still not sure any of them were good, per se (well, maybe Possession, which on a second viewing is looking kind of great, maybe). But an addiction is taking hold and more ordinary movies are starting to look a little bland, an effect which I trust and hope will fade pretty quickly, although I may need to be locked into my room for a cold turkey treatment, like Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.

I see I'm still not telling you about the movies themselves. Um. Okay, let me get out of my adjective kit. Intellectual art film meets gutter-trawling exploitation meets romantic melodrama meets camp and black comedy (intentional or accidental? search me...), with splashes of horror and fantasy. Gory violence and violent sex and really gorgeous naked women and gorgeous, rather-less-often naked men and the occasional ugly naked man. Political-social commentary that varies from opaque to bludgeoningly obvious. Dialogue that's either poetically allusive or nonsensical or both ("Maybe teeth are for climbing trees.")

And, always, love, passionate and transformative - not the nice kind, but the kind that's like two starving rats locked in a tiny cage together. This is all packaged in wildly careening camera movements, obsessively repetitive musical motifs and gorgeous, dreamlike images. And above all, the distinctive Zulawskian acting - maniacally stylized, crank-it-to-11 hollering and screaming, limbs and torsos and faces contorted, spit and blood running off the chin, bodies falling on the ground.

If these do not sound like movies for you, you're probably right. Or maybe not. The screenings so far have been surprisingly packed, including some in the big, stadium-seating Theater 3 on the second floor. Clearly there's been a cult out there waiting to form around this guy. So what do I know? What do you know? We know nothing - that's what Zulawski teaches us.

-The stills in this post are from (top to bottom):
The Important Thing Is To Love (Image: Ballerinas Dance with Machine Guns)
Possession (Image: Breakfast in the Ruins)
The Third Part of the Night (Image: The Devil Reads Poetry)
On the Silver Globe (Image: some pirate movie site that shall remain nameless)
The Important Thing Is To Love (Image: Mubi/Notebook)
On the Silver Globe (Image: We Told You What to Dream)

(Ever notice how Zulawski fans have a gift for blog names?)

-See below BAM's edition of the trailer created by The Cinefamily in Los Angeles, which ran the series almost simultaneously. Because really, if words could describe Zulawski movies, Zulawski wouldn't make movies. Not safe for work. Not safe for kids. Not safe for your grandma, your neighbors, your dog or you.

-Online cinema community Mubi has a great collection of links about the director and the series, including this New York Times piece by the venerable sage J. Hoberman, deservedly finding work since being given the boot in January, after 33 years, by the idiots who now run the Village Voice.)

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