Wednesday, 9 July 2008


Over the next few weeks I'll be back in the blogging saddle and will be leavening the new stuff with a dig into the archives.

With that in mind, here's a belated obit of the Polish cinematographer, Edward Kłosiński, who died in January 2008.

Cinematographer Edward Kłosiński worked with some of the greatest Polish directors on the most important films of the ‘cinema of moral concern’.

After art school, Kłosiński studied cinematography in Łodz, graduating in 1967 and entering the industry when the so-called Polish School, having rejected Socialist Realism, had brought greater creative freedom and an international profile to Polish cinema. Starting as a stills photographer he graduated to filming shorts and educational films.

His break came when he replaced cinematographer Zygmunt Samosiuk on Andrzej Wajda’s The Birchwood (Brzezina, 1970), whose palette echoes the deathly hues of Jacek Malczewski’s Thanatos paintings, one of which hangs in the protagonist’s house.

Kłosiński's first solo feature was Janusz Zaorski’s early comedy Run Away Nearly (Uciec jak najbliżej, 1972). Its delicately erotic scenes (and some less gentle ones) are shot in a quiet reportage style while the broader comedy is underlined by more obvious cinematography.

The following year’s Illumination (Illumiunacja), Krzysztof Zanussi’s, bildungsroman film about a young physics student’s moral crisis, has a similar near-documentary style.

In the mid 1970s unrest was rising in Poland was the ‘cinema of moral concern’ responded by attacking bureaucracy and careerism. Kłosiński was at the centre of the movement but several of his films hit problems. Speaking of that period he said:

'I like that cinema, I know it was needed and important, but in terms of form it is hard to view it as rich. It probably had to be that way. If the formal aspects had been more spectacular, they would have falsified the content which was the most important thing.'

In fact, Kłosiński's documentary approach intensified the effect, bringing home the reality of the situation.

The Story of a Love (Historia pewnej miłości, 1974), documentarist Wojciech Wiszniewski’s only drama, was banned for almost ten years, but things came to a head with Zanussi’s Camouflage (Barwy ochronne, 1976). When a mediocre student paper is rewarded above a better, though unconventional one, the point is hard to miss. In early 1977 the authorities turned on the industry, replacing administrators, and canceling and banning films. Camouflage was a lightning rod for disapproval and positive reviews were spiked. But this only increased interest so, ironically the authorities camouflaged their intentions by awarding it a prize, which Zanussi refused.

Zanussi's contemporary story was complemented by Wajda's Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru, 1977) on the previously near-untouchable subject of Poland’s Stalinist past.
A film student’s project about a 1950s Stakhanovite bricklayer questions national myths and, when her tutor blocks the work, Wajda examines how Poland was dealing with its past. The virtuoso Kłosiński shot not only Wajda’s film but also the ‘found footage’ that comprises the student’s documentary. In 1981 he married the film’s star Krystyna Janda and went on to photograph her directorial debut The Pip (Pestka, 1996).

When Wajda’s career was blocked he made Rough Treatment (Bez znieczulina, 1978) about a comparably shunned journalist. Kłosiński made it look “like a reporter’s work … restless, careless.” Yet their next collaboration was the lyrical Maids of Wilko (Panien z Wilka, 1979).

In Feliks Falk’s bitter Top Dog (Wodzirej, 1977), Kłosiński counterpoints the darkly comedic moments with documentary-like inserts to comment of the hyperactive Master of Ceremonies who feels he has to betray a friend to secure a prestigious booking. It was banned for two years.

As the political situation darkened, Kłosiński shot Zaorski’s Child’s Play (Dziecinen pytinia 1981) about a student arrested for asking awkward questions. Two years later Mother of Kings (Matka Królów), about a man arrested as a collaborator and the effect on his family, was banned until 1987.

In 1981 Wajda rushed to beat a possible ban on Man of Iron (Człowieka z żelaza), about a dissolute journalist’s attempt to disrupt Solidarity. Culture Minister Józef Tejchma, sacked for approving Man of Marble, had returned to his post and, after approving Man of Iron was again dismissed. A few months later, martial law was declared and both films were withdrawn.

This was the most important phase of Kłosiński's career, and though he continued to make many films in Poland he also worked overseas. Kieślowski cast his crews as carefully as his actors and chose Kłosiński for the second episode of Dekalog (1989), which desperately balances one life against another. The mostly naturalistic photography serves to highlight intense moments such as the very slight slow-motion of a coffee cup being deliberately dropped.

Kłosiński's work was usually naturalistic (‘Cinematography cannot be a “wall” separating the film from the viewer’) but Lars von Trier’s Europa (1991) is a barrage of artificiality with its mixture of colour and black-and-white (sometimes in the same frame) and back-projected dreams on a post-War nightmare trans-European train journey.

In 1994 Kłosiński shot Kieślowski’s White, the middle panel of his Three Colours trilogy, perhaps the hardest assignment as the director felt that 'White is not a colour – it is an absence of colour.' Possibly the understated power of Kłosiński's self-effacing style was the attractant.

On his sixty-fifth birthday, three days before he died, Kłosiński was made an Officer of the Order of the Restoration of Poland (Orderu Odrodzenia Polski), one of the country's highest civil distinctions.

Edward Stefan Kłosiński. Born Warsaw 2 January 1943. Died 5 January 2008, Milanówek, near Warsaw. Wife Krystyna Janda. Two sons (Adam and Andrzej), plus a daughter, Magdalena from a previous marriage.

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