While most American moviegoers, even the extraordinary ones, may not be familiar with the works of Polish filmmaker Lech Majewski, that’s changing – at least for local Los Angeles cinema buffs.
“Conjuring the Moving Image: The Films of Lech Majewski” opens as the latest film series from the UCLA Film and Television Archive beginning this Sunday, Oct. 21. An exhibit originally curated at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, the series will features six of Majewski’s most acclaimed films and video art features.
The Polish filmmaker’s works range from a dark comedy about a young male virgin who must be sacrificed to save the 20th century (“Angelus”) to a drama centered around a couple living in a desert-like California after the Pacific Ocean has dried up (“The Gospel According to Harry”).
However, Majewski not only crosses genres, he crosses mediums. Besides writing, directing, shooting and scoring all of his own films, Majewski is also a seasoned poet, painter and stage director.
“The subject matter starts to haunt me, so that dictates the media. If I have certain visions that are really in a book, I write a novel. If there are things that can only happen on stage, I do the theater or the opera or the film. (Everything) has a specific medium. Once you get the sense of where you’re going, the medium comes naturally,” said Majewski.
While working on the many different elements of his films on his own may seem stressful, Majewski revels in the creative process.
“I have no difficult moving between mediums. I find it very refreshing. ... It makes an artist a complete person.”
His ability to think in different mediums and move between genres is a skill that enhances his work.
“He does cross over from cinema to opera to poetry and it seems many of the arts come together in his works,” said MoMA film and cinema curator Laurence Kardish, who headed the Majewski retrospective.
“(He) operates in the sense of many avant-garde filmmakers in that they control most aspects of their art so that he is very much in control of the way his films look and sound. ... (That way) he does not have to have his work comprised by anyone else’s vision.”
Though Majewski relies on his wide range of expertise to execute his vision, he credits his college years as the inspiration for his source material.
“It all comes from my life and from my youth. I was so overwhelmed at a young age with so many ideas and now they are slowly finding their shapes and their forms,” he explained.
“I think we are all geniuses when we are 18,19, 20, 21 but later in life we have to fold our wings to survive ... (and) stop flying. I find a lot of my sources are from that age.” Majewski’s dual roles of filmmaker and painter are displayed within the archive series in films and the rarer form of video art.
“(Some) moving image works are made for cinema and others made for gallery experience,” said Kardish. “What I showed (in New York) was basically made for the cinema although most of his recent work can be shown in smaller parts in galleries.”
Majewski’s very strong and independent vision compelled Kardish to collect his work and expose it to a new audience in the U.S.
“Americans don’t know his work and I wanted to introduce the base of his work so people could see the whole development of his art and so that people could understand one film in respect to another which is rewarding when looking at an artist,” Kardish said. “Presenting them in close chronological base to another, it’s a way of having the audiences acquaint themselves with his work and compare one film to another.”
Having already garnered positive reactions in New York City as well as the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Kardish is excited, as both a colleague and a fan, to the see the exhibit travel across the country.
“Knowing that his work is not the most accessible ... I’m very pleased it’s gotten the reaction it’s had. Everyone who controlled the works was very pleased that Majewski would be getting this kind of attention,” Kardish said.
Even from across the globe, Majewski is always grateful to find new audiences.
“Each (film) takes a long time to complete for me. I worked on them extensively,” said Majewski.
“I think it’s wonderful that a piece like mine can be seen by many people around the world.”
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