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Archive for the ‘Polish film’ Category

Janko the Musician / Janko Muzykant, Poland 1930.

Posted by keith1942 on April 5, 2017

This was one of the titles in the ‘Polish Silents’ programme at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2016. This was the first sound film made in Poland but the Vitaphone discs are lost, so only this silent version survives. The sound version  still relied on intertitles for dialogue and the track contained music, songs and some animal noises. The film was presented from a 35mm print 2561 meters in length; the catalogue proposed 18 fps. However the film was timed at 93 minutes and I do not think it overran by much. Moreover 18 fps for a sound/silent film seems rather slow and at that frame rate it would have run over two hours. There were a couple of discrepancies regarding frame rates for the Polish titles: I assume that on closer inspection they settled for 23 or 24 fps. The print was worn but the image quality was pretty good. There seemed to be some unintended ellipsis in the plot so I assume there were missing scenes or sequences.

The film was adapted by Ferdynand Goetel from a novella by Henryk Sienkiewicz [of ‘Quo Vadis’ fame]. In fact the script extended the original story considerably; the second part of the film was a complete addition. The director, Ryszard Ordyński, was a regular in the industry and this was his fifth title.

Janko (Stefan Rogulski) is a young village boy with a passion for music. When we first see him in the film he is making his own homemade violin. He lives with his mother (Tekla Trapszo) and he also has a pet blackbird. However, he is tempted by the sight of a professionally made violin in the mansion of the local landowner. Caught he is sent to a Correctional Institution where the boys are disciplined and made to work at making wicker chairs. This opening section is finely filmed by cinematographer Zbigniew Gniazdowski. The film has a lyrical feel, the landscapes  lovingly photographed and with some very effective pans, tracks and superimpositions. Gniazdowski uses well-placed  dissolves to take the narrative forward. Apparently the original novella was a grimmer and more realist depiction of rural life. We do see an overbearing overseer ordering women workers, including Janko’s mother. And Janko’s treatment by the landowner and magistrate is heavy handed. But we are closer to melodrama than literary realism in this film version. In the novella a whipping leads to Janko’s death, so the rest of the film is the addition.

Whilst Janko is in the Correction Centre his mother leaves the village, releasing Janko’s pet blackbird. A young man now, Janko (Witold Conti) escapes from the Correction Institution but finds his mother gone though his blackbird returns. Janko sets off to the city where the blackbird leads to his striking up a friendship with two ne’er-do well’s (Adolf Dymsza and Kazimierz Krukowski). They form a musical trio which prove a success in a local bar-cum-restaurant. Janko’s increasing popularity brings him to the attention of a Professor of music (Wieslaw Gawlikowski) and his pupil, singing star Ewa (Maria Malicka). A rival for her affections, Zaruba (Aleksander Źabczyński), attempts to eliminate Janko by accusing him of the escape from the Correction Centre. Zaruba turns out to be the landowner who was responsible for Janko’s incarceration. But Janko’s friends rally round and he is acquitted, able to end the film in partnership with Ewa.

“The second part of the film introduces the sort of characters beloved by Polish musical comedies of the 1930s: noble rogues, driven by an honourable code despite living on the edge of the law.” (Adam Uryniak in the Festival Catalogue).

He adds that these actors for these characters were part of the popular Warsaw cabaret scene.

Filming ‘Janko’

I found the second part of the film less compelling than the first. The urban setting and the studio interiors lacked the visual charm of the countryside. And whilst the whole film is melodrama, the latter stages seemed to have more stock characters and situations. However the cinematography continued to make effective use of camera movement and dissolves, though there was little superimposition.

The screening was accompanied by Günter Buchwald and Frank Bockius with piano, violin and some percussion. And they included at least one song featured in the sound version of the film.

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Ludzie bez jutra / People with No Tomorrow, Poland 1919.

Posted by keith1942 on November 12, 2016


This film was part of the programme of ‘Polish Silents’ at the 2016 Il Giornate del Cinema Muto. It was interesting for a number of reasons. It was the only feature example from the late teens. It was also, as the title suggests, an extremely downbeat story. This was based on an affair that involved a Russian officer, and it may well be the that the film was partly aimed at the Russian market, where doom and gloom [before the revolution] was the order of the day.

The actual affair, between a Polish actress and a Russian Officer, was notorious at the time. It occurred in the 1890s but the ripples continued after the events, It was the source for both a short story and novella, as well as featuring in the press and in legal histories. This film version had to wait until 1921 for a release. This was partly due to the complaints by the family of the actual actress involved. This also led to several changes of titles till the present one. This title give a rather misleading sense of the film, which is very much in traditional melodramatic mode.

Lola (Halina Bruczówna) is the new star actress recruited by theatre director Pawel Lenin (Pawel Owerŧŧo). She arrives and is imperious and demanding. She also displaces the existing star Helena (Helena Sulima). However, Pawel is smitten with Lola and indulges her whims and she is a crowd puller for the theatre. She also exerts her magnetism on two young officers. There is Captain Alfred Runicz (Jósef Wegrzyn), a Calvary officer and Jerzy Kierski (Stanislaw Czapelski), a fellow officer. Lola plays the competing men against each other. However, Alfred is already engaged to Pawel’s daughter Maria (Maria Hryniewiczówna). This provokes problems with her family and the complications are stirred by the jealous Helena.

Matters come to a head when Alfred and Jerzy fight a duel. Alfred is wounded and to add insult to injury he is prosecuted for breaking duelling laws. He is sentenced and cashiered from the regiment. Finally Helena shows Alfred an incriminating letter from Lola and he shoots Lola. Fairly downbeat and no future for the central protagonists.


The style of the film is rather typical of early film.

“characteristically theatrical: slow paced and psychological, with virtuoso acting, complex stenography, a static camera, little depth in staging, and simple, flat lighting.” (Festival Catalogue).

There is not the depth of field that finds in some of the Russian films of the teens. The characters actually seem more melodramatic than psychologically rounded. However, the film also uses frequent exteriors in the streets and parks of the city. These show a pre-World War II Warsaw. And there is a strong sense of place and the feel of the city life going on alongside these dramatic scenes.

The film was directed by Aleksander Hertz for the Sfinks film company. This studio was an important part of the Polish film industry of the period. The company also distributed films, including major foreign imports. These included the very successful films starring Asta Nielsen. Lukasz Biskupski, in his Catalogue notes, writes that the firm produced Polish equivalents with a central character modelled on those played by Nielsen. It appears that Pola Negri played in some of the early examples before becoming a major star in her own right. Certainly Halina Bruczówna in this film displays characteristics familiar from the Nielsen persona.

The film survived incomplete, but the restoration included reconstructions as far as the archive, Filmoteca Narodowa, was able. Certainly the ;plotting was coherent, though there did seem to be slight ‘jumps’ in places. John Sweeney provided an intense piano score that help bind the film. There was some confusion this year in the notes about film speeds on the digital transfer. Not all Archives are yet following the specifications from FIAF for frame rates on digital. This film was billed as transferred  at 17 fps: however, the onscreen titles at the beginning referred to step-printing, which I assume was how the film was transferred. In this case, with the static camera and the cuts following continuity it did not seem to make that much difference.


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