Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Zbig Rybczynski

part 1
Have just discovered some of Rybczynski's films during the MONSTRA animated film festival I am involved in.
The fascinating thing about Rybczynski is his capacity to simply go for it.
The short films seem like a crazy man's dream that came true. Anything can happen, but in any given dream its specific rules apply. And that's impressive: on one hand, apparently unlimited artistic freedom - abstract games, constantly playing with the image, cutting through it, working it like clay, as if it were a material object, and not, as we often see it, a canvas ready for representation. It is hard to say where the character ends and the form begins. It is impossible to say what is still the story and what is "just" the way it is being said. On the other hand, every film I've seen is a decision. Rybczynski discovers a set of rules and sticks to them. And this impressed me the most. This is like an acid test: there is a sense of certainty you can't miss. Maybe this is what I've always felt about the convention as a crucial technical concept. Rybczynski seems to work with convention as one usually works within it. For instance, in Mein Fenster (roughly translated as "My Window") the rule is simple: the world turns upside down, while we maintain our relative position. And that, and nothing more, happens. In the Oscar-winning Tango, numerous characters enter one room. Although clearly recorded at different times, the images are overlapped in such a way that we get a crazy dance of many people in one small room. And nothing else. This discipline makes it captivating, makes us follow the lines, makes us believe the world that was created. And, since the limits of the convention are being explored to the maximum, it is never boring.

Rybczynski uses images like geological layers. He does not play with the image as a background/form, but as a geological mound. For him, each line becomes a system that can be isolated, the way a geologist approaches and analyzes each single stratum. That slippage and the baroque elements are truly the product of a geology rather than a geometry of the image. The horizontal lines are to him what the layers of sedimentation are to a geologist and this, in my opinion, is highly original. He no longer plays with the plots, but with the horizontal lines, like a musician that lets his notes glide through the musical staff; Deleuze would like that, the fold; ah, yes, that there is truly the fold!

- Paul Virilio, Le phenomene Rybczynski, –Cahiers du Cinema,” January 1989

part 2

I had a conversation with Zbig Rybczynski yesterday. It is very difficult to be writing about it without putting silly, naive values on other people's choices.
At the time when he made his most famous films, he lived in Poland. He was a rebel, an experimentator. He had the guts and the technique. And any of the films I've seen so far shows it: he had really nothing to lose.
Is this an artist's life? What can go wrong? How can you move away from it, if it works?

Zbig hasn't made a film in many years now. For the last years, he's been working on technology. Revolutionary technology, says he, in his American positive spirit. He says he meets the most important people. He mentions names, talks about a revolutionary future. His company creates all sorts of imaging solutions - very hi-tech compositing, compositing for mobile phones, etc.
This is his second shot at the U.S. The first time apparently didn't go too well. Now, he lives in L.A., he's well off. He travels, he studies hard, he knows things. He talks about them, talks about the importance of education, of preparing yourself, of catching the train of the digital revolution. The revolution of simplicity.

Why didn't it last? How come this genious, Oscar winner, didn't stay in? I ask him about the U.S., whether he felt he could still do something artistically, or is it really just business. Oh, it's definitely just business, says he. And he seems to succeed in it.

What's wrong with this picture? Do I have the right to ask? Why would I value his artistic achievements over the latest work? Why do I feel this is giving up?
Or is this coming to grips with reality, the biting one, the one that requires this and that until you really need to get to business and stop playing around?
A few lucky ones got away still playing. But if they want you somewhere else, what can you do? If it all fits better somewhere else?
What's art got to do with it?
"Avantgarde". Turning into "innovation". Suddenly, from an art freak you become a serious manager. Or something. A car designer, ad designer, shop designer.
Maybe it's the fragility of a choice that impresses me most.
His great dream now is to make a new film. He says he has lots of projects, but then speaks of making a film. Not the film, just a film.
I wish him all the best.

update: see Zbig's Oscar-winning "Tango" here.

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