The Films of Franciszka & Stefan Themerson: Why Remake "Apteka"?Stefan and Franciszka Themerson, perhaps the most influential of Polish experimental filmmakers, produced five films from 1930 to 1937 that rank with the greatest of the European avant-garde. These five—Apteka, Europa, Moment Musical, Short Circuit, and The Adventure of a Good Citizen—revealed moving photograms as a new medium.
Equally noteworthy in their own way, as political statements, were Calling Mr. Smith and The Eye and the Ear, filmed in England during World War II for the Film Unit of the Polish Ministry of Information and Documentation in Exile.
Sadly, only the last three films survived the war. We know the rest only from descriptions and single-frame storyboards.
In 1937, the Themersons left Poland to work in Paris among an international community of artists. Two years later, the German invasion of Poland shattered their plans. Stefan joined the French Resistance, while Franciszka escaped to London in 1940. In 1942, they were reunited after the Battle of Britain.
For several years, while the Germans occupied Poland, Stefan and Franciszka worked for the Polish government in exile. They produced Calling Mr. Smith to protest the destruction of Polish culture by the Nazis, but Britain's government censors refused to release the explicitly anti-war film.
Stefan Themerson described his earliest film, Apteka (Pharmacy, b/w, silent 35mm, 3:00, Warsaw, 1930), as the first attempt to adapt the photogram technique to film:
The method was simple; in normal photograms objects were placed on light-sensitive paper. We arranged them on semi-transparent paper, using a sheet of glass for support; the camera (an old-fashioned case with a crank) was placed underneath and pointed upwards with the light source situated above the glass. Usually, but not always, by moving the lights (frame after frame) we obtained movement of the shadows and their deformations.
The true subject of this kind of animation was light. The film contained shots of pharmaceutical tools, a siphon, face, clock, and hand. Stefan and Franciszka also used their own photograms made from 1928 to1929l. They sequenced the images according to their poetic and visual values. There was no script.
As expected, the innovative film aroused controversy among film and art critics. Seweryn Tross, a writer for the Polish journal Czas who sympathized with the avant-garde wrote in 1932, "Escapism from content into the area of pure art form in Apteka was for us a new and interesting experiment. It showed the Polish public, which did not know of foreign avant-garde films, the emotional value of cinematic image itself, irrespective of the content.”
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