September 2016, arsenal cinema

Film music: Krzysztof Komeda


The Polish jazz musician and composer Krzysztof Komeda (1931–1969) is one of the outstanding European film composers of the 1960s. Between 1957 and 1968, he composed the music for over 60 short and feature-length films, documentaries and fiction, animation and TV works. In homage, we are presenting 14 of them, including works by Roman Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski, Jerzy Stefan Stawiński, Andrzej Wajda and Henning Carlsen. Komeda, whose real name was Krzysztof Trzciński, worked as an ear, nose and throat specialist before becoming Poland's most popular musician after his sextet performed at the 1956 jazz festival in Sopot. The festival marked the beginning of a liberalization towards jazz, which was despised by the state, and Komeda's appearance marked the advent of a new self-image for jazz music. In no other country did jazz acquire such political meaning as in Poland where it was not only the expression of a Western youth culture, but the symbol of freedom. Thanks to Roman Polanski, who asked Komeda to create the music for the short film Rozbijemy zabawę (Break Up the Dance) that he had made at the Łódź film school, Komeda started working as a film composer in 1957. It was the beginning of one of the most prolific cooperations between a director and composer in the history of cinema. Until his untimely death, Komeda wrote all the scores for Polanski's feature films as well as many of his short films, with the exception of Repulsion, for which he did not receive a working permit in England. His film compositions are characterized by the precise coordination between plot and music, which is only used when it is deemed necessary in terms of the drama. "Less is better than too much" (KK). Komeda, who was usually involved in the planning of the film at an early stage, avoided ostensible illustration and preferred to accentuate atmosphere rather than dramatic elements. The basis of his multifaceted scores was jazz but from the mid-1960s he increasingly used elements of classical, experimental and pop music. "His music was cool and modern, but there was a hot heart inside. Komeda was a film composer par excellence. He gave truth to my films. Without his music they would be meaningless." (Roman Polanski)

DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES (Roman Polanski, GB/USA 1967, 7.9., Introduction: Ulrich Kriest & 17.9.) At the end of the 19th century, Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran), a bat and vampire expert, gives up his position at the University of Königsberg after being jeered at by colleagues and in winter sets off with a loyal student for his area of research, the Southern Carpathians. He falls in love with the daughter (Sharon Tate) of the Jewish innkeeper Shagal, who is kidnapped soon afterwards. The hunt leads to the castle of the Count of Krolock. Roman Polanski's favorite film was his first big color and widescreen production - a horror comedy with fairytale-like color dramaturgy and much attention to detail, that combines romantic, comic and creepy elements intelligently and elegantly. Composing a score appropriate to the genre that features harpsichord, oboe, flute and a choir, Komeda distanced himself from jazz and confirmed how multifaceted his film work was in an impressive manner. This soundtrack was the first of his scores to be released as an LP.

NIEWINNI CZARODZIEJE (Innocent Sorcerers, Andrzej Wajda, PL 1960, 8. & 12.9.) "There  must be boxing, there must be jazz, there must be a cool guy who has a scooter and meets pretty girls, and from time to time has some reflections" was the advice of the 21-year-old Jerzy Skolimowski to Andrzej Wajda who was 12 years older and wanted to make a contemporary film about young people after works exploring the war. Skolimowski rewrote Jerzy Andrzejewski's screenplay and recommended that Wajda employ a jazz musician for the soundtrack. The sparse plot focuses on Bazyl, a young Warsaw doctor who provides medical aid to a state boxing club but whose life has no direction and is empty. He goes from his job, the jazz club and one affair to the next until he meets someone who might be able to give him (back his) faith in love. The main role is really played by jazz, which expresses young bohemian Poland and is very present both on and offscreen. The protagonist is part of a jazz band, which Polanski and Komeda are also in. The direct inspiration for Bazyl in terms of clothes and habitus, as well as several details such as the Lambretta scooter, was Krzysztof Komeda, who at the time was a Polish youth idol.

NÓŻ W WODZIE (Knife in the Water, Roman Polanski, PL 1962, 10. & 14.9.) Polanski's only feature-length Polish film is a parable and psychological Kammerspiel at once: The successful sports reporter Andrzej, who owns a sailing boat and a car from the capitalist world, is on the way to the Masurian Lake District with his younger wife Krystyna when they are forced to stop by a young hitchhiker. He rises to the challenge, takes the student and invites him to spend a weekend with them on the boat. In this textbook example of people enclosed in a narrow space, a tense, erotic love triangle develops between the saturated former fighter for a better world and the impetuous, youthful and virile student whom Krystyna predicts will become "just like him!". Krzysztof Komeda's sensual jazz score, inspired by John Coltrane and dominated by Bernt Rosengren's saxophone, expresses the volatility of the weather and the group dynamics. It contributed to Komeda's long-lasting fame and reputation.

Roman Polanski shorts (10. & 15.9.): DWAJ LUDZIE Z SZAFĄ (Two Men and a Wardrobe, PL 1958) The second collaboration between Polanski and Komeda won many international awards and counts among the most famous student films of film history. Two men emerge from the sea carrying a large mirrored wardrobe and carry it across the beach and through the streets of the city. Everywhere, they meet with such a lack of comprehension and even rejection that all they can do is return to the sea. LE GROS ET LE MAIGRE (The Fat and the Lean, F 1961) A fat master (André Katelbach) is served by a lean servant (Roman Polanski) on a meadow in front of his house. A three-part slapstick and grotesque parable about the relationship between master and servant. SSAKI (Mammals, PL 1962) Two men and a sledge. At the start, the men take turns pulling and being pulled in a friendly manner, but soon they increasingly rapidly try to end up in the more comfortable position. The last of the short trilogy combines motifs from DWAJ LUDZIE Z SZAFĄand LE GROS ET LE MAIGREabout power and dependence. GDY SPADAJĄ ANIOŁY (When Angels Fall, PL 1959) Polanski's final project at Łódź film school: An old woman works in the men's toilets in the basement of a public building. While small dramas take place in the toilets, she takes stock of her life, which mirrors Poland's eventful 20th-century history. LA RIVIÈRE DE DIAMANTS (A River of Diamonds, F/I/J/NL 1964) A young French woman drifts through Amsterdam and exploits the lust of an older diplomat to get hold of a diamond necklace that she then spontaneously swaps with a vagabond for a parrot. This subversive comedy that makes fun of the patriarchal class society both without respect and playfully is the pinnacle of the rarely shown omnibus "Les plus belles escroqueries du monde",whose other episodes take place in Tokyo, Naples and Paris and were directed by Hiromichi Horikawa, Ugo Gregoretti and Claude Chabrol. Jean-Luc Godard's film was removed by the producers before the premiere.

PINGWIN (Penguin, Jerzy Stefan Stawiński, PL 1964, 8. & 20.9.) Shy student Andrzej cannot muster the courage to declare his love to his fellow student Barbara and is mocked by the spokesman at his institute for being a "Penguin". When the self-satisfied leader of the clique   takes revenge for being brushed off by Barbara by reading aloud her love letters to her ex-boyfriend, Andrzej turns from passive observation to action. The second directorial work of the (screenplay) writer Jerzy Stefan Stawiński (19212010) is told from a subjective perspective by the distanced inner monologue of the outsider Andrzej. Seeking trust in humanity he projects onto Barbara the value that he most misses in his materialist environment - integrity. As opposed to in the film NIEWINNI CZARODZIEJE,which had come out just a few years earlier, jazz was no longer the most popular music among young Polish students in the mid-1960s. It had become a niche, whereas those who wanted to be cool listened to "big beat", Poland's version of rock'n'roll. Komeda's soundtrack allowed for this and integrated big beat for the music that was visibly present in the film, while he chose a jazz motif based on Bach's Concerto for Two Keyboards to highlight the fact that Andrzej had the role of an outsider.

CUL-DE-SAC (Roman Polanski, GB 1966, 9. & 18.9.) After a bungled robbery, two gangsters find refuge in a castle on an island in northern England, which can only be reached at low tide. While they wait for their boss Katelbach to turn up, a game of power and mutual dependencies ensues with the middle-class locals, the disparate couple George (Donald Pleasance) a former factory owner and his considerably younger wife, the capricious Teresa   (Françoise Dorléac). The film was awarded the Golden Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival and Komeda's score was released as an EP.

SULT (Hunger, Henning Carlsen, DK/N/S 1966, 11. & 19.9.) Henning Carlsen, who made four films with Krzysztof Komeda, adapted Knut Hamsun's eponymous novel set in 1890 about a  penniless and homeless young writer (Per Oscarsson) in Oslo. Apart from loneliness and the fleeting love for a bourgeois woman (Gunnel Lindblom), the main themes are hunger and protagonist's ostracization of the protagonist: "One could, after all, be quite a sensitive person even if one wasn't insane." Per Oscarsson was awarded the Palme d'Or for best actor at Cannes for his portrayal of a loner. Krzysztof Komeda translates the inner life of a writer who suffers from hallucinations into a dreamlike, floaty atmosphere with sparingly used musical miniatures: piano notes like drops, a monotone buzzing sound, strings that sound like synthesizers. "Komeda had a gift for making silence audible." (Henning Carlsen)

BARIERA (The Barrier, Jerzy Skolimowski, PL 1966, 14. & 16.9.) In his third feature film, Skolimowski pursued the quest for a place in the world. A nameless young man quits his medicine studies to get wealthy faster. Soon, he comes across the barriers hinted at in the title, traditions and hierarchies that have been handed down to other generations. He loses interest in the idea of having a rich wife with a villa and a sports car and, increasingly disgusted, turns away from his environment which is fixated on material profit. Skolimowski also left behind traditional narrative conventions. Realistic scenes are combined with dreamlike sequences, romantic moments are combined with satirical attacks on military and corporate culture. Krzysztof Komeda's congenial rendering of an innovative jazz score is one of his most beautiful.

LE DÉPART (The Departure, Jerzy Skolimowski, B 1967, 13. & 16.9.) The Brussels hairdresser's apprentice Marc (Jean-Pierre Léaud) dreams of his debut auto race and secretly trains in his boss' Porsche 911 S. He is so excited that he cannot think of anything but fast casts until he encounters love the night before the race. For his first film shot outside of Poland, Skolimowski took over part of the team from Godard's "Masculin féminin"and gave Jean-Pierre Léaud the chance to use his body more than in the films of Truffaut, Godard and Eustache. He reserved a central role for the score by Komeda, with whom he shared a love for sports cars. He considered the film as a test case for the question: How much music can a film handle? The music was supposed to correspond to the film's experimental form and Komeda could give space to his idea not only of composing the music but creating the film's entire sound. He combined Free Jazz with elements of experimental classical music, used jump cuts and integrated elements of noise such as Léaud shouting into a dialogue between Don Cherry's trumpet and Gato Barbieri's tenor saxophone.

ROSEMARYS BABY (Roman Polanski, USA 1968, 9. & 17.9.) The young couple Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) move into an apartment in the  Bramford, a gothic building in Manhattan, where satanists are seemingly at work. After eating a dessert made by a neighbor, Rosemary falls into a coma and dreams she is being raped by a demonic presence while in a half-conscious state. The first Hollywood production by Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Komeda, an inversion of the Christian legend of the Virgin Mary based on the novel by Broadway writer Ira Levin was Polanski's most commercial success. Komeda's score, which features witch songs and catchy pop tunes, was nominated for a Golden Globe for best original score. The hypnotic "Lullaby" sung by Mia Farrow became Komeda's best known composition. (hjf)

In cooperation with the Polish Institute, Berlin.