Monday, August 13, 2007

Angelus ... By European Painter Jean-Francois Millet And European Poet, Writer, And Filmmaker Lech Majewski ... (And The Synagogue Of Janow Sokółka)


Feature film by Lech Majewski, 2001

"ANGELUS ... by Lech Majewski - poet, playwright and film producer. The fictive story of the film was inspired from a true story: the story of startling, internationally unique phenomenon, the occult commune of Janow, active in 1920-60 in Silesia. It became known to the society thanks to the paintings of the commune's members, which in several cases (Teofil Ociepka, Erwin Sowka) achieved international success. The time and place of the film's action are concrete and clearly defined: Katowice, Janow and Nikiszowiec, early 1950s. The message of the film consists of a defence of poetic, metaphysical sensibility and imagination, of the attitude of searching for the Mystery and the Sense, a defence of the human being against materialism and totalitarianism.

In 1920 the district of Janow, like almost all of Silesia, was a particular cultural enclave. The habitants were separated both from Polish roots and the German elite and they formed a separate, closed cultural group, where the old traditions, beliefs, customs and rites were cultivated. Magic was omnipresent as well as the belief in the real existence of various "creatures" and alchemy practices were applied. The interest for parapsychology and hermetic sciences caused Janow to become an important occult centre. The status of the master of secret sciences belonged to Teofil Ociepka, miner and painter. A strong occult commune formed around him. Ociepka and his disciples, simple uneducated miners, searched for the "philosophic stone" and pursued spiritual perfection, which would permit them to penetrate the Principle and the Sense of the World and of God, to reach the mystery of Existence. Their activities included elements of occultism, alchemy and theosophy with archaic and magical Silesian beliefs. The circle of Janow was in the times of Stalin a startling, metaphysical oasis, a charming adventure. This phenomenon was consciously and consequently falsified by the authorities of the People's Republic of Poland. This story, its paradoxes and contrasts were the inspiration for Lech J. Majewski's concentrated and "painted" film." ...

Source: (c) [Adam Mickiewicz Institute]


Jean-Francois Millet
The Angelus
Oil on canvas
21 3/4 x 26 in. (55.5 x 66 cm)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris

"Commissioned by a wealthy American, Thomas G. Appleton, and completed during the summer of 1857, Millet added a steeple and changed the initial title of the work, Prayer for the Potato Crop to The Angelus when the purchaser failed to take possession in 1859. Displayed to the public for the first time in 1865, the painting changed hands several times, increasing only modestly in value, since some considered the artist's political sympathies suspect. Upon Millet's death a decade later, a bidding war between the US and France ensued, ending some years later with a price tag of 800,000 gold francs.

The disparity between the apparent value of the painting and the poor estate of Millet's surviving family was a major impetus in the invention of the droit de suite, intended to compensate artists or their heirs when works are resold.

The Angelus was reproduced frequently in the 19th and 20th centuries. Salvador Dalí was fascinated by this work, and wrote an analysis of it, The Tragic Myth of The Angelus of Millet. Rather than seeing it as a work of spiritual peace, Dalí believed it held messages of repressed sexual aggression. Dalí was also of the opinion that the two figures were praying over their buried child, rather than to the Angelus. Dalí was so insistent on this fact that eventually an X-ray was done of the canvas, confirming his suspicions: the painting contains a painted-over geometric shape strikingly similar to a coffin. (Néret, 2000) However, it is unclear whether Millet changed his mind on the meaning of the painting, or even if the shape actually is a coffin." (Wikipedia)


Moshe Verbin: Model of the [destroyed] Synagogue of Janow Sokółka, Poland [on the European Union frontier, bordering Belarus. The area has a significant Tatar (Muslim) population].

Photo credit: (c) Moshe Verbin via We Remember Janow Sokolski website. With thanks.


Blogger Garth Trinkl said...

Response to av_m's follow-up, below:

I missed the first few minutes of The Garden of Earthly Delights, but I'm not sure whether that is why I never really connected with it. I was neither wowed, nor completely bored. I guess I was expecting scenes of both Madrid and Venice; though the fluid, often artless, mini-video camera work of Venice was at times quite fascinating. I guess I didn't quite connect to the two beautiful, thin, perfect actors who emoted in a variety of ways and engaged in alot of, apparently, highly pleasurable sex -- often modeling their positions after Bosch (as you have probably read). The two actors were apparently the second choices, after the director's first choice for the female lead backed down at the start (and, apparently, subsequently and sadly passed away). I think I found the sex rather pleasureless to witness; and the science and philosophy of the male lead rather undernourished. The central theme of the woman's death probably should have moved me more. It moved some of the older women in the audience; one of whom noted that the male lover returned to London and expressed his love for the lead by wrapping his throat in a bandage and wearing her old cloths. This audience member found it a fine depiction of deeplove. I just kept thinking, perhaps, that to lose a loved one one's own age must be so very terrible, and that the director hadn't convinced me that he had caught it. (No film I've seen [and I admit I haven't seen that many, lately] has come close to expressing my loss at losing a high-school and Platonic friend, as I did the singer Lorraine Hunt, last summer.) Other audience members who had suffered loss, where probably monitoring the film's tone even more than I was able to.

The scenes showing the atomic composition of the human body were artful, but not highly engaging in my view.

I will need to think about the Buddhist symbolism of the Deer Garden. Very interesting point. I'd been trying to think about the meaning of the title. (I've visited a deer garden in Sarnath, India.) I also recall the director's mention of his early reading of Tagore.

I keep missing Matthew Barney despite attempts, in recent years, to catch his sagas at the SFMOMA, the Pacific Film Archive, and the Hirshhorn. I'm glad you recommend them. ... (I've very much enjoyed the perhaps Buddhist influenced videos of Bill Viola, especially his huge five sector work at the Guggenheim Museum, about five or six years back.)

Thanks again for sharing your intersting thoughts. Please report back after next Sunday.


11:11 AM  
Blogger av_m said...

Thanks for the interesting juxtaposition of info regarding the occult background of Majewski's Angelus as well as the twists and turns of interpreting Millet's Angelus (also a favorite of Van Gogh's).

I saw Majewski's film last Sunday at the National Gallery of Art. As with other of his films, found it highly redolent of other directors's work, and almost left early thinking it was boring and then borderline amateur (whenever the director/suteur has to start relying on the cute child character and the buffoon adult sex scenes - as well as jerky scene cuts - to juice up the film's interest it's a bad sign).

But it got better in the latter 90 minutes - like a lot of independent films, it needs editing - although to tell the truth overall I just didn't get it, there was just no "there" there. I "got" that it was sort of a spoof, but not a spoof, on a mixed bag of mid-last century rural Silesian populist occult beliefs (folklore, Christian, Kabbalah, legacy sci-fi) but I just couldn't tell you what I thought the director was trying to do with this material, other than play with the visuals.

Ah well, I thought Angelus was the best of the lot so that's something.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Garth Trinkl said...

Thanks, av_m, for checking back in. I'm glad that you stayed for more than the first 13 minutes of Angelus, and I'm glad that you found it to be at least a slight improvement over the other 3 films. I agree that it needed editing and greater depth/cohesion.
The artist doesn't seem to have the burning vision of the other master filmmakers that you've referred to (or which have been mentioned in the critical reviews) ... maybe because he is now based in Venice, away from his "roots"; maybe because he was also over-influenced by the post-modern art which he claims to hate. (That is, he's having difficulty retrieving and sustaining the pre-postmodernist values that he claims to be seeking out.)

I've enjoyed all of your thoughts, and I really appreciate your sharing them! I will assume that a few others reading have appreciated your thoughts as well!

Thanks again for speaking up these past two weeks!! (and good luck with whatever you do, filmmaking or otherwise).

11:29 AM  

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