Opening night through eyes of Ms Marks

Opening night through eyes of Ms Marks


The opening night of a three-week celebration of Eastern European cinema began last night at Centrala Café in the heart of Digbeth, the only place left in Birmingham that still has soul.

Nestled at the back of the Minerva Works complex, where industrial art studios meet backwater canal-ways, an intimate crowd gathered to give their presence over to a night of lurid shock-comedy cartoons and improvised music.

One of the best things to spring from an event such as this is the opportunity for Birmingham audiences to witness some rarely seen cinematic innovations from Poland. Julian Józef Antoniszczak’s experimental animations from 1975-86, were all drawn and painted directly on to tape. He wrote in his 1977 Non-Camera Artistic Manifesto, “…Only films made with the Non Camera technique can be called authentic works of visual, painting, graphic and music art…”

Presenting seven of these short films in a row, none of which exceeded 10 minutes in length, allowed a generous insight into the expression of this adventurous film-maker. Visually wacked-out storytelling devices expose characters and scenes in a perpetual state of swelling and deflating. The illusion of constant movement is taken to extremes wherein faces, hands, legs, feet, and objects large and small rapidly inflate before being struck by the inevitability of entropy; they dissolve and melt before us. Music and narration are absurdist in character, perhaps having taken inspiration from Chaplin’s The Modern Times ­– that hilarious scene in the restaurant: je la tu la ti la twah! ­– in which limerick, gesture and clunky, spirited melodies form a bombastic and ridiculous comedy vehicle. With sharp satire rooted in the political climate of Polish communism, these flickering fragments of a Polish past still had audiences cackling with astonished laughter.

After a short break, the stage was set for a presentation of improvised electronic music by Tim Benjamin and video art by VJ Pietrushka. Audio-visual communication between the two artists hoped to immerse audiences inside a cavernous world with looming red-blushed Soviet-style tower-blocks and images of trees deadened by the onset of winter. Cold, sonic   waves crept around the space but failed to fully embrace it, while abstract shapes and the occasional tormented human face cast themselves on to the projector screen. The atmosphere was compelling in this way, but reduced itself to an intellectual viewing rather than an all-encompassing visceral experience.

And then, an intervention in the programme led by true improvisation, utterly unrehearsed and unplanned. To the surprise of everyone, an impromptu performance by a mysterious saxophonist and dancer caught the attention of the room and all were silenced. While the saxophone squealed and wailed, our dancer carved up the space with her movements as if hypnotised by its lullaby. Her anti-choreography showed influences of the everyday movements of Yvonne Rainer, a dancer from the Judson Dance Theater in Manhattan in the 1970s, who became renowned for eschewing virtuosity in favour of a continuous, uninterrupted flow of simple gestures.

Embracing a minimalist aesthetic, the duo brought an empty space to life. His physical stillness pumped out the saxophone’s reverberations as it whirled and contorted in contained space, while her movements dynamised the room, mobilising a vision of freedom for the body and the mind – and a nod to the chance-happenings brought on by an openness of spirit.

Let us continue this way. Great things can happen.



Written by Aisling Marks

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