Mazowsze

Documentary about Polish folk music-and-dance group Mazowsze (1948-). The film provides propaganda, background, and parts of a performance. Original title: Mazowsze

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Often considered the first Polish colour documentary (although you can see pre-war colour footage of Warsaw here and here), this is vibrant filmmaking: singing, dancing, music! It’s from the early 50s and features a shot of [liberating] tractors [approaching from the East], but once you accept that—and accept that Mazowsze was, contrary to the voice-over, a de facto music academy for the country’s most-talented young singers / dancers (notice the way the lead female vocalists form their lips; or the way the male dancers look like they’d last roughly 5 minutes doing actual farm work)—it’s more than possible to enjoy the performances and appreciate the well made film.

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In terms of structure, the film is divided into two main parts: poetic, idyllic, pastoral bookends (no cities in sight, no war in memory) and the central majestic, lively routines. In both, colour is vital: a Mazowsze in b/w robs the group of its wonderful costumes; a Mazowsze in b/w loses its magic and much of its artistry—and, for an early colour film, its use of colour is tremendously confident and accomplished. The colour also adds to politics, allowing the film’s content to look backwards (or, more accurately and in context, resurrect a popular past that trails behind it the shadow of [capitalist] injustice and serfdom) while, at the same time, moving ahead technologically and celebrating communism’s penchant for progress.

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That the film was ultimately highly illusory (indeed, if there ever was a time for b/w documentaries, it was after the war!) merely adds to its magic now. The natural musical paradise open to people of all walks of life and all classes, the sunny days and smiling pupils and practices held in grassy clearings, the rebirth of long-lost folk music (music that, ironically, was the product of tough conditions, lack of education, and long hours of hard physical labour—when the classically-trained singers do their best to mispronounce words the way a real, uneducated serf would mispronounce them veers into surreality) is a beautiful fantasy. Viewed today, even the primitive propaganda feels safe, quaint.

“Back then, even propaganda was innocent.”

Nostalgia.

Tadeusz Makarczyński, 1952

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