//Video-games// – Karolina Sulej
Video-games – Karolina Sulej
Karolina Sulej (b. 1985) – freelance stylist, journalist working for ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’, ‘Przekrój’ and ‘Wysokie Obcasy’. PhD student at the Department of Film and Visual Culture, Institute of Polish Culture, University of Warsaw. Co-operates with the Krakow Photomonth.
In 2002, web users voted Kult’s 44 89 music video, directed by Yach Paszkiewicz, as the best music video of the 1990s. The clip also won an award at the 1992 edition of the Festival of Polish Music Videos Yach Film, launched by Paszkiewicz a year earlier. For Polish video clips, the 1990s marked a period of experiments, of clumsy but passionate commitment, and, first of all, a dramatic rise in clip production. There were mainstream pieces and alternative productions, both artistic and aimed at documentation only, awarded at festivals and recorded on video players. Polish artists discovered they could shoot just about anything – but this freedom came at a price. No longer limited by the Iron Curtain, they had to face the whole free world.
44 89 is a video clip that serves as the best 1990s example of how visual culture and its rules changed with the transformation of the political system. We can see members of Kult, a Polish rock band, sitting in a row in front of a TV set that plays fragments from ‘Kronika Filmowa’ with the former high and mighty: Gierek, Gomułka, Jaruzelski. However, these images are not quite right – they get stuck, blurred. Paszkiewicz distorts the propaganda message, once considered sacred, to reconstruct, spoil, to rearrange the old, official, iconic pictures of the government. They no longer have power over us; they are now in our power.
In other words, we want to erase and tear apart all politically-loaded images, while at the same time we would very much like to recover the records of communist lifestyle. In 1997, T.Love’s video clip to Chłopaki nie płaczą, filmed by Łukasz Zadrzycki, rose to fame by acting on the affection that people started to feel towards the props and costumes of the People’s Republic and its everyday aesthetics. We had rural cultural centres, a deteriorating Fiat 125p, wall units, hare’s-foot fern, mesh vests. The clip tells the story of a boy band casting in the 1970s – a dream that could only come true in the boy band realm of the 1990s. The video was extremely popular; it also promoted a now-worshiped movie under the same title. Meanwhile, Zadrzycki succeeded in making a feature film, the Billboard, which was well received by film critics.
Cezary Pazura, one of the actors featured in Chłopaki and the most popular Polish actor of that time, also had his day in the music video land. The clip that accompanied his song, Przystojny jestem (directed by Mariusz Palej), was a smash hit in 1999. For the idol at the peak of his career, it was like to proverbial cherry on top of a dessert. Meanwhile, one of the most popular actresses of the 1990s, Agnieszka Włodarczyk, embarked on her film career in a video clip – she debuted in Reklama, a song by Wojciech ‘K.A.S.A.’ Kasowski. However, it was Ice T who was the greatest of all stars that appeared in Polish video clips in the 1990s, starring in Supermenka (directed by Janusz Kołodrubiec). Kayah, the artist, sings that she wants to be ‘a Polish Ice T’ and runs around the city in a tight-fitting, red outfit. The video was extremely popular. For the creators, the visit of an international guest was an honour, while for a quite large part of the audience it was a sensation – ‘a real black guy’ from America!
The case of Łukasz Zadrzycki, who started his film career by making video clips, is not unique. Many future masters of ‘big’ feature films also started out by making music videos. In 1996, Mariusz Grzegorzek (Jestem twój, Rozmowa z człowiekiem z szafy) shot two clips for Manaam – Po prostu bądź i Po to jesteś. The former alluded to the aesthetics of devotional pictures of saints, the latter was more psychedelic, colourful, with Kora sporting lemons glued to her glasses. The mid-1990s were full of references to the hippie lifestyle – the spirit of flower power also haunted the music videos by Big Day or Bolesław Pawica’s clip to The Gardeners by Varius Manx, awarded at the Yach Film Festival. It was actually the first Polish music video that used special effects on a big scale – Anita Lipnicka, ‘pasted’ onto the back of a giant dragonfly, flies above a ‘computerised’ garden.
In 1998, Wojciech Smarzowski shot the video to Myslovitz’s song To nie był film, thus winning a Fryderyk, the most important award in the Polish music industry. The clip turned out to be a harbinger of his aesthetic preferences, to be further developed in the director’s feature stories. It was dark, provincial, rough and terrifying. There was a murder committed in a house somewhere in the countryside. The police gather around the body contours drawn with chalk on the floor. You can see a tiled stove somewhere in the background. For the viewers that are familiar with Smarzowski’s work, it is clear that these images will later be repeated in films such as Wesele or Dom zły. There are also moments of ‘breaking the fourth wall’ – Smarzowski reveals his camera and lets us go backstage. He shows us that the scene of the crime looks like a theatre stage, like a filming location – which perfectly matches the lyrics that talk about real-life fascination with fictional violence. It is an interesting self-commentary about the director’s own interests.
The time of big-budget productions was also the time of alternative music videos, shot with almost no funding at all and, as their authors commented themselves, filmed clumsily, blurred, poorly-edited. This niche was more or less synonymous with kitschy, poor quality music, later named disco polo. The most popular story pattern for the videos included a girl in a dress who: ran through a park, walked through a garden, looked in a mirror, hugged a man, often with a flower in her hand. Małolata by the VaBank band is a classic example of such a production. There were, however, more bold clips – in these early days of democracy, Polish visual culture became more open to erotica and sex. Sometimes in the mainstream music videos – such as Edyta Górniak’s Dotyk [Touch], where the vocalist writhes around, restlessly, in a satin negligee, on a bed covered with satin sheets, because she misses her lover that sometimes visits her in her dreams (with a nude torso). However, it was more common to see some lingerie, legs or cleavage in home VHS productions with disco polo music. Edyta Górniak was for the select few. The homely Hania, Hela or even Shazza – they were available to all. In her hit song Bierz, co chcesz [Take What You Want], Shazza fantasises about putting on some golden jewellery and tight-fitting black dress in order to walk the red carpet, although in real life she sells bread in a bakery. Her dreams are shared by many Polish women, who, eager to find a place for themselves in the new capitalist society, fantasise about love stories from the harlequins that were all the rage in that era.
Many clips also used images computer-created images. Disco polo was especially fond of the blue box. For instance, in the video to Majteczki w kropeczki [Polka-Dot Panties], Bayer Full plays and sings against a background of footage from their concerts. Disco polo producers were all the more aware that clips increased the chance of their songs becoming popular, since they owed the boom for this type of music to TV programmes broadcast by Polsat. On the one hand, we had hit parades like ‘30 ton – lista, lista przebojów’ (broadcast by the 2nd channel of the Polish public TV), with Polish mainstream music videos, often recognised at festivals, and international productions, and on the other, the ‘sun-logo’ channel convinced the entire country that everyone could sing and make music videos. All you need is a camera recorder, a synthesiser and a pretty girlfriend, willing to expose her ‘polka dot panties’.
Interestingly enough, today young artists assume the DIY spirit of disco polo producers. Bartek ‘Arobal’ Kociemba, a drafter, together with Mirella Von Chrupek and Maciej Mahler, set up a band called Turnus, with the sole purpose of producing more and more videos to one disco polo song, Jej dotyk [Her Touch] by the Mig band. In each of the clips, Mirella, at the forefront, pretends she is singing, while the boys in the background pretend to be playing. No second takes. Distributed on Facebook. A thing that used to be considered embarrassing has now become ‘fashionable’, ‘hip’ and ‘artsy’. The disco polo visuals were raised to the level of aesthetic inspiration for avant-garde artists.
Today, mainstream music videos in Poland are trying to match their international counterparts. Shot and produced on a grand scale, Jamal’s Defto, one of Poland’s best music videos of 2012, is our own version of Rihanna’s We Found Love in an exotic territory. The most often repeated comment to this clip said that it was ‘as if not from Poland’ – the highest praise anyone could wish for. Also in 2012, Krzysztof Skonieczny shot a clip to Monika Brodka’s Krzyżówki dnia [Daily Crosswords], proving that Polish videos do not have to ‘chase after’ international patterns to have great artistic value. The idea was simple – a white background with a hole in the middle. Brodka put her head through the hole, and animations created by 11 young, Polish artists – including previously-mentioned Bartek Kociemba – are projected all around her head. From simple, almost old-fashioned puppets, to the most futurist visions.
Krzysztof Skonieczny is also the director of the biggest viral sensation of 2012 – the video to Nie ma cwaniaka na warszawiaka [No Con Man Greater than a Warsaw Man] by Projekt Warszawiak. The video was shared, commented and remade for several months after its premiere – with parodies and versions devoted to other cities. Nie ma cwaniaka has over four million views on YouTube alone. The idea was simple: Łukasz Garlicki, an actor and lead vocalist in Projekt Warszawiak, plays the roles of the iconic personae of Warsaw: a taxi driver, a hipster, a bartender, an Uprising veteran. The background is composed of classic Warsaw locations. The video was produced with no budget at all, thanks to the help of some ‘people of good will’, as the authors explain. In any case, this trend is becoming more and more popular – maybe out of necessity, because the contemporary music industry hardly notices young, interesting bands. With no funding from record labels, artists have to find some alternative way to carry out their project. Absolute freedom thus comes hand in hand with absolute lack of funds. ‘Although everyone would like to have a bigger budget, you can actually shoot a music video for free’, says Maciek Buchwald, the director of Paula and Karol’s The Way We Are. It was shot with a Canon camera at a holiday trip. ‘One-penny videos’ are also the specialty of Wielki Joł, who shoots his clips in one day. First, he works out a simple leitmotif, then he implements his idea and edits the video. Thought up in the morning, ready to go in the evening. Tede’s Pozwól żyć innym [Let Other’s Live] was shot in this way.
The 1990s ended with a triple award for directors who managed to shoot the highest number of videos, won the most nominations and awards in the decade. In 1999, Filip Kovcin, Bolesław Pawica and Jarosław Szoda won a Fryderyk for Kayah and Bregović’s Prawy do lewego [Right to the Left]. The crowning video of the 1990s also became their best summary – music that used to be ridiculed as disco polo now started to be referred to as folk, with a foreign artist and a talented, popular singer involved in its production, and the clip shot in elegant, black and white colour code. The homely atmosphere was recognised as our exportable good. The song was illustrated by the best Polish film directors, ones that were shaped by the 1990s. The transformation was completed. With clips such as this one or the 2000 Słodycze [Sweets] by Golec uOrkiestra and Kumple Janosika [Janosik’s Buddies] by Big Cyc we would not have Enej’s Symetryczno-liryczna [Symmetrical-Lyrical] in 2013. In this clip, townies and hipsters go to the countryside to enjoy making love in the hay and the pleasures of rural parties – in a way ‘coming back to their inner self’, to the state of ‘natural love’. We couldn’t be further away from Rihanna. But still, ‘we found love in a hopeless place’.