Janusz Lachowski Anatol Stern and Stefan Themerson. On Europa and the Friendship Between the Two Avant-garde Artists on the Basis of Their Mutual Correspondence from the Years 1959-1968

The film was completed in 1932. It was shown in Warsaw, Łódź, Kraków, and Lviv, preceded by a reading of Stern’s text18 or accompanied  by music from vinyl records19 (the adaptation was a silent film), leading to extreme reactions from the public, ranging from protest20 to genuine enthusiasm. The critics’ community was divided, as illustrated by reviews written by the most eminent film journalists of that time such as Stefania Zahorska21 or Jerzy Toeplitz.22 Over time, Europa also reached other countries and is known to have been screened at least in the UK, where it was seen by László Moholy-Nagy. The Hungarian artist called it a “sophisticated film”.23 Anatol Stern was also highly  ppreciative of the Themersons’ creative efforts. He believed the adaptation of his poetry by Stefan and Franciszka successfully translated Europa’s dramaturgic concept; at the same time, he emphasised that the composition of some frames were not only based on his text, but also evoked the graphic design of the 1929 edition.24

FIG. 1. The recto and verso of a 1959 photograph by Stefan Themerson showing Franciszka against the background
of her painting entitled Comme la vie est lente et comme l’Espérance est violente (Appolinaire). The title quotes
two lines of the poem Le Pont Mirabeau by Guillaume Appolinaire. In the bottom left corner – Franciszka’s
handwritten dedication to Anatol and Alicja Stern; on the rear side – a note by Franciszka

The cinematic paraphrase of Europa went missing during the wartime turmoil. However, the available information on this film is not as limited
as in the case of other lost Polish experimental works, of which nothing but paper copies of photograms, press reviews, and memories of the filmmakers remain. In the early 1970s, at the request of Józef Robakowski, the Themersons took on the task of restoring Europa’s cutting script (even though, to their mind, the result was unsatisfactory).25 Furthermore, a dozen years later Piotr Zarębski, cinematographer and film director working for the Educational Film Studio (Wytwórnia Filmów Oświatowych) in Łódź, produced a second film adaptation of the poem
(known as Europa II), using pieces of this script and compiling new film materials with extant photograms from the original screen version, which to a certain extent reflected the essence of this avant-garde work.26


18  According to Bolesław W. Lewicki, prior to the screening of Europa in Lviv’s Chimera cinema on 25 May 1933 the poem was recited by Leopold Pobóg-Kielanowski (‘Z ekranu.Pokaz filmów awangardowych’ [From the screen. A screening of avant-garde cinema], Słowo Polskie, no. 144, 1933, p. 4).

19  Cf. ‘Pokazy filmowe’ [Film Screenings], Kurier Polski, no. 35, 1933, p. 8.
20  As reported by a journalist describing the screening in Lviv, one of the cinemas had to take the film down just one week after its premiere due to furious reactions from the audience (J. M., ‘Awangarda filmowa pracuje. Pokaz w kinie “Chimera”’ [Avant-garde Film at work. A screening at the “Chimera” cinema], Gazeta Poranna [Lviv], 28/05/1933; the original article has not been found; the contents of this account have been provided on the basis of the Book of Cuttings by Stefan Themerson, TA, manuscript, shelf mark: rps akc. 19521, p. 28).
21  “This film poem [the Themersons’ film – J.L.] bears a fresh approach, things are new because they are seen from an unexpected visual-motional point of view, the formulae of interpretation are new. Even the commonplace verbal symbols become fresh, corporeal, palpable thanks to the dynamism that visualizes them, through the plasticity and tangibility of vision.” (S. Zahorska, ‘Polski film – dobry!’ [A Polish Film – A Good One!], Wiadomości Literackie, no. 53 (470), 1932, p. 3 [as quoted in A. Stern, Europa. A poem, M. Horovitz (transl.), M. Szczuka (illust.), London 1962 – M.B.]).
22  “Coming back to the analysis of the film itself, let us emphasise straight away that we believe the very starting point is mistaken. The Themersons’ Europa is a faithful cinematic illustration, indeed more of an illustration of Stern’s narrative poetry than its transposition.
To viewers who are not familiar with its literary source, many parts of the film may seem incomprehensible and unclear. […] The more the film diverts from its literary source, the better it gets, as the filmmakers create their own visual concepts. By contrast, where the words of the poem are nearly photographically transferred, the film loses its expressive power, becomes vague and obscure” (J. Toeplitz, “Europa”, Kurier Polski, no. 3,1933, p. 5).
23  S. Themerson, O potrzebie tworzenia widzeń [The Urge to Create Visions], M. Sady (transl.), Warszawa 2008, p. 61.
24  A. Stern, ‘“Europa”. Polski film awangardowy’ [“Europa”. A Polish avant-garde film], Film,no. 3, 1959, p. 6 (more about this article in an extended and revised version in footnote 15).

25  Cf. letter from Stefan Themerson to Józef Robakowski, 25 November 1973, carbon copy of typescript [attachment: EUROPA F. i S. Themersona 1931–1932 [EUROPA by F. and S. Themerson 1931–1932], carbon copy of typescript], TA. Europa’s reconstructed screenplay was first referenced in research literature by Janusz Zagrodzki, who got the Themersons’ text from Robakowski (cf. J. Zagrodzki, ‘Początki polskiego filmu eksperymentalnego’ [Early Days of the Polish Experimental Film], Projekt, no. 5, 1974, p. 27).
26  The correspondence between Stefan Themerson and Piotr Zarębski confirms that this young artist, fascinated by the Themersons’ cinematographic work, requested permission to reconstruct Europa as early as in 1982. Back then, he sent Stefan Themerson the introduction
to a theoretical work on film avant-garde he was working on, along with the screenplay of a film meant to supplement it (cf. letter from P. Zarębski to F. and S. Themerson, Łódź, 26 April 1982, typescript [attachments: „EUROPA” 1932 – Moja próba rekonstrukcji filmu Franciszki i Stefana Themersonów [“Europa” 1932 – My Attempt to Reconstruct the Film by Franciszka and Stefan Themerson], typescript; Scenopis filmu „Europa II” – Piotr Zarębski [Film Screenplay for “Europa II” by Piotr Zarębski], typescript, TA). The reconstruction was not undertaken until eventually a few years later. Zarębski consulted his project in his correspondence with Themerson and sent him a revised version of the screenplay for approval; Themerson replied with comments on the original adaptation of the poem (cf. i.a. letter from P. Zarębski to F. and S. Themerson, Łódź, 12 March 1987, typescript [attached: Scenopis filmu pt. „Europa II” [Film Screenplay for “Europa II”], typescript]; letter from S. Themerson to P. Zarębski, 24 April 1988, carbon copy of typescript [attached: Parę uwag na temat filmu EUROPA (1931/32) [A few remarks on Europa (1931/32), the film], carbon copy of typescript, TA). Europa II was completed in 1988. The Themersons did not live to see it; a dedication to the two artists,who died that very year, appears in the opening credits. A digital copy of the film is available from the website of the Film Archive of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw: http://filmoteka. artmusem.pl/pl/filmoteka/praca/zarebski-piotr-europa-ii [access: 24/11/2016]. Zarębski was not the only Polish author to attempt making a film based on the Themersons’ Europa. In the early 1980s, two other artists requested permission to reconstruct the film (see letter from Jacek Kasprzycki and Tadeusz Ciesielski to S. Themerson, Desnié [Belgium], 25 September 1983, manuscript, TA). It follows from this letter that the artists were aware of Zarębski’s competing project. Considering that their correspondence with the Themersons was most probably discontinued (there are no more letters from those artists in the Themerson Archive), it may be presumed that due to existing plans for a similar undertaking, they soon gave up on their own project.