Andrzej Zulawski, 1940-2016
Two days ago I had the honour of sitting in an upscale Berlin cafe with Wojtek Janio, whose company Fixafilm had just completed the restoration on Andrzej Zulawski’s sci-fi epic ON THE SILVER GLOBE, famously halted in mid-shoot by the Polish authorities and leading to his (second) self-imposed exile to France where he enjoyed the support of the French industry. Wojtek had a laptop perched on the table as the waitress tried to maneuver around it with her armful of plates and coffees, and the surreal imagery of ON THE SILVER GLOBE began. It was jaw-dropping – while existing home video versions struggled to convey the scale of Zulawski’s vision using substandard source materials, the restoration brought the film to life from the original negative. Zulawski himself purportedly said it was like a whole new film.
Later that night I found myself near Moritzplatz U-Bahn station, and since it was only a short jaunt to 87 Sebastianstrasse, I made my way over to the gothic apartment building where Anna tended to her monster in Zulawski’s POSSESSION. As usual when I’m in Berlin or know people who are, I bugged everyone to visit the film’s locations. A lunch meeting planned for Stiege – the Oranienstrasse resto where Mark kills Heinrich in the bathroom (its exterior, anyway – the interior was shot elsewhere) – got relocated to the festival’s market hub at Martin Gropius-Bau just as I opened facebook and saw a post from my colleague Alex Heller-Nicholas stating that Zulawski was dead.
I knew he was ill, but on the eve of Lincoln Center’s debut of three new restorations of his early works – THE THIRD PART OF THE NIGHT, DIABEL and ON THE SILVER GLOBE – all overseen by scholar and AZ biographer Daniel Bird (who had cancelled his trip to Berlin to tend to some last minute tweaks on the DCP of SILVER GLOBE), and the announcement that Kino-Lorber had picked up rights to Zulawski’s newest film COSMOS, it still came as a shock. It seems unfair that his renaissance should have to carry on without him.
I met Zulawski once, when the Fantasia Festival gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award and I was invited to a small dinner thanks to the Frontieres Market director Lindsay Peters, to whom I will be forever grateful for the opportunity – even though I found myself too shy to say more than a few words to this director whose film POSSESSION had such an impact on me that it graced the cover of one of my books. I dreaded the thought of him actually reading anything I wrote about his films, which can’t help but be facile oversimplifications of his dense allegories. I always hoped to meet him again on his own turf, and this time to have the confidence to invite a real conversation. I never knew him, and now I never will, but he’ll always be one of the special ones whose films I can say actually changed my life.
I hope that whoever lives on the first floor at 87 Sebastianstrasse notices a stream of sad-looking strangers outside their window over the next few days. One of them will be me.
RIP A.Z. 1940-2016