Yesterday I saw “Warszawa 1935”. This is a National Lottery, Ministry of Culture, Prudential sponsored animation of what the mostly late 19th century part of central Warsaw looked like before the War. At the end of the showing in the half-filled, on-the-cheap-newly-restored-Communist period National Film Theatre, there was gentle applause. Some people liked it. Good, because it must have cost a lot of money. Although one name kept appearing on the credits, there was a great number of supporting contributors. Obviously, animation is an expensive process.
Some of the scenes were impressive, particularly the cars and the trains and a walk through the Saski Park which evoked in me a particular sense of loss. However, silent animation rarely engages the senses and a question that must be asked is what was it all for? Why spend so much money on regenerating images of a lost city when there are so many powerfully evocative photographs from the period with real people and real scenes available in almost any bookshop in Poland and on the internet?
A city without people is like an empty stage. Without the players it is impossible to engage. Few of the buildings are of much interest and I write this knowing that my great great grandfather Alfons Kropiwnicki built more in central Warsaw than any other 19th century neo-classical architect. So, why the film?
If it was to evoke in the public a sense of loss, I suggest it failed. If it was to point the finger at the Russians and the Germans for the devastation they caused, the people around me did not seem moved. Anyway, here there is a great irony. The Russians, in particular, were responsible for financing the huge growth of Warsaw after 1863. If it was simply to show how clever we are with our technology then it is a shameful waste of public recourses. However, I suspect that this last must be the real reason.
There seems to be a belief that unless technology is involved representations of the past are inadequate. How wrong this is. The desecration of the Chopin house at Zelazowa Wola is proof enough, if proof were needed, of the inadequacies of computer generated images. Without the human element, there is no emotion. Without emotion there is no imagination. Without imagination there is no engagement. Hence the gentle applause in the cinema yesterday morning and my feeling of boredom.