REMEMBERING THE MASTERS: JERZY LIPMAN
Since its inception the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography CAMERIMAGE has always focused on distinguishing those brilliant filmmakers who stayed in the shade of actors, directors or screenwriters - the cinematographers. We have shown their exceptional skills and visual sensitivity. We have acknowledged their input in the art of cinema. Together with them we observed the upcoming digital revolution.
The aim of “Remembering the Masters" is to accentuate the craft of all those brilliant cinematographers who passed away, and to provoke a discussion about the cinematic possibilities given by the films which over the years set the standards for what we watch today. In the moment of the digital revolution, both mental and technological, it is crucial not to forget about the always-fascinating history of cinema without which such revolution wouldn't come. We therefore invite everyone to watch the work of true masters, and by this remember every lesson they wanted to teach us.
This year we will present the work of Polish cinematographer Jerzy Lipman.
Polish Film Archive is the partner of “Remembering the Masters: Jerzy Lipman"
JERZY LIPMAN (1922 - 1983)
One of the most eminent cinematographers in the history of Polish cinema and the first cameraman with such special talent after World War II. Jerzy Lipman is considered to be the co-originator of the famous Polish Film School movement. He contributed to the development of the Polish School just as much as the directors he cooperated with: Andrzej Wajda, Andrzej Munk and Jerzy Kawalerowicz.
Jerzy Lipman on the set of "Knife in the Water",
photo by Andrzej Kostenko ©SF KADR
Lipman was born on 10 April 1922 in Brześć nad Bugiem to an assimilated Jewish family. He went to Spójnia, a Private Gymnasium1 for Boys in Warsaw, but finished gymnasium in Wołomin, where the outbreak of the war found him.
Lipman's occupation years - at least according to the version he circulated after the war - border on sensational. The cinematographer-to-be escaped from the Wołomin ghetto. Aware of his Semitic appearance, he decided to dupe the Nazis and risk it all: in a stolen Nazi soldier's uniform, he roamed the streets of Warsaw and travelled across Europe, committing acts of sabotage. He fought in the Warsaw Uprising. He took hundreds of photos during his wartime adventures, and his interest in photography grew. Towards the end of the war, he joined the Polish People's Army, but was soon sentenced to the death penalty for desertion and armed robbery. In the end, capital punishment was replaced with life imprisonment. He was released after three years, in 1948.
He soon joined the Cinematography Department of the National Film School in Łódź and graduated in 1952. As a student, he was the cinematographer for the documentary shorts of his colleague from the Directing Department, Andrzej Wajda - The Pottery at Ilza(Ceramika iłżecka, 1951) and While You Are Sleeping (Kiedy ty śpisz, 1953). His feature debut was a short story by Konrad Nałęcki from the Socialist Realist Three Stories (Trzy opowieści, 1953, co-cinematographer: Stefan Matyjaszkiewicz). He was a cameraman for Five Boys from Barska Street (Piątka z ulicy Barskiej, 1953), shot in Agfacolor and directed by Aleksander Ford, with whom he later cooperated as a cinematographer in Eighth Day of the Week (Ósmy dzień tygodnia, 1958, released in 1983). In one of the sequences he used Agfacolor.
The full-length feature debut for both Lipman and Wajda was A Generation (Pokolenie, 1954) - this was not yet ideological, but it was the stylistic vanguard of the Polish Film School, the first movement in Polish cinema which assigned key semantic and dramatic functions to the visual aspect of a film. This elevation was first visible in Lipman's camerawork for A Generation, Shadow (Cień, 1956) by Kawalerowicz, and another film directed by Wajda, Canal (Kanał, 1956), which was entirely in keeping with the Polish Film School rules and considered its first masterpiece. In these films Lipman turned the camera from the rather slow and basic recording of action in pre-war and Socialist Realist cinema -into a lively instrument of narration. Moreover, especially in Canal, he used light and shadow on an unprecedented scale, not only as a narrator, but also a creator of metaphorical meanings. The best example of this is a famous shot in which the defeat of the Warsaw Uprising is represented by a dark crate emerging from the illuminated, seemingly open mouth of a sewer canal. Not only that,Lipman's camera is gazing behind that crate, through the eyes of the underground fighters, and to the Vistula and its east bank. This was where the Soviet army waited for the Uprising to bleed to death - something Wajda could not have shown directly in communist Poland. Nevertheless, thanks to this prolonged shot, viewers deciphered the Aesopian language embedded in the visual aspect of the film - the domain of the cinematographer, namely Lipman.
"Lotna", dir. Andrzej Wajda, 1959,
photo by Antoni Nurzyński ©SF KADR
Directors valued Jerzy Lipman for his mastery in the coherent portrayal of characters and their background, as well as exterior location scenes with interior ones, and for liberating actors from the tyranny of the camera, which at last was subordinate to their movements. He was also admired for his self-reliance on the set, as he even assembled the camera rail system himself. In the times of the Polish Film School, Lipman cooperated with Wajda on Lotna (1959), successfully overcoming the limitations of Agfacolor, and with Kawalerowiczon The Real End of the Great War (Prawdziwy koniec wielkiej wojny, 1957). Together with Krzysztof Winiewicz, he was a cinematographer for Munk'sBad Luck (Zezowate szczęście, 1960).
After the Polish Film School had been politically suppressed by communist authorities, Lipman showcased modern camerawork in the flagship movie of the so-called Polish New Wave - the Oscar-nominated Knife in the Water (Nóż w wodzie, 1961), Roman Polański'soutstanding debut. He replaced the murky colour schemes and stifling atmosphere of A Generation and Canal with outdoor, sunny, and quite often hand-held shots. He maintained the New Wave spirit when shooting Wajda's short Warsaw (Warszawa) for the film Love at Twenty (Miłość dwudziestolatków, France/Japan/Italy, 1962), and Polański's short The Diamond Necklace (Diamentowy naszyjnik) for The Most Beautiful Frauds of the World (Najpiękniejsze oszustwa świata, France/Italy/Japan, 1964). Jerzy Lipman confirmed his versatility creating camerawork for successful, yet more traditional, films with Answer to Violence (Zamach, 1958) by Jerzy Passendorfer,Gangsters and Philantropists (Gangsterzy i filantropi, 1962), The Law and the Fist (Prawo i pięść, 1964) by Jerzy Hoffman and Edward Skórzewski, and the debut of the Polish Film School's leading scriptwriter, Jerzy Stefan Stawiński - a comedy of manners entitledRozwodów nie będzie (1963). Michaił Bogin, the Russian director of the wartime drama Zosya (Zosia, 1967), spoke highly of his cooperation with Lipman.
The extensive professional experience gained during his long-standing work as a cameraman allowed Lipman to undertake cinematography for a super-production. On the set of The Ashes (Popioły, 1965), the remarkable cameraman once again cooperated withAndrzej Wajda to help the director revive the Napoleon era and the atmosphere of bitter score-setting with the historical past, characteristic of the Polish Film School, in the adaptation of Stefan Żeromski's epic. The film caused an international debate, and Lipmanskilfully combined black and white film with the Franscope panoramic system for the first time in Poland (Dyaliscope was used earlier).
"Knife in the Water", dir. Roman Polański, 1961, photo by Andrzej Kostenko
©SF KADR, SF TOR, SF ZEBRA, Filmoteka Narodowa, Licence: SF KADR
In Jerzy Hoffman'sColonel Wołodyjowski (Pan Wołodyjowski, 1968, in the credits Lipman's name appears under the heading of cinematography and production support) wide screen and Eastmancolor allowed eighteenth-century Poland's struggle with the Ottoman Empire to come to life on screen. Lipman portrayed it in a disciplined colour scheme (with a predominance of warm hues), while maintaining an epic scale. Obtaining the highest quality results on Kodak negatives, hardly as good as they are today, forced the director of photography to resort to colour filters or filming night scenes in daytime, and the final effect was not even remotely similar to the mawkish “American night" technique. In Poland, Lipman created cinematography only for one more movie - Day of Purification (Dzień oczyszczenia, 1969) by Jerzy Passendorfer. In August the same year, due to an anti-Semitic witch-hunt initiated by the nationalistic faction of the ruling Polish United Workers' Party, he migrated with his wife Eugenia and son Piotr to Great Britain. Awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restutita in 1959, he did not manage to receive the Minister of Culture and Art 1st Degree Group Award for Colonel Wołodyjowski. His attempt to return to the country in 1971, after the change in the government, was unsuccessful.
The Lipmans settled in London. Before 1982, Jerzy Lipman created cinematography abroad for several dozen films and series, mostly German and Austrian. Das falsche Gewicht (1972, directed by Bernard Wicki) brought him the German film award - Bundesfilmpreisin - for cinematography. He cooperated with Samuel Fuller (Dead Pigeon on Beethoven street /Martwy gołąb na ulicy Beethovena - a television film from the Crime Scene series, 1972), Aleksander Ford (Sie Sind Frei, doctor Korczak, 1974) and Michael Haneke(Lemminge, 1979). Sources also refer to a television film Amor, produced by Lipman (also responsible for cinematography) and Sławomir Mrożek.
Jerzy Lipman lectured at the University of Film and Television in Munich. He died in London on 11 November 1983 after an unsuccessful bypass operation. In June 2009, Jerzy Lipman's star was uncovered at the Piotrowska Street Star Alley in Łódź.
I referred to the book Zdjęcia: Jerzy Lipman, eds. Tadeusz Lubelski (WaiF, PISF, SFP, Warsaw, 2005) and other sources.