Writer and festival programmer Kier-La Janisse remembers POSSESSION director Andrzej Zulawski.
Two days ago I had the honor 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 Zulawskis POSSESSION. As usual when Im in Berlin or know people who are, I bugged everyone to visit the films 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 festivals 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 Centers 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 Zulawskis 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 cant 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 hell 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
Kier-La Janisse is a film writer and programmer, Editor-in-Chief of Spectacular Optical Publications, founding director of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies and the Festival Director of Monster Fest in Melbourne, Australia. She has been a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, co-founded Montreal microcinema Blue Sunshine, founded the CineMuerte Horror Film Festival (1999-2005) in Vancouver and was the subject of the documentary Celluloid Horror (2005). She has written for Incite: Journal of Experimental Media, Filmmaker, Offscreen, Shindig!, Rue Morgue and Fangoria magazines, has contributed to Destroy All Movies!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (Fantagraphics, 2011), and is the author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (FAB Press, 2007) and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (FAB Press, 2012). She recently co-edited and published the anthology books KID POWER! (Spectacular Optical, 2014) about kids in cult film and television and Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s. She is currently working on the book A Song From the Heart Beats the Devil Every Time about childrens programming from 1965-1985.