7 November 2012

The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has Poland English Subtitles 1965)

Contemplating a single film to launch Kosmikino, one that would somehow uncannily illustrate the vision and intent behind it, was on careless reflection, a trickster's errand, especially given the vast heterogeneous, spatial and temporal, cinematic universe Kosmikino seeks to cover.

Instead it made more sense to choose a film that is so utterly anomalous, uncategorisable, bizarre, compelling and almost 'mystical' in its singular Otherness, that in its own curious way, it becomes representative of the collective body of science-fiction, fantasy and horror film, television and animation produced in Russia and Eastern Europe during the Soviet and Eastern Bloc period of geo-political history.

Some of the titles Kosmikino will be posting in the upcoming weeks and months will be completely unknown to the majority of the English speaking audience. The sheer number of films made in the period 1924 to 1992, their diverse nature and often, their unexpected originality, may surprise many. Especially those who assume it was all dogmatic communist propaganda, ideologically correct story-lines and rigid revolutionary zeal with Tarkovsky's Solaris and Stalker, being the exception that proves the rule.

Though having said that, when it comes to The Saragossa Manuscript, it can often feel less like cinema and more as if one were witnessing the birth of a 5-D Escher galaxy by some deranged yet all powerful gnostic creator god.

This is definitely not a film for everyone, but for the chosen few, once seen, it seems to indelibly imprint itself upon one's psyche. This is perhaps why, in the 1990s, Grateful Dead head-man, the late Jerry Garcia, together with Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, financed the restoration of an uncut print of the film, owned by the late director, Wojciech Has himself.

With this in mind, there are, unsurprisingly, numerous book, journal, web reviews and commentaries on the film, Out of them all, I have always thought one of the best recommendations is the simple fact it was one of the very favourite films of Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel. Writing that he hardly ever saw the same film twice, but liked this film so much, he saw it three times.

The Wikipedia entry gives an overview of the film.

One of the best and most in-depth reviews of the film can be found on Martin A. Schell's website . In it, he decodes and unravels the film into 'preliminary notes', 'the outline' and 'explanatory notes'.

I totally revised the existing DVD English subtitles on the above You Tube video and was further helped by a kind Polish person who filled in the previously untranslated parts as well as offering a more accurate translation where needed. One of the key benefits of posting the subtitles as a separate stream is the fact they can be constantly updated, and collectively, there exists the opportunity of making the best translation possible.