Monday, October 30, 2017

Stanislaw Lem on Film: Professor Zazul (short)

Stanisław Lem’s famous space-traveler Ijon Tichy is the sort of fellow who could possibly save or destroy the universe. He always understood the science of his wacky circumstances, but he was known to be klutzy and guileless. However, he caught a nice break when he was depicted by the distinguished-looking Piotr Kurowski in two short films produced for Polish television, including Marek Nowicki & Jerzy Stawicki’s Professor Zazul, which screens as part of Stanisław Lem on Film, the upcoming retrospective survey of cinema based on the work of the great Polish science fiction writer.

Initially, the 1962 short appears to have more of the trappings of a horror film when Tichy is forced to take refuge in an old dark house during a severe storm. It turns out the place even has a mysterious laboratory and a scientist, who is most likely quite mad. That would indeed be Zazul—sort of.

Frankly, Zazul feels considerably ahead of its time, given its doppelganger themes, the circular structure, and the generally slippery nature of reality. In retrospect, it looks like considerable resources went into its twenty-two minutes of air time, including set decorations worthy of the best Frankenstein films and a groovy vibraphone-heavy soundtrack composed by Edward Pałłasz. Plus, the frequent product placement for Coca-Cola is almost bemusingly surreal, given the era—early 1960s Poland.

Kurowski plays Tichy as a rather intelligent and principled fellow, but the film still stays largely true to the vibe of Lem’s humorously outlandish stories. Stanisław Milski certainly gets his Ernest Thesinger on playing the sinister scientist, which gives the proceedings extra added genre appeal. Recommended for Lem admirers and fans of Eastern European science fiction in the funky DEFA tradition, Professor Zazul screens this Wednesday (11/1) and Saturday (11/11) as part of the shorts program during Anthology Film Archive’s Lem film series.