One of the ironies of science fiction is the braininess of the genre’s most speculative work is often difficult to translate on screen, so we get cheesy laser battles instead. Imagine trying to write a screenplay based on Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Man. Piotr Kamler might have been the man to do it. The Parisian-based Polish animator specialized in abstract animation, but his only feature film was a work of science fiction—sort of. Focus on the visuals and try not to worry about imposing narrative order on Kamler’s Chronopolis, which screens during the Kamler retrospective now underway at Anthology Film Archives.
In some ways, Chronopolis shares a kinship with that other “polis,” Metropolis. This is definitely an imposing futuristic city, but the power dynamics are a little different. The ancient immortals lounge around their luxury palaces in the sky, creating living forms out of clay and pining for some drama to shake up their omnipotent existences. A pair of intrepid humans scaling their ivory towers just might do that. Or something like that.
Chronopolis is all about its look and the sounds of Luc Ferrari’s hypnotic soundtrack (in fact, its screenings are also included as part of Anthology’s concurrent Ferrari retrospective). Weirdly, it could be considered a forerunner to the Stargate franchise, because of the way Kamler mixes ancient Egyptian-looking imagery with futuristic sf trappings. Chronopolis is not exactly Giger-esque, but it is easy to assume a high Venn diagram overlap for their respective audiences. Arguably, the city of Chronopolis could almost pass for the world hinted at in his cover art for Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery album, but it is not nearly as sinister.
Even with its comparatively brief 52-minute running time (considered the definitive cut, rather than a slightly longer alternate version, per Kamler), Chronopolis has a decidedly lulling effect. Ferrari’s score contributes to that dreamy and dream-inducing vibe, but it is also what makes it such a distinctive viewing experience. Anyone who takes science fiction and animation seriously and is receptive to the avant-garde should familiarize themselves with Kamler’s film. Respectfully recommended to the adventurous and discerning, Chronopolis screens tonight (11/22), Sunday (11/24), and Wednesday (11/27), as part of Anthology’s Kamler & Ferrari retrospectives.