The Musicians

Film Review by Dean Duncan Mar 26, 2015

This wasn’t directed by Kieslowski, but rather by his mentor Kazimierz Karabasz, who taught in the documentary program at the Łódź Film School. The pupil’s eventual methods are prefigured in his predecessor’s small jewel of a film.

Half of its running time is devoted to establishing the factory space in which the concert will be given, to introducing the workers who will comprise the eventual audience, and to the elderly musicians who, as just another corpus of Revolutionary labourers, so leisurely and capably set up their instruments. In this there are definite shades of Dziga Vertov’s 1929 Soviet documentary, Man With a Movie Camera. That titanically important work celebrates the Revolutionary Worker, and aggressively places the artist—in this case the cameraman, with his director brother, and his editor wife, closely attending in the wings—at the very centre, even the very forefront of the revolutionary effort. Vertov’s film is heroic, heightened, and deeply sincere in its idealization of the worker. It is also decidedly, even quite wonderfully arrogant in cinematic and authorial self-regard.

Karabasz has no intention of debunking this standard Socialist idealization, but he does humanize and, in humourously realistic ways, problematize it. As with Vertov’s film, he inscribes the artist, himself in this case, within the film himself. In this he is also anticipating the innovations that Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin—among others—will soon be making with their cinema verité documentaries. (And they, in their turn, were looking back to Vertov for inspiration. Vortices!) Unlike Vertov’s film, there is nothing even remotely super-heroic about this artist’s ministrations.

As mentioned, the music-making finally begins half-way into the film. However when it does the conductor, and film-director Karabasz as well, keeps getting interrupted. They try to play, and to film, for the rest of the film’s duration. Errors—could that also suggest individuality, or personal will, as it operates within this collectivist system?—keep popping up. It’s complicated!

Eventually, though, we get what we might call a good take. These adept musicians finally play all the way through, as do these fine filmmakers. The camera coverage is quite beautiful, with lots of fluid movement, any number of lovely old guy portraits.

Is this all a remnant of or a holdover from Soviet Socialist Realism? There is certainly a “Her Majesty’s Servants” (Kipling) sense to how the disparate parts come miraculously, even unbelievably together. Like the regime, eh? Well, why not, and good for them! But that’s not all there was, all there is to that situation, is it? There’s a quiet, maybe melancholy epilogue as Karabasz returns to the photogenic, silent, suddenly ambiguous factory floor. Affirmation. Echo. A little bit of uncertainty? Excellent …

Mr. Kipling makes a similar point, in another setting (see the final story):

Shakespeare too, in Henry V, Act IV and scene i, as well as scene iii.