Satirist, scriptwriter, director and author of artistic setting in animated movies, documentaries and feature films. Pillar of Kraków's Piwnica pod Baranami cabaret. Born on the 16th March 1943 in Kraków. He died in the same city on the 16th May 2008.
After having tried his hand in both scenography and interior design, he eventually ended up at the artistic weaving department at the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. After graduating in 1970, he joined the team of The Animated Film Studio in Kraków, where he worked as literary director. He published several of his own satirical works in the weekly "Szpilki" and "Przekrój", the latter was based in Kraków at the time.
But the place where his satirical oeuvre truly came into being - and where he achieved fame - is Piwnica pod Baranami, Kraków's artistic hotspot of the times. The political allusions in his works were extremely popular at the time.
Despite his dreams of an artistic career while still in elementary school, he became a visual artist by pure chance. He applied to the National Film School in Łódź, but, scared of the difficult exams, he transferred his documents to the State Drama School in Kraków. He did not stay there long, as he reached the conclusion that he did not possess a sufficiently good diction. And since he never played any instrument, the only further education left for him was the Academy of Fine Arts.
"All the knots and plaits which I was obliged to do as a student of artistic weaving at Kraków's Academy of Fine Arts, quickly gave me pain in fingers, therefore, he used to say, I devoted myself to satire.
He put on his first show in Piwnica pod Baranami in the 1960s. He was aware that he would be confronted with Wiesław Dymny who, owing to years of uncompromising artistic exploits, enjoyed an unswerving position in the cabaret circuits. Warchał's texts were given a true baptism of fire during a ball in the Pieskowa Skała castle, a party organised in 1966 for the tenth anniversary of Piwnica pod Baranami.
Judging by the applause, I felt for the first time in my life that my texts were accepted by that public”, he confessed. I started my career in Piwnica pod Baranami with no inhibitions as I was aware that my style is completely different than that of Dymny. I never tried to compete with him. We were different to such an extent that we could complement one another in some way. Everybody who joined the team of Piwnica pod Baranami had to take into account some resistance from the other members. I wasn't an exception and it lasted a good couple of years. But never did I experience any aversion from Wiesiek.
The contrast between the two satirists was distinct: Wiesław Dymny was a dynamic, overly expressive, aggressive figure. In turn, Andrzej Warchał was always composed and calm. It was only after Dymny's death that he diametrically changed his scenic alter ego.
The cabaret cannot be too clichéd, he claimed. By changing the way of interpretation of my texts, I wanted to get closer to what Dymny used to do, to at least partially fill the void which appeared after his death. I am sure that Piotr Skrzynecki did not like this harsh style, but what I did I did intentionally. I took the bull by the horns and won the public over to my side. Later, I returned to my previous ways before I was too old to do so. I believed that Wiesiek, if he had reached my age, would have calmed down too.
Only one example of Warchał's playfulness was the unforgettable note that he left in a visitor's book during an art exhibition in Piwnica pod Baranami by Jan Krupski, the stationmaster of the Zakopane train station and the chairman of the local Community of Tatra Mountain Guides. He wrote: "The landscapes suck, exquisite portraits! I suspect a split personality. I congratulate, I envy. Andrzej Warchał".
In 1981, when the Piwnica pod Baranami troupe travelled to Arezzo for the International Theatre Festival, Warchał's passport aroused the suspicions of Italian border patrol. The document had been previously issued to him so that he could travel to the Lille film festival, where, a year previously, his animated film "Gołąbek" had won a Grand Prix. Asked by a guard why he was the only member of the party who used the professional and not personal passport, he replied: "Je suis un grand personnage!"
And it was also due to Warchał that the Kraków's cabaret receipt of the Grand Prix was not the only event of mote related to the troupe's stay in Arezzo. An incident that became embedded in the memory of many was the artist's hotel check-in when he said: "My name is Andy Warhol. Where is my room?"
"My lines were politically marked, but at the same time - universal in their appeal”, emphasised Warchał. “Kraków public always preferred a more composed satire - the one which involved abstraction and drew from absurdity. And that was the main difference between Kraków satire and its equivalents which enjoyed popularity in Warsaw, Wrocław or Poznań. The only cabaret whose style corresponded to Piwnica pod Baranami was Salon Niezależnych. Pity that it turned out to be an ephemera.
I never enjoyed writing the everyday satires. I saw no sense in sneering at queues, at lack of butter in groceries or at price rises. Maybe I'm just conceited, but in fact I don't consider myself a satirist. I think I am more a satiric writer. This is why all my texts which I have written since the sixties are still relevant today. Is it good or bad?
But despite it all, the style of doing cabaret characteristic to Kraków may be seen as a camouflaged form of laziness.
In 1981, after the Piwnica pod Baranami cabaret's show given in Warsaw's Stodoła club, an unfavourable review was published in "Płomienie", the magazine published by The Polish Socialist Youth Union. In the review, Andrzej Warchał was called "a red commissioner who, from his red podium, mouths misleading platitudes". The review was signed 'Spectator', but people close to the publication recognised that under this pseudonym was hiding the party's egeria, Bożena Krzywobłocka. She was later quoted and discussed on Piwnica pod Baranami's stage by Maciej Szybist. Her bizarre style and consuming malice aroused explosions of laughter.
Warchał was often asked about the phenomenon of his red podium: why he uses it and what he hides behind it.
If I hide something, it's only a little dose of sex in politics. And seriously, I aim at reducing political allusions in my texts. I want to preserve only as much of it as it is in (Eugène) Ionesco's or Mrożek's oeuvre. And I want, like they did, to camouflage it with abstraction. The idea of making this folding podium came to our minds once when we were drinking with Wiesiek Dymny. It was made at the end of sixties and is still serving me. The podium went with my texts, which do not resemble love lines at all, to let people know that politics is involved, what is best demonstrated in the book "Zagęszczenie" published by Wydawnictwo Literackie.
Although the artist is mainly associated with his satirical texts, full of sarcasm and irony, he also had a lyrical side. This dimension of his personality was especially conspicuous in his short films.
I have always had two personalities, which found reflection in my art, Andrzej Warchał used to say. I don't know what is more important to me: Piwnica pod Baranami or my films? In the films I am the embodiment of a total decadent. There is no room for jokes in my films.
But his innovative, grotesque, sarcastic and irreverent films: "Namiar", "Schody", "Cinéma vérité", "Rozbrojenie", "Gołąbek" contradict these words.
I included some jokes in my first animated films, he once said. But later, I started to distance myself from the animation and move towards cinema of death. My last films brought up the problem of the passing of time. They gave me this exquisite struggle between laughter and fear, between mockery and the pain of existence. As a cabaret artist and a film director I felt internally divided between two extremes: laughter and death.
Most of Warchał's films are metaphorical reflections about human existence. The world they show is only seemingly familiar and logical. Actually, it hides a lot of peculiar surprises and often turns out to be unpredictable.
His animated film "Pax" (1977) is one big mockery of the abuse of lofty slogans, especially of propaganda of slogans - which was de facto an oxymoron - "fight for freedom". The main character, an Everyman, approaches a wall. He looks around watchfully and starts to paint a word "pax". He finishes his work and is shot. And then, another person appears - maybe the same one who shot the gun - and starts to embellish the simple letters of the short word with elaborate baroque ornaments. "The end" appears simultaneously when a second shot is fired.
"Gołąbek" (1978) - a white bird, symbol of peace, miraculously escapes death by shooting. It sits on the ground and lays and egg. The chick dove which hatches out of it ... has a spotty plumage. It's a war camouflage.
"Cinéma vérité" (1979) - a blindfolded man's face. His lips start to move and pronounce silent words. A frantic shake pulls the black strap down from the man's eyes to his lips and covers them. And although they become silent - they tell more than the eyes. (The pictured face belongs to composer Piotr Walewski, author of among others the anthem of Piwnica pod BaranamiDezyderata).
"Anna" (1979). The words "My beloved Anna..." appear on a piece of paper. Later, only a flickering flame of a candle is visible. The subtle vocals of Ola Maurer can be heard. This music constitutes a background for the reading of an affectionate love letter to a beloved person. All of a sudden, cracks the noise of a post-office clerk stamping documents. When it is taken away from the paper, the circumstances in which the letter was written become clear: the stamp has a form of the characteristic Nazi eagle with a swastika in its talons and the sign below says - Konzentrationslager Auschwitz.
The inspiration for the film was the turbulent experiences of war which did not spare the director's family. His father was imprisoned within the barbed wire fence of the camp in Oświęcim, where he met many future dignitaries of the People's Republic of Poland. Like them, he affirmed the post-war new order, which fact caused a severe conflict with his son. On the night between the 12th and 13th of December 1981, with the declaration of Martial Law, Andrzej Warchał was arrested under the cover of darkness. He was interned to Nowy Wiśnicz and Załęże and released on the 7th of January 1982.
From among Andrzej Warchał's films also "Dotańczyć mroku" (1987) cannot be omitted. In this film, by analysing dance which becomes a metaphor of a human life, Warchał gives his attention to the human fate - from birth to death. The passing of the time is presented in recurring pictures, the pace of which is set in accordance to the musical backdrop by Zygmunt Konieczny.
"Mój portret" (1989) is Warchał's last film. It presented his cabaret monologues. He was talking to the public which was ageing together with the artist. In the last scene, all of them were connected to an intravenous unit.
Andrzej Warchał - misunderstood, underestimated, he never renounced his personality. He will always be remembered as an independent artist.
Author: Janusz R. Kowalczyk, March 2011.
Andrzej Warchał's oeuvre
Films (short films, documentaries, animated films):
Original films (direction, screenplay and graphic setting):
Original films (direction, screenplay, scenography):
Original films (direction, screenplay, soundtrack):
Original films (direction, screenplay):
Film (feature film, full-length film):
"Cinéma vérité" (1979), w: Antologia polskiej animacji eksperymentalnej (3DVD); selection by Marcin Giżycki; Polskie Wydawnictwo Audiowizualne, 2008.
CD (text and interpretation):
"Desant and Stół" - recording from the seventies, in: Piwnica pod Baranami (5CD + bonus); Polskie Radio SA Warsaw, 2001; PRCD 281-286 ADD.
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