One of the pioneers of cinema, a precursor of reportage and documentary films as well as film theoretician. Born on August 19th, 1856 in Pińczów, died in 1943.
One of the pioneers of cinema, a precursor of reportage and documentary films as well as film theoretician.
As a photographer, cinematographer and film theoretician, he changed the way people thought about the role of cinema. In the last years of the 19th century, when a great part of intellectuals treated cinema as a fair entertainment for unsophisticated audience, Matuszewski noticed something more in it. It was not the art he found, but a tool of historical record, an incomparable form of registering reality, able to change the way history is retold. That very history proved him right.
He was born on August 19th, 1856 in Pińczów. His father was a French teacher. It helped Matuszewski a lot. His knowledge of French allowed him to study in France and later to reach a wide range of audience.
Matuszewski's path to the tenth muse led through photography. The Polish precursor of cinema got interested in it in the 1880s during his stay in Paris. His fascination with the art of frozen images led him to the French Photographic Association LUX and later (in 1894) to cofound the French Documentary Photography Museum Association. Photography became his primary source of maintenance – on Marszałkowska 111 in Warsaw, Matuszewski together with his younger brother opened the atelier of photography Lux Sigismond et Comp French Photography. At the turn of centuries he was also the owner of the Benque workshop in Paris.
Matuszewski's photographic career led him to Tsar Nicholas II. Since 1886, he had been an aulic photographer of the Russian emperor and recorded all important historical occurrences with his camera. He was then given a prove that his idea of cinema as a tool of researching history is right.
Everything because of a political scandal. In 1897, the French president Félix François Faure paid a visit to tsar Nicolas II. Matuszewski perpetuated the meeting, which was to become a subject of diplomatic controversies, with his camera. Otto von Bismarck accused the French politician of offending Russia by not behaving according to the protocol and not paying enough respect to the flag of the visited state. The diplomatic war would perhaps last much longer, if not the film recorded by Matuszewski, which became a major evidence of Faure's innocence for European journalists. Many years after the incident occurred, the film was brought to the Polish National Film Archives.
For Matuszewski, the whole situation was an evidence of his theory about the social role of cinema. In 1998, Matuszewski published two texts of great importance: New Source of History (Une nouvelle source de l'histoire) and Vitalized Photography, What it is Like and What it Should be Like (La photographie animée, ce qu’elle est, ce qu’elle doit être), where Matuszewski postulated to use cinema as the first tool of recording the most important historical events and organize a film archive with the most important testimonies of our times gathered.
In New Source of History Matuszewski wrote:
Vitalized photography has the inimitable quality of authenticity, accuracy and precision. It is a credible and infallible eyewitness par excellence. Such photography is able to control statements and if living eyewitnesses do not agree on a certain issue, the vitalized photography may bring opponents to terms by silencing the one who is not right.
For Matuszewski, cinema was primarily meant to perform its historical duty, being a document of time. When the art of film was still in its early days and intellectuals still treated it as a curiosity, the Polish artist and thinker sought for the possible alternative ways of using the invention. He did not believe in the artistic potential of the tenth muse and valued educational benefits more than its entertaining usage. Magdalena Mazaraki wrote in Boleslaw Matuszewski. Une nouvelle source de l'histoire. La photographie animée:
Matuszewski challenged the dominant opinion, trying to bring back the educational layer of Lumière's ridiculed invention. According to Matuszewski, all the scenes recorded with a camera have a scientific value, as all of them may be useful in various archives, depending on the intended functions.
Matuszewski successfully turned his ideas into reality. In Lux Sigsimond et Corp he employed cinematographers who, on his order, realized films about ludic customs and regional traditions. He himself directed a dozen of films about the life of European monarchs and recorded surgeries in hospitals across Warsaw, Paris (including the surgeries done by the famous Eugène Doyen) and Petersburg. Thanks to his films, young medicine adepts could learn new methods of treatment.
In 2012, the documentary Bolesław Matuszewski. Nieznany pionier kinematografii (Bolesław Matuszewski, an Unknown Pionier of Cinema) was directed by Jerzy Bezkowski in a Polish, French and Russian co-production.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, December 2016, translated by AW, December 2016