Jerzy Lipman was a cinematographer. He was born in 1922 in Brest-on-the-Bug, and died in 1983 in London.
Cinematographer. Born in 1922 in Brest on Bug, died in 1983 in London.
He was born into an assimilated Jewish family. During the German occupation of Poland, he was detained in the ghetto in Wołomin near Warsaw, from which he escaped and established contact with the underground resistance, where his tasks included collecting weapons while travelling across Europe on false documents and disguised as a German officer. Jerzy Lipman's incredible fate during the occupation was an inspiration for Jerzy Stefan Stawiński's screenplay written in the mid-60s.
After the war, Jerzy Lipman graduated from the cinematography department of the Łódź Film School in 1952 (receiving his diploma in 1965). After the events of March 1968, he was persecuted due to his religious background and eventually forced to emigrate. He left together with his family in 1969 for the West, initially on a temporary contract, counting on a change in the political situation and planning to return to Poland. In 1971, he was declined the right to go back. He stayed in the West permanently. While living in London, he worked as a cinematographer in West Germany. For some time he also lectured at the Munich film school.
Even though he was involved in several dozen productions in the West, the years he spent working in Poland remain the crucial period in his professional career.
Lipman became the first cinematographer involved in the formation of the current referred to as the Polish Film School and at the same time one of its leading artists. He hugely contributed to the development of Polish art of cinematography. Some of the most prominent cinematographers, such as Jerzy Wójcik and Andrzej Kostenko, began their creative path under his guidance.
In 1955, Jerzy Lipman was in the group of artists who received the Polish State Award for the film A Generation, while in 1969 he was awarded the first prize from the Minister of Culture and Art for his camerawork in Colonel Wołodyjowski.
Directors who collaborated with him remembered him as a compelling man and artist. That is how Andrzej Wajda, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Jerzy Hoffman, and Roman Polański describe him in a monograph devoted to him (Zdjęcia: Jerzy Lipman / Cinematography: Jerzy Lipman, ed. Tadeusz Lubelski, Warsaw, 2005):
Jerzy always said: ‘the camera can do anything,’ Andrzej Wajda recalls. He was the first one to build a long, inclined track and film a 360-degree panoramic shot from it, which was the opening scene of A Generation. In Sewer, he dipped the camera in slime and made it float directly above the surface of mud. In Lotna he started crazy rides in a completely unadjusted car, parallel to the running horses, expecting this element of randomness to bring an authentic feel to the screen.
A Generation, Andrzej Wajda's full-length debut, was also Lipman's first full-length and autonomous work. It was in fact also the acting début of Zbigniew Cybulski and Roman Polański's first major role. A Generation was a groundbreaking piece in the history of Polish post-war cinematography, inaugurating what came to be called the Polish film school. This important and revivalist movement in Polish cinema first emerged in the mid-50s, responding to the need to refute the socialist realist pattern constraining the artists, and to challenge the romantic genealogy of national myths, hampering literary and film authors alike.
Andrzej Wajda and Andrzej Munk became the leading artists of that current. Works of the Polish film school engaged with themes of military activity, representing them in a demythologised and antiheroic way. One should note that these descriptions referred to the innovative character of the work performed by both directors and cinematographers. Some in fact also used the term: Polish cinematography school. Jerzy Lipman was the first one to be associated with this phenomenon, and followed by his apprentice, Jerzy Wójcik. As Jerzy Lipman said in an interview:
Polish cinematography school was characterised by breaking with conventions. The old cinematography, not having achieved a high technological level, was very focused on various canons restricting camerawork. It was hard to speak of an art of cinematography, as filming was dictated by technical norms. In 1955-56 and later, Polish cinematographers began to organise reality in a bold and dynamic way. It wasn't the technique anymore, but the tone, expression, emotional tinge of the image that began to count. The seemingly imperfect cinematography, with unbalanced contrast, black, grey, intentionally rough shots, began to create a new function of an image, which was becoming a significant part of the artistic and emotional aspects of films. We used the camera in a more uninhibited way, it was more flexible, and we also discovered new possibilities of designing the basic shooting process… […] During that period, we were largely influenced by Italian neorealism and its poetics paired with ferocity (interview by Alicja Iskierko, Ekran 1/1968)
In a biographical essay about Jerzy Lipman, published in the aforementioned book, Andrzej Wajda admits that the author of cinematography to A Generation offered a flawless interpretation of his directorial intentions, when filming impoverished areas of Warsaw and brought out a certain melancholy of poverty in his shots. As Wajda wrote:
We were inspired by Italian neorealism, but none of us knew how to approach it. It was Jerzy Lipman's cinematography that helped us adopt it.
Marcin Maron, who wrote his MA thesis on Jerzy Lipman, emphasises:
A Generation is a film created according to the rules of the so called realism. It represents a specific reality related to the life of young people during the war. However, it is not a documentary reality, but a reconstruction of that world, created through mise-en-scène, artistic framing, where everything appears to be natural, but in fact is enhanced, while the image constitutes an aesthetic whole. (dissertation written at the cinematography department of the Łódź Film School in 2000, fragments of which were published in the book Zdjęcia: Jerzy Lipman).
In his analysis of individual scenes from Jerzy Lipman's films, Maron points out that this effect was most of all achieved due to the immaculate and consistent use of diffused natural light at different times of day and night, appropriately boosted by artificial light, in order to emphasise the atmosphere and dramaturgy of a scene.
Maron stresses that Lipman's camerawork was often characterised by dark tones, where shade significantly dominated light. Jerzy Lipman usually introduced close ups of actors' faces, artificially narrowing down the field of vision and lighting the faces in such a way so as to enhance the emotional charge of a scene and accentuate the subjective reactions of viewers wherever the scene demanded it. In some other cases, if necessary, he – on the contrary – introduced two sources of light in order to reflect the character of an interior, with such precision that individual objects, or even the wall texture, could be discerned.
When working with light, Lipman consciously eliminated some elements and brought out other ones, which in the 1950s was a novelty in cinematographic work. When composing a frame, he made a thorough use any natural spots of light, which could include window panes or doors. He paid a lot of attention to contrast, which could be attained in a variety of ways.
If one were to give a concise description of the essence of his frame composition, it could be said that it is a deliberate rejection of those parts of an image that do not contribute to the formation of an eloquent expression of the content.
– Maron sums up.
In Lipman's works, motion and depth of field are as important as light. The latter also demonstrate neorealist influences, apparent in the so called open frame composition, where the cinematographer introduces the camera and actors' movements necessary to create an impression of the broader reality existing outside of the frame.
By using lenses with an increased depth of field, Lipman created compositions with a perspective, where each plane carried its own function and information, as well as contributed to the tension.
– Maron writes.
This method of depth-based composition of frame played an important role in A Generation, as well as in the later films, such as Roman Polański's Knife in the Water. Maron's thesis is that Lipman's innovative approach was mainly based on three elements: the dexterous use of natural light in combination with artificial light, the frame composition, and on the cinematic motion, achieved through dolly shots and movement within the frame. Maron writes about Polański's Knife in the Water:
On the surface, camerawork in that film seems ‘unimpressive’ and secondary to the plot. They lack special lighting effects like those in Sewer, or as diversified space as in A Generation, this might be the first time Lipman avoids his typical dark shots. Nonetheless, his cinematography responds very well to the low-key specifics of the film and the confinement of its protagonists within a small space of a sailing boat, with the Mazuria landscape in the background. The precision of these shots enabled a translation of its dramatic structure to the screen.
He continues about the same picture:
The crucial task faced by its authors was the creation of a tense relation and connections among its protagonists. Lipman achieved it mainly through the tight, precise, multi-plane frame compositions.
Thanks to such detailed composition, individual shots reflect the increasing tension between the three protagonists. Moreover, thanks to his other typical preference, he became the actors' ally. As Alicja Iskierko points out, he tended to introduce long takes:
This provides the actors with a great opportunity. It allows them to give a full, uninhibited presentation of their talent. Short takes filmed in a random order put an actor in a situation where he or she tries to reproduce a fragment of an experience or event, normally without knowing how these little fragments are going to be connected.
Jerzy Wójcik, who used to work with Jerzy Lipman as a second unit camera operator, wrote about his older colleague:
Jerzy Lipman gave something incredibly important to Polish cinema: his works contained energy. A real encounter of matter with the world. He was also able to show an actor not as separate from the matter, but as a character, extracted from and formed out of that matter. Jerzy was able to organise the light. He thought of light and shades as means of expression. He combined indoors with outdoors in a seamless manner. Before him, no one in Poland was able to do the same. (in: Zdjęcia: Jerzy Lipman).
Jerzy Lipman was partly responsible for the success of some of the key directors of Polish film school. After A Generation, he took part in the production of other films by Wajda: Sewer and Lotna, as well as Bad Luck by another leading representative of the same movement, Andrzej Munk.
Later on, he contributed to the popularity of such films as Ashes by Wajda and Colonel Wołodyjowski by Jerzy Hoffman, creating cinematography (this time in colour) full of splendour and completely different from the ascetic Knife in the Water.
In 1969, Jerzy Lipman dropped his already commenced work on the film about Janusz Korczak, which was to be directed by Aleksander Ford. Just like its director, Lipman was forced to emigrate, however abroad they teamed up again to create a film about Korczak – Sie Sind Frei, Doktor Korczak. Jerzy Lipman's compulsory departure was also an irreparable loss for the Polish art of cinema.
polish school of cinematography
polish film school
knife in the water
Selected filmography (DOP)
- 1951 – The Pottery at Ilza, dir. Andrzej Wajda
- 1952 – While You're Asleep, dir. Andrzej Wajda
- 1953 – Three Stories, pt. 2: Jacek, dir. Konrad Nałęcki
- 1954 – A Generation, dir. Andrzej Wajda; Awards: 1955 – Polish State Award (collective)
- 1956 – Shadow, dir. Jerzy Kawalerowicz
- 1956 – Sewer, dir. Andrzej Wajda
- 1957 – The Real End of the Great War, dir. Jerzy Kawalerowicz
- 1958 – The Eighth Day of the Week, dir. Aleksander Ford
- 1958 – The Attempt, dir. Jerzy Passendorfer
- 1959 – Lotna, dir. Andrzej Wajda
- 1960 – Bad Luck, dir. Andrzej Munk
- 1961 – Knife in the Water, dir. Roman Polański
- 1962 – Gangsters and Philanthropists, dir. Jerzy Hoffman and Edward Skórzewski
- 1963 – No More Divorces, dir. Jerzy Stefan Stawiński
- 1963 – The Criminal and the Lady, dir. Jerzy Nasfeter
- 1964 – The Law and the Fist, dir. Jerzy Hoffman, Edward Skórzewski
- 1964 – La Riviere de Diamants ou Amsterdam w Les Plus Belles Escroqueries du Monde, dir. Roman Polański
- 1965 – Ashes, dir. Andrzej Wajda
- 1965 – A Frame of Mind, dir. Jan Rybkowski
- 1967 – The Father (TV short), dir. Jerzy Hoffman
- 1967 – Zosya, dir. Mikhail Bogin
- 1968 – Colonel Wołodyjowski (also in the production department), dir. Jerzy Hoffman; Awards: 1969 – first prize from the Minister of Culture and Art)
- 1969 – The Day of Purification, dir. Jerzy Passendorfer
- 1971 – Davor (TV film), dir. Peter Schulze-Rohr, after Günther Grass
- 1972 – Das Falsche Gewicht, dir. Bernhard Wicki
- 1972 – Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street, dir. Samuel Fuller
- 1972 – Und der Regen Verwischt alle Spuren, dir. Alfred Vohrer
- 1973 – Across the Water (TV film), dir. Franz Fruchtman
- 1973 – Tod eines Handelsreisenden (TV film based on Arthur Miller's play)
- 1974 – Sie Sind frei, Doktor Korczak, dir. Aleksander Ford
- 1974 – Münchener Geschichten (TV series) dir.: Helmut Dietl, Herbert Vesely, etc.
- 1975 – Ach Himmel, es ist verspielt? (Austrian production), dir. Jochen Bauer
- 1976 – Der aufsehenerregende Fall des Studienrats Adam Juracek, reż. Tom Toelle, based on prose by Pavel Kohout
- 1977 – Amor – screewriter and director: Sławomir Mrożek, DOP and co-director: Jerzy Lipman
- 1977 – Der Preis (TV film based on Arthur Miller's play)
- 1977 – Mathilde Möhring (TV film after Theodor Fontane)
- 1978 – Jede Woche hat nur einen Sonntag (TV series), dir. Klaus-Peter Witt
- 1979 – Tilt, reż. Renke Korn
- 1979 – Lemminge pt. 1: Arkadien, pt. 2: Verletzungen, dir. Michael Haneke
- 1980 – Charlotte, dir. Frans Weiss
- 1980 – Eingriffe, dir. Thomas Fantl
- 1981 – Der Tod in der Waschstrasse, dir. Friedemann Schulz
- 1981 – Kudenov (TV series after Arno Surminski), dir. Klaus-Peter Witt
- 1981 – Der Poltergeist, dir. Jindrich Mann
Jerzy Lipman was also the camera operator for the film Five Boys from Barska Street (1953), directed by Aleksander Ford.
Author: Ewa Nawój, March 2008, transl. AM, January 2016