A cinematographer, film director and academic teacher, born in 1930 in Nowy Sącz. Wójcik passed away on 4th April 2019 in Podkowa Leśna.
A cinematographer, film director and academic teacher, born in 1930 in Nowy Sącz.
Table of contents
Career | Inspirations | Filmography (as a cinematographer) | Filmography (as a director) |
Jerzy Wójcik graduated from the cinematography department of the Łódź Film School in 1955. He started working in film in 1956 as an assistant to cameraman Jerzy Lipman. He was a camera operator for Andrzej Wajda’s Kanał and Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Prawdziwy Koniec Wielkiej Wojny / Real End of the Great War. Jerzy Wójcik’s name is linked to the films of ‘Polish school’ directors Andrzej Wajda and Andrzej Munk. His full-length feature debut as a cameraman was Munk’s Eroica in 1957. Two years later he was the cinematographer for Wajda’s Popiól i Diament / Ashes and Diamonds. Wójcik was also the cinematographer for several other films by Andrzej Wajda as well as films by Kazimierz Kutz, Stanislaw Różewicz, and Jerzy Kawalerowicz.
In 1981 to 1982, Jerzy Wójcik taught cinematography at the University of Silesia in Katowice. Since 1982 he taught at Łódź Film School. He has also worked as a film director, with projects such as Lament in 1991 and Wrota Europy / The Gateway of Europe in 1999 to his credit. Jerzy Wójcik also wrote a book, Labirynt Światła / Labyrinth of Light, describing his professional experiences and presenting his philosophical reflections.
Jerzy Wójcik has received some prestigious film industry awards, including the ‘Golden Camera 300’ for his lifetime achievement as a cinematographer at the International Cinematographers’ Film Festival in Bitola, Macedonia (1999), and the ‘Vitae Valor’ award for lifetime achievement at the third ‘Vitae Valor’ Film Festival in Tarnów. Jerzy Wójcik’s star in the Avenue of the Stars in Piotrkowska Street in Łódź was unveiled in 2002.
Speaking about himself, his work and its inspirations in the book Kompleks Tolstoja (The Tolstoy Complex; Polish ed.1989), the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky said how much he admired the ‘Polish school’ and its artists, among them Jerzy Wojcik. Tarkovsky wrote:
‘Ashes and Diamonds’ was a revelation to us, to many of us. All this influenced us strongly and inspired us. Especially the attitude these films presented to the truth of life, a poetics originating from cinematography founded on naturalism. In its time, this was extraordinarily important, because until then cinema had been so untrue, cardboard-like, false – both in its external layer and in its essence.
What Tarkovsky saw as the source of the great authenticity in Jerzy Wójcik’s cinematography was his attitude towards time and matter. This attitude was formulated at the outset of his creative career and remains valid today. Wójcik has described it many times, and it undoubtedly deserves to be called his artistic creed.
The basic elements in a camera operator’s work are the elements of time, space, and what I would call a material element, existing in the space. To me, the most important thing is to observe the changes of matter over time. It is important to see how these changes occur, how people change, and their characters or their attitudes towards various issues. I don’t care what the actor is thinking – I have to see the material aspect of what he demonstrates in order to express the changes occurring in a given time in a given space.
Jerzy Wójcik in an interview with Stanislaw Janicki, 'Film' 37/1961
These ideas took on actual form in his successive films and attracted the attention of the more astute critics:
Wójcik observes people with a cool eye, carefully, objectively; he knows that whatever really characterizes them is not expressed through word or gesture, but is contained in the relation between a person and their surroundings, in brief externalizations that must not be missed if one wants to reach the essence.
Aleksander Ledóchowski, 'Kino' 1/1969
I think this is the most important thing to Wójcik: a fascination with psychological realism, studying people’s subtle reactions, people’s relations with others, observing the destructive impact of time on the human psyche.
Janusz Skwara, 'Film' 22/1961
Jerzy Wójcik himself confirmed his attitude towards time and matter more than 30 years after the statement quoted earlier:
The most fantastic thing about cinema is that you can photograph change. This is the essence of cinema; it concerns both transformations in the spiritual aspect and transformations in nature.
Interview with Janusz Gazda, 'Kwartalnik Filmowy' 7-8/1998
Jerzy Wójcik never concealed that his technique had benefited substantially from Japanese cinema, especially the work of Asakazu Nakai, cinematographer for Kurosawa’s films. For example, he said so to Stanislaw Janicki upon completing Samson and Matka Joanna od Aniołów / Mother Joan of the Angels (‘Film’ 37/1961). He confirmed it in an interview given fifteen years later to Tadeusz Sobolewski (‘Film’ 22/1978) and in many others, mentioning also the inspiration he gained from Scandinavian cinema and from the work of the American documentary pioneer and traveller, Robert Flaherty.
What enchanted the Polish cinematographer in Japanese and Scandinavian films was the way they showed the relations between man and nature. Like those artists, Wójcik was able to use such natural phenomena as wind, rain, fog and everything that surrounds people as an evocative commentary to human fate, giving it a tragic aspect. Janusz Skwara wrote in the above-mentioned article:
‘Nikt nie woła / Nobody’s Calling’ and ‘Mother Joan of the Angels’ repeat a cruel evocative obsession with raw walls, overpowering the people living within them. In ‘Nobody’s Calling’ the rugged scenery of what seems to be a ghost town is a reminder of the horrors of war, and an excellent complement to the twists and turns in the characters’ lives, their experiences still linked to the war. In ‘Mother Joan of the Angels’ the scenery of convent walls symbolizes limitations to human freedom and is also connected with the main plot – the protagonist’s attempts to free herself from the bonds restricting her human emotions.
The critics, to mention Aleksander Ledóchowski (‘Kino’ 1/1961), emphasized many times that matter, landscapes, nature filmed with Jerzy Wójcik’s camera are turned from objects under observation into the partners of people. The most often quoted example of this is the famous scene from Westerplatte, when the defeated soldiers march among the stumps of burnt trees, themselves looking eerily similar to those burnt stumps. A similar commenting, interpreting function was fulfilled by fire in Paweł Komorowski’s Elegia / Elegy, and by rain in the scene of the fight between Wołodyjowski and Kmicic in Potop / The Deluge. The role of nature in Jerzy Wójcik’s film works is also highlighted by the symbolic role of the river in The Gateway of Europe, a film with cinematography by Witold Sobociński but directed by Wójcik.
Many filmmakers shoot the elements, fire, rain, many use this as a way of making a picture more attractive. With Wójcik, just increasing the attractiveness is never the point. In an interview with Seweryn Kuśmierczyk, Jerzy Wójcik said:
You cannot think about the elements as effects in a film. You need to think differently, also going beyond symbols in a one-dimensional sense. You simply have to understand what gave birth to us and what will consume us.
'Kwartalnik Filmowy' 43/2003
Wójcik’s unconcealed fascination with Japanese cinema is not just about borrowing aspects of technique, it is an expression of deep reflection on ‘fundamental’ or existential issues, in which Wojcik comes close to concepts and attitudes originating from Oriental philosophy, but transferred to mysticism in a broader sense – which finds original expression in the way he uses such elements of technique as applying light, blackness, whiteness and grey tones.
However, his works also contain many traces of other schools of philosophy and a different understanding of mysticism.
I would like to mention the concept of ‘assistka’ here. Pavel Florensky explained the meaning of the ‘assistka’ in his essay ‘Ikonostas’. These are gold threads stuck onto the board of an icon, their purpose being to express the divine, the invisible. Rain is silver thread. Each drop is a ray of light. This is the kind of rain in which Stanisław Rozewicz’s partisans move through the forest in ‘Opadły Liście z Drzew / Leaves Have Fallen’.
Interview with Seweryn Kuśmierczyk
In the same long interview, summing up half a century of working in the film industry, Jerzy Wójcik once again emphasized that the way he thought about reality was fundamental for his films, much more important than specific technical solutions.
The influence was clear [referencing Kurosawa’s films – ed. note], though it was not manifested directly, not like the influence of Gregg Toland on forming space with the help of a wide lens. I used his discovery in solutions for my films. What Nakai shot and what Kurosawa gave me, on the other hand, is linked to wind, mud, rain, the opening of a door, vibration. A duel is not a configuration of figures used in sword fighting, it is not a clash of swords but a conflict between people. Someone is terribly afraid or wants to win. He is in conflict with himself and with his passions. This is a higher level of storytelling. I learned great humility towards what one can see. It is important to film not the appearance but the meaning of things. People have their physicality, they are of certain age. They experience fear, apprehension, sometimes they are unable to control themselves. Filming such states was extremely important to me. Wind, water, earth serve to show these people’s situation. Filming makes sense if you look at such events from the inside in a way. That is the major source of inspiration, not the external appearance of things.
- 1953 – Poczatek dnia [Start of the Day], dir. Julian Dziedzina
- 1955 – Czlowiek nie umiera [Man Does Not Die], dir. Sylwester Checinski
- 1955 – Powrot [The Return], dir. Julian Dziedzina
- 1955 – Godzina bez slonca [An Hour Without the Sun], dir. Pawel Komorowski
- 1966 – Medaliony [Medallions], dir. Andrzej Brzozowski
- 1956 – Koniec nocy / End of the Night, dir. Julian Dziedzina, Pawel Komorowski, Walentyna Uszycka, cinematography with Henryk Depczyki and Krzysztof Winiewicz, also co-writer of the script
- 1957 – Eroica, dir. Andrzej Munk
- 1958 – Popiol i diament / Ashes and Diamonds, dir. Andrzej Wajda
- 1958 – Krzyż Walecznych / Cross of Valour, dir. Kazimierz Kutz
- 1960 – Matka Joanna od Aniolow / Mother Joan of the Angels, dir. Jerzy Kawalerowicz. (Awards: 1962 – Award of the Minister of Culture and Art first degree)
- 1960 – Nikt nie wola / Nobody’s calling, dir. Kazimierz Kutz
- 1961 – Czas przeszly / Time Past, dir. Leonard Buczkowski
- 1961 – Samson, dir. Andrzej Wajda
- 1962 – Moj stary / My Old Man, dir. Janusz Nasfeter
- 1963 – Zacne Grzechy / Good Sins, dir. Mieczyslaw Waskowski
- 1963 – Przy torze kolejowym [Near the Railway Track], dir. Andrzej Brzozowski
- 1964 – Echo, dir. Stanislaw Rozewicz
- 1964 – Zycie raz jeszcze / Back to Life Again, dir. Janusz Morgenstern
- 1965 – Faraon / Pharaoh, dir. Jerzy Kawalerowicz
- 1965 – Potem nastapi cisza / And All Will Be Quiet, dir. Janusz Morgenstern. (Awards: 1966 – Award of the Minister of National Defence second degree)
- 1967 – Westerplatte, dir. Stanislaw Rozewicz. (Awards: 1967 – Award of the Minister of Culture and Art first degree, Award of the Minister of National Defence first degree)
- 1967 – Twarza w twarz [Face to Face], dir. Krzysztof Zanussi, cinematography with Franciszek Kadzilka
- 1967 – Uzrok smrti ne pominjati / Do Not Mention the Cause of Death, dir. Jovan Zivanović;
- 1969 – Tajna vecera, dir. Zdravko Velimirović;
- 1969 – Krvava bajka / Bloody Tale, Branimir Tori Janković;
- 1969 – Vrane / Crows, dir. Ljubisa Kozomara, Gordan Mihić;. (Awards: 1968 – Pula, Festival of Yugoslavian Films, certificate for Achievement by a Foreign Artist in the Yugoslavian film industry)
- 1972 – Potop / The Deluge, dir. Jerzy Hoffman
- 1972 – Devojka sa kosmaja / Girl from the Mountains, dir. Dragovan Jovanović;
- 1975 – Opadly liscie z drzew / Leaves Have Fallen, dir. Stanisław Różewicz. (Awards: 1975 – Gdansk, Polish Feature Film Festival, award for cinematography)
- 1977 – Pasja / Passion, dir. Stanislaw Różewicz
- 1979 – Elegia / Elegy, dir. Pawel Komorowski
- 1981 – Lynx, dir. Stanislaw Różewicz
- 1982 – Pensja pani Latter / Mrs. Latter’s Pension, dir. Stanislaw Różewicz
- 1984 – Kobieta w kapeluszu / Woman in a Hat, dir. Stanislaw Różewicz
- 1985 – Diabeł [The Devil], dir. Stanislaw Rozewicz
- 1987 – Aniol w szafie / Angel in the Wardrobe, dir. Stanislaw Różewicz. (Awards: 1987 – Gdynia, Polish Feature Film Festival, award for cinematography, 1988 – award of the Head of Cinematography for creative work in feature film for the year 1987)
Filmography (as a director)
- 1997 – Portret w przestrzeni – Tadeusz Wybult [Portrait in Space – Tadeusz Wybult], cinematography by Stanislaw Szymanski; also script writer
1991 – Lament, also co-writer of the script with Witold Zalewski, cinematography by Witold Sobocinski
- 1999 – Wrota Europy / The Gateway of Europe, also co-writer of the script with Andrzej Mularczyk, cinematography by Witold Sobocinski
Television Theatre productions
- 1975 – Joanna D’Arc [Joan of Arc] by Teresa Sobanska-Dabrowska and Henryk Boukolowski
- 1976 – Relacja – play by himself (awards: 1977 – Golden Screen, awarded by the “Ekran” weekly, for the best TV play of 1977, award of the Chairman of the Committee for Radio and Television)
- 1977 – Medea by Euripides
- 1978 – Anna by Jan Dzezdzon
- 1979 – Tu zaszla zmiana [Things have changed here] based on Maria Dabrowska; also script – with Krzysztof Domagalik
- 1980 – Pylek w oku [Speck in the Eye] by Kornel Filipowicz
- 1983 – Promethidion by Cyprian Kamil Norwid
Also cameraman or assistant cameraman for film etudes: Kiedy ty śpisz / While You’re Asleep (1953), dir. Andrzej Wajda, cinematography by Jerzy Lipman, Piaskarze [Sand-Diggers] (1953), dir. Hieronim Przybyl, cinematography by Tadeusz Aleksandrowicz; and feature films: Prawdziwy koniec wielkiej wojny / Real End of the Great War (1957), dir. Jerzy Kawalerowicz, cinematography by Jerzy Lipman, and Kanal (1957), dir. Andrzej Wajda, cinematography by Jerzy Lipman
Jerzy Wójcik was the cinematographer for the television production Obywatel Pękosiewicz [Citizen Pekosiewicz] (1992) directed by Mikołaj Grabowski.
A production of Bhagavad-Gita (a holy book of Hinduism) adapted by Jerzy Wójcik was staged at Warsaw’s Teatr Adekwatny in 1976.
Author: Ewa Nawój, August 2006