Neon is a film about the neon signs that reflect the history of Warsaw. Eric Bednarski's documentary was produced by Culture.pl.
Neon signs were an expression of artistic freedom and a component of the urban landscape which distinguishes Warsaw from other European cities. The huge, glowing commercial neon signs became the subject of Eric Bednarski's latest film. Neon premiered at Warsaw's Planet+Doc festival on 10th
May 2014 and was co-produced by Culture.pl.
In Neon, Bednarski recounts the history of Warsaw's neon signs from the pre-War period to modern times. He creates an overview of the neon signs which illuminated streets of Warsaw before the Second World War, depicts the use and role of neon signs in the times of social realism in the context of history and politics, and describes what has happened to them since 1989.
History of neon signs, history of Warsaw
By telling the stories of particular neon signs, the director recounts the tumultuous past of Poland in the 20th century. For Bednarski, the neon signs reflect the changes in mentality of Poles over a period of several decades. The first neon signs appeared in Warsaw after the First World War when Poland regained its independence. After 123 years of occupation by Russia, Germany and Austria, neon signs became a literal and metaphorical light of hope and a symbol of the recovered glamour of the city. They became a part of its history. After having been destroyed during WWII, they reappeared in the period of social realism. Yet again they became a symbol of rebirth for a city which was completely devastated during the war.
Interestingly, neon signs' presence on Warsaw buildings was somewhat paradoxical, especially in the period of communism, a socio–political system that fought against Western capitalist philosophy. From this perspective, they were the most unexpected commercial signs. Over time, they have come to be landmarks of Warsaw's cityscape. During the period of martial law, all the neon signs were switched off. Metaphorically speaking, they shared the fate of Polish citizens, similarly victimised by the political decisions of the communist party. Most of them have never retrieved their glow. Moreover, a great number of them were destroyed after 1989, because Poles associated them with the earlier era of political coercion.
Neon signs from different perspectives
Bednarski's story of neon signs is exceptionally captivating. The film features the surviving neon signs, as well as those that have gradually disappeared, which came to be objects of interest for art historians, gallery owners, scholars of Warsaw history and other enthusiasts. It is thanks to them that neon signs started to attract public attention and were given a second life. Each year, new neon signs inspired by old designs appear in the urban landscape. Bednarski cleverly creates links between the past and the present. In the film, he takes the viewer to the (now defunct) studio Reklama (Commercial) in Warsaw's Praga district, which was one of the major manufacturers of neon signs. He also visits the Museum of Neon Signs in the Soho Factory, and the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, which has a big collection of archival materials concerned with neon signs.
Bednarski's film is composed of many found footage materials and photographs showing Warsaw by night over the pre-War period and through the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. The audio commentary is composed of interviews with visual artists, architects, art historians, neon sign designers and manufacturers, and the music composed by Daniel Bloom refers to the times and places the film depicts.
Line up of screening dates within Planete+Doc Festival:
10 May, 6pm - Iluzjon Cinema - premiere
12 May, 8.30pm - Iluzjon Cinema
15 May, 3pm - Iluzjon Cinema
Section: The City is Ours
Neon – written and directed by Eric Bednarski, cinematography: Jacek Knopp Andrzej Wojciechowski, Tomasz Król, Michał Pałka-Keff, editing. Rafał Samborski, Katarzyna Zajączkowska. Music: Daniel Bloom. Production: Culture.pl, Telewizja Polska S.A. – TVP Kultura, Pado Studio Film. Polska, 2014, 52 min
Author: BS, transl.GS, 14.05.2014