7 November 2012

The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has Poland English Subtitles 1965)

Contemplating a single film to launch Kosmikino, one that would somehow uncannily illustrate the vision and intent behind it, was on careless reflection, a trickster's errand, especially given the vast heterogeneous, spatial and temporal, cinematic universe Kosmikino seeks to cover.

Instead it made more sense to choose a film that is so utterly anomalous, uncategorisable, bizarre, compelling and almost 'mystical' in its singular Otherness, that in its own curious way, it becomes representative of the collective body of science-fiction, fantasy and horror film, television and animation produced in Russia and Eastern Europe during the Soviet and Eastern Bloc period of geo-political history.

Some of the titles Kosmikino will be posting in the upcoming weeks and months will be completely unknown to the majority of the English speaking audience. The sheer number of films made in the period 1924 to 1992, their diverse nature and often, their unexpected originality, may surprise many. Especially those who assume it was all dogmatic communist propaganda, ideologically correct story-lines and rigid revolutionary zeal with Tarkovsky's Solaris and Stalker, being the exception that proves the rule.

Though having said that, when it comes to The Saragossa Manuscript, it can often feel less like cinema and more as if one were witnessing the birth of a 5-D Escher galaxy by some deranged yet all powerful gnostic creator god.

This is definitely not a film for everyone, but for the chosen few, once seen, it seems to indelibly imprint itself upon one's psyche. This is perhaps why, in the 1990s, Grateful Dead head-man, the late Jerry Garcia, together with Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, financed the restoration of an uncut print of the film, owned by the late director, Wojciech Has himself.

With this in mind, there are, unsurprisingly, numerous book, journal, web reviews and commentaries on the film, Out of them all, I have always thought one of the best recommendations is the simple fact it was one of the very favourite films of Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel. Writing that he hardly ever saw the same film twice, but liked this film so much, he saw it three times.

The Wikipedia entry gives an overview of the film.

One of the best and most in-depth reviews of the film can be found on Martin A. Schell's website . In it, he decodes and unravels the film into 'preliminary notes', 'the outline' and 'explanatory notes'.

I totally revised the existing DVD English subtitles on the above You Tube video and was further helped by a kind Polish person who filled in the previously untranslated parts as well as offering a more accurate translation where needed. One of the key benefits of posting the subtitles as a separate stream is the fact they can be constantly updated, and collectively, there exists the opportunity of making the best translation possible.


  1. I have set up a blog for a project, an encyclopaedia on science fiction cinema, which will cover every Sci-Fi movie made from the 1890s onwards, and that will obviously include Soviet/Eastern Bloc science fiction films. On that basis, we might have a chance to collaborate.

    The blog is at: http://sfcinemaproject.blogspot.co.uk/. I have only posted an introduction to the blog, but the post includes a project overview amongst other details. Let me know if you would be interested.

  2. Hi Robert

    Sounds an amazing project and one I would definitely be interested in collaborating with. I pretty much intend to list and hopefully provide a synopsis for every science-fiction film, television program and animation from all the former 'Eastern Bloc' and 'Soviet' era countries so there is definitely a mutual area of interest between both our respective projects.

    I have in my own small way, been making sure that every Eastern European/Russian sci-fi film I come across is labelled as such on IMDb and have added complete new entries for a few.

    As I have now got up to 300 plus films listed on my IMDb page, I will begin breaking them down into their various categories and have a specific list for science-fiction, which should make things a little easier for your project.

    I have thought about making sure every film has a Wiki entry as well, because as useful as IMDb is, I think it would be good to have an alternative database as well - ideally at some point in the distant future, a complete science-fiction online database based on the wiki model would be a wonderful long term project to see come to fruition.

    Anyway, I just wanted to get this blog up and from the beginning of the year, I plan to post at least three new films a week.

    Anything I can do to help in the meantime, just let me know at kosmikino@gmail.com.

  3. I was thinking we could help each other on a mutual basis.

    Who knows? During the research stage I might uncover titles you never heard of.

    I'd be happy to contribute in any way, whether it be listologies, supplying information etc.

    1. Yes, I definitely see any future collaboration as a two-way street and I apologise if my reply didn't make that clear. Like your concept, I have pretty much set this up as a collective effort and am hoping to attract as many people as possible (most particularly from the countries where these films originate from).

      I have no doubt that during the course of your research you will come across many films that I have never heard about, and fingers-crossed, I will do the same for you. I was very excited when I heard about your project as it is great to know there are other people out there who see the need and value of a large free database of global science-fiction films.

      I think many people are under the mistaken assumption, that science-fiction films are the preserve of America and the UK with the odd exceptions like Stalker, Solaris, Alphaville, or Verdens undergang to name but a few, when in reality as you know, they are totally global and stretch back decades.

      At the moment I am getting the structures together in terms of all the countries who were part of the Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union, listing the films chronologically and whether they are cinema, television or animation productions and then doing a post for each country with links to IMDb, Wikipedia and where possible write a brief synopsis for each (as well as online links for the films to watch where possible and applicable).

      I think once the structure is set up, I will each post to you and then you can go through them and offer your input (obviously as you come across new information and titles, they can be added as and when).

      From reading your blog post, it seems you have had a fair bit of interest already from people wishing to contribute, this is very encouraging and I think as the meta-framework is laid down, more people will be attracted to help (at least I hope so).