SF Film Rumination: Chronopolis, dir. Piotr Kamler (1982)

A cabal of immortal beings

8/10 (Very Good)

Piotr Kamler’s SF film Chronopolis (1982) is a hypnotic exercise in sinister science whose imagery is lifted from an archaic stone vault (1). Against an unsettling patina of musique concrète composed by Luc Ferrari, we are plunged into a far future existence where immortal beings ensconced in a celestial city perform apathetic conjurations of matter. An external force, explorers climbing the pillars (?) that hold up the city, presage a deliverance from the languor that afflicts all.

Science as Ritual, Scientist as Priest

Imagine you were ignorant of the process of cell division. You are led into a room where two screens project the chromosomal movements: interphase, prophase, metaphase, anaphase, telophase, cytokinesis, interphase, ad infinitum. Scientists in lab coats move in a synchronized dance: from lab table to lab table, microscope to microscope…. The screens focus on mitotic spindles. Enzymes cleave the cohesin rings. Time slows. The movements grow otherworldly, the process exterior to daily existence. In Chronopolis the hieratic denizens perform science as a ritual to hold off inexistence. The science itself appears primal, a knowledge forever know, but abstracted as mesmeric movement.

Etched in Stone, Pressed in Clay

“There is insufficient evidence for the non-existence of the city of Chronopolis” (2).

The city, formed as if from astronomical telescopes and astrolabes, takes on the appearance of an ancient mausoleum wall, the figures chiseled yet animate, accessible though a causeways of gates. Kamler deliberately evokes the feel of Egyptian hieroglyphics without direct references. Or the pressing of a Phoenician seal into wet clay. The effect is timeless. The city has always been. The incantations that fill the sacred space continue. The musique concrète, the manipulation of found sounds, further enhances its timeless qualities.

Unfortunately, this is Kamler’s only feature-length film (3). He produced a handful of shorts that I’m eager to track down. With a more regular and extensive output he might have been classed up there with The Brothers Quay or Jan Švankmajer (Joachim Boaz favorites) in the field of experimental animation.

Highly recommended for fans of avant-garde cinema. Like an animate Remedios Varo painting, this is an immersive experience with only fragments of plot.

Go watch it! (4)


Notes:

1) Two different versions of the film exist. The original version clocked in at 66 min and featured narration by Michael Londsdale and a different ending. I watched the rereleased 52-minute 1988 version.

2) The French text that introduces the film: “Il n’y a pas de preuves suffisantes de la non-existence de la ville de Chronopolis. Au contraire, les rêves et les manuscrits s’accordent à révéler que l’histoire de la cité est une histoire d’éternité et de désir. Ses habitantes, hiératiques et impassibles ont pour seule occupation et pour seul plaisir de composer le temps. Malgré la monotonie de l’immortalité, ils vivent dans l’attente: un événement important doit survenir lors de la rencontre d’un instant particulier et d’un être humain. Or, cet instant attendu se pépare…”

3) See the Wikipedia entry for more information on the production of the film.

4) You can watch the film online. For a higher quality image and an intriguing new score check out Internet Archive. The lower quality Youtube version contains the original music.

Immortal being, mysterious sphere, and urban expanse
Immortal being amusing itself
Viewscreens and explorer entranced by the sphere
Matter shaping as ennui-filled pastime
Matter shaping as ennui-filled pastime, part 2 of 159 (a guess)
An immortal being with the mysterious ball and various instruments of sinister science
An immortal being and its viewing device

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9 thoughts on “SF Film Rumination: Chronopolis, dir. Piotr Kamler (1982)”

  1. Science as mysticism or a mirror image of it’s supposed antithesis religion is very apropos for this century.

    1. I’m not sure it’s the message of the film but it is the effect due to the film’s obsessive repetitions and rituals. But then again, any far future manifestation of matter manipulation certain feels mystical…

  2. Wow! This is wilder than Gandahar/Light Years.

    I feel that all I need to do to be complete is find the lost film “Equis” – the early 80s Klaymation version – by a H. Simpson from “Springfield” but state not specified… (Believed lost – all reels destroyed due to riots of teachers and parents after screened in Saturday matinee by mistake)

    But the love and attention put to this is amazing! I don’t see ANY “Junk” – as most “Mixed media” artists used. Even in Lynch’s Dune you see some junk glued in during the navigator/flight scene – this guy used clay and if he had had a Peter Jackson budget with top artists he couldn’t have done better.

    And I think there’s a subtle influence later – perhaps simply “First!” but on M Kaluta the artist, some other animation films including “We are the Strange”, etc.

    Makes me want to pull out Zbrush – or even some super sculpey and make at least one of those “Techno-Wizards”… And I’m trying to finish up current projects…!

    1. I read that it took him close to 5 years on a 400k budget to put it together. Definitely check out the two other creators I mentioned in the post — The Brothers Quay and Jan Švankmajer–they remain my two favorite (or 3 really) animators.

  3. Watched this last night. fascinating!
    Was reminded of the cover of ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery lp (1973) at times. https://sacredcalf.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/giger-elp_-_brain_salad_surgery.jpg?w=300&h=300 (The lp cover was split down the centre and both halves opened up a bit like a triptych to reveal the complete head that you see a bit of in a circle of outer cover.
    https://www.plaidroomrecords.com/products/b-emerson-lake-palmer-b-br-i-brain-salad-surgery-i?variant=33063736722)
    Probably no connection though!

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