Did it even happen? Cruising hidden desire through camera lens in Piotr Majdrowicz’s Misunderstanding (1978)

August 2, 2017
Aleksandra Gajowy
1 Aug 2017

Et maintenant par la grâce de l’imaginaire, bon voyage!
– Guy Hocquenghem, Le Gay Voyage

Picture a scene: young sportsmen at the end of a running competition. Their muscles flexed in the last effort to make it to the finishing line. Then, the race complete, they let their bodies soften, relax. They stroll slowly off the track, shaking hands, chatting lazily. This is where Piotr Majdrowicz’s 1978 film, Nieporozumienie (Misunderstanding), begins.

This first scene itself wouldn’t, perhaps, be worthy of a particular attention. To a Polish viewer especially, it resembles an all-too-familiar format of the Polish Film Chronicle, a series of short propaganda documentaries shown before cinema screenings between 1944 and 1995, and often replayed by the public television today for entertainment.[1] The videos, particularly pre-1989, portrayed prosperous daily life in communist Poland, as well as significant events, such as celebrations of national holidays or sporting events. The material was accompanied by a light-hearted commentary praising the quality of life under communism. At first glance, then, the scene described above could well be an outtake from a Chronicle, emphasising agility and commendable sporting spirit of Polish youth; and yet, a sense of confusion appears. The background music – a slow piano tune – seems ill-synchronised, disrupting the dynamism of the scene. Gradually, it transpires that the camera gaze fixates on one runner in particular, in a transition so subtle it only becomes evident on a close inspection. Then, we see a series of photographs of the same athlete, carefully handled by someone’s hands. A short shot of a melancholic young man’s face – presumably the photographer – is interrupted by the opening credits. What are we witnessing? What is the dynamic at play?

Read the essay in full at LUX.

Aleksandra Gajowy
is a PhD researcher in Art History at Newcastle University. Her doctoral project focuses on representations and ontology of queer body in performance and body art in Poland since the 1970s until present, with particular focus on censorship, Catholic Church, and HIV/AIDS narratives. Her research is funded by the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership, the Arts and Humanities Research Council. She has presented parts of this research at international annual conferences such as Association of Art Historians (Edinburgh, 2016; Loughborough, 2017) and College Art Association (New York, 2017). She will chair a session on queer spaces in visual arts at the Universities Art Association of Canada annual conference (Banff, 2017) and is currently working on a journal article which will be published in Art Margins later this year.

Image: Piotr Majdrowicz, Misunderstanding (1978). Film still.