Tuesday, 27 September 2011

FUTUR (Piotr Janas, 1958)

'Forty years and I have learned nothing, nothing useful, about the people, factories, politics and personalities of Hackney. The name has declined to a brand identity. A chart-topper: worst services, best crime, dump of dumps. A map that is a boast on a public signboard, a borough outline like a parody of England. My ignorance of the area in which I have made my life, watched my children grow up, is shameful. I've walked over much of it, on a daily basis, taken thousands of photographs, kept a, 8mm film diary for seven years: what does it amount to? Strategies for avoiding engagement, elective amnesia, dream-paths that keep me submerged in the dream.' Iain Sinclair

In 1947, Piotr Janas moved from Gdansk in Poland to London in England and immediately started work on his only film. His script revolved around a young man in wartime Poland who slipped forwards and backwards in time, and when he began shooting in the bereft streets of postwar London, the problem of the setting was evident. 'I didn't know if London was big enough to stage my memories of my bombed and occupied hometown. Even though it dwarfs Gdansk, the intensity of my destroyed home looms large.'

Janas never planned to leave anything more than just this one artifact, a nine-hour compendium of 'every thought, waking, sleeping, and the delicious etherworld in between.' He shot hundreds of hours of footage in London between 1947 and 1953, and became intrigued by the way that the narratives of different places can echo. 'I filmed so much, imprinting my memories of a now dead past onto my new home, that the effect was dizzying. I began to see doppelgangers of childhood girlfriends in the windows of London buses, and a turn down a calm street in Notting Hill one day drew me to my childhood road completely, even though they bear few similarities, except my own presence at one time, and then another.'

Compelled, Janas shot more footage throughout 1955 and 1956, bleeding his new autobiography into his script. 'All films are really, of course, about making films. The viewer cannot help but be aware, somehow, of the fact that their view is one given to them by an invisible hand. This was even more true for mine, it being my one and only attempt.' Janas' biography of his own time in London was being folded in on itself, ingredients inseparable from his time-travel plot: The process as the art.

In 1958 the film was released under the name Futur (the final 'e' being dropped because Janas wanted to acknowledge the unfinished quality of even an exhaustive work like this.) It is largely a science fiction narrative following a man as he jumps between occupied Poland and a dreamy future. But for long periods our hero is gone, vanished from the text, lost amid documentary footage of Picadilly Circus, Hyde Park, or Hackney's Mare Street. During many sequences, Janas' voice walks with us. His words are a jumble of his story and that of his character:

The future is made up of versions of the past, of course. Sometimes, our brain traces links, apparently to make the distortions more palatable. When I am in the future, I have memories of the present, and feel uncanny nostalgia for a variety of pasts. Walking down a London street, I know this is the near-future, so I scan the surroundings for clues, and tread carefully. It is busy, there are lots of people and cars. A girl loading furniture into a van wears a face mask to protect her breathing; a passing cyclist does the same. Other faces in the crowd wear them too, but not everyone. I pass a row of shops. Outside the pavement is filled with flatbed trolleys, the kind used to bring large amounts of milk or bottles of water back and forth. This makes the pathway hard to get through, so I step up onto one of the trolleys to let walkers pass in the other direction. Amongst the austere bustle, a dark-eyed woman smiles from under a furry Russian-style hat and fur coat. She looks like a school friend, fully grown, and is the only person making eye contact. Others move in and out of the supermarket with what I read as a life-during-wartime hollow calm, the kind that sets in after the realisation hits that panic stations cannot be manned permanently. Perhaps I am wrong.

I pass the supermarket. Behind me, a notably cheerful man camply declares that he will eat it (what? leftovers? something) with a few slices of FG. His female companion laughs. I walk on, debating in my head what FG might be. Conclusion: Fresh Golden, bread, and this sets a hunger off in me. I cross the street to a bakery selling the warmest, freshest loaves.

Home, at mother's. Except it is different. I reason that she has moved. It can't be too far into the future, but something has happened. This is a big, gorgeous house. I eat the bread with cheese, tomato and cucumber. My mother-in-law comes downstairs, and I remember that her and my father-in-law are staying here. My mother is out. My mother-in-law is carrying a cleaning device that is uses a vacuum- she has just done the upstairs bedroom, I guess, typically keeping busy. I show her the bread, and she is suddenly very hungry too. I cut more for her. I scan her face and the room for clues, something to bring back to my present, but I see none.

The unnamed central character never quite finds what he needs in either time. His frustration grows; this gift of foresight frequently proves useless to him, and the slivers of future he encounters contain little to carry back to the past for profit or nourishment. Before long, all he can see in the future is a looming absence: a world that rolls on, even after his death.

Futur Directed by Piotr Janas Produced by Thomas Standish Written by Piotr Janas, Tomas Lewandolski, Richard Smith Starring Robert Colt, Louise Mather Rabbit Films/CKF 552 mins Release Date UK: March 1958 US: 1982 Tagline: 'The Futur Is Murdr'

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