An excerpt from the booklet essay by David Thompson
Walkover (Walkower, 1965) was Skolimowski’s official first feature, made just after he had emerged from the Łódź Film School, though it was in fact preceded by another, Identification Marks: None (Rysopis, 1965). Unlike many of his generation, his path to film-making was not born of a youthful cinephilia, in fact in his teens he regarded cinema as entertainment and little else. Born in 1938, his very early years were shadowed by World War II: the apartment in which his family lived was bombed in 1939, and his father was arrested by the Germans for being a member of the Polish Resistance and taken to a concentration camp, where he died in 1943. A sickly child, Skolimowski was lucky to be sent to Switzerland to regain his health. His mother was made a cultural attaché in Prague in 1947, and while there he was sent to an elite boarding school where among his fellow pupils were Václav Havel, Ivan Passer and Miloš Forman. On return to Poland, he entered Wrocław University to study archaeology and ethnology, but was diverted into writing poetry (examples of which turn up in his early films) as well as taking up boxing for two years, an experience which became significant in the conception of Walkover. Time spent at a writer’s retreat brought him into contact with the already esteemed director Andrzej Wajda, who took him on as a co-screenwriter and even actor on his film Innocent Sorcerers (Niewinni czarodzieje, 1960). And it was Wajda who encouraged Skolimowski to apply to attend the Łódź Film School, where he was one of four accepted out of two hundred candidates.
Skolimowski was at the film school from 1960 to 1964, and by his own account he was both a poor student, hardly bothering to turn up to classes, and a brilliant one, creating a succession of highly inventive short films. His prestige grew quickly, especially as he was asked by former star student Roman Polański to co-script his feature debut, Knife in the Water (Nóż w wodzie, 1962). Quickly realising that even after this thorough training he would have to work his way up through the industry as an assistant for many years, Skolimowski hit on the idea of making most of his school shorts in a way that they could finally be assembled into a feature film. As stock was at a premium, each scene had to also be justified as an essay in a prescribed technical challenge, such as using a zoom lens, filming conversations between actors, subjective camera, operating in a single set and so on. In addition to this, for the sake of continuity, the director also played the lead role, so that he could maintain his appearance and be readily available when shooting had to happen.
The result was Identification Marks: None, which followed the struggles of a day in the life of a character called Andrzej Leszczyc who in spirit obviously bore parallels with its creator. Leszczyc was a student who had flunked his studies by failing to complete his thesis in ichthyology, and was now facing up to three months of military service. But within the time we follow him, he is constantly changing his story and his aspirations, a restless, rebellious figure at odds with the conformism and rigidity of communist Poland. The cultural life in the country in the late 50s and 60s was dominated by the General Secretary of the Communist Party, Władysław Gomułka, and although he emerged at the time of the thaw after the appalling rigours of Stalinism, he nevertheless introduced greater censorship to keep everyone in line with the dictates of Moscow. Skolimowski’s approach to expressing the frustrations of a new generation alive to the exploding freedoms enjoyed in the West had of necessity to be oblique and occasionally obscure, but all the signs were there of a very different kind of filmmaker from the previous generation, one who was moving as far away as he could from the rigid tenets of socialist realism towards a questioning individualism.
Skolimowski himself has surmised that it was his anti-conformist stance that in fact helped him receive approval for his script for Walkover, and the film, his first fully professional effort, was made – like so many in his career – very speedily. He wanted to continue the story of his alter-ego Leszczyc, an ‘alternative view’ of his actual life, while his lack of experience with actors led him once again to cast himself in the role. [...] And if his previous film had been composed of sequences in a great variety of styles, for Walkover he opted to make it with a small number of very long takes. This involved the camera tracking a great deal, and all on real locations, including a massive industrial site. For all the inherent challenges in such a strategy, this was achieved with a remarkable fluency, though the single-minded director did not win himself much popularity with his crew. Skolimowski later said that he went to some trouble to seek out the longest rolls of film stock he could find, so that some sequences would last the then maximum length of about 11 minutes. It was also, he has claimed, a way of compensating for his ignorance of editing, as he had skipped most of the classes on that subject at Łódź. Whatever the reasons, not only were the images fresh and unexpected, but Skolimowski also found ways of using sound in a highly creative way, placing a jazz score [by the great Andrzej Trzaskowski] throughout with its source always revealed, usually from a transistor radio. Although these stylistic diversions can now been enjoyed as virtuosic, when the film was presented at the New York Film Festival one critic remarked that it was very kind of the director to bring over his rushes. In riposte, Skolimowski received a note from Jean-Luc Godard (who was also at the festival) advising him to ignore such reviews, for they were the best two film directors in the world!
David Thompson's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the Walkover booklet which accompanies this release.
Dialogue 20 40 60
i. Skolimowski in conversation at BFI Southbank
ii. Michael Brooke's Walkover commentary - preview
iii. Michael Brooke's Barrier commentary - preview
iv. Great Directors: Jerzy Skolimowski
v. Skolimowski on Walkover at Cannes 1965
Poland / Czechoslovakia
1960 - 1968
Features: 75 / 81 / 80 minutes
Special features: 62 mins
Sound: 2.0 Dual Mono
Black and white
Original aspect ratio: 1.66:1, 1.37:1, 1.33:1
Language: Polish, Czech
Blu-ray: BD50 /
1080 / 24fps
Region ABC (Region Free)
Release Date: 18 Dec 2023