Feb 18, 2013

Humbug, 1970

Humbug may be a short and simple animation, but it is a powerful criticism of an oppressive political system, presumably a specifically Polish one. By the end of the 1970s, the year the film was made, Poland was in economic turmoil, and the regime was facing back lash from an extremely discontented public. Although Poland was not the worst of the Soviet Bloc, filmmakers Gerald Piszczek & Michal Kuczminski had to be taking a risk in even contemplating such an overtly critical piece.  

Words are meaningless in the film; letters spouting from the mouth of the protagonist, a two-dimensional (literally & figuratively) autocrat are representative of false promises and tired party lines.  As the dispelled characters build up in a pile, the crowd grows, but when a gigantic ‘Z’ tops the heap of letters, the smaller ones underneath become crushed by its weight. The Man himself really does get the last word. Nonetheless, the pulpit from which the leader addresses the crowd is quickly transformed into a guillotine, and his head goes to join the shelves of other state officials. Ironically, he himself cuts the ribbon that releases the blade.

Subtle in its form, the film makes a weighty impact. I can’t help but wonder who, at the time it was made, actually got the chance to see it.

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