Chronopolis is a 1983 stop-motion science fiction feature from Polish director Piotr Kamler.
The film’s sparse narrative involves a group of Immortal beings who inhabit a colossal city which sits above the clouds. The Immortals spend their time constructing, sculpting and bringing to life various forms of matter. A group of mortal explorers scale a tower, and one of them loses their grip and falls. After floating through the cloudy ether for some time, they land, unconcious, on a pipe. One of the Immortal’s creations, a living orb, wakes the unconcious figure. The figure and the orb begin to dance together and journey along the pipe. The pair eventually appear before three immortals which tower over them. The faces of the Immortals begin to pit and disintergrate, as do the walls of their city and their creations. The city is engulfed in a creeping darkness. The film concludes with the explorer and living orb moving along a line through a white void.
As far as narratives go this one is pretty loose, and the events that unfold throughout the film can be interpreted a number of ways. Kamler’s UbuWeb profile states itwell; “Completely unalike to more conventionally linear and text-based narratives, Kamler’s films instead explore a series of dynamic visual motifs.”. The narrative is set by an opening crawl which details the Immortals boredom and desire. Everything else is implied visually as there is no dialogue throughout the film. The original 1982 version had narration, however in the final cut the narration was removed.
Chronopolis drifts between the borders of abstraction and figurative representation. Often, you can tell you are looking at a physical object in 3-dimensional space, but the nature of the object is obscured and incomprehensible.
You really get the sense of great age in the design of the Immortals and their city. They exhibit small imperfections, marks and physical flaws throughout their seemingly inorganic forms. Their reserved movement also betrays age, or at least apathy. The city’s old stone panels with intricate patterns and reliefs give a feeling that it might be from a time of early agrarian pre-history, or perhaps from a far off alien culture. The world of Chronopolis seems almost devoid of colour. The muted earthy tones, of concrete or stone are only ever punctuated by the occaisonal flashes of orange or red energy.
The inventiveness of the editing and compositing throughout Chronopolis is the work of a master. Both Kamler and the Immortal figures within the film playfully manipulate time. Kamler uses rapid jumpcuts, swiftly layered wipe transitions, microcuts and undulatinglight to create the sense that the city of Chronopolis follows it’s own laws of time and entropy.
The final shot in the film is particularly telling; a human figure walking in a void and a bouncing ball following. Perhaps this is a self-reflexive reference to the form of animation itself as two of the first sequences an animator will likely learn is the simple walk cycle, and the physical properties of a bouncing ball.
The version I viewed was the final cut which ran at 52 minutes however the original 1982 version runs at 66 minutes which I am keen to get my hands on. Chronopolis‘ production ran for 5 years, from 1977-1982 with Kamler completing most of the animation and editing himself. It’s interesting to note that he recieved a grant for $400,000 by utilising a script which had nothing to do with the final film.
Chronopolis is a film which might not appeal to many viewers due to it’s sparse narrative and recurring abstractions; however I really enjoyed the fascinating world Kamler created and his masterful use of the medium to self-reflexively examine the artform. Check it out.