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Franciszka and Stefan Themerson
The Themersons made seven films, the first in Warsaw in 1930, the last in London in 1945.

They were all experimental, and together they add up to 61 minutes of screen time. On the face of it, this may seem a modest contribution to film history, easily overlooked. It endures by virtue of their technical invention, and the originality of their ideas and effects. The surviving films (and stills from the lost works) remain compelling visual material, and not just period pieces.

The Themersons were also a living part of film history. They were central catalytic figures in the Polish avant-garde of the 1930s. Their first film Apteka (Pharmacy) was screened in 1930 at the Warsaw film club START. Franciszka was 22, Stefan was 20, 'a young boy from the provinces who knew what he wanted'. They also took part in film clubs in Cracow, Lwow, and Lodz, and then, in 1935, they founded SAF (one of the first film co-operatives). In their Warsaw apartment, they designed, edited and produced its journal, fa (art film). They travelled to Paris and London, 1936/37, met film-makers, and arranged first screenings in Warsaw of the European avant-garde (Len Lye, Basil Wright, Moholy-Nagy, Rene Clair, Leger, Chomette, Lacombe, Gilson).

There are direct links between that community and the wartime Polish Film Unit, under the aegis of Polish Ministry of Information & Documentation in London, where they worked during 1942-54. Eugeniusz Ckalski, its first director, had been a member of SAF, as had Aleksander Ford, who also directed films for the Unit, 1943-44. No history of the Unit exists but ten films are preserved in the Imperial War Museum, London, and there were more.

The hallmark element of most of the Themersons' film production was the 'trick-table' devised by Stefan, filming frame by frame. All of the films involved transformation: transformations of objects -- bulbs, bread, apples, birds, hands, bottles, leaves -- that become shapes in motion. Stefan referred to the early films as photograms in motion.

Stefan Themerson's sketch of his trick table, used between 1929 and 1945
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