Lech Majewski is a poet, media artist, writer and film, theatre and opera director. He studied at Krakow Academy of Fine Arts and graduated from the National Film School in Łódź, Poland. His video, film and art works are shown in a variety of galleries and museums around the world. He lectures on hidden language of symbols at various universities, colleges and academies of art.
2019 saw a completion of the VALLEY OF THE GODS, a film shot in Utah, Los Angeles, Rome and in the castles of Poland. Written, directed and produced by Lech Majewski it weaves together three narrative threads: Navajo archaic legend about gods locked inside the rocks; a story of the wealthiest person on earth who lives hidden away from the world suffering from a personal tragedy; and that of the narrator, who works as a copywriter at the billionaire’s company. Josh Hartnett, John Malkovich, Berenice Marlohe, John Rhys-Davies and Keir Dullea are among the cast. “Valley of the Gods is a large-scale drama with a grand visual sweep. There are things in it that I will remember long after most of the more conventional movies of late have faded away – writes Peter Sobczynski for Roger Ebert. – Wonderfully unrestrained cinematic vision!” In the same year Majewski became a voting member of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Mr. Majewski’s Art could be seen recently at Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome; Palacio de Cibeles, Madrid; Wapping Project and National Gallery in London; Latvian National Museum; Muzeum Śląskie; Fundacion Ludwig Havana and Tel-Aviv Museum of Art. He lectured at the Universities of Pisa and Bologna; Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma; Amherst College and University of Massachusetts while University of Cambridge has organized a retrospective of his video and films. Between 2015 and 2020 “Rebis” Publishing House and National Center for Culture Poland brought out a 15-volume edition of his writings, including six novels, four books of essays, four volumes of screenplays and a volume of selected poems. In 2017 he staged his theatre play MARIACKA 5.
His remarkable ONIRICA / FIELD OF DOGS (2014) is a filmic exploration of loss and spiritual redemption. A visionary love story based on a contemporary reading of Dante’s Divine Comedy and set in Poland in 2010, an ominous year marked with floods, fires and the catastrophe of the presidential plane being torn apart in mysterious circumstances. “The visuals are again striking and the theme of death deeply examined in an original way” – wrote Deborah Young in Hollywood Reporter, and the Italian Corriere della Sera called it “A masterpiece! The best film inspired by Dante”.
In 2011, Lech Majewski completed three years of work on THE MILL & THE CROSS, a film based on Peter Bruegel’s painting The Way to Calvary and a monograph by Michael Francis Gibson. This unique digital tapestry, composed of layer upon layer of perspective, atmospheric phenomena and people, required patience and imagination as well as the use of new CG technology and 3D effects. Starring Charlotte Rampling, Michael York and Rutger Hauer as Bruegel, the film opened at Sundance Film Festival and was praised by Dennis Harvey in Variety as “an extraordinary imaginative leap; visually ravishing, surprisingly beguiling gamble; immersive experience… remarkable.” Daniel M. Gold in The New York Times stated that the film “casts a transfixing spell”; Ross Ufberg in Galo Magazine and Alain Spira in Paris-Match called it “a masterpiece of cinema”; and Roger Ebert in Chicago Sun-Times wrote: “Here is a film of great beauty and attention before which words fall silent”. Since then the film sold to over 80 countries and has taken part in a score of festivals. Based on this intricate film work, Majewski created a series of videoart pieces entitled BRUEGEL SUITE that were installed in February 2011 in the Louvre and in June became a part of the 54.Venice Biennale, displayed in Titian’s parish, Chiesa San Lio.
While working on THE MILL & THE CROSS, Majewski has had retrospectives of his works in New Zealand, where he lectured at the University of Canterbury on The Hidden Language of Symbols in Art. He lectured on the same subject at Harvard and staged Karol Szymanowski’s opera KING ROGER at Bard Music Festival in New York. In the same period various presentations of his Art took place at Image Forum, Tokyo; Yokohama Museum of Art; National Gallery Zachęta, Warsaw; The SPOT Taipei House, Taiwan; National Museum, Kraków and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He also wrote his sixth novel MANHATTAN BABILON.
In 2006, The Museum of Modern Art in New York honored Mr. Majewski with a major retrospective of his works, entitled Lech Majewski: Conjuring the Moving Image. Curated by Laurence Kardish, the retrospective presented Majewski’s films and video features. The world premiere of BLOOD OF A POET, a unique sequel of thirty-three videoart pieces was the highlight of the opening night at MoMA. Exhibited later by many galleries and museums, Blood of a Poet was installed at the Berlinale in February, 2007; and in June became a part of the 52nd Venice Biennale. Later the cycle was assembled into a single feature film GLASS LIPS, which premiered at the Pacific Cinematheque in Vancouver. In November 2007 the film opened in the U.S. New York Times critic, Jeannette Catsoulis, wrote: “Lech Majewski creates an aesthetic of dysfunction that’s as beautiful as it is disturbing. After a while the film’s expressiveness becomes so hypnotic that it’s difficult not to make your own connections.” New York Post critic, V. A. Musetto, called Glass Lips: “one of the most unusual, beautiful films of the year.”
In 2007, the Lech Majewski Retrospective that originated at MoMA, traveled to The Art Institute of Chicago; Portland Art Museum; Cleveland’s Wexner Arts Center; UCLA; Honolulu Academy of Arts; Berkeley Art Museum, and The National Gallery in Washington DC. The Washington Post staff writer, Philip Kennicott, wrote: “Majewski is a brilliant filmmaker whose haunting aesthetic is processed through a lively mind and idiosyncratic imagination, chastened and tempered by history, and captured on screen with the rigor and perfectionism of an artist who might also carve castles out of toothpicks. Throughout his films, the great categories of our existence – the public and private, the personal and political, the natural world and the man-made one – are not bounded at all, but constantly dissolve into one another.”
In 2005, two major retrospectives of Mr. Majewski’s works were organized in Buenos Aires/Mar del Plata and in London, where the British Film Academy, Riverside Studios, and Curzon Cinemas showed his films, while the Whitechapel Art Gallery showed his video art. A year earlier he assembled a dozen video pieces – a collection of visual poems entitled DiViNITIES and published his fifth novel, THE HYPNOTIST.
2002 saw a number of Mr. Majewski’s works appear. The Lithuanian National Opera staged his CARMEN, while theatergoers in Germany could see his production of the THREE PENNY OPERA as well as an experimental theatre piece TRAMWAY performed in Düsseldorf’s tram. He also published his fourth novel METAPHYSICS, on which he based his film THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS, an Anglo-Italian production shot in Venice and London. Completed in 2004, it won the Grand Prix at the International Film Festival in Rome. “There is magic in The Garden of Earthly Delights intimate passion plays – wrote R. Emmet Sweeney in The Village Voice, – each moment becomes achingly gorgeous.” “This film puts to shame most other love stories in its honesty, – wrote The Washington Post; – within a very philosophical framework, Majewski manages to tell an astonishingly human story: the staggering weirdness of being human: frail, material, dependent, and filled with ideas and aspirations that transcend everything. The Garden of Earthly Delights is among the most powerful films made in years.” Mick LaSalle wrote in San Francisco Chronicle: “I don’t think I’ll forget this one. It has a strange, longing beauty about it” and Tim Lucas of Sight & Sound called it ”one of my favorite films of all time”.
In 2000 Majewski became a member of the European Film Academy and began filming ANGELUS, an epic about Silesian coalminers living in an occult commune. “There’s a purified aura of beauty in Angelus that creates a sometimes stunning sense of the imagination overcoming all obstacles, – wrote Robert Koehler in Variety; – the film’s mode of setting up fantastically designed and lensed shots has a nearly hallucinating impact on the eye.” Angelus won a number of prizes, including the Fellini Award. In the same year THE ROES’ROOM was presented at Venice’s Palagraziussi (in collaboration with the Venice Biennale), and in 2002 in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris.
In 1999, Majewski directed WOJACZEK. Shown at a number of festivals, including Rotterdam, Berlin, Jerusalem, Rio de Janeiro, London, New York, Montreal and Los Angeles, the film received over twenty prizes, among them the European Award in Strasbourg and in Barcelona where the International Federation of Film Societies chose Wojaczek as the Best Independent Film of the Year 2000, giving it a prestigious Don Quixote Award. The amateur Krzysztof Siwczyk, who played the lead, was nominated by the European Film Academy as the Best European Actor. “Superb and surprisingly witty – Michael Phillips wrote in Chicago Tribune: – Wojaczek operates on a deadpan comic tone established by its achingly beautiful sense of visual composure. Excellent!” A.O. Scott in The New York Times called it “georgeous” and Berlinale’s Doris Meirhenrich “a virtuoso achievement!”
In 1997 Mr. Majewski staged and filmed in Germany his own version of Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. A year later, he produced a series of CD’s featuring Polish modern music masters, notably Henryk Mikołaj Górecki. In the same year he staged TRAMWAY, an experimental “30 kilometer performance” and built an installation ACCIDENT in the Modern Art Gallery of his native town of Katowice. A videoart based on this exhibition won the 32nd Houston International Film Festival.
In 1996, Lech Majewski debuted as a librettist and a composer (together with Józef Skrzek) writing his autobiographical opera THE ROE’S ROOM. It premiered at the Silesian Opera and won The Golden Mask Award. Polygram Records brought out a double CD. Subsequently the International Theater Institute (ITI) selected it from over six hundred entries to be among the dozen best new operas in the world, and presented it in Düsseldorf in 1998. In the same year, based on his opera, Mr. Majewski made a feature THE ROE’S ROOM, described as “absolutely singular ‘autobiographical film opera’… Limpidly beautiful ‘cycle of life’ parable… One of a kind !” (Time Out London); “Ravaging intensity!” (The Washington Post); and “a strange, entrancing beauty that possess a memorable, haunting quality” (Variety).
In 1995 Lech Majewski co-produced BASQUIAT. Based on the story Majewski wrote and directed by Julian Schnabel, the film was awarded at the Venice Film Festival. It featured Jeffrey Wright, Benicio del Torro, Willem Dafoe, Gary Oldman, Tatum O’Neal, Courtney Love, Dennis Hopper and David Bowie as Andy Warhol. In the same year Mr. Majewski directed THE BLACK RIDER in Heilbronn, Germany. His version of this postmodernist opera by Bob Wilson, Tom Waits and William Burroughs won him “Killianpreis” for the best direction in German theatre and was praised by German critics as “a true mastery” (Stuttgarter Zeitung), “magnificent, hypnotic spectacle” (Stimme), “breathtaking journey into the unknown” (Rundblick).
His staging of Penderecki’s UBU REX in 1993 brought Mr. Majewski to the opera world and won him several awards including a Golden Mask for the best production and Golden Orpheus at the 1994 Warsaw Autumn Festival. In September of 1995, Polish National Opera opened the new season with his production of Bizet’s CARMEN, transmitted live by CANAL+. The prestigious magazine Opera International cited this staging among the best of 1995 opera productions in the world.
In 1992, together with David Lynch’s Propaganda Films, he produced and directed GOSPEL ACCORDING TO HARRY, which Piers Handling of the Toronto Film Festival called “a visionary film poem”. Viggo Mortensen, memorable Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, debuted in the lead. Between 1987 and 1992 Majewski wrote two novels THE PIED PIPER OF NEW YORK and PILGRIMAGE TO THE GRAVE OF BRIGITTE BARDOT MIRACULOUS. He lectured at Timothy Dwight College at Yale University and published a volume of essays THE OFFICIAL CENTRE OF THE WORLD.
In 1986 Mr. Majewski went to Rio de Janeiro to develop a screenplay with the “world’s most wanted man”, Ronald Biggs, one of the perpetrators of the English Great Train Robbery. PRISONER OF RIO (1989), based on the story of Biggs’ kidnapping by Scotland Yard, was completed at Pinewood Studios and released worldwide by Columbia Pictures-TriStar. Majewski acted both as the Director and Executive Producer of the film that features Steven Berkoff, Florinda Bolkan, Peter Firth and Paul Freeman. Hans Zimmer made his debut as a score composer.
In 1983, the artist moved to the United States. Based on his first novel published in Poland CHESTNUT, he wrote a screenplay for his US film debut FLIGHT OF THE SPRUCE GOOSE (1985), starring Karen Black, Betsy Blair and George Romero. It was produced by Michael Hausman, who brought out such films as Forman’s Amadeus and Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. In the same year Mr. Majewski became a member of the Writers Guild of America and Directors Guild of America.
In 1982 he staged Homer’s ODYSSEY in London. Produced by Shivaun O’Casey, with the backers like Samuel Beckett and John Cleese, it played on a barge sailing on the Thames. The London Times hailed it as “potent theatre”.
While still in Poland, Mr. Majewski wrote and directed two feature films: ANNUNCIATION (1978) and THE KNIGHT (1980), which Janet Maslin described in the New York Times as “a haunting, austere parable directed with assurance… His film retains its spare, arresting visual style throughout”, and by Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times as “beautiful and mystical”.
Lech Majewski was born in 1953 in Katowice, Poland, initially studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, but in 1973 moved to the Directing Department at the Film School in Łódź. The documentary film GRAND HOTEL (1975), made during his studies, won the Grand Prix at the International Film Schools Festival.