Lech Majewski’s Glass Lips (2007) debuted as an instillation piece at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It’s original title was Blood of a Poet, paying homage to Jean Cocteau’s 1930 film. Surreal, kaleidoscopic, and predominantly silent, Glass Lips feels like a series of interrelated shorts literally forming a “motion picture.”
Sebastien (Patrick Czajka) is the poet in question in this painterly film, which begins with his birth atop a towering rock. The sound of the infant wailing, his umbilical cord dangling, is the only one we hear from his lips. This image later connects to a waterlogged dream of his mother (Joanna Litwin) giving birth to a bloodied rock.
Maternal inertia is the dominant pigment used in painting Sebastien as the scourged poet. One striking image calls to mind early photographs of artist Andres Serrano (when Serrano actually counted). The sensual, nude mother, clothed only in pathos, glides by row after row of slaughtered hogs. The Serrano image, so striking and, for some reason, long unavailable, showed the image of Christ (a young, blonde woman, dressed in a short, black nightclub dress) before the swine (the hog’s bloodied torso hanging from a hook in the ceiling). Paradoxically, iconoclastic and liturgical metaphors repetitively intertwine in Majewski’s parochial bedlam.
The suffering mother is forced to witness her only son’s humiliation by a severe, unyielding father (Grzegorz Przybyl). The mother seeks to both nurture and be nurtured. She is not milked and can no longer can provide milk. Therefore, she baptizes her naked body, as Sebastien witnesses. For the father, mother is not fully human. She is merely a hole for his convenience. She is, at first, replaced by a blow-up doll.
Eventually, the death of his wife resonates and the father peels away layer after layer, to discover his own folly. But, neither is Sebastien guiltless. His romanticized nihilism might be something akin to dysfunctional stained glass windows that simultaneously mythologize, canonize and eroticize his projected experiences.
Alpo as the Eucharist; erotic playtime between Ma and Pa as Sebastien, bound and adorned in first communion dress, stands in for the host in this poetic reenactment of transubstantiation.
The homoerotic frescoes of St. Sebastien are re-imaged with a Marian sheen. Mother repeatedly replaces son in martyrdom. Rows of the maternal tree, reduced to an orifice by exploring patriarchal hands.
There is also resurrection. Nothing is permanent, possible because the martyr also co-created his passion, painted his pathos, and unraveled the rope which ties him to the cliches and traditions of the doomed poet.
Majewski himself composed the impressive score, creating a lush language to supplant impotent words. Glass Lips not only inspires the viewer to labor in his or her voyeurism, but the film also demands some sweat from those who write about it.