Jerzy Skolimowski Tom Allen - Essay

Tom Allen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I am more ready to accept Skolimowski as a bonafide stylist in the school of mechanico-yet-rapturous absurdism, which tended to self-destruct at the turn of the decade, than as an artist. And I'll settle for King, Queen, Knave as a molehill of dreck….

For the first and perhaps purest example of a spoof that works, I would have to recommend Skolimowski's The Adventures of Gerard. It has the good sense to steer a delightful ninny of a hero across the massive canvas of Napoleon's campaign against Wellington in Spain. Invention is never allowed to flag, yet it remains chilly and stylistically distanced at the core….

Combining touches of black humor and a handsome production on the throwaway epic scale that makes Bondarchuk's Waterloo look drab and ponderous, The Aventures of Gerard is an affectionate valentine to gallant foolhardiness….

Nabokov's King, Queen, Knave is a jagged triangle: a haberdashery-tycoon husband preoccupied with inventing motorized mannequins; a neglected wife who initiates a young relative into sex and homicide; and the young target of her wiles tempted with pleasures and power beyond the ken of his humble origins. Skolimowski's treatment achieves only a clinically kinky and cliched burlesque rather than a vigorously erotic slapstick of manners. The film's final metaphor of the King transforming his Queen into an assembly-line window mannequin is an accurate reflection of the human level on which all the characters are treated. I fear the tendency to mannequinize his characters is also the central flaw of all of Skolimowski's films this past decade.

Tom Allen, "Old Stylists Never Die" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1978), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXIII, No. 50, December 11, 1978, p. 59.∗