UK 1953, 29 mins
UK 1956, 48 mins
Director: Lorenza Mazzetti

+ intro discussing the Mazzetti film restorations by William Fowler, Curator, and Elena Nepoti, Film Conservation Manager, BFI National Archive

The Slade School of Fine Art, where Lorenza Mazzetti enrolled as a painter in 1951, is a department of University College London (UCL), albeit one that maintains a certain distance from its peers. The way Mazzetti tells it in Together with Lorenza Mazzetti is that one day while exploring the campus she chanced upon the clubroom of UCL Film Society, and it was through this encounter that she made her first film – K – adapted from Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.

Kafka’s story begins with Gregor Samsa waking from uneasy dreams one morning to find himself transformed into a giant bug. Mazzetti’s adaptation is a model of intelligent compression, but also of expansion, and the film begins with scenes that are not in Kafka’s original, establishing Gregor as a travelling salesman grovelling to his boss. Whereas Kafka’s story is set wholly inside the Samsa family home, Mazzetti inserts outdoor sequences that can be interpreted as Gregor’s fantasy.

The film was most likely shot in the spring of 1952. For the role of Gregor Samsa, Mazzetti cast Michael Andrews, a fellow painter at the Slade and, at some point, her boyfriend. Claude Rogers, one of their teachers, took the role of Gregor’s father. Mazzetti’s cameraman, shooting on 16mm, mostly handheld, was Ahmed al-Hadary, an engineering student at UCL. Given the technical limitations of student filmmaking, K was an ambitious production, shot on more than a dozen locations across London.

One location that Mazzetti mentions is a Portobello Road market trader’s storeroom near her digs in Bayswater. Another was a fabric wholesaler whose boss, Jacob Lowensberg, she charmed into playing Gregor’s boss. Another location in the Portobello Road area was the home of a total stranger, Mary Rava, who lent her living room – a situation that attests to Mazzetti’s extraordinary powers of persuasion. Exterior locations include the rooftops and alleys of Soho, a trolleybus in Clerkenwell and the UCL campus itself.

All of these spaces Mazzetti cut together with the most primitive technical means, on her bed, to create a highly subjective imaginary city, a projection of her protagonist’s mental state – witness how Gregor’s bedroom changes from scene to scene.

Most of the soundtrack is occupied by Daniele Paris’s music but there is a credit for Jacopo Treves, who wrote Gregor’s monologues. In her first account of the film’s making, published in 1955, Mazzetti also credits Ennio Melis for his work on the soundtrack, which was by that account completed in Rome. It is difficult to be precise about dates but she was in Rome in the autumn of 1952.

It is equally difficult to give a date for the make-or-break screening of K at the Slade that Mazzetti describes in Together with Lorenza Mazzetti. The best evidence is an entry in the desk diary of William Coldstream, the Slade’s director and the screening’s organiser, for Tuesday, 1 December 1953, at 5.30pm: ‘Miss Mazzetti’s film’. There was at least one attested private screening before this date, however.

As Mazzetti recalled, the Slade screening prompted Denis Forman, director of the BFI, to ask her to pitch a new film but it seems also to have led to the BFI taking K on to its books as a distributor, hence the opening credit. During 1954, the BFI made K available on 16mm, seemingly under the title Metamorphosis, primarily for film societies. Its first known public screening was at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in April 1954, as part of a programme of experimental films presented by the BFI’s Ernest Lindgren.

The next 50 years of K’s history are opaque but at some point it was deaccessioned by the BFI. The extant version is based on materials that were in Mazzetti’s possession until about 2011, when they were accessioned by the Cinit archive in Venice and put on to DVD by Cinit’s magazine Cabiria.

In late 1956 a letter signed by Lorenza Mazzetti appeared in the BFI’s Sight and Sound magazine saying that ‘For some time I have been conscious of an injustice in the credit titles of Together, which attribute the creative responsibility for the film entirely to myself.’ The letter went on to say that ‘the first title has now been amended to read ‘a film by Lorenza Mazzetti and Denis Horne’. The direction credit is similarly shared. It seems the film’s original credits already attributed the story to Horne. The letter was written from 105 Oakley Street, which happened to be Denis Horne’s address.

The genesis of Together is slightly mysterious. As Mazzetti recalls in Together with Lorenza Mazzetti, she proposed what was then titled ‘The Glass Marble’ to Denis Forman, director of the BFI, after he saw K, and the project was approved by the BFI’s Experimental Production Committee at a meeting in March 1954. The minutes for this meeting refer to a synopsis ‘proposed by a group of Slade students’ rather than Mazzetti alone, and Mazzetti herself, writing close to the time, refers to her working with unnamed ‘writers’ on her basic idea of ‘a story about two deaf-mute labourers in the London Docks’. But these writers did not include Horne; at that point he and Mazzetti had not met. By her account their first meeting occurred after the film had gone into production, some time in mid-1954, and while he contributed to the film as a writer, much of what he contributed was not filmed.

The BFI’s archive contains a synopsis titled ‘The Glass Marble’, and though it is undated and unattributed, it could well be Horne’s version. But although there are numerous points of contact with the finished film, there are many dissimilarities, above all its large cast of characters and range of subplots. As Mazzetti says in London Diary, Horne left the project – and for a time Mazzetti’s life, since they were lovers – when he tried to take over direction and was swiftly rebuffed by Mazzetti’s lead actors. Mazzetti wrote in 1956 that ‘I did not want anything happening in the story’, and that is largely what she achieved. However, Horne remained on the scene for some years afterwards, and evidently they were reconciled as of late 1956, at the time of the letter.

Other than Michael Andrews and Eduardo Paolozzi, only three performers are credited. Denis Richardson appears in no other film. Cecilia May has a small handful of television credits. Valy is Vali Myers, later a cult icon. Mazzetti may not have wanted anything happening in the film, but Vali provides the exception, shattering the bond between the two main characters – characters who represent Lorenza and her twin Paola, making Vali’s entry into the film, in view of the sisters’ shared trauma, all the more significant.

Production was completed a year after principal photography, in mid-1955, after the BFI put Mazzetti together with Lindsay Anderson, credited as supervising editor. Essentially he served as producer by helping Mazzetti edit it, arranging additional photography, organising the recording of the soundtrack, and giving the film its title. He also very effectively stage-managed the film’s launch as part of the first Free Cinema programme in February 1956. But the body of the film had been shot in 1954, largely at Mazzetti’s initiative, with Ahmed al-Hadary as cameraman, working with 35mm for the first time. It was they who went out in search of the film’s astonishing range of East End locations, from Wapping to Canning Town, persuading pub landlords, dock workers, and fairground operators to let them film in their places of work – two outsiders discovering a new city.
Henry K Miller, from BFI booklet for Lorenza Mazzzetti Collection Blu-ray boxset

Director: Lorenza Mazzetti
Presented by: British Film Institute, Slade School of Fine Art
Suggested by the work of: Franz Kafka
Cameraman: Ahmed Al Hadary
Music: Danièle Paris
Sound: Jacopo Treves

Michael Andrews (Gregory Samsa)
Claude Rogers (the father)
Mary Rava (the mother)
Hilary Morris (the sister)
Jacob Lowensberg (the boss)
Walter Bloor (a guest)

UK 1953
29 mins
Digital 4K (restoration)

Directed by: Lorenza Mazzetti
In collaboration with: Denis Horne
Production Company: Harlequin Productions
Made with the support of: British Film Institute Experimental Film Fund
[Executive Producer]: Denis Horne *
Story and Scenario by: Denis Horne
Photography: Hamed Hadari
Additional Photography: Geoffrey Simpson, Walter Lassally, John Fletcher
Supervising Editor: Lindsay Anderson
Editor: John Fletcher
Music by: Danièle Paris
Played by: Sinfonia of London
Recordist: John Fletcher

Michael Andrews
Eduardo Paolozzi
Denis Richardson
Cecilia May

UK 1956
48 mins
Digital 4K (restoration)
* Uncredited

Both films will be screened with descriptive subtitles of non-dialogue audio

K + intro by Brighid Lowe and Henry K. Miller, hosted by William Fowler + Together
Wed 13 Sep 20:45
Vali, the Witch of Positano
Sun 24 Sep 13:20
Twilight City + intro by BFI National Archive Curator, William Fowler
Tue 3 Oct 18:30

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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