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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » July 29, 2011
Culture
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Hollywood: Founded by Poles?
July 29, 2011   
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A new book entitled Pollywood that charts Hollywood’s surprising Polish connection is scheduled to hit the bookstores in this country in November.

Authored by Andrzej Krakowski, a renowned Polish-born screenwriter and director (Triumph of the Spirit, Eminent Domain, Tides of War, Genghis Khan, and the recent Looking for Palladin) living in the United States since 1968, the book reaches into the origins of Hollywood and the American film industry. Would this even exist if it weren’t for a group of pioneers who were born in the territories that are currently or were historically Polish? The answer: probably not—at least, not in the form in which it is known today.

Going back to the last quarter of the 19th century—the period of the Great Immigration, which brought more than 23 million immigrants to America’s shores—the author analyzes the socio-historical conditions of that era, wondering why it was not the Italians, the Irish, or the Scandinavians, but the Eastern European refugees—mostly Jewish—who became the founders of the new film industry. Some of his conclusions are quite startling.

The personalities in the book have been carefully selected. They were all true pioneers—the trailblazers responsible for the development of new sectors of the budding industry. Siegmund Lubin, the inventor of the first moveable projector; Samuel Goldwyn, producer of the first feature film shot in the town called Hollywood; Louis B. Mayer, co-founder of the famed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio and the studio system; Nathan H. Gordon, creator of the first multi-screen movie houses; the Warner brothers, who brought sound and color to the otherwise silent and black-and-white films; the Shubert brothers—conquerors of Broadway and the first czars of the American theater; Al Jolson, the actor-singer sensation who broke “the sound barrier” and survived the impact; Pola Negri, the first truly international Hollywood female movie star who opened the doors for Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman; Paul Muni, the Oscar-winning first crossover from the Yiddish theater through Broadway to the mainstream cinema: an actor-chameleon, the precursor of “the method” in acting; and last but not least Billy Wilder, the multiple Academy Award-winning writer/director. Believe it or not, they all had one thing in common—they were born in the same area, relatively near each other: Poznań, Warsaw, Minsk, Vilnius, Krasnosielc, Wejherowo, Sieradz, Lipno, Lvov, Sucha Beskidzka.

“When I started my research some years ago,” said Krakowski, “I could not foresee the difficult choice I would be facing in writing this book. From a list of hundreds I had to choose just 10. I feel sorry that such icons of the industry as the Cracow-born Max Fleischer—the genius of early animation; David Sarnoff of Usłan—the founder of modern American television; the first Polish-born composer to win an Oscar, Bronisław Kaper, or one of the greatest production designers, born in Lublin, Alexander Toluboff, didn’t get their own chapters. There’s enough material for 10 more books, if not more.”

The book is written in a lively style, often anecdotally, full of details otherwise unknown to the wider audience. The roads leading the protagonists to film often took surprising turns and unexpected twists. Some of their interactions read, sound and feel eerily similar to current political life in Poland. When attacked, they close their ranks and come to each other’s aid; but as soon as the danger passes they revert to their old tactics, stab each other in the back and ask for more.

Based on the materials contained in Pollywood, a feature film is being planned for production in 2012. Penned by the book’s author and Michał Komar (Syberiada Polska), it is being produced by Michał Kwieciński for his Akson Studio (Katyn, Zemsta, Tatarak, Wenecja, Matka Teresa od kotów). The movie, which is scheduled to be shot in the English language, is currently being cast.

“Our dream cast,” says co-writer Michał Komar, “would consist of Richard Dreyfuss playing Jack Warner, John Malkovich in the role of Samuel Goldwyn and Anjelica Huston as the newsreel segment producer. We’re in touch with each of them but time will show whether we’re lucky to secure their participation. I’m moderately optimistic, as in the past I have worked with the best actors and the biggest names in Hollywood.”

Being based on historical events dating back to the beginnings of the American film industry, the film will be shot in the modified “improv” method—somewhat similar to the technique used by the British director Mike Leigh.

“I believe, we have an opportunity here to make an ‘evergreen’ movie,” added Krakowski, “which will entertain and educate at the same time and for a long time to come. Hollywood and its beginnings are well known to film-goers around the world, and yet still shrouded in the veil of secrecy. For the glamour seekers, the fact that the motion picture industry, the same one that today dominates the world, was founded by Poles is generally overlooked, mainly due to the fact that at the time it was happening Poland didn’t exist as a sovereign country. In spite of the fact—from a purely Polish perspective—that the heroes of my book have accomplished for the new art what Chopin had done for music in his era, for some inexplicable reasons, as opposed to the case of the great composer, Poland as a nation never took any steps to claim them as their own. Yet, all these people—Negri, Mayer, the Warners, Wilder and so on—were very proud of their Polish roots. Even though they left this land close to a century (or even more) ago, the time has come to bring them back to their birthplace and take pride in their accomplishments. What they have created transcends politics and borders and it now belongs to entire mankind.”

Pollywood is being published by PWN (Polish Scientific Publishers).

Feliks Misiak
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