On Czlowiek z marmuru

Thats “Man of Marble” in Angielszczyzna, a movie directed by Andrzej Wajda in 1977. I include the date, because I was unable to stop thinking about The Love Boat and Fantasy Island while watching it, a couple of television shows I was surely watching while Wajda and his crew were busy with the production of this film about producing a film about a hero of Soviet Realism in Poland. It’s worth noting a number of similarities between the Polish movie and a typical American TV of the same period. Both, predictably, use the same type of film stock, or something pretty close to it. Both feature synthesizers in the soundtrack. Characters in each wear bellbottom jeans and other articles of clothing in the same style. Both feature, or are likely to feature, a beautiful blonde woman.

I could go on and on, but my point is that watching movies from the 70s is great fun, if only because it’s like living in the 1970s all over again. For two hours anyway. Some sort of mental adjustment must be made for the fact that the movie takes place within the political realm of one of the most brutal dictatorships, maybe the most brutal dictatorship in the history of the planet. This adjustment is amazingly easy to make, due in no small part to the similarity in fashion, music, etc., mentioned before. One naturally asks one’s self, Why Didn’t I Get To Watch THIS in 1977?, and one may even be struck, as I was struck, by the heretical thought that if one were able to watch Czlowiek z marmuru in Warsaw while young men all over America were panting at the sight of Julie McCoy, the Eastern Bloc citizen might actually have been better off than your average teenager living in the heyday of disco and an era of entertainment that might be termed American Fantasm. To put it in political terms.

The movie is certainly political, although I doubt Wajda would subsribe to the syllogism above. I don’t, despite being struck by said heretical thought, but it’s largely because I marvel that Czlowiek z marmuru was made at all. Briefly put, a young filmmaker decides to do her thesis project on a Polish bricklayer, who was immortalized as a marble statue in the heroic mode before falling into disfavor with the powers that be for precisely the same reason he was immortalized in the first place. How did Wajda even come to think he could make a movie like this? How was it actually accomplished? I’m going to have to read a biography or some such to find this out, as Wikipedia comes up short.

What concerns us in the movie is the fate of the bricklayer. Well, Agnieszka, the beautiful young filmmaker (played by the beautiful young Krystyna Janda, in a truly outstanding debut performance) tries to find out. First by hunting down archival footage from the fifties, and then by trying to contact the czlowiek himself. She encounters obstructions from the get-go, but in portraying these encounters Wajda has created a double edged satire that takes on both the desire to create films and the desire to create a hero in the style of Soviet Realism. The desire to expose, the desire to repress. Young, brash innocence and decrepit old age. Etc. Somehow Wajda also manages to satirize the end of the great industrial age, Eastern or Western: those tracking shots of factories and pipelines, big cranes, and endless acres of mud could have been taken from promotional films for Bethlehem Steel as easily as Nowa Hurta. Anyway, it’s a great movie; watch it for yourself and see.

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