Here’s a hot Sundance tip: if you’re in Park City this weekend, be sure to stop by Dolly’s Bookstore, 510 Main Street, on Saturday at 4:30pm. Jacek Laskus, ASC, PSC will be on hand to present and sign copies of his new book, Hollywood.pl. The book is filled with astonishing photographs taken by Jacek, and interviews by Angnieszka Niezgoda. The subjects are 23 Polish filmmakers who emigrated and found success in the film industry. Each subject looks back on the unique path he or she followed from Poland to the silver screen, with great tales of adventure in the movie biz. It’s a fascinating glimpse of Poland’s outsized contribution to Hollywood and world cinema.
What follows are excerpts from the book’s interviews with three ASC members with Polish roots, along with Jacek’s portraits.
Adam Holender recalls the first time he ever saw a movie:
“In a Siberian gulag, in the vicinity of Krasnouralsk, Sverdlovsk Oblast. After a very short spring, as springs in Siberia last about five days — summers bloom splendidly there. Nature springs to life at an accelerated pace, just like it does in cartoon films. The greenery is fertile and lush. Summers last for four weeks. One gorgeous summer day, a truck pulled through the camp’s gate. Armed Soviet soldiers jumped out of it, precariously juggling a film projector. My parents and I, in the crowd of other inmates, sat on wooden benches in front of a white cloth hung on the wall. In the labor camp there were a few hundred, perhaps a thousand people. They screen the film. Old Hollywood glamour. In the parlor of a magnificent mansion, with satin curtains and crystal chandeliers, a graceful lady emerges in a silk ball gown. The table groans with exquisite dishes, served on porcelain platters. The lady — her hand jeweled with diamond rings — plucks a piece of sausage from the table and tosses it on the floor, for her doggy. ‘Mommy, Mommy!’ I get hysterical; my parents have to take me out of the screening. We were fed potato soup. Once a day, a tiny serving. A cauldron on a sleigh would stop next to our hut, and the portions were poured out of the big metal pot into our little metal bowls. That was all we possessed. Everyone owned an aluminum bowl, a mug, and a spoon. Our precious belongings.”
Dariusz Wolski recalls the first Pirates of the Caribbean shoot:
“Everyone was afraid of pirates. In Hollywood, pirates had an awful reputation that the logistics were too complex, the cost was too high, and thus pirate movies always turned into box office flops. Pirates have never really been a hit. Johnny Depp, a respected actor, was not yet a Hollywood superstar. The start of filming marked the start of the studio sulking: you can’t do this, you can’t do that. Johnny Depp’s performance paralyzes everybody with fear: is he acting drunk? Gay? Why does he need a gold tooth? And what’s that make-up for? For the first few weeks, Johnny was afraid that they’d fire him. Everybody kept asking everybody if it was funny. Bound by the lack of freedom from the terrified producers, we reached the moment, when Gore Verbinski and I looked at one another, with a silent question on our faces, whether we should resign. But we decided we’d persevere. “Even if the film sucks, at least the kids will like it.” With that attitude, we stayed on the project. […] Johnny based his creation on the image of Keith Richards, which is commonly known today, but at that time, no one even from the crew realized. His pirate conquered the world, and made Depp a Hollywood A-list star. The studio rewarded us with carte blanche for the sequels.”
Alexander Gruszczyński recalls his departure from Poland:
“My parents decided to take almost everything. A few years ago, in Denmark, I was looking through that inventory after my mother’s death. Every single saucer or teacup had to be described in detail; the government wanted to ensure that there was no way we could smuggle treasures out of communist Poland, and into our new country. We shipped our possessions to Vienna. Officially, we were immigrating to Israel. In reality — to Denmark. Vienna was just a transfer hub. We were taking the express train “Chopin” from the Gdansk railway station in Warsaw. It was probably the saddest day of my life. The whole platform was packed with people dear to us, waving their goodbyes. The whistle blew, and the train’s wheels started to roll. It felt as if we weren’t the ones leaving, but rather, that Poland was leaving us. The platform diminished, dwindling away; it kept shrinking, and finally, it vanished… I will never be able to erase this image from my memory. Figuratively speaking, I have been stuck in that train ever since. Only the landscapes outside the window keep changing.”
Jacek recalls his father, with whom he was close, visiting his set in New York City:
“In 1985, after four years of not seeing him, he arrived at JFK when I was shooting the film Parting Glances, directed by Bill Sherwood, a gay man with HIV. It was Steve Buscemi’s first film, and he played a musician infected with the virus. It was my father’s first trip to the U.S. I picked him up at the airport, explaining that I still had to go and shoot that afternoon. He decided to come with me. We are filming a gay disco scene, by the men’s toilets. My dad finds a spot on set away from the action, in the darkness. I go to the camera. In front of us: men’s torsos, oiled and strong, leather pants, men hugging men, firm asses. My dad, an engineer, sitting in the back — I’m wondering what he’s thinking. He has not seen me for 4 years, is he wondering… ?
“A man of a big heart, a social activist, he loved people. Had a great sense of humor. He was raised in a working class home. My grandfather was a mailman, and his father a blacksmith. He was the first to graduate from college. He was born in Otwock Maly—which translates to Little Otwock – it was amusing for me as I could never understand how Otwock could be big. My father was twenty when the war broke out, and he joined the underground. He was stopped by the Gestapo and arrested. His colleague had a codebook on him. So the Germans decided to get to the truth. He was tortured, every day from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Typical torture: beating, firing a gun next to his head and so on. But he noticed a clock on the wall. The Germans had normal office hours. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. He knew that if he could hold on till 4 p.m., he would be fine. Even today, when life does not always go the way that it should, and things go wrong, I think of 4 p.m.”
Editor’s note: Laskus will also present Hollywood.pl at the annual ASC Open House on Jan. 25 at the Society’s Clubhouse (1782 N. Orange Drive, Hollywood CA 90028).