If you already feel that Poles are everywhere - pickles and sausages at your local deli, a Polski sklep every two blocks - then our picks won't come as a surprise - because Poles are also part of the creative teams behind these Oscar-winning cult classics.
Saving Private Ryan
When you think of Steven Spielberg you think Jurassic Park, E.T. and Jaws, but you should also think of Janusz Kamiński. The Polish-born cinematographer is Spielberg's inseparable co-worker since Schindler's List, the film that brought the DP to fame. A two-time Oscar winner for Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, and a five-time nominee, the offscreen talent left Poland as a young man and started his career in the U.S. His big break came with Diane Keaton's 1991 TV film Wildflower.
Spielberg and Kamiński have a signature style they've captured together: mystical lighting streaking in from the outside and casting dramatic shifts visibly in Saving Private Ryan, a film that set the tone for cinematic war drama films to come. The future brings Spielberg - Kamiński collaborations, with Interstellar coming out in 2014.
"All work and no play makes Penderecki a dull boy", so the Polish composer agreed to lend six of his pieces to the oft-adapted horror classic. But although Penderecki accepted Kubrick's "come play with us" offer without hesitation, he wasn't satisfied with the results. In an interview with Andrzej Haegenbarth, he said,
Since an outstanding artist like Kubrick asked me for something, I agreed for my music to be used. But he turned my compositions into harakiri because he put the parts, in my opinion, in a sloppy way. He simply glued together parts of The Awakening of Jacob which are located near Polymorphia. In a nutshell, he chose what in his opinion dovetailed the images. But, in my opinion, that's a circumcision of the music.
Beside Kubrick, William Friedkin and David Lynch have employed Pendercki's music in their films in The Exorcist, Wild at Heart and Inland Empire
Pirates of the Caribbean
With Johnny Depp as the flamboyant Jack Sparrow, one of the best-known film characters in the last decade, this successful film series was filmed by the Polish cinematographer Dariusz Wolski with 3-D cameras similar to those used in the production of Avatar. Wolski, who also worked with Depp on Rum Diary and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, will also work the camera on the next Pirates sequel - the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, out in 2016.
Wolski, a film and music video cinematographer, is also known for his work on Alex Proyas' The Crow and Dark City, Eminem's Stan featuring Dido, and Aerosmith's Janie's Got a Gun. Wolski left Poland in 1979 to work the camera on indie movies and documentaries, then graduated from the American Film Academy.
Those were the good old days, Keenu Reeves and Sandy B. on a rogue bus. As Reeves said recently at the Toronto International Film Festival they won't be getting on a bus together. That's a shame because if they did Andrzej Bartkowiak, the Polish cameraman, would definitely be there again to film the speeding vehicle once more. Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die, The Devil's Advocate, Dante's Peak - these are just some of the action-packed blockbusters he filmed.
Lars von Trier's haunting and beautiful portrayal of the end of the world, featuring performances by Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland, would not have been possible without the spine-chilling special effects of the Polish company Platige Image. The controversial Danish director's painting-like images of the apocalypse show the collision of the titular rogue planet into Earth - to the sound of Wagner's prelude to Tristan and Isolde - and leaves behind a glow of aesthetic satisfaction.
The man behind Platige Image, Tomasz Bagiński, is an Oscar nominee for best short animated film (The Cathedral). Work on Melancholia follows a successful cooperation between von Trier and the Platige Team of directors, graphic designers and producers on the director's Antichrist (2009).
A phenomenon and the source of numerous offbeat references and quotable lines, Pulp forever altered the game. Alongside the world's coolest movie director was Andrzej Sekuła, another cinematographer and Polish offscreen talent. The film, he says, was shot "on 50 ASA film stock, which is the slowest stock they make. The reason we use it is that it creates an almost no-grain image, it's lustrous. It's the closest thing we have to 50s Technicolor."
Sekuła left his native Poland in 1980 and graduated from the London National Film and Television School. He also worked with Tarantino on Reservoir Dogs and Four Rooms and with Mary Harron on American Psycho. His first accomplishment as a director is Cube 2: Hypercube, a 2002 Canadian psychological thriller.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Potter's fifth year at Hogwarts was no doubt a difficult one - he had to defend his awful cousin Dudley against Dementors and got expelled from Hogwarts for using magic on Muggels. Thank god there was Sławomir Idziak, the director of photography to film it all. He invited a representative of the younger generation of Polish camera men, Wojciech Staroń, to be part of the team of cinematographers working on the Rowling adaptation.
You just need to hear the following titles of films he has worked on to known what kind of talent we're talking about: Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, Andrew Niccol's Gattaca, Antoine Fuqua's King Arthur, Taylor Hackford's Proof of Life, and, back at home, 14 films with Zanussi and the early works of Kieslowski.
Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula
The ultimate sexy and bloody film, Dracula is a century-old story, and more than 100 different versions of it have made it to the screen. But Coppola's lavish and flamboyant version featuring
Keanu Reeves made a sex slave and food tray for three topless vampires, Winona Ryder and Anthony Hopkins has no equals.
Where's the Pole is this equation, you ask? His name is Wojciech Kilar and he was hired by Coppola to write the soundtrack for his Gothic production. Kilar recalls receiving "an offer he couldn't refuse" ,
Because of Apocalypse Now and the second part of the Godfather, Coppola was always my favourite director. One day, around 3 am he called with a proposition for me to write the music to Dracula. Of course I accepted. I agreed for two reasons. Firstly - when I thought of the cinema, I thought of Coppola, because I like and value 'cinema', which for people from the industry means 'image, movement, action, great passions' also. If I want metaphysics, I don't go to the cinema, it suffices to grab a book from my shelf, Pascal or St. Thomas Aquinas, or simply the Bible. Secondly - you cannot deny, that, to quote the Godfather, "it was an offer I couldn't refuse".
The Dracula score brought Kilar fame and trophies: ASCAP Award 1992 from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Producers in Los Angeles and the prize for best score in a horror film in San Francisco in 1992.
Tina Turner made the movie immortal, but Izabela Scorupco's seductive curves, charming Eastern European accent and down-to-earth nature created a healthy balance for Pierce Brosnan in his first appearance as James Bond. Golden Eye was the first Bond released after the Cold War and Russia is the centrepiece of its plot. The Bond girl - a Russian computer expert determined to save the world - is Polish. Maybe it was her looks, maybe her accent or maybe her robust disposition. In an interview for Nordicreach she said,
I almost never go out, but when I do, I really go out. I am an excellent vodka drinker. Its in my blood, because I`m Polish by birth. I drink it like a spy, grounded with a lot of cream. I can drink more than the men and it kills them.
A glimpse into the making of the world's most famous cannibal serial killer, the fifth installment of the Hannibal Lecter is a prequel. Full of curiosity as to what made him a revenge-crazed maniac, we travel back to the Second World War where only one person really knows what Hannibal's Lithuanian family home looked like - production designer Allan Starski. The Academy Award winner is also reknowned for his set-design work on Schindler's List, Oliver Twist, The Pianist.
Ray Charles saw the world in ways no one could imagine. "I hear like you see, like that humming bird outside the window", says Mr. Charles, played by Jamie Foxx in this Taylor Hackford biopic. The man capable of showing this delicate and mysterious world of the blind genius? Cinematographer Paweł Edelman, a Wajda and Polański regular. His "transparent" and imperceptible camera work, with the camera subordinated to the unfolding story, was already visible in The Pianist (Oscar and BAFTA nominations).
Tom Ford - A Single Man
Tom Ford's cinematic debut enthralls into a world of bittersweet memories, anguishing yet melancholic sensations and gestures on the border of life and death. The story of the middle-aged English college professor (Colin Firth) who cannot make peace with the death of his lifelong partner is in perfect musical company. The score was written by Abel Korzeniowski for which the young Pole was nominated for a Golden Globe.
Korzeniowski, who studied under the tutelage of Krzysztof Penderecki (see The Shining, above) also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score for Madonna’s W.E. What is it that attracts many filmmakers to collaborate with him? It's said to be his sophisticated style born out of the combination of classical orchestral performance with elements of modern electronica and ambient.
With Jack Sparrow's bravado tempered by his drape clothes as J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, Johnny Depp shows the writer's fantastic view of the world and restores the splendour of make-believe. Chosen to write the music for the outwarldy film was Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. Aiming to maintain the intimate character of the various scenes, the composer used a small boys choir, a rare Indian flute, exotic woodwinds to give it the flavor of memories and adventure. Kaczmarek comments on the scene from the trailer,
There was a scene where the mother, starring Kate Winslet, goes into Neverland, into the magic garden, and then the music opens up: It's the biggest cue in terms of size of orchestra; that was a moment of release for me when things really happen.
The work won him an Academy Award for music, Original Score.
Hatfields and McCoys
Based on a historical family feud in West Virginia and Kentucky that dates back to the years after the Civil War in the U.S, the television miniseries earned five Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for Kevin Costner as a member of one of the titular families. Filmed by Polish cinematographer Artur Reinhart, the series reached a viewership of 17 million in the U.S. Let the fast-paced trailer speak for itself. Reinhart previously worked with Hatfields and McCoys director Kevin Reynolds on the 2006 Tristan and Isolde.
David Lynch - Inland Empire
Lynch's first feature film since Mulholland Drive, the film is "Dark as pitch, as noir, as hate, by turns beautiful and ugly, funny and horrifying" (New York Times). Its mansions, derelict houses, ominous hallways and back alleys all have something to do with the city of Łódź, which in 2003 inspired Lynch to shoot the short film The Green Room in Łódź and turned into the full-length Inland Empire. Full of Polish whispers and weeps, the film features Polish actors: Leon Niemczyk, Krzysztof Majchrzak and Karolina Gruszka, and pieces by Penderecki.
"A Homeric epic of modern America" as dubbed by Salon.com - rather than sticking to traditional TV models, the series stylises Baltimore after Balzac's Paris, Dicken's London or Tolstoy's Moscow. There is no doubt that the life experiences of an Eastern European were an asset in the portrayal of the drama of contemporary cities. The Polish director Agnieszka Holland shot three episodes of The Wire (and of Treme).
Folman - The Congress
Waltz with Bashir's Folman is no stranger to animation but the Lem adaptation is part-animation, part live-action and focuses more on a grim vision of the future than the story. With Michał Englert behind the camera, Opus Film as a co-producer, Orange Studio responsible for the animation, and the Polish Film Institute's co-financing, Folman’s choices reveal his attachment to the country of his parent’s origin – Poland. Englert comments on the innovative technique in an interview with Culture.pl,
We looked for a language that would unite the real and the animated worlds. I hope it will be visible on the screen, that a lot of the elements were thought up when we were already filming and our shots, ideas for set design were transferred to the animated part.
If It Be Your Will, sung by the film's Robin Wright, shows some behind-the-scenes shots. Read more about The Congress on Culture.pl
David Ondříček - In the Shadow
Set in the dark, Stalinist days of the early 1950s, the plot opens in Prague in 1953 when the communist regime is planning the most devious scam of postwar Europe - the introduction of monetary reforms that aim to rob society. From one of Czech Republic's most talented directors, the Best 2013 Film received nine Czech Lion Awards. One of the was given to the film's Polish cameraman Adam Sikora. The cinematographer's also brought to life Lech Majewski's cienamatic interpretation of Bruegel's 16th-century painting in The Mill and the Cross.
Stieg Larsson - Millenium Series
Long before Daniel Craig played Mikael Blomkvist, the disgraced journalist in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, he was embodied by a Swedish actor in the Scandinavian country's 2009 adaptation of the book. Indeed the Swedes picked up the late Larsson's bestselling novels way before Hollywood. Working on the Swedish cinematic adaptations of the second and third books (The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest) was the Polish-born naturalised Swede Peter Mokrosiński. He was also the cinematographer on Michael Haafstrom's Oscar-nominated boarding school drama Evil.
If you think thrillers from the 1990s don't live up to those of today, think again. Mel Gibson in his usual bad boy / heartthrob self and goes on TV to offer a $2 million bounty for the heads of the people who kidnapped his child.
A precursor to other kidnapping thrillers - Taken, Gone Baby Gone - this Ron Howard motion picture was captured by the lens of Piotr Sobociński. The world heard of the Polish cinematographer in 1995 thanks to his Oscar nomination for Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colours: Red, and what followed was an invitation to the sets of Hollywood: Marvin's Room with Pokój Meryl Streep, Leo DiCaprio, Diane Keaton and Robert de Niro, Angel Eyes with Jennifer Lopez, Heart in Atlantis with Anthony Hopkins. He died from a heart attack in 2001 while filming Trapped (aka 24 Hours) featuring Charlize Theron and Courtney Love.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated and edited by MJ 08.10.2013
Additional sources: The Guardian, University of Michigan, Exclaim, Washington Post, PR Newswire, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Nordicreach, NYTimes, Yahoo Movies, Movie Insider