5 Fascinating Highlights of Polish Oscar History
small, 5 Fascinating Highlights
of Polish Oscar History, A plastic-covered Oscar statue waits on the red carpet outside the Kodak Theater before the 82nd Academy Awards in Hollywood; 5th March 2010; photo: R, oscar_statue_2010_fot_reuters_rick_wicking_forum.jpg
Culture.pl would like to take this moment to remind the film world that Poles have been ruling the Oscar scene for decades! Here are five authentic and entertaining stories showing that Poland and the Academy Awards go together like popcorn and butter.
In honour of Poland’s unbelievable quintet of 2015 Oscar nominations, Culture.pl would like to remind the film world that Poles have long held a place on the Academy Awards scene. Here are five authentic and entertaining stories that prove Poland and the Oscars go together like popcorn and butter.
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1. Leopold Stokowski – The Man Who Shook Hands with Mickey Mouse
- 1942 Honorary Academy Award
- Awarded for: Fantasia – 'unique achievement in the creation of a new form of visualized music in Walt Disney's production Fantasia, thereby widening the scope of the motion picture as entertainment and as an art form'
- Also known for: pretending to be 100% Polish
Leopold Stokowski may be the most famous person in this group. A top-notch conductor, he was an innovator of orchestra recording methods. He was also a showman so expressive and colourful that we would certainly call him a celebrity today.
Stokowski collaborated closely on Fantasia with Walt Disney’s team. The 1940 film had very hard luck in the first years after its premiere. In scathing reviews, the movie's visuals were found to be naïve, kitschy and banal in juxtaposition with its classical music masterpieces. Although projected to become a blockbuster, the film became a spectacular flop – making its 1942 Honorary Oscar more of a consolation prize than anything else. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the cartoon claimed its place in the history of cinema classics.
Turning defeat into victory was business as usual for Stokowski, a master of creating his own artistic image. His signature move was to passionately throw the sheet music onto the floor, just to show that he didn’t need the score to conduct. Besides that, he loved to emphasis his supposed status as a newcomer from another world.
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In fact, Stokowski was only half Polish. He was born in England, couldn’t speak Polish at all and had moved to the United States at the age of 23 – meaning that he'd spent his whole life in English-speaking countries. English was his native language, but, encouraged by his first wife, Stokowski decided to play the role of a stranger who didn't fully understand the American world.
Stokowski was notorious for telling stories about his noble Polish or French descent, although his father was not a nobleman at all and neither of his parents had French provenance. He also had a habit of deliberately making mistakes in English:
In these interviews, beyond the Stokowski mid-European accent, somewhat irritating to some listeners may be Stokowski's affectation of being a non-English speaking European searching for the correct English expression in what is, for him, a foreign language. You will hear examples of his in these interviews. In this way, Stokowski would begin to use a foreign term, seemingly by accident, and then seem to catch himself and correct it to English. For example: '...in Deutsch...ahh [catching himself]...in Germany...'.
Larry Huffman, www.stokowski.org
2. Bronislau Kaper – The Man Who Wrote More Hits Than Pharell Williams
- 1954 Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture
- Awarded for: Lili
- Also known for: being friends with Thomas Mann
Bronislau Kaper – known as Bronislau instead of his real name, Bronisław, only thanks to the immigration officer who misspelled his name – was a Hollywood figure with a capital F. A mainstay at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, considered one of their two best composers throughout the 1940s and 1950s, he was also a prominent member of the community of exiles who had fled Central Europe in fear of Hitler’s rising power. This community also included personalities such as Arnold Schoenberg, Max Reinhardt, Berthold Brecht and Thomas Mann.
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Kaper was a favourite of Herbert Stothart, the MGM music department's real power behind the throne. This is why all of the major commissions were distributed either to the department's brightest star, the Hungarian-born Miklós Rózsa, or to Kaper. During their careers, the two managed to write the scores for more than 100 movies in total. They were nominated for an Oscar 16 times (12 for Rózsa, four for Kaper) and won four (respectively 3 and 1). No other film company had ever so dominated this category, nor has any other since.
The list of hits written by Kaper is enormous and includes jazz standards such as On a Green Dolphin Street, Invitation (which every jazz student has to learn by heart) and Broadway songs like You Are All I Need. He also wrote numerous acclaimed songs for motion pictures: San Francisco (sung by Judy Garland); the Oscar-winning Hi LiLi Hi Lo from Lili; Follow Me, the Oscar-nominated love song from the Mutiny on the Bounty; and the popular original soundtrack for The Chocolate Soldier.
Bronisław Kaper is also remembered for the help he generously provided to other immigrants related to the film industry. He was one of the first to help future Oscar-winning director Roman Polański stand on his own feet in America.
3. Stefan Kudelski – The Man Who Made Sound Recording Portable
- 1965, 1968, 1977, 1978 Scientific or Technical Academy Award
- Awarded for: 'the design and perfection of the Nagra machine' (1978)
- Also known for: producing bugging devices for the CIA
Stefan Kudelski, born to a Warsaw engineer family, made sound recording portable. His Nagra tape recorder became the standard system for recording sound for motion pictures and smaller television productions from the 1960s until the 1990s. They were eagerly used and praised by some of the best-known directors, such as Jean-Luc Godard.
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While few outside the film and radio industries may recognize the name Stefan Kudelski, his Nagra recorder – meaning 'will record' in Kudelski's native Polish – transformed the world of sound recording for radio, television and film.
April Fehling, NPR
The Nagra was so technically advanced that the CIA and NASA approached Stefan Kudelski and asked him to create some devices especially for their use. (The details of this cooperation, however, remain undisclosed.) Jacques Piccard also took a Nagra aboard his deep-sea submarine, in order to record his commentary while plunging nearly 38,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
4. Zbigniew Rybczyński – The Man Who Got Arrested 15 Minutes After Receiving the Oscar
- 1983 Oscar for Best Short Film, Animated
- Awarded for: Tango
- Also known for: music videos for songs such as John Lennon's Imagine, Lou Reed's The Original Wrapper, and Grandmaster Flash's Sign of the Times
Zbigniew Rybczyński won an Oscar for Tango, his animated short film. Although it may look outdated nowadays, it was recognised as extremely innovative in the early 1980s and remains a piece of refined symbolism. The film explores the idea of time, searching for its essence. While time is typically presented in a linear fashion, Rybczyński overlays the everyday activities of different people on the one-background set, thus creating a sort of time-lapse – presenting time as a point, not a line.
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In an empty room, characters appear one after another and perform everyday activities. Number of characters increases every time the story the sequence makes a full loop. At its peak 26 characters create a sort of ballet or pantomime accompanied by the tango. This film, based on a simple idea and limited means, leaves a huge impression.
Daniel Szczechura, 'Banc-Titre', 1981
But why was Rybczyński arrested on the most glorious night of his artistic career? Back in 1983, the artist didn’t speak English at all. After giving a shambolic, translated acceptance speech, he was asked to participate in a series of press conferences backstage. In the middle of this hustle-and-bustle, lost in translation and surrounded by people, Rybczyński felt a desperate need to have a cigarette.
Little did he know that security guards and the FBI were in a state of high emergency, as according to their intelligence, there was a considerable threat of a terrorist attack that day. To make matters worse, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is full of tricky corridors, and Rybczyński was unlucky enough to attempt to return from his cigarette break through one he wasn't supposed to.
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Suddenly, eight ‘charming waiters’ jumped on me and incapacitated me in a very professional way. They twisted my arms and lifted me up – a very painful situation. [Unfortunately] I didn’t speak English. I was only able to say, inaccurately, ‘I have Oscar’. Nobody reacted so I kicked two of the waiters in their groins but it only made things worse. Soon I was lying on the floor, covered with guards’ boots all over my body they took me to the Los Angeles County Prison.
It wasn’t until the next day that the LAPD figured out what had actually happened. Rybczyński was immediately released and allowed to returned home. At a consolation, this unpleasant incident made him the most-discussed Oscar winner of the year.
5. Sławomir Idziak – The Man Who Lost to Sauron (But Should Have Won)
- 2001 Nomination for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography
- Nominated for: Black Hawk Down
- Also known for: being the director of cinematography for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Sometimes it takes more than creating a revolutionary masterpiece to win an Oscar. Sławomir Idziak, working closely with director Ridley Scott on Black Hawk Down, created one of the most stunning and spectacular sequences in the history of cinema. In an unusual move for an action movie, Idziak and Scott decided to use colour and light as the dominant indicators of tension and release.
At the very beginning, they drew a timeline that had one piece of information only – the colour. Warm colours and direct sunlight were used in the scenes of heightened danger and brutal action, while lukewarm tones and darker effects were deployed when the protagonists were in greater safety. This flipping of audience expectations is a large part of what made Black Hawk Down an engaging and ultimately unforgettable film.
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The unlucky part of it is that Black Hawk Down premiered in the same year as Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, one of the biggest productions in history. The cinematographic behemoth was nominated 13 times and took four Oscars, including one for best cinematography.
Idziak’s brilliant job earned him nominations for both Academy and BAFTA Awards, however, as well as invitations to work on two other highly prestigious Hollywood productions – the costume drama King Arthur (2004) and the fantasy classic Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007).
Written by Wojciech Oleksiak, 10th Feb 2015
history of polish cinema
Sources: www.stokowski.org, ‘W 89 Dni Dookoła Świata’ by Wojciech Wendland, ‘Polskie Oskary’ by Bartosz Michalak, www.outside-hollywood.com, NPR