March 14, 2012
He managed to fool the world. Michał Waszyński
It was a long way to go from Kovel, in the deep east of pre-war Poland, to Madrit. Through Warsaw and Rome, from a closed Jewish society of his home village, to the reachest villas of Europe. He called himself a prince, change the personality and shaped the story of his life depending on the moment. The director Michał Waszyński, (Misza Waks, born in 1904), made a movie out of his life. This is an extraordinary story about a man who wanted to be someone else and became one.
Waszyński’s life may be separated to a three different periods, which were strongly connected with the particular place and situation where he was finding himself at very moment. Once he moved from Kovel to the capital of Poland in early twenties (hardly nothing in his case may be defined as concrete and sure), he broke up with his Jewish past, changed name into the Polish-like, and after gaining first job in the movie bussines bought a place in the fancy part of the city. He was working as an assistant for the best directors of Polish cinema and after few years he made his debut with a romance Pod banderą miłości (1929) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0907788/. In a short period Waszyński became a movie production machine, directing even seven titles per year, dedicating three weeks for each. That kind of acting of course had nothing to do with Art. Mocked and hated by the critics, Waszyński was beloved by the public, giving them all they wanted - an easy, genre cinema filled with the most famous stars.
Nevertheles, when noone of the enraged enemies of his did expect that he could direct anything valuable, Waszyński surprised all of them. In 1937 he produced Der Dibuk http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0030092/, the only movie played inYiddish that lasted to our times in original condition from polish inter-war era. Unexpectedly, he turn back to his Jewish roots and created a masterpiece of cinema, which was the first movie in Yiddish that gained popularity with the Polish audience. This adaptation of an folklorist, Szymon An-ski’s drama, was deeply rooted in tradition of Jewish people living on the east side of Poland. Waszyński for the first time looked back to his childhood, which he spent among very religious family, in the village situated not far from the place, where the movie was set.
It was not the first time, when a Jewish person working in movie bussines created his own biography by lies and imagining stories. Erich von Stroheim (Sunset Blvd 1950 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043014/, La Grande Illusion http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0028950/ 1937) added a prefix in his name suggesting that he is an aristocrat, as well as Joseph von Sterberg. Nonetheless, in those cases it was rather about creating their own legends, building an atmosphere of mystery, while lies of Waszyński were having a deeper dimension. Maybe the burden of the past, awareness of irreparability of the world where he spent his childhood were sufficient reasons to create a new one around him.