Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski (2018) - full transcript

This documentary chronicles the life of Polish-American artist Stanislav Szukalski (1893-1987) from his early years in Chicago, to his time in Poland and Los Angeles, and his artistic and political contributions to the world.

[man] I knew
when I made those Betamax films,

and sitting there...

[man 2] Oh, to warm it up?

[man] ...three hours, four hours a night,

visit after visit,
accumulating into 200 hours.

The predators--

[man] I knew I wasn't making 'em for me.

[stammers] Maybe if somebody
at the museum sees it and says,

we need to rewrite the history books."

I survived tremendous hardships.

[man] I knew somewhere,
somebody would find these tapes,

and they'd see what was on there

and make something out of it.
That-- I knew that.

[static crackles]

[man] There are geniuses out there.

I found mine.

[static crackles]

[dramatic orchestra music playing]

[man 2] Opposing thumb created
all the civilizations.

Commonplace people cannot stand the idea
that he has such importance.

So they dig a hole
between him and themselves.

So this is struggle...

between quality and quantity.

[water circulating]

[birds chirping]

[man] I never collected things
because they were famous.

I collected things 'cause I liked 'em.

I grew up collecting comic books.

And when I got a little bit more mature,

I started collecting books on surrealism.

[horn honks]

[Glenn] One day, I was in a bookstore
in Hollywood,

and headed towards the surrealism section,

and I see this brown spine.

What I thought--
It was a snake on the binding.

I thought, "What is this?"

The thing was 200 pages,
full of drawings, photos of sculpture...

This is incredible.

"Hey, kid, are you buying that
or are you just looking?"

I bought the book.
It was... kind of expensive,

'cause it was from 1923.

And it was of a Polish artist.
I didn't know Poland from Portugal.

Took the thing home,

read it 100 times,
or just linger on a few of the pages.

I'd been visiting Robert Williams
and Suzanne Williams

for... two, three years, by that point.

I took over the book, plunked it down.
I said, "What do you think of this?"

[Robert] I belonged to one
of the lowest phylums of art culture

that had ever come along in America.

A rather unsavory world
of underground cartoons

that society considered novel pornography.

I couldn't have been more happy.
[chuckles softly]

Glenn showed me the book
by a sculptor named Stanislaw Szukalski.

Extremely strong artwork.

Nineteenth-century sculptors
that were so famous

and so heralded, Rodin and stuff,

I don't think they could've held
a fucking candle to him.

They couldn't have held a testicle
to that guy.

You know, it's just remarkable. Um...

Uh, what was your questions?

[birds chirping]

[Glenn] One day,
I walked into this bookstore in Tarzana.

And I knew this lady. I'd seen her before.

She had something pinned on the wall.
It was a poster...

and it's Copernicus.

I didn't know who Copernicus was.

And I looked at it.

I see that snaky signature at the bottom.

I said, "What's this poster?"

And she said, "Well, there's a nice man
that lives in Granada Hills

that frequents the bookstore,
and he gave me that to hang up."

I thought, "Shit!"

[lively orchestra music playing]

[Glenn] I thought he was dead,

and he lives like five miles away from me.
[stammers] Who would have thunk?

So she said, "You know what?
Look him up in the phone book."

Am I supposed to look up

Salvador Dalí or Picasso
in the phone book?

Go home, call him up.

This nice, low voice answers the phone.


[Robert] Glenn asked me if me
and my wife Suzanne

would go meet this guy.

[Suzanne] We met Szukalski
at his own house.

This was probably
the most intense meeting

of any person I've ever met
for the first time.

[Robert] So I go over to this common
post-World War II house...

And I kind of was ready to look up
when the door opened,

and I had to look down,
because he was shorter than me.

He was already 80,
and I was probably 25 years old.

He shook my hand heartily, just iron grip.

I saw these plaster monuments, just...

in this little den.

[Suzanne] They were kind of all beat up,
'cause they'd been through an earthquake.

They were just absolutely fantastic.

[Glenn] It felt very European,
because his wife came out and served tea.

[Suzanne] She seemed kinda quiet
and reserved.

He was the opposite.

We didn't have
what you'd call a conversation.

We were talked to.

[Glenn] It was stream of consciousness,

of information and visuals.

And he couldn't sit still,
and he was incontinent with imagination.

Cyclops with one eye on the forehead.

Stuffed mattresses on the shoulders
so they look like Titans.

In whole history of art,
you will not find anything equal to this.

[Glenn] I could tell he loved it,

'cause I'm sure
he wasn't having anybody else come around

at that time.

This a very strong arm.
It's like a weenie, like a sausage.

...boastful and just say
the most outrageous, outlandish things.

[crowd clamoring]

[Glenn] I think it was because I grew up
watching Freddie Blassie

that I just thought it was hilarious.

You know,
great men come along very seldom,

but I am one of the greatest
that ever did come along.

I'm the greatest authority on any subject

that has pictographic value.

Anything anybody can do,
Freddie Blassie can do 10 times better.

Just don't forget that.

I was the most renowned sculptor
in America.

I never was referred to any other way,
except as genius.

I remember distinctly going,

"I have the worst headache I've ever had
in my life."

Because it was just so much so take in.

[Glenn] I thought he was amazing.

He would stand at a sculpture,
tell you in great detail

all about it, why he made it.

This hand was more than four times larger
than life-size.

[Glenn] Well, one of the things
that struck me especially

was the work Struggle.

[Szukalski] It is somewhere in Poland.

But no one knows about it,
because I live in Los Angeles.

[Glenn] Found out that it was missing,
and I was so sorry to hear that,

because I just thought it was brilliant.

Jesus, you know!
He's got a whole bunch of work here

that nobody's seen, and I don't know why.

Why is this guy left behind?

I would visit him alone, with people...

Like Ray Zone, I took George DiCaprio...

[George] He offered us a glass of port,
but he was very careful to...

empty the glasses out,

and have all the marble dust fall out.

Uh, he was an amazingly fun guy.

You got quite a lecture for your money,
I would say. [laughs]

When you met Szukalski,
he would ask, "What's your nationality?"

"What's your background?"

You could say, "I'm Brazilian,"
or you could say, "I'm English."

And he had a reason
to run that country down in detail.

[Szukalski] England never had conquerors
who came and invaded.

England is an island of rabbits.
Even rabbits can survive on an island.

Okay, I'm a rabbit.
I can settle with that.

He was a very bigoted man,

but he was bigoted in a very unusual way.

You'd go to a filling station,
or something,

and he would jump out of the car
and go over to the attendant

and start measuring his arms.

He would refer to them as a yeti.

Troglodytes or Australopithecine...

It was... kind of quirky.

They have extraordinarily short arms.

Two short legs, long, long torsos,
throwback to yeti.

You couldn't point out to him
that this is kind of, like, a little...

you know, questionable.
This is a little questionable, here.

At the time, it was kind of...
kinda funny,

because of the fact
that he believed so much of it.

Now, I'm not sure...

he thought people were lesser.

But I know he thought he was the greatest.

[George] He was such a contrarian.

He had no use
for the entire gamut of human beliefs.

Most of the time,
we would kind of humor him,

and we had no way of knowing
what these things connected to

in his past.

If I knew back then what I know now,

I would have been compelled
to warn my friends away.

[Robert] Glenn spent an awful lot of time
with him,

but me and Suzanne spent enough time
with him.

We were always calling each other...

Mr. Bray, Mr. Szukalski.

I had published books in the early '70s,
but little comic books.

And I said, "We could do a little book,
you know, on the cheap."

"No, no, no. I'm waiting for China.

I'm waiting for Swedes.

They're gonna do a big book on me."
I said, "Okay. Uh...

But I'm-- I'm still here.

You know, I'll come back next week,
and we'll talk some more."

So one day, I was sitting there,
and we're discussing a drawing of his...

and I jokingly remarked,

"You just draw what you see, right?"

And he looked at me.
He says, "Oh, you don't know."

[Szukalski] I was born
in a little town in Poland.

This was... very long ago.

[Glenn] He says, "I was four or five,
living in Gidle or somewhere.

My parents really let me do
whatever I want."

He wanted to see how long
he could look at the Sun,

because he loved the glow of the Sun.

Little did he realize that he'd burnt
a hole in his, I guess, cornea.

All his life,

he was drawing and sculpting

with a big goddamn dot in his eye.

[Szukalski] So, when I was seven,
I was carving figurines

for my harem.

I had about three, four beautiful girls
my own age that I loved.

Only one way I could be nice to them
was give them little sculptures.

And they called me a sculptor.

So ever since, I want to be a sculptor.

[Glenn] I'd ask him,
"How-- how did you end up here?"

And he'd start to tell me,

and then he'd go
into something totally different.

Mother was saying, "Oh, we must go.
The train will leave without us."

But I came and got this piece of wood.

And I'm constantly attached to it.

I carried it to America.

[Glenn] Being around him countless hours,

you could kind of piece together
his story.

Oh, I came to Chicago when I was 12.

I came with my mother and sister

to my father,
a blacksmith in a factory in Chicago.

He was much smaller, shorter than I.

Because all Europeans are malnutritioned.

[Glenn] He told me he loved his father
more than anyone.

He either showed me a picture,
or I saw a drawing of his.

Then when he went to school,
he decides to invent his own alphabet.

To me, it's like,

work over-laboriously on your writing...

Why do that?

[Szukalski] Schools distort
our original inclinations

we have as infants.

Then we are modified, made commonplace,
so we think like everybody else.

[Glenn] The principal went to the father,
and said,

"Your son has to go by rules.

He can't just make up
his own handwriting."

Basically, his father just said,
"This is his writing,

and if it becomes illegible,
then we'll talk about it.

But until then, he will not change."

And that crazy alphabet
is what he used his entire life.

By that time, he's stuck with it.
[laughs] There's no going back.

You could see a childishness about him.

You know, you could see
that nobody'd ever really

sat his fanny down
and straightened him out.

[Szukalski] Bu-ga.





[Glenn] He was obsessed with language.

[Szukalski] Whore.

[Glenn] He would tell us about words.

They would have
all these different meanings

that were related universally.

[Szukalski] "Warship from elsewhere."

Not from this world,
world that disappeared.

Fourteen thousand years back,
right after the last deluge.

[Robert] We went over to his house,
one time.

I dared to stick my stuff
in front of him.

And he looks at it for a while,

and he said, "You're brilliant,
but you have to get out of the gutter.

You have to get out of the gutter."

We had this kinship of craftsmanship

that kind of bonded us together.

We got to be good enough friends
with Stanislaw that he would allow us

to call him his little pet name,
which was Stas.

I really worshipped the guy.

This is like reaching back through time,

past the First World War,
and pulling somebody out.

You'll never find this!
Right out of those European academies.

This, I did this at Chicago Art Institute.

A sculptor advised my father
to send me to Europe.

So I was sent when I was 14.

[Robert] And I was continually
drilling him for information

about what it was like
to deal with the academies.

He said that he came in
as a young fella...

and he was too young, actually,
but they gave him a test.

It was life-size girl, nude.

There were 171 candidates,

but there were only 11 admissions.

And I did nothing but end of her knee.

And off that alone,
a stylization of that knee,

they said, "This kid is something."

[Szukalski] Professor says, "Gentlemen,

he is accepted without examination."

Then I got in a quarrel with Professor.

He says, "You either work from models,
or you have to leave the academy."

I never worked from models.

Working from model destroys the talent.

I said goodbye,

[register dings]

and I left right that moment.

If you want to create new things
for this world,

never listen to anybody.

You have to suck your wisdom,

all the knowledge, from your thumb.

Your own self.

[orchestra music playing]

[man] When I saw the works of Szukalski...

this was astonishing, you know.

All the sense of beauty,
and of spiritual eroticism.

[man] The way he tortures,
to me, tortures the body...

It's just incredible how he can push
and pull, but it still makes sense,

and it conveys the emotion
he wants to convey.

Art cannot be proper.

Art must be exaggerated.


Bend down till your spine cracks.

You must exaggerate the likeness.

I look at the detail that he did,

and to know that he did his work
in plaster...

the personal expression
that he's bringing out.

I think he used sculpture

as a medium to show his soul.

I work faster
than any sculptor ever could,

'cause I never hesitate.

I never alter anything,
because I start with an idea.

Szukalski was the Michaelangelo

of the 20th century.

And probably, also, of an age to come.

[man] "I put Rodin in one pocket,
and Michelangelo in the other,

and I walk towards the sun,"

Szukalski said in his powerful youth.

A movie is never any better
than the stupidest man connected with it.

Out of the 70 movies I've written,

some 10 of them
were not entirely waste product.

[Glenn] Stas used to tell me
that he and Ben Hecht were real close,

and they would pal around
on the streets of Chicago.

[Hecht] He was my own age,
with a strongly muscled body

and a grace dominating
his half-shabby clothes.

[Szukalski] Don't judge me,
my feminine face.

Girls liked me with the long hair,
and I relished it.

[Hecht] "Where did you learn
your anatomy?" Wallace asked.

Szukalski began talking softly,
his cat eyes half shut.

"I loved my father very much," he said,

"more than anybody in the world.

One morning, I came to the park.

He was not there.

Down the road, there's a crowd,

I go look.

It is my father.
He's been killed by an automobile.

I drive the crowd away,"

Szukalski said,

"and I pick up my father's body.

I carry it on my shoulder a long time
to the county morgue.

I tell them, 'This is my father.'

And I asked them this thing,
which they did allow.

My father is given to me,
and I dissect his body.

You asked me where I learn anatomy?"

Szukalski looked at us with pride.

"My father taught me."

[Szukalski] After my father was killed,
I had no income,

Whole weeks, sometimes,
where I had nothing to eat.

But I never betrayed to my friends
that I was hungry,

and I never asked help.

[George] He was the classic tortured,
starving artist,

and he got notorious
for being a-- a bad art boy.

He was one of those guys. [chuckles]

He was almost like a punk or something.

There's some famous incidents of him
having an art critic come to his studio

and tap something of his with a cane.

He threw the guy down a flight of stairs.

Art critics are parasites
who absolutely know nothing about art.

[George] He had an exhibition
of his own work.

Apparently, there was some objection
to the political nature of it.

It was against British imperialism.

[Szukalski] Parasites have to get
new nations to live off

because empire builders never have
enough wisdom to create agriculture.

[George] The gallery demanded
that he take them down.

And he marches in...

He wrecked the place. [laughs]

[glass shattering]

[George, chuckling]
They threw him out, 86'd.

Maybe you're dealing with some kind
of artistic Blackbeard the Pirate, here.

And the press constantly had articles
about me.

[Hecht] "He has the nose
of a South American anteater...

and walks like
an escaped Frankenstein."

[Szukalski] Ben Hecht, when writing
about me, described me as a youth

with sledgehammer comments.
[chuckles softly]

Ben Hecht was Stas' biggest promoter

back in the 1920s in Chicago.

I know that he wrote that article
for Vanity Fair.

[George] Even then, they talked about...

He seemed to think different
than other people.

I really believe that the reason
why he was so different

has got to do with the construction
of his mentality.

I heard him mention
that he especially enjoyed American jazz

because that was something
that couldn't be taught.

It's a way into the way
he thinks about things.

Art that is engendered
within yourself is so important.

Not formalized, academic forms of art.

Very often,
he described his own education...

which mainly consisted
of looking at different things

from different cultures
and primitive carvings.

He was attracted to the language
that was embedded

in the image itself,

forming his own ideas
and his own interconnections,

and which made him

the greatest autodidact of our age.

He was thinking about
the necessity for indigenous American art

that would be free of French
or other influence.

[George] Mesoamerican cultural symbols
attracted him in a magnetic way.

This was self-born art.

Wasn't imposed on them
by a conquering culture...

There was a wonderful

of styles and cultures.

[Rypson] So here we have Szukalski
as a reborn artist,

who suddenly sees a potential

in developing national art.

His brain is one
of the most singular creations

of the last century.

[lively orchestra music playing]

[Szukalski] There's an Aztec priest
blessing blueprints

of young American engineer.

When there's a slight breeze of wind,

the whole monument will hum.

Which is a symbol of hope,
because America is hope of mankind.

I proposed university tower
between Mexico and Texas,

where they would form one culture
that would spread to all other countries.

And here, I have this project
and the monument will be humming.

But I don't know what to do with it...

in present America.

[woman] I was living in Holland
at the time,

and my first husband
was a comic book artist.

We came to the United States,
and we traveled around,

met a lot of artists,

and, of course,
we met number-one collector, Glenn Bray.

[chuckling] I thought Glenn was
such an interesting guy,

very sweet.

So I just decided to stay.

I started taking her over there,
and that made a world of difference.

[Lena] Glenn took me there.

I knew he was really, really interested
in Szukalski.

And I had never heard about him before.

I was really blown away
by the art that I saw.

It was absolutely beautiful.

And I noticed how sturdy he was.

He looked really, really, really strong.

And he had piercing eyes,

he had the most beautiful piercing eyes.

He was very enamored
that she was European.

I was the rabbit.

[Lena] Well, Stas really liked me.

In the first place, because I was a woman,

and he loved all women.

In the second place,
I came from Holland.

Holland had gone through the war
and terribly suffered.

Stas felt like he could talk to me.

[Glenn] That meant something to him.

She had the background of wars
on her soil.

One day, he called me Glenn,
and I thought,

"That's strange! Okay."

"Stas?" "Yeah, Stas."

[Lena] He always told us,
the main reason he wanted to be an artist

is so beautiful women
would be interested in him.

And it's the sex that brings us
all the abilities we have.

You could tell that he was still
very much alive in that area.

[laughing] I mean, he was really--

He-- he was so charming.

You just--
You loved being around him as a woman.

In a way, old-fashioned, but also,
in a way, bohemian, too.

[Robert] I'm just as obsessed,
but man, you know,

I keep it under collar, you know? [laughs]

To him, it was a poetic language.

It had to be expressed, you know.

I used to think, "Well, man,
I can't wait till I get to be...

70 or 80, and I don't have to think
about pussy anymore."

But it's obvious that you carry it
to the grave, you know.

'Cause I'm 73,
and I can't get it off my mind, you know?

Oh, this is just sort of a poetic notion.

Wisdom is given by nature,
so my species may survive.

[Lena] Well, I always thought
he fell in love with Helen Walker

because she looked exactly like him.

They had exactly the same hair,

exactly the same facial features.

It was like he was falling in love
with himself. [chuckles]

All of a sudden,
his life got a lot better.

She was very rich.

Her father was a famous surgeon
in Chicago.

[Glenn] And this, for the first time,
really afforded him

the proper places and tools and publicity
to accomplish all his dreams.

[Lena] This is also
when his two books came out.

They had a daughter called Kalinka.

[Glenn] Moved to California,
moved to Hollywood.

[Szukalski] We bought very large house,

in outpost in back of Chinese theater.

[Glenn] He had a happy life going.

[Lena] Helen turned out to be frigid.

In sex, she would suddenly burst crying,

and thought that sex was evil,
and that caused much troubles

and despair on her part.

[Lena] Stas said, "If I meet another woman
who wants me, I'll go with her."

When Kalinka went to nursery school,

Joan was a teacher there.

[Glenn] Almost overnight,
from riches to rags,

back on the street again.

[Lena] Well,
he was very much in love with Joan,

and he wrote her
the most wonderful letters.

[Glenn] Joan said,
"You know, there's some 250

double-sided handwritten letters
with erotic drawings."

And I said, "Well, can we see 'em?"
She says, "They're just kind of racy."

And Stas would just kinda like...
[sighs] Hmm...

[Lena] And that was the love of his life.

This is a portrait of my wife,

who had a very narrow, elongated face,

with whom I was married for 50 years

and absolutely never had quarrels with.

[Lena] I adored Joan.

She was just the most gracious,
refined woman I had ever met.

Glenn and I would often visit Joan
and Szukalski together.

And we just got along very well.

We were kindred souls, really.

Finally, one day, he looked at me.
"The book. We publish."

And I said, "Sure!"

He gave Glenn, finally,
permission to do the book,

because he thought I could handle it also,
besides Glenn.

So we started out.
I would do the layout.

I had photos of sculptures,
a few drawings,

some poetry.

Stas showed me these photos.


"Are you sure
you want to put this in here?"

He says,
"Let me tell you why I want to show this."

He made this monument

before Mussolini became a real,
true Fascist

and hooked up with Hitler.

But Stas says, "I want to show this
in the book because you should have...

pictures of anybody that changes history."

He says,
"That's why we have carvings of Nero.

That's why we know what Hitler looks like.
Don't forget these assholes."

He would type everything out.
Everything is eloquent.

Although this might be here,
that might be connected there.

Lena would get that and recompose it
where it read beautifully.

It was my hopes that it would get
into a museum,

and the museum would say,
"Where's this guy been?"

Not to happen.

[Szukalski, singing]
♪ Grey horse is jumping ♪

♪ But my cat cannot do it
Because she's too skinny ♪

-[Lena laughs]
-[Szukalski] Wrote me a song.

Oh. [grunts]

This is first book that came out.

This is one of my sculptures.

These works are drawings
of Sasquatch and Bigfoot.

[Glenn] We published Trough Full
of Pearls / Behold!!! The Protong

in 1980.

I think I did 1,200 copies.

[gulls calling]

[man] It was in Santa Monica.

I found a copy of Trough Full of Pearls,

and I was just swept away
by the scope and the intensity

and the originality of the thing.

I found, uh, this book.

This is the book I found.

How have I lived this many years
and not even

seen any of these images before?

I kind of felt like
that famous Bigfoot photo of him walking--

I was walking and saw it
at the corner of my eye,

and I was like, "What is that?"
And I looked at the book.

I would show it to everybody
I encountered.

To people in line at the supermarket.

Because I was so convinced
that this was an important thing.

[Glenn] Robert Crumb had called me
through Robert Williams.

"Hey, I'm gonna start this new magazine

called Weirdo, and I need weird stuff."

R. Crumb was the George Washington
of underground art.

I said, "I'm doing a book
on this guy, Szukalski."

He said, "What's that?"

He picked out the stuff that would raise
the most hairs on your back.

[George] For most,
that was one of the first exposures

they had to his work.

One of the top sculptors in the world,
and he's in a fucking thing like Weirdo.

You know, with people doing stick figures
and shit.

That drug him into the Bohemian world,
right there, you know?

Rick Griffin was one of what was called
the Big Five psychedelic poster artists.

Shortly after I'd met him,
he slipped over into being born-again.

When he met Szukalski
and he saw that work,

he went fucking nuts.

The name he gave Szukalski was the Szuk,
and he saw Szukalski as a god.

I think Szukalski like that.

[Jim] One of the reasons that I loved
to visit Szukalski

was that he was a natural-born teacher,
and he liked to, uh, show me things.

[James] The advice that he gave me,
it almost seemed religious.

And most of the people I work with
are not very religious.

He told me that, before you sculpt,

you should get down on your knees,
almost in prayer to it.

I remember him looking at my painting,

and he said to me,
"You know, this is worthless.

It's not saying something.
You need to say something."

Concept make you a great artist.

Always remember
that you have something to tell...

and you'll make a masterpiece.

And if you come to me,
I'll kiss you on the forehead...

and pet your nose.

To me, Szukalski is kind of a mystic.

A modern master.

You know, what's going on
in this guy's head must be vast.

Coming from a background
of sculpting and makeup effects,

when he draws something,
and it looks so 3-D

and the light's correct...

The math of space and light and...

bending the physics and the geometry
and taking liberties

that are elegant...

and don't necessarily make sense in life,
but they make sense.

[Jim] He and I shared an interest
in frogs,

and he taught me how to make
a little frog croak with my hand.

[fingers snapping]

You can actually go out
and converse with frogs with this thing.

Hear it?

[snapping continues]

Stas was a guest at my house
on many occasions,

and in one of them,

I left out a weather-beaten copy
of his book.

He said, "Let me sign that one
so you'll always keep it."

So here it is written in his hieroglyphics
that no one can read.

"To Leonardo, wonderful son
of George, love and a warning:

Please, don't grow up too fast." [laughs]

Stas Szukalski, 1981, Burbank.

[Glenn] Yeah, I think that really put
some wind in his sails,

knowing that young people
were once again...

drawn to him.

[Robert] We were
his only fucking peer group.

The irony is,
me and my underground friends,

the lowest phylum of art,

have become associated with this gentleman
who, one time, stood up with the giants.

I'm sure if me and Rick Griffin

and a few of those underground artists
were in Poland,

Szukalski wouldn't give us
the fucking time of day.

Everyone can have their own Szukalski.

some American comic writers' perception

might be missing the point altogether.

There is the whole story about...

um, wild Polish fantasies.

People in Poland associate Szukalski
with the homeland...


the sort of meta-pagan, the pagan's pagan.

And treat him as this prophet.

He was a man who was creating art...

that was inspired by another dimension,
you might say.

It is the dimension that is occupied
by gods.

His work is absolutely temple art.

[man] You don't usually find
so much megalomania,

even in megalomaniacs.


At the end of the First World War...

is the moment when Poland
is recognized as an independent state.

And Szukalski saw, in the renewal
of Poland, a great chance

of becoming a world historical figure.

[ship horn blows]

[Snyder] Makes perfect sense
that he would want to go back.

[Hapon] Szukalski realized
that Poland needed to create

a national art that would speak
to its own soul,

its own nature.

[man, in Polish] The artists
from Jednoróg (Unicorn) artist guild,

whom Szukalski knew
from his years at Cracow's academy,

invited him to the exhibition.

[in English] At my exhibitions,
I would attack academic education.

[Snyder] Szukalski says
that the only thing which is true

are authentic ethnic heritages.

It's the Slavic World,

which is ancient and pure.

[Szukalski] Bigoted Catholics,
they are enslaved.

Only those who are not religious

are real Poles and patriots.

[Rypson] Poland, in the '30s,
is still cultivating

its traditional Catholicism.

There's nothing Catholic in Szukalski.

And I think this is another American trait
in Szukalski.

He is very media savvy.

He's provocative, and he uses provocation
very consciously, I believe.

[Snyder] Szukalski believes
in the Polish romantic idea

that there's a single person
who mystically embodies the nation.

He clearly believed
that he was a national genius

in that sense.

I had been exhibiting

and causing quite much commotion
in Cracow.

[Rypson] He had successful shows,
became a sort of hero

-for the media.
-[typewriter clacking]

[Lena] In a Polish newspaper,

it says 20,000 people visited
the exhibition of Szukalski.

I have to have some booze.

At my exhibition, the young students came,

and they said, "There's a very large group
of Catholic students

who are supposed to beat you

for attacking Church."

Now, we have agreed
that we are on the side of God.


And I say, "Let us gather in a café
where we'll form a tribe.

The tribe will be called
the Horned Heart."

Do things only that you love or hate
in your art.

You have to become a propagandist.

[Lechoslaw, in Polish] At the request
of the master,

as these young ones
soon started calling Szukalski,

they slowly started dressing alike

and having the same haircuts.

[Glenn, in English] I found
his Horned Heart tribe sweater.

And I found his belt.

They'd probably sag on Pee-wee Herman.

Maybe he liked 'em tight. I don't know.

[man, in Polish] Szukalski was
very similar to Leonardo da Vinci.

It was simply impossible to imitate him.

His followers tried to do it,
with better or worse results.

Because you needed to have an imagination
as Szukalski did.

He would sit down and imagine an object,
instead of drawing from plaster or nature.

[in English] I always imagine the things
I'm going to do, in every detail.

[Miezian, in Polish] Rotating in his mind,
side to side, top to bottom,

until he chose the right angle.

And then, he would take a sharp pencil

and start making dots.

It was amazing.

[Rypson, in English] The vision
that Szukalski had

of a great, powerful Polish state...

These are plans
of a strange kind of megalopolis,

with huge highways
and administrative buildings.

[man, in Polish] He yearned
for a second Poland.

And that second Poland would need
a new coat of arms.

[Szukalski, in English] Here,
I have Polish eagle,

reduced to double-bladed axe,

that I proposed.

[Hapon] Szukalski is looking at Poland
as lands populated by heroes,

populated by forgotten gods.

Which made him into...

kind of an artist-priest...

[Snyder] That has nothing to do
with the actual historical reality

of Eastern Europe.

Szukalski's idea of truth
is not factual truth,

but some deeper truth.

He so easily transports

decorations, ornaments, and symbols
from pre-Columbian cultures

to these old Slavic cultures.

[Snyder] It's normal
that a nationalist comes in

from somewhere else,
and then overdoes it.

[Rypson] He takes on
some ultra-Polishness, which is...

indigestible for most Poles.

They don't understand it.

National genius is not actually
a job description.

From '26 to '35, Poland is led by someone

called Jozef Pilsudski.

And Pilsudski wanted
a multicultural country.

There was a place for Poles and Jews
and Ukrainians and everyone else.

That was not Szukalski.

[Rypson] For the anti-nationalistic,
progressive critics,

Szukalski was the embodiment

of everything that is threatening
in Polish culture, even stupid.

Newspapers reported, in Cracow,
that I am returning to America,

and that I am disgusted with Poland.

[Rypson] So that ego killed

a lot of, uh, possibilities,
although allowed Szukalski

to go on,
on the path that he has decided to take,

which was not an easy path.

[Jim] He was on a mission

to establish himself
as the world's greatest artist.

I was able to get him an audience

with the director
of the Norton Simon Museum.

And we got into the inner sanctum

of this curator, and when the guy
finally came into the room

and stuck out his hand, and said,
"Mr. Szukalski, I--

I'm glad to meet you,"
Szukalski did not shake his hand,

but pointed at the paintings on the walls
and said, "I see you have

excremental dabs by Pic-asso and Matisse
hanging on your walls."

I call him Pic-Asshole.

The ultimate castrated failure.

And the curator said, "Well, thank you.
Nice to meet you. Goodbye.

My secretary will show you out."

We walked out to the car,

and I said, "What was that, Stas?
Why did you do that?"

And he said, "I'm not going to kowtow
to these phony arbiters of corrupt taste."

He didn't seem to care.

When I see his work, it reminds me

of why most people become artists
in the first place.

I love that, like, raw, like...

kind of punk-rock attitude
that I feel like he was.

He's just like badass punk rock

who didn't give a shit
what other people think.

Szukalski's worst enemy was Stas.
You know?

That was his worst goddamn enemy.

It was at an art show

at the Otis-Parsons School of Design
in Los Angeles.

And amongst the crowd,
I finally spotted Glenn Bray and Lena,

and between them, a short man,
five feet, a little...

He's looking at these rather popular works
of art in the gallery.


You create art with capital F.
You fart, you don't get art.

He never like anybody's work,

as far as I could tell,
except for his own.

As an American, you have no cause.

You're a nobody that creates nothing.


[Glenn] He has a TV,

there's movies,

there's... concerts.

He didn't think it was culture, you know.

[Szukalski] In America,
the supreme civilization

that walks on the Moon,
that tickles Mars...

But we have no culture.

People direct our interest from our heart,
from our love, from our passion.

People get less and less intelligent

so that the predator can conquer us.


We are being destroyed from within.

[James] One day, he did admit
that he had worked on a movie himself.

He said, "I've never seen it."

He didn't remember the name,
but it was something with a big gorilla.

And I thought,
it couldn't be what I was thinking of.

So I said, "King Kong, 1933?"

He says, "Yeah, that was it."

He said he did some
of the landscaping for the island.

[ape roars]

He says, "They paid me very well."

[George] By the early '30s,

Ben Hecht was really top dog
in a lot of ways.

He won two Oscars,
out of three nominations.

[Glenn] Stas used to tell me
that Ben Hecht always tried to get him

into the Hollywood system.

First of all, he did a few things
in some films,

but he had no interest in that.

He says, "I just want to do my sculpture.
I want to do my work."

[man] Szukalski, at this point,
was actually

a respected and active member
of an art community.

[Robert] So he wasn't completely lost
in Hollywood.

I just think
he just scared the shit out of 'em.

[Tucker] He had an exhibition
at the Los Angeles Museum.

[Lena] "A knot of visitors clustered about
a short, muscular man,

with dancing blue eyes,

a mass of blond hair,
and an aggressive nose.

The man talks rapidly.

The people listen as to an oracle."

[Szukalski] Director of the museum said

that the museum never experienced
such crowds

as those that came to my exhibition.

[Lena] Szukalski was very successful
in Hollywood.

But he was a patriot. He loved Poland.

So he always wanted to go back
and be received with open arms.

So Stas and Joan went back and forth
to Poland at least three or four times.

[Rypson] If we do not combine

Szukalski from America
with Szukalski from Poland,

which, in a way,
are two different persons,

we'll be left with half of the man.

In those days, he was a modernist.

I would say he was a cosmopolitan.

In Poland, he was taking on the garb
of this weird nationalist tribe leader.

He probably has hidden,
somewhere deep,

this Bohemian young artist
from Chicago.

It's, I think, an identity process.

[dramatic orchestra music playing]

[Szukalski] There are three serpents here.

Their tails creep to the French girl,

to destroy France.

But the rooster jumped
in between the evil serpents and her,

saves her,
and alters the course of history.

Well, maybe you could just show...

[Lena] This vision he had
in a little apartment in Burbank,

it is so elaborate
because he wanted to make it huge.

He wanted to have it put in front
of the Notre Dame in Paris

as a thank-you to the French
for giving us the Statue of Liberty.

[Glenn] Monuments are possible.
I mean, how else do they get built?

Somebody comes up with the idea,

and says,
"I want to build a big monument here."

In the '30s, Stas was commissioned
by the Polish government

to build a huge monument.

What? Two stories tall? I don't know.

So he had every right to think,
"Why not? This is possible."

[Rypson] Here,
we have a different Szukalski.

And a different Poland, I think.

Europe is plunging more and more
into nationalisms and militarisms.

Just like today.

[Snyder] Pilsudski has died in 1935,

and you have the so-called government
of colonels.

They are following
a much more authoritarian Constitution

that explicitly excludes non-Poles.

You have an ethnic authoritarianism.

Szukalski starts to be perceived
as an asset.

As the person who can create
a national art

that would have an aggressive element
in it.

As a sort of an answer to Nazi art.

[Glenn] Around 1935,
Stas got a summons from Poland.

[Lena] So Joan and Stas took
all their belongings with them,

everything they owned,
and they moved to Poland.

[Glenn] He took all his drawings,
all his sculptures,

his life's work.

[church bells ringing]

[whistle blows]

[Hecht] He was given more commissions

than any sculptor could execute
in three lifetimes.

The government gave him a studio

and proclaimed it
a national Szukalski museum.

He was working on two pieces
of monumental sculpture in his studio.

One was Boleslaw the Brave,
the first king of Poland,

carved out of a single,
big piece of dolomite.

And the other one was
Monument to a Miner.

[Szukalski] I have been commissioned
by Poland...

to build three-and-a-half story statue
in bronze.

[Hecht] The critics of Warsaw

pronounced him the greatest living artist.

A triumph, as unique as the love and glory
that once surrounded Michelangelo...

beat around him.

[Szukalski] This is the interior
of windmill.

There was a windmill near the home
that we had in the country in Poland.

[Lena] He and Joan were living
in a country house outside of Warsaw.

He took a lot of beautiful photos of her.

I think that was really the happiest time
of their lives.

[phone ringing]

[Szukalski] Then I had
personal telephone call

from Minister Fischer of Nazi Germany

proposing that I make

project of monument of Hitler and Göring.

They saw reproductions of my work...

and they heard of my work.

At that time, Europe was not yet...


bitching about Nazis and Hilterism.

I said, "Oh, I'd be very happy."

So, I began to do the drawings.

[Glenn] So Stas says, "Well, I'll do it.

Send me the check."

Got the check.

Did this drawing.

Sent it off.

And he says.
"It was a beautiful portrait."

[Szukalski] And I made a drawing
of Hitler...

as a ballet dancer

in a little skirt, with his pug nose
and mustache under his nose.

I received them back, however,

with polite saying that they don't think
they can use the idea.

[laughs] So...

[Hecht] Whenever Adolf Hitler
makes a speech

that individualism must perish
from the Earth,

I always think of Stanislaw Szukalski.

I have a feeling that if Adolf
and Stanley ever got together for a talk,

Adolf would end by fleeing into the night,

and renouncing all of his dark projects
as a lost cause.

[George] Ben Hecht had written about Stas
so glowingly...

he must not have known...

and was fooled like the rest of us.

You are a kind of person you are.

And I never betrayed,

I never did anything
that would deserve to go to hell...

or be condemned.

[Lechoslaw, in Polish] Szukalski realized
that the Horned Heart needed its own press

to express and defend its ideas.

So Szukalski started publishing leaflets.

Each of those articles was

aggressive language, invented words,

attacks on the Church,
even anti-Semitic statements.

[Snyder, in English] He writes
about people who like his work,

and they're all "nice," you know,
"clean Poles."

And then, people don't like his work,
he claims that they're Jewish.

[Rypson] Poles of the Jewish background,
very assimilated,

played a very central role
in Polish culture.

This was a fact
that he had problems dealing with.

[Lechoslaw, in Polish]
Szukalski thought that

economical and cultural branches
did not prosper in a proper way,

because Poles were pushed away

by Jews who dominated them.

I don't know if this was his idea,

but they placed economic unity fliers

on Christian and Catholic shops

which were stickers with axe-eagles.

[Snyder, in English]
Maybe that, by paying attention to it,

you and I and your crew are doubling
the total readership Krak ever had.

[Lechoslaw, in Polish]
Twelve issues were printed,

in small circulation, on cheap paper.

[Snyder, in English] The question
is not, "Is Krak important?"

I don't think Krak was.
The question is: "How does it fit in?"

The Polish authoritarian government
was dancing a dangerous dance.

The public opinion, which is anti-Semitic,

is now allowed to rise to the surface

and become part
of official government doctrine.

I think it's fair to say
that Krak was partaking.

I think, in its very modest way, honestly,
but it partook

in the creation of a general atmosphere
among some Poles,

which made it easier for people
to imagine a world without Jews.

As soon as you're
in that world of imagination,

you're flirting with violence.

[George] When we started this documentary,
no one had any idea...

that these things had happened.

We were all blindsided,


Especially those who knew him
in those days.

No, he was not the man that we had all
envisioned him to be.

We lost a friend that never existed,
I suppose.

And we also thought of Ben Hecht,

how betrayed he would have felt...

if he knew about this.

[Hecht] It is unprofitable

for the Jew to look
at history's heroes or philosophers

without skipping a little.
He is apt to only see monsters.

I suspect that
if you examine any of these men carefully,

you will find he is no soul in torment,

but a coin with two sides.

He can cash in on his virtues

and his evils at separate counters.

[George] Szukalski, apparently,

shape-shifted to suit the situation.

Krak was published in Poland
at the same time Ben Hecht was in America,

bringing the realization of the horrors
that were going on in Europe.

[Hecht] I write of Jews today.

I, who never knew himself as one before,

because that part of me, which is Jewish,

is under violent and apelike attack,

with no friend in the world
to cry "Shame!" or "Stop!"

I believe Ben Hecht didn't know...

how Szukalski had disguised
a lot of his beliefs.

This makes it a double tragedy. [sighs]

[Hecht] Prejudice is a symptom
that can thrive

in the most acute and enlightened minds

as it can in the darkened thought
of fools.

[Glenn] Stas told me that, one day,
he was walking towards his big studio,

and he looked up above,
and in the blue sky

he saw little puffs of white clouds.

[plane engine roars]

[engines roaring]

[siren wailing]

[Glenn] So he got to his studio,
got inside,

and he ran to cover the statue
of Boleslaw with burlap sacks.

[people screaming]


[loud explosions]

[plane engine roars]

[Glenn] Roughly a fifth
of the city is destroyed by bombing.

-[Glenn] 25,000 people killed...

although it's almost completely forgotten.

[George] The studio was hit
with a Luftwaffe bomb.

All of his paintings
and sculptures and bronzes

were obliterated.

And Boleslaw the Brave toppled over
and nearly crushed him.

[Glenn] He was buried
under rubble for two days.

He crawled out.

Joan and he had an understanding,

they would meet at the American Embassy

if something happened,
and they hid out in the basement.

He remembers going out
and foraging for food.

You just didn't know...

how long this was gonna go on.

[Snyder] The German invasion of Poland
was colonization.

This was a campaign
to eliminate the Polish state,

and also to make it impossible
for that state ever to exist again...

by eliminating
the Polish cultural heritage,

and by physically eliminating,
by exterminating, by murdering

the thinking classes
and the political classes in Poland.

One of my Horned Heart boys, Boratinski,
was executed by the Germans later.

[voice cracking] When I get emotional,
my voice cracks.

[Glenn] He said, "Get what we've got,
the two suitcases.

We're gonna get out of here."

And Nazis were coming in one direction.

So, all the Poles were running
in that direction,

fleeing them. He said,

"Let's walk right through 'em."

As he and Joan we're leaving Warsaw,

he saw them machine-gunning
the Orator.

[orchestra music playing]

[man] The bronze relief,
Deluge (20th Century).

It has an image
of a female lioness figure.

She's breastfeeding two children

who represent the United States
and Europe.

And the European child is starving

because the breast has had two arrows
shoved through it.

The tragedies that took place
in Europe just run

like a consistent pulse
or a sob through the entire

body of work of Szukalski.

[Lena] Stas and Joan returned
to the United States

with only three suitcases.

[Glenn] Losing his life's work,

I don't know how in the world

he didn't have a mental breakdown.

This arm,
this was the size of the sculpture.

This only sculpture of mine
that I can show.

And I did 174 sculptures.

Hundreds of paintings, drawings, projects.

All this was looted, destroyed,
or whatever they did,

so I have nothing left to show
to exhibit my works.

[Glenn] He lost The Struggle,
and I always wondered

what the other side
of that moon looked like.

He never photographed the back.

I know there was hundreds of pieces
that were never published

in those '20s books
that nobody's ever seen.

After that point, you might as well say
they cleared the slate of Szukalski.

Szukalski and Joan were very poor.

They always lived in very small houses,
one-bedroom houses.

I think it came out in letters that,
after the war,

Kalinka did not want to see her father.

Later, we tried to find her,
and we could never find her.

[Szukalski] It is a project
for a sculpture,

a father and his child.

[Lena] I don't remember
where I heard this,

that Joan had been pregnant
sometime during the war,

and she must have lost the baby.
And they never had children afterward.

I felt sorry for her sometimes,

but I don't think she felt sorry
for herself at all.

She really loved him.

And of course, it was a really hard thing
for them to go through,

but I think she kind of took it in stride,

and I think she took it better
than Stas did.

I have died in Los Angeles,

which I regard the cultural Siberia
of America, Southern California.

[Glenn] Stas worked at Rocketdyne.

And Rocketdyne was a designer
of rocket engines.

He made maquettes of landscapes
and land maps for them.

You know, he might as well been working
in a cannery.

[Szukalski] Living in Los Angeles,
I became totally unknown.

No paper ever would mention me.

[Glenn] And because he had a Polish name,

he said
that people didn't take him seriously.

He says, "What's with these Polish jokes?

We're stupid, we're lazy.

That's what they're throwing out there
for people to pick up on."

Children of Europe that are in America.
Second class, that you look down on them.

I am a foreigner in this country, always,
even if I'm American citizen.

[in Polish] After 1957,

Szukalski was able to return
to Poland to design a monument

commemorating the heroes
of the Warsaw uprising.

Szukalski, per usual,

designed a great project
on an enormous scale.

The competition did not end well
for Szukalski.

[Szukalski, in English] Because Poles
are the most envious

of human beings
I have ever met in my life.

They would rather die than...

compliment a friend
who does something well.

[Rypson] Szukalski, for very many years,

was a taboo issue in-- in Poland.

[Snyder] Polish Communism is installed
in 1944 and lasts until 1989.

[Rypson] Szukalski was a nationalist.

That is something that was perceived
by the Communists

as a potential danger.

[Snyder] Poland was impenetrable to him.

[Szukalski] Poles have destroyed me.

But America doesn't want me.

I am alone.

[crying] I am a patriot without a country.

I'm not a bigot.

I'm a patriot, American or Polish.

Because if you combine two,
three nations,

your heart is larger.

Your capacity to understand is deeper.

[Lena] He believed in humanity.

The Szukalski from before the war
maybe was different.

I don't recognize him at all.

[Glenn] Trying to get him to talk
about his past was pulling teeth.

Stas never brought these old Krak books

or any other Polish materials
that he did back in the '30s.

You know, I think
he was probably-- maybe ashamed of it,

because he-- he didn't show it to me.

We see how we did.

Eight million Jews were exterminated
by the predators.

I never heard an anti-Semitic word
come out of his mouth, ever.

In fact, it was honestly the opposite.

[man] At one time, Szukalski,

as a token of admiration...

created one of his small relief plaques

of a menorah.

He inscribed in it, in Hebrew,

"The nation of Israel is alive."

[Lena] His view got wider

because he was living
in the United States,

and he became more of a universal artist.

[Szukalski] This is the Citadel of Freedom

to commemorate martyrs
that were defending their country.

Every relief will be a hero
of one of the free nations of the world.

Well, Stas told me many times
that he didn't believe in boundaries.

He thought if you were a citizen,
you were citizen of the world.

[Szukalski] We usually scorn people
whom we do not know.

Once we know them, we like them.

We even love them.

[crying] You should be large enough
to take all nationalities.

[Glenn] He did a piece called A Spiral
in the '60s.

You see footprints coming out of the mud,

growing at a snail's pace,

and it's building things,
it's building cities.

And you go around, around,

and it evolves into a human.

Possibility of renewal.

[Snyder] What is Szukalski?

Is Szukalski a few passages in a journal
which nobody really read in the 1930s,

or is Szukalski the whole life
of Szukalski?

The California, the various friends,
the re-imagination of-- of self?

So... I failed very badly.

And for last 40 years,
I am no more a sculptor.

I had to give up my profession.

[Glenn] Didn't have a studio,
didn't have materials, didn't have money,

and he saw another calling.

[Szukalski] I spent 40-some years

and made the greatest discovery
that man has ever made

in human history.

Greater than Copernicus.

People in Egypt,

in Mexico,

in Greece,


in Korea, in Tibet,

in Africa, in India,

they came originally from Easter Island.

From the land that is perished.

[Tucker] Zermatism is the name
that Szukalski gave

to his huge project

of rewriting human history.

Anthropology and art history

and zoology and astronomy...

What Szukalski would do
is pore through images in books

of ancient cultural artifacts
from around the world.

[Lena] He would find magazines
by trash cans and would cut out pictures.

He is searching all the time
for the first element

that would be a common element
for different cultures.

See? This occurs here, and here

and here and here,
in China and over here.

All these things are interconnected.

They all represent the same thing
to all these people.

I wrote all these 54 volumes.

[Glenn] He didn't buy folders.

He actually plastered
all his pages together

and let it sit up,
and then he put this binding over,

and then drew pictures showing
what was inside.

And he did some 40,000 drawings.

And I know more
than all the historians put together

and the archaeologists.

Szukalski decided that Easter Island was,
in fact, the cradle of humanity.

This island,

completely separate
from all human civilization,

populated by monumental sculpture.

[man] I think he retreated to a place
that is so remote...

that the world couldn't destroy
his ideas.

[Lena] He always brought up Easter Island,
how important it was,

and that it was the seed
of all civilization of the the world,

but he never got to go there.

Motherland personifies Easter Island.

[chuckles softly, stammers] Unbelievable!

[Lena] There's a whole book on tattoos.
And he called them scum lines,

because he thought
people had saved themselves

from the Great Deluge by swimming.

And all tribes in the world
that do tribal tattoos

are still remembering the Great Deluge.

[Glenn] And he came to the conclusion
that there was actually

one system of symbolic meaning

that had existed throughout the world
before the Great Flood.

Protong, one language on Earth...

and I have discovered it.

And I will send it to Scientific American.

I hope they will print it.

[clicks tongue, stammers]

His Zermatism thing was just flipped.

And, I mean, he'd slipped off the edge.

And would do like this,
and would cover the nose.

[Lena] Okay.

I-- I'll try to be short about it.
It's-- it's really involved.

Yetinsini, sons of the yeti.

[Szukalski] Conspiracy of misfits.

Stas believed that, in ancient times,

apes or apelike creatures...

[Robert] Bigfoot and things like that,
you know...

[Lena] ...had raped beautiful human women.

So, out of this,
came this subrace of ugly, ugly people.

He believed that these people
became the criminals.

[Szukalski] They are born to kill,
to destroy, to exterminate.

[Lena] So they became mass murderers,
they became Communists,

They became Nazis...

So... History!

[Szukalski] This may not be true,
but these are my silly notions.

And my silly notions usually have
very good scientific basis.

[Glenn] At first, it was funny,
like we were looking at a circus act.

[stammers] Like, you know,
bring out the monkey.

But the more you got into it,
you realized, this guy is really serious.

He's got serious things to say.

What he wants to explain, it seems to me,

is what happened to Europe
in the 20th century.

[Glenn] He saw the world in ashes
in World War II,

he saw the Communist takeover of Poland,

and he just wanted
to bring people together.

That's what I-- I think that's
what he was doing with Zermatism.

He was showing we all have a commonality.

It's clear that the way he's talking
about Jews after the war is different.

The Jews are, instead,
one source of ancient traditions...

among other sources
of ancient traditions.

[Szukalski] Jews have suffered much.

Each misfortune taught them lesson.

Therefore, they acquired certain wisdom.

[Snyder] In history, if people change
for the better,

it's building
on something that's in their past.

The continuity is that he's throwing away
everything we actually know about history,

and trying to find his own deeper truth,

but he's doing it
on the scale of the whole world,

and not just pulling in the Slavs.

In any event, it's clear
that he does change after the war.

And that's worth noting,
because not everybody does.

[crowd chanting in Polish]

[man chanting in Polish over megaphone]

[Rypson] Eventually,
Szukalski's work became prey...

to certain strange pagan associations
in Poland

that also profess a form of authoritarian

-right-wing state.
-[mouse clicking]

The Polish far-right today looks back
at the 1930s as a positive period.

As a period full of useful examples,

and in that experiment,
Szukalski is a piece.

[Glenn] Then, he's kind of frozen in time
over there.

And if he saw this footage
of these Poles out there...

he would... he-- he would...

He would hate it.

Because Stas was totally against
nationalistic ideology by this point.

He was-- He was done with it.
He-- He saw what it did.

[crowd chanting in Polish]

[Snyder] He's coming back now
as a myth of the 1930s.

Some purified Poland
is going to be stronger.

I don't even think they know
who Szukalski is.

There might be one or two guys
that blog about it,

but they don't know the whole story.

[Snyder] If you just go back to the 1930s,

if you look at Szukalski, or if you look
at other Polish nationalists,

you're going to find, basically,
a suicide note.

You're going to find an invitation
to the abyss.

[in Polish] We will show them
that Europe is ours!

-[fireworks popping]
-[crowd clamoring]

[people chanting in Polish]

[in English] Joan had emphysema.
She was a lifelong smoker.

So finally, she had to go to the hospital.

Stas would visit her every day,

and he brought us home this paper,
one time.

It was on the back of an envelope
of her writing,

saying, "Stas,
they're not taking care of me."

So he claims that, on July 4th,
during the day,

the staff was just partying it up.

And they just left her alone there,
and she died.

And he thought it was
the most tragic thing.

So, he called me up. He was hysterical.

We went over there.

I remember just driving around
with Stas in the back, crying,

and we saw these fireworks going off.

Just surreal, just sad.

Actually, he describes it beautifully

in the Portrait of Lotus,
where he describes how sad he was.

"While putting this volume together,

my most beloved
Joan Lee Donovan Szukalski died.

Once, in an outpouring of despair,

I caught my reflection in a mirror,

and was struck by what had become
of my face.

In my youth, I was quite handsome,

but my perpetual grief has finally,
irreversibly, done its hateful duty

in altering me into a face in the crowd."

[Glenn] My favorite Szukalski drawing

is a piece that he drew in 1954,
and it's called A Submerged Town.

He told me the story
that this is a man, thirsty,

he's in the desert,
and he dips his head down

into this pond,
and he sees a submerged town.

And I go, "Stas, that's you."

And he-- And he kind of went...

He-- He really didn't think so.
I thought, "Of course, that's you."

[Lena] So after the death of Joan,
we became more important to him,

because he would not take care of himself.

[Glenn] We'd open up a drawer,
and there's just roaches in there.

[Lena] We would send Meals on Wheels
to him, once in a while,

we would send
the cleaning lady over to his house.

We would take him out to eat
at least once a week...

Basically, we were taking care of him.

One day, Glenn and I came to his house,

and we saw this armature of coat hangers,
styrofoam cups, wooden clothespins.

There was this huge blob on there,
of dried Hydrocal.

Glenn had bought him Hydrocal,
which is really hard plaster of Paris.

Then, a few months later, this came out.

[orchestra music playing]

It's the culmination of all his rage

and his madness
about the Second World War.

And it's the story of Katyn,

where thousands and thousands of Poles

got murdered in the forest of Katyn
by the Soviets.

Officers, doctors, lawyers,

all very highly-educated people.

Their arms were bound behind them.

They got a hammer to their head,

and then they were shot
in the back of the neck.

That's the most horrible thing for them,
of course,

but also for the Polish civilization.

To lose all their best people.

Szukalski was really,
really proud of this one.

I think it's the culmination
of his life's work.

[Robert] I had an art show.

My first one-man art show.

He had me get the attention
of everybody there,

and he lectured there, at my art show,
about him.

[Glenn] You can just tell
this guy was pent up to tell a story.

I went over one evening and I told him,
"Stas, you know, I have this camera.

What if we start filming you?
We can do the Zermatism tapes."

-[static crackles]
-[Szukalski] Okay.

[Glenn] Wait,
let me put the finishing touches...


You-- you have to pretend
as if you meet me in the desert,

and I've never heard of Protong before.

Uh-huh, good.

This is November the 7th.

June 26th, September, January, May 9th,
December the 4th,

August 22nd 1958.

-[Glenn] '85.
-[laughing] '85? '85!

[Glenn] He was all for it.
No problem with camera on him or anything.

Here she is, a scientific miracle.

[Glenn] I'd shoot him a little bit,
and I'd plug it right into his TV,

and he'd look at himself,
and he'd go, "This-- This is interesting."

Sometimes once a week,
sometimes twice a week.

That went on for, I'd say,
at least five years.

[loud whirring]

This has all directions
and pulls this way, that way.

[Glenn] This side or this side?

I knew I wasn't making 'em for me.

I knew somewhere,
somebody would find these tapes,

and they'd see what was on there,
and make something out of it.

I-- I knew that.

[Szukalski] I cannot read this either,

-[Glenn] Blue Mesa.
-[Szukalski] Oh, Blue Mesa!

[Glenn] I-- I saw the frailties.

I saw things that totally made him human.

I think it really increased his life

by years, I think,
because he looked forward to that.

We're just sitting around,
talking in his living room,

and he looks at me and says,
"The picture."

I say, "What picture? What? Picture?
Want to go to the movies?

What pic--"
He says, "I give you the picture."

[Szukalski] I wish I could have the camera
and introduce

my friend, who makes these pictures,
Glenn Bray.

They are so good pictures
that it's worthwhile braying about.

Only a month later, maybe, I got a call.

He's in the hospital.
This time, it's bad.

They said,
"Well, you know, he's paralyzed."

He-- He's laying in bed,
and he sees us, and he recognizes us,

but half-- He's half-paralyzed.

One hand can move,
and he can blink his eyes,

but he can't talk.

When he found out that he--
that he couldn't move anymore

after his stroke,

he knew he would never be able
to work anymore,

and work was his life.

So he just stopped eating.

He refused to eat.

Not good, and, uh, his eyes were closed.

[inhales sharply]

[clicks tongue, sighs]

Then he just reached--

He reached and grabbed me.

And he grabbed me so hard!

I had to just, you know,
take his hand off me.


[Lena] He died when he was 93.

I didn't like to see him go,
but Glenn was very distraught.

He lost a very, very close friend,
and, I thought...

it's almost, to Glenn,
as if he lost his father.

[Glenn] So I had his keys
to his apartment,

and I go over there, open up the door,

and I see right where he'd fallen.

And he'd fa--

When he had a stroke,
he fell against a glass frame,

and it shattered, and he cut himself.

And there was blood all over
this little section,

and I looked down,
and there's this postcard of Copernicus.

[crying softly]

So this is the image that...

This is the image that brought us together
and took us apart.

[Robert] Stas just carried on about

the center of the universe
was Easter Island.

So, we were off to go there.

[Glenn laughs]

[Robert] Me and Suzanne,
Rick Griffin and his girlfriend,

um, and Glenn and Lena.

-[crickets chirping]
-[man] Okay.

It's a beautiful day on Easter Island.

I'm here with some friends.
There's six of us here...

to pay homage to Joan Donovan Szukalski
and Stanislaw Szukalski.


[Robert] They had a big thing of ashes.

It looked like a kilo full of cocaine.

-[Suzanne] It's a tooth.
-[Glenn] Throw it.

Stas and Joan, may you rest in peace.
We love you.

-[Suzanne chuckles]


[birds chirping]

Is this bill collectors? [chuckles]

Come in, I have something
very important to tell you.

Uh... In fact, about history.

[lively orchestra music playing]