Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski (2018)
December 31, 2018 10:41 AM - Subscribe

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.
posted by DirtyOldTown (4 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I really liked this. And all the underground comic artists and publishers involved were cool to see.

That he never mentioned his own flirting with nationalism and antisemitism wasn't surprising. It seemed more important that in the end, he rejected it. And that his earlier work is now embraced by contemporary Polish nationalists seems like the kind of cosmic karma he would appreciate and maybe even accept as penance for past sins. And I agree that he probably would hate it. It would greatly pain him. Or who knows, maybe he'd go back to Poland and give the pagan nationalist thing one more try. It's either the one or the other.

I wasn't as impressed by his work. I get why people would like it but it didn't do much for me. Though I think I liked the pointillist drawings a bit more than the sculpture. I agree with Szukalski that art needs to try and say big things, but like with his dislike of Picasso, it's hard to appreciate either of them when they can't get beyond their own megalomania and narcissism.

Speaking of narcissism, I was surprised that they didn't bring up me. Not me the person, but me the historic Stańczyk, part mythical brilliant court jester who advised kings during the expansion of the Polish empire, and part the symbolic figure of Stańczyk, used often subversively in Polish art and literature as a hero and patriot of the homeland. Maybe Szukalski never mentioned me because I'm a fool, and not important enough, or masculine enough to be taken seriously as a national symbol. It's hard enough with the racist jokes about us all being idiots, maybe a fool isn't a good symbolic figure. Or maybe it's because the documentary was made by Americans, during a very idiotic period of their own history. Anyone's guess.
posted by Stanczyk at 12:03 PM on December 31, 2018

There are three separate conversations to be had about this film. The first is about the film itself and whether it is any good. I believe that it is pretty compelling. The next is about the art of Szukalski and whether it is any good. His art is very striking and while I lack much of a background in art, his sculpture is riveting and seems to deserve the acclaim. The final conversation would be about what kind of man Szukalski really was. This is the thornier one.

On the one hand, he clearly co-wrote and disseminated anti-Semitic tracts during his pre-WWII years in Poland. On the other, while he never owned up to these actions, he seems to have come around where Jewish people are concerned in later years. And then on the other, other hand, he cooked up all of that weird bullshit about Zermatism. The film chickens out a little in explaining who the "mongrels walking among us" were, but a person can imagine. And then on the other, other, other hand (which seems only fair when evaluating a man given to mythic and symbolic distortions of anatomy), he seems to have been a kind and generous friend to many.

I think in the end, maybe the strongest aspect of the film is its quiet insistence that all of these versions of Szukalski can co-exist, that he--to use the parlance favored here--contained multitudes.

Your personal math about his worth as a person may vary, as might your take on his art. But his story definitely merited telling.

This is a pretty good doc indeed.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:05 PM on December 31, 2018

Both of the above comments pretty well reflect my own thoughts about this, so I will just recommend putting in the almost two hours to watch this.
posted by wittgenstein at 1:07 PM on December 31, 2018

The surprise cameo by a wee DiCaprio was unexpected. Did you notice he gets a producer credit?

Also, I'm compelled to point out that the interview subjects, perhaps with the exception of Gary, don't always seem sincere in how they remember Szukalski. They act as if he was a dear friend, and that they sat at his feet and he imparted the wisdom of a lost artist. I get the feeling that it was more like witnessing an oddity for them. Their younger and hipper selves snickering into their collars at the odd little man who lost his life's work and identity in the bombing of Warsaw. Not fully realizing the gravity of that Vonnegutian/Pynchonian event. This sweet old crank, probably a touch racist, who created a weird encyclopedia of iconography that strained to connect Big Foot, Easter Island, the Aztecs and Mayans, and himself. An Ur-Weirdo connecting us to our shared creepy European immigrant past. All to say they remember him fondly now, I didn't feel that was always true.
posted by Stanczyk at 2:39 PM on December 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

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