Missing Man of Marble

Suppose you are a fan of Mozart's music. How would you feel if around a third of his music was currently unavailable in any form? If you are a fan of cinema, you have this feeling all the time: many films are simply unavailable.

I'm not talking about 'lost' films here - films where all prints and negatives have gone missing or been destroyed, like at least half of the entire silent era: I'm talking about films which exist, but which for rights or other reasons simply can't be seen. Sometimes they turn up eventually - like Becket, available now after a fifteen-year haitus - sometimes you can track down second-hand or imported DVDs. And sometimes not.

I did manage to catch up with one of my favourite missing films, the great Polish director Andrzej Wajda's Man of Marble (Człowiek Z Marmuru) (1975) by importing a DVD from the USA. Wajda's earlier films, such as Kanal, do get shown occasionally, but the last time I saw Man of Marble was in 1982.

It has been described as the Polish Citizen Kane - a reasonable comparison. It concerns a young woman student, Agnieszka (Krystina Janda,) who is making a TV documentary for her thesis. She becomes intrigued by a newsreel from 1950 of Mattheus Birkut (Jerzy Radzilowicz) who headed a record-breaking bricklaying team that laid over 30,000 bricks in one shift, and who became a Socialist hero (Poland was ruled by a Russian-dominated Communist government) - only to disappear without trace.

Interviewing people involved she slowly discovers the murky truth behind the legend: how though the record-breaking event wasn't actually faked, it was set up and staged for propaganda purposes: how Birkut went from being a hero to being unpopular with the authorities because of his attempts to clear a 'disappeared' friend accused of sabotage; how he was himself accused of complicity in a show trial and sent to prison. Her film becomes the victim of censorship (disguised as budgetary constraints) because no-one in authority wants this all dragged out.

Indeed Man of Marble itself was affected by censorship (there was still a Communist government) and was unable to continue the story to show the details of Birkut's death in a demonstration: a sequel, Man of Iron (Człowiek Z Zelaza)(1981) covered this and also included the Solidatory revolt which was happening during shooting. This film is currently completely unavailable. [UPDATE: A comment posted here mentioned that it was available on a Polish DVD - my Polish being nonexistent I didn't have much luck over that, but I did find a deleted NTSC VHS tape on Amazon.com 'partners' so I have ordered that. It's still the case that neither film is readily available in the UK.]

Man of Marble is a great film: Man of Iron is not quite as good but is still a masterpiece and completes the story of the first film. It's really very unsatisfactory that important films like this should be so difficult to see.

Posted: Fri - October 26, 2007 at 09:16 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM