In 1968, pop culture collector Glenn Bray entered a Hollywood bookstore looking for a something on surrealism; instead he found himself drawn to a book featuring the art of Stanislav Szukalski. Fascinated by the collection, Glenn showed the photos of drawings and sculptures to his circle of friends including Robert and Suzanne Williams and George DiCaprio, who were equally awestruck by the work of the forgotten Polish master. A few years later when Glenn noticed a Szukalski poster depicting Copernicus on the wall of a small bookstore in Tarzana California, he learned the man he considered a genius was not only alive but lived no more than 5 miles from him. Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski, debuts on Friday, December 21st, it was directed by Irek Dobrowolski (The Portraitist), produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, Roee Sharon Paled, George DiCaprio, Anna Dobrowolski, Ben Hecht and narrated by Nick Tate.
Stanislav Szukalski (13 December 1893 – 19 May 1987) was a man of passion that was capable of inspiring those he met. He was also a man of many faults, with a dark past that some, even those who once considered him a friend, are unable to forgive. Struggle features old Betamax footage from dozens of interviews with Szukalski which give life to a man who died 31 years prior to the release of this film. Those videos and testimonies of those closest to him make up the bulk of the film’s subtext.
On the surface, this is a documentary that will delight fans of the art world and history buffs alike. A sculptor the likes of Rodin, Michelangelo, and Antioch that bounced back and for the between the united states and Poland until it was occupied by Nazi Germany isolating him from his home for the latter half of his life. The film’s only real fault is holding on to the reveal of Szukalski’s greatest mistake for too long. The idea that he may not have been the man they believed him to be was a seed planted too early giving a mostly chronological story an unbalanced feeling.
Just below the surface of beautiful paintings, intricate sculptures and an alternative theory of human evolution is the question, what defines a man. Does one act, one period in time decide who and what you are, for as long as you will be remembered? Or, are you able to overcome your past to forge a new path and be the person others hoped you would be? For some its obvious Szukalski was able to reform himself, for others it was too little too late to make up for the egregiousness of his folly in their mind. In a style similar to the three-act structure of a narrative film, Struggle spends time building up the man, then he has his fall, and in the final act, you are left to judge for yourself if he is worth our praise and worth remembering.
Perhaps it was the abundance of old interviews that allowed the creative team to pour the budget into displaying his sculptures in a truly dynamic way. The way the camera sweeps and dives around his work hugging every curve unveiling every detail was beautiful, it gave life to his work and turns your TV into an art installation. If you edited those scenes out it could be hung on a wall in any mixed media gallery, to showcase his work and the work of the film’s visual artists.
Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski, has all of the elements needed to be an excellent documentary. It has an interesting and/or controversial subject, it is educational, it is entertaining, and being produced by a Hollywood legend won’t hurt its chances for success either. Szukalski is a captivating subject, the way his immense talent blends with a view of the world that can only be labeled as kooky, at best, and a secret he kept for nearly 40 years keeps viewers guessing on what he will say or create next.