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‘It Seems to Me that the Most Popular Films in the West Are Very Harmful to Us’: Film Popularity in Poland During the years of ‘High Stalinisation’

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Towards a Comparative Economic History of Cinema, 1930–1970

Part of the book series: Frontiers in Economic History ((FEH))

Abstract

From a combination of archive materials, official statistics and programming data, this chapter examines the Polish film market during the years of ‘High Stalinism’. We learn about the importance of cinema to Communist rule and the primacy of cultural links to the Soviet Union. For the authorities, filmgoing was an act of solidarity and ideological education. However, the shortage of new film releases in general and the small scale of the domestic film industry caused the authorities to import films from Western Europe, and these proved to be very popular with audiences. A POPSTAT analysis of Cracow and the proximate new industrial city of Nowa Huta shows familiar popularity, distribution and exhibition patterns. Some films popular with audiences are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Zamoyski (2017, p. 338).

  2. 2.

    See Krzeczkowska (1969, pp. 305, 323).

  3. 3.

    Applebaum (2013). See chapter “Introduction: ‘Millions of People Every Day’—Cinema as Part of the Quotidian of Life” for a vivid description of the destruction of Eastern Europe during the war years.

  4. 4.

    Kemp-Welch (2008, pp. 26-42).

  5. 5.

    See Kersten (1999).

  6. 6.

    Figures given in Babiracki (2015, p. 113).

  7. 7.

    Babiracki (2015, p. 116).

  8. 8.

    The president of CUK was also a deputy Minister of Culture and the Arts. From 1948, Film Polski was led by Stanislaw Albrecht, the brother of the secretary of the communist party’s Central Committee, while film import policy was handled by Rita Radkiewicz, the wife of the Minister of Public Security. Before taking office, neither Albrecht nor Radkiewicz had anything to do with film culture.

  9. 9.

    Board of Film Polski (1951a, 1951b, p. 40).

  10. 10.

    Dytko (1952, p. 120).

  11. 11.

    Dorota Ostrowska claims that Western films ‘virtually disappeared during Poland’s Stalinist period’ (Ostrowska, 2017, p. 137)—which, as we will show, is not true. This mistake may have been caused by the fact that Ostrowska’s chapter is based on the analysis of film reviews, and not cinema programming.

  12. 12.

    Board of Film Polski (1950, p. 82).

  13. 13.

    Ostrowska (2017, p. 139).

  14. 14.

    In the Archive of Modern Records in Warsaw (Archiwum Akt Nowych) there is a huge collection of CUK files—circa 20,000 pages. Some of the folders are labelled ‘Ordinances (of the particular year)’—these can contain more than 200 documents, some of them multi-page, totalling together to 300 to 400 pages.

  15. 15.

    Until 1957, cinema managers were not involved at all in programme selection.

  16. 16.

    Three of these films—Zakazane piosenki, Skarb and Czarci żleb—were screened as late as the 1960s.

  17. 17.

    Dytko (1952, p. 119).

  18. 18.

    Film Rental Office (1951, p. 68).

  19. 19.

    Albrecht (1951, p. 5).

  20. 20.

    Other public holidays—International Worker’s Day (1 May), and the National Day of Rebirth of Poland (July 22)—had less stringent restrictions but required that any publicity relating to films from the West were removed from cinema waiting rooms and showcases.

  21. 21.

    Albrecht (1954, pp. 27–28).

  22. 22.

    Dytko (1952, p. 120).

  23. 23.

    Most likely, the plots of these rejected films might have had something to do with the Ukraine. Given the partitioning of Poland under the German-Soviet Pact of 1939, resulting in the incorporation of formerly Polish land (including the city of Lviv, for centuries one of the most vibrant centres of Polish culture) into the Ukrainian Republic of USSR, this constituted a delicate subject. The Soviet biopic Chmielnicki (1941), about a rebel political leader of the XVII century, is an example of such a film: this title is mentioned several times in the minutes of the meetings of the Film Polski officials as a movie which is inappropriate for Polish viewers—in Polish history textbooks printed before 1939, Chmielnicki was considered a traitor, whereas in the Marxist-Leninist view of history he was praised as a hero of class struggle).

  24. 24.

    Radkiewicz (1950, pp. 47–48).

  25. 25.

    The annual Soviet Film Festival that ran from mid-October to mid-November films. A further illustration of the favour shown the USSR is the attention given by the state-controlled monopoly that determined the décor of cinemas on anniversaries of events associated with communism. Examples are the 27th anniversary of Lenin’s death celebrated on 19–23 January 1951, and the 33rd anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Army between 19 and 24 February 1951, during which promotional materials not related to Soviet films could not be displayed in cinemas. In bureaucratic language, these initiatives were referred to as ‘special events’. An annual report reads: ‘During 1952, we held 29 special events in our area, representing 32.6 per cent of all viewers attracted in 1952; screenings connected with special events represent 27.0 per cent of all screenings in 1952’. Central Office of Film (1953, p. 67).

  26. 26.

    Film Rental Office (1951, p. 77).

  27. 27.

    1956 proved to be the apex of the post-Stalinist thaw.

  28. 28.

    Dytko (1952, p. 121).

  29. 29.

    Zajiček (1983, pp. 117–118).

  30. 30.

    By 1955, the population had risen to 428,231, including the rapidly expanding industrial district of Nowa Huta.

  31. 31.

    See Sedgwick (2000, 2020).

  32. 32.

    For the POPSTAT method, see the earlier Chapter “Managing Risk in the Film Business”. A measure of veracity of the POPSTAT Index for Cracow is given by the correlation between those Polish films for which we have attendance figures (Table 4) that were circulating between 1951-3, and their Cracow POPSTAT Index values. Coefficient values of 0.76 (POPSTAT) and 0.77 (screenings) were obtained.

  33. 33.

    A few films were screened in two parts. However, the newspaper listings rarely indicated which part was being screened. For this reason, all two-part films are treated singularly.

  34. 34.

    An internal document shows that films from the West that critiqued the ruling elites were particularly favoured. For instance, British films awarded an import licence included Fame is the Spur, Great Expectations, Hamlet, Henry V, Nicolas Nickleby, and Scott of the Antarctic. The only British-made film with a contemporary subject was Give Us this Day, directed by the Hollywood blacklisted Edward Dmytryk, who along with Edward G. Robinson (Dr Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet) and Paul Muni (Life of Emil Zola) were esteemed by virtue of their blacklisting by HUAC. (Radkiewicz, 1950, pp. 47–48).

  35. 35.

    Klejsa and Miller-Klejsa (2021).

  36. 36.

    The other US films in circulation were: Dr Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940); Gulliver’s Travels (1939); Lassie Come Home (1943); The Life of Emile Zola (1937); Madame Curie (1943) and Of Mice and Men (1939).

  37. 37.

    Sedgwick (2002) uses the Variety listings to build up a picture of the changing nature of film popularity in the United States between 1946 and 65. In 1947, 75 films were listed as Top Grossers. Red Stallion was not among them.

  38. 38.

    For an explanation of the Utilisation Index see chapter “‘It Seems to Me that the Most Popular Films in the West Are Very Harmful to Us’: Film Popularity in Poland During the years of ‘High Stalinisation”. Also see Garncarz (2021, pp. 77–82).

  39. 39.

    Part of this is connected to the relative ubiquity of Soviet cinema—the larger the share of supply, the greater the tendency towards an Index value of one.

  40. 40.

    Knight (2018, pp. 704–30).

  41. 41.

    Lebow (2013, p. 54).

  42. 42.

    Kulik (1957, pp. 92–93).

  43. 43.

    Confusingly, the newspaper listings make it impossible to distinguish between the two parts for POPSTAT purposes. In Table 8 Żołnierz Zwycięstwa is presented as a single film, as are all films.

  44. 44.

    Main Office for Control of Press (1953, pp. 272–273).

  45. 45.

    Despite the German dialogue, Verlorene Melodie was not released in West Germany, although it was premiered in East Germany.

  46. 46.

    (Grzelecki 1953, p. 7).

  47. 47.

    Kulik (1957, pp. 92–3).

  48. 48.

    In the 50 s it was the Party’s ambition to bring cinema to rural workers. Based upon a diet of Polish and Soviet films, hundreds of new cinemas were built in the countryside.

  49. 49.

    Central Office of Film (1953, pp. 181–184).

  50. 50.

    Board of Central Office of Film (1952, p. 115). ‘Good’ is understood to box-office performance.

  51. 51.

    Board of Film Polski (1951a, 1951b, p. 113).

  52. 52.

    Film Rental Office (1951, p. 84).

  53. 53.

    Babiracki (2015, p. 122).

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Acknowledgements

Konrad Klejsa’s research on film distribution was made possible through a grant from the National Science Centre, Poland (2016/22/E/HS2/00135).

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Klejsa, K., Sedgwick, J. (2022). ‘It Seems to Me that the Most Popular Films in the West Are Very Harmful to Us’: Film Popularity in Poland During the years of ‘High Stalinisation’. In: Sedgwick, J. (eds) Towards a Comparative Economic History of Cinema, 1930–1970. Frontiers in Economic History . Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-05770-0_11

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