When Man of Marble was released in 1977, it became Andrzej Wajda’s biggest international hit since Ashes and Diamonds almost 20 years earlier. But the film itself took 15 years to make, languishing through various stages of development – and Polish state censorship – even as Wajda directed several other features in the meantime.
In his personal website, Wajda has this to say about the journey of making the film:
In 1962, I began to consider a contemporary film addressed to the Polish audience. I needed to discuss this subject with others.
Jerzy Stawinski and Jerzy Bossak, whose impact on the Polish cinema of that time was enormous, were fantastic discussion partners. After a short while, I found an appropriate subject. It all began with a minor anecdote, which Jerzy Bossak had read in a newspaper: A brick-layer had come to the employment office, but he was not given a job because Nowa Huta (a steel mill near Cracow – translator’s note) now needed workers only for the foundry. One of the clerks, however, remembered the man’s face. Yes, he was a well known “labour leader”, a brick-layer and an ex-star of the previous political season.
The labour leader, a bricklayer, was a hero of that period, the fifties. But I was looking for a contemporary subject, so I needed a agent through whom I would be able to tell the whole story from today’s perspective.
Of course, it had to be a young person, for whom the era of stalinism would belong to the distant past. Among the many talented students of the Lodz Film School was Agnieszka Osiecka [Holland]. And that is how I got the idea: Agnieszka, a young student of the film school, would try to uncover the mystery of the bricklayer’s life.
A few weeks later the script was ready; I read it feverishly. I knew I had a golden apple in my hands. Unfortunately, this was where my initiative ended – from now on all depended on the Script Commission, or, precisely speaking, on the propaganda department of the Central Committee, as the subject of labour leaders touched upon the most embarrassing aspect of the socialist economy, namely, the steadily decreasing labour effectivity.
Fourteen years passed. What follows sounds like a fairy-tale, but it was true. The generally hated Gomulka was deprived of his position as First Secretary, taking the cult of the fifties with him. His successors were younger politicians, former ZMP members, and we began negotiations with them from scratch.
Read Wajda’s full recollection on his website.