From Hollywood to HollyŁódź!
Arising from the belching black fumes of the Industrial Revolution, Łódź has occupied a unique place in Poland’s conscience since its early beginnings as a tough textile town.
But more than just a place of towering smokestacks and redbrick factories, this proletariat paradise will forever be entrenched as the nation’s cinematic heart.
Years back, when I first heard it referred to as HollyŁódź, I made the mistaken assumption that this delicious portmanteau was some insider joke; an off-the-cuff moniker intended as an ironic label given the city’s scruffy appearance and general decline. Looking around the shadowy, empty side streets, steam rising from the manholes, I couldn’t have felt further from Hollywood than if I’d found booked myself onto a rocket ship to Mars.
Of course, I was wrong. The first indicator was a rather special guest that was lodging in my hotel: director David Lynch. Long since torn down as part of the city’s ongoing revival, the Hotel Centrum was something of a communist eyesore, a concrete tomb crowned with a garish, block of neon. Lynch, I was told, loved it, so much so that his regular room was later rechristened The David Lynch Suite.
Yep, you read it right: the creator of Twin Peaks had a regular room in Łódź. If that wasn’t a reason to give the city a crack, I remember thinking, then what the hell was. It wasn’t long for me to understand just what one of modern cinemas greatest geniuses saw in the city: when you looked hard, there was an intoxicating mystique to it all, one neatly captured by its faded grandeur and rickety, retro charms.
Today, there’s little faded about Łódź. Reborn as a dynamic city of tomorrow, that much is evident on arriving at its stunning flagship station, Łódź Fabryczna. Set across from the now-demolished Hotel Centrum, it immediately staggers with its immense proportions and steel and glass beauty. Welcome to Łódź 2.0.
Unrecognizable from its past, one constant has, however, remained intact – that being a rich, cinematic history that’s impossible to escape: David Lynch, you see, wasn’t the only big name to fall for the city. With much of Warsaw still a sea of rubble, the immediate post-war years saw many of the capital’s major institutions relocated to Łódź, albeit on a temporary basis.
Founded in 1948, the Łódź Film School was one such centre that was intended to later be shifted eastwards, but while one department later was, the original institution remained locked in its place – who would have thought that it’s cultural impact would resonate to this day.
Among the early wave of students were Andrzej Munk, Roman Polanski and Andrzej Wajda. Having been rejected twice, Krzysztof Kieślowski also eventually enrolled and subsequent alumni have included the BAFTA-winning English director Emily Young and the Swedish-Dutch cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk, Spectre, Interstellar, etc.).
With such a pedigree, it is little surprise that as early as 1998 the city revealed the first section of a Hollywood-style Walk of Fame lauding the greats of Polish kino. Beginning right outside the Hotel Grand, the location was by no means accidental. Currently in the process of a full renovation, what once rated as the city’s most opulent lodgings had a history of welcoming luminaries of the calibre of Kirk Douglas and the late Robin Williams.
The majesty of the hotel’s interiors was also appreciated by directors. Over the course of its life it was frequently pressganged to serve as a set, appearing in a diverse range of films running from Janusz Majewski’s Zaklęte Rewiry to David Lynch’s Inland Empire.
Perhaps one of the city’s earliest victories, though, lay in utilizing the main pedestrian artery right outside the Grand, ulica Piotrkowska, to maximum effect. Teeming with rickshaws and bars, distractions have gone beyond merely the Hollywood stars embossed on the pavements and now include a Szlak Bajkowy (Fairy Tale Trail) honouring the animated kids stories produced in the city.
Taking the form of over a dozen cheerful monuments, while these have been sprinkled around the city the most high-profile stand on Piotrkowska itself – among them, Miś Uszatek, a cartoon bear that first appeared on Polish screens around the late 1950s; unveiled in 2009, the floppy-eared miniature statue hit local headlines the following year after losing a paw to the jaws of a snow plough.
Unsurprisingly, given the city’s reputation for having one of the world’s finest collections of outdoor murals, Łódź’s addiction to film has been celebrated on numerous walls, not least in the form of Charlie Chaplin peering from behind a curtain next to the movie-themed Stare Kino Hotel. A nod to the city’s boast of having Poland’s first cinema (opened 1899), as photo moments go, it’s essential to all those taking a film tour of Łódź.
Previously, so too would have been a romp around the Cinematography Museum, an eclectic palace brimming with early cinema gadgetry, bits of old sets and what was reputedly the planet’s largest collection of Andrzej Wajda film posters.
Currently closed for an overdue refit, instead enthusiasts should make their way to the Poznański Palace, a Versailles-styled indulgence that doubled as a French palace during the filming of the 2016 flick, Marie Curie, and whose museum collection involves a genuine Oscar (awarded to Łódź-born pianist Artur Rubinstein in 1969), or to lose themselves in a labyrinthine tangle of dusty curiosities at the Łódzkie Centrum Filmowe.
Little more than a vast warehouse, it’s here that perspective buyers can browse 50,000 props and in excess of 250,000 costumes that once appeared in film. Truly bizarre and bewildering in its scale, it’s arguably one of the best-kept secrets in this city of surprises.
Yet for all that, it is not these specific points of interest that engage the most, rather the underlying atmosphere that serves to define the city. Though meteoric in its pace, the rapid redevelopment of Łódź has not extended throughout – at least no yet – and it’s in the city’s shattered corners you see the gritty authenticity for which the city is famed.
With over 150 major films shot in these very streets, it’s in these forgotten parts you breathe the air of Wajda and Polanski and the fundamental spirit of cinematic Łódź. To walk these broken boulevards is akin to losing yourself in your own private film set: a moment of magic that few can forget.
PKP Intercity offers direct connections to Łódź from, among others, Warsaw, Kraków, Gdynia, Olsztyn, Kołobrzeg, Jelenia Góra, Wrocław, Białystok and Lublin. For further information, see: intercity.pl
This article has been sponsored by PKP Intercity.