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Dom Polski: Dance Hall Days of Detroit's Polonia

Dom Polski Premieres

Remembering Staś Wisniach

Untitled document

 

 

To order a DVD or VHS videotape of the non-profit documentary film Dom Polski:  Dance Hall Days of Detroit’s Polonia, please call 248/987-2532 or e-mail lauriepalazzolo@hotmail.com.  Total running time (including credits) is approximately 2 hours 13 minutes.

REGRETTABLY, MUSIC LICENSING RESTRICTIONS PREVENT SALES OUTSIDE THE U.S.

This film is supported by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs & the City of Detroit - Department of Culture, Arts & Tourism/Recreation Department.  Funding provided by the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan.

THANKS TO THE DETROIT FILM SOCIETY FOR TWO SELL-OUT, STANDING-ROOM-ONLY SCREENINGS AT THE DETROIT HISTORICAL MUSEUM ON SATURDAY AND SUNDAY, JANUARY 8 & 9, 2011!

THANKS TO MADONNA UNIVERSITY FOR ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL SCREENING!  SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2008, IN CELEBRATION OF POLISH HERITAGE MONTH.

THANK YOU ST. ALBERTUS FOR ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL SCREENING!  SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 7 (GRANDPARENTS' DAY!), 2008. Screening at historic St. Albertus Catholic Church, 4231 St. Aubin, Detroit, following 11 AM Mass.  Proceeds benefitted the ST. ALBERTUS RESTORATION FUND.  STAGING EQUIPMENT PROVIDED COURTESY OF THE ALBERT J. ZAK MEMORIAL LIBRARY, HAMTRAMCK, TAMARA SOCHAKA, DIRECTOR.  ST. ALBERTUS AND HORNMAN DETROIT EXPRESS OUR EXTREME GRATITUDE!  Visit www.stalbertus.org.  

Thank you to the BELLEVILLE HISTORICAL MUSEUM and the BELLEVILLE COUNCIL FOR THE ARTS for the screening of the DOM POLSKI film at the Belleville Historical Museum on Thursday, November 8!  This screening was made possible by a joint effort between the Belleville Historical Museum and the Belleville Council for the Arts.  (Click on the "DOM POLSKI PREMIERES" Tab For Information on future screenings.)

The review at the end of this page by Deborah Greenlee of the non-profit documentary film Dom Polski is as published in RODZINY, the official journal of the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA) and GEN DOBRY, the official on-line journal of the PGSA; and as reprinted (with permission) by Polish American Journal (Buffalo, NY); The Polish Weekly (Hamtramck, MI); and Polish Times (Hamtramck, MI) (August 2007).  In production since April 2003 and premiering in April 2007 at the Village Theater at Cherry Hill in Canton, Michigan, a premiere performance venue, Dom Polski is a celebration of Polish immigrant life and culture in Detroit’s east and west side communities and a preservation of history and musical tradition.  It is the first film ever to document Detroit Polonia’s history and immigrant experience.  The making of Dom Polski was a long, difficult, and nearly impossible undertaking.  Perseverence and faith made it possible. 

"Nie ma tego zlego co by na dobre nie wyszlo."

Letter from Russia:

June 14, 2007
 
Hello, my dear distant friend, dear Laura!
 
*  *  *

In the first place I would like to thank you for this great present!
 
I am surprised and awed by your (and your group's) colossal preparatory work, which has captured and brought back to life a huge period of history, social life, and culture, and you did so in a country which is not your own.  Moreover, you managed to preserve your own approach, your national identity, and your culture. And this is the most important thing of all! Bravo!
 
And if labor created Man, then in your work I see great respect for labor in all of its professional manifestations!

*  *  *
I heard how you played Chopin's "Etude" and the "Russian Waltz" and the "Idyll" by Melartin, and I saw my name three times at the end of the film!  Thank you!
 
I am glad that the accordion and music were accorded worthy places in the broad and informative history which is presented, just as your worthy name occupies its deserved place in the world of professional accordion-playing.  Praise be!

 *  *  *
When I think about the art of playing on the accordion, I always worried about the fate of folk music in Russia (as well as in other countries, when I performed abroad).  And I remember that when I was in small countries and I asked about folk music, the person I was talking to would look surprised and say, "We don't have folk music, it has been swallowed up by other melodies."  But you are just amazing for saving, for protecting your music - after all, one's folk music is equal to one's native language, isn't it?!  So keep it up and go forth!  Do it for your people!
 
I would like to compliment you one more time, dear Laura, and your editing group, for the enormous work you did, and with all my heart I congratulate you on your great and well-deserved success!! I wish your entire group, and each person in it individually, health, happiness, and love!
 
Sincerely yours,
Yu. Kazakov, Accordionist

(Translation by Laura Kline, Lecturer, Wayne State University, and students Adam Pruchnicki, Justin Cedroni, and Mike Bohr)

For more on Yuri Kazakov, the "Champion of Russia," visit http://hem.passagen.se/kazakov/index2.html

The first filming of Dom Polski, done on April 21, 2003, was an unprecedented historical event.  The original members of Stas' Wisniach's WXYZ Television Club Polka Orchestra were reunited on the site of the Tip-Top Inn at 6003 Proctor (at Kirkwood), near McGraw and Central, on Detroit's west side, for a reenactment of a performance of Stas's "Come On and Polka," which Stas' and His Orchestra made famous in the 1950s.  Stas' Wisniach (accordion/orchestra leader), Art Buczkowski (drums), Wally Gomulka (trumpet), Bob Lymperis (trumpet), Paul Onachuk (clarinet), and Harry (Witczak) Walker (string bass) were rounded up for the filming.  It was specifically planned that this occasion would mark the beginning of the film's production, as this was the anniversary of the orchestra's being discovered by WXYZ television executives approximately 50 years prior.  Stas' remained on staff at WXYZ for approximately ten years after being hired to lead the orchestra on Club Polka, performing not only on that show but also on the Soupy Sales show as both actor and musician, and on Harry Jarkey's The Fun Club, a children's program.  The other musicians also remained at the station as part of its staff orchestra and performed regularly on Club Polka.  This filming at the site of the Tip-Top (now a vacant lot) on April 21 followed a filming of the musicians earlier that day on the stage of the historic Dom Polski at 3426 Junction, south of Michigan Avenue, which has since received listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  See www.detroitpolonia.org.  It had been over 40 years since any of the musicians had performed in the historic hall.

The second filming took place on July 12, 2003, at the historic east side Dom Polski at 2281 Forest, east of Chene Street in Detroit, with all the key players, including the film's historical advisors, present.  That same day, a film session took place in Hamtramck at the Polish National Alliance Hall on Conant, where east side reed player Clarence Gajewski joined Stas' on the stage to share memories of the Golden Era of Polka for the rolling cameras.

The following week, filming continued on July 19 at the historic Senate Theater on Michigan Avenue on Detroit's west side.  A reenactment was filmed of the tango "La Paloma" (The Dove) by trumpeter Wally Duda, backed up by timbales player Frank ("Panchito") Lozano and Stas' on accordion, just as Wally Duda had performed the number on that same stage over 60 years prior, and for which he had won many first place awards in numerous talent competitions.

After a long struggle, the Dom Polski film, which had been in final editing since 2006, had its private, pre-public screening in Farmington on February 22, 2007, with all the key players present.  It was a bittersweet occasion following the passing on October 31, 2005, of Laurie's uncle, Wally Gomulka, and on January 12, 2007, of Stas', a disabled World War II veteran who had been wheelchair-bound and cared for by Laurie since September 11, 2001.  Trumpeter Wally Gomulka was known as one of the greatest jazz and theater musicians of his era.  He was one of the three Gomulka musicians, Tom (1911 - 1993) being the eldest.  All three were proud lifelong members of the Detroit Federation of Musicians - Local 5, American Federation of Musicians.  Tom was a passionate accordionist, pianist, music collector and historian, who, in the 1930s, traveled to New York to study with the great accordion virtuosi Pietro Deiro, Charles Magnante, and Anthony Galla-Rini.  Ted Gomulka (1919 - 1998), Laurie's father, was the Horn Man.  They are the soul of Dom Polski.

Stas's heart, faith, inspiration, and immortal spirit live on and continue to inspire, collaborate and share in the abundant success of this unprecedented, first-ever film, which has now sold from Florida to California, from New Jersey to Alaska, in between and beyond.  Szczesc Boze i szczesc tysiac razie, Stas’, na zawsze.

~  ~  ~

“SO THE NATION BECOMES UNITED WITH YOU.” “UNITY AND HARMONY ARE OUR STRENGTH.” The cornerstones of the first Polish cultural institutions in Detroit, the Dom Polski (Polish Home) halls, signify the Polish nationalism which, along with faith and art, is and always has been at the heart of the Polish culture.

In Detroit as in other Polish-American communities in America, or Polonia, art and culture were transformed during the early part of the twentieth century by mostly second-generation Polish-American musicians who gave birth to an American-Polish culture. This is their story. It is the story of their music, which continuously filled the Dom Polski establishments, clubs, beer gardens, and dance halls for the better part of 50 years. It is the story of their culture—the polka culture, which has become associated with Polish Americans. Having endured for more than 100 years, it continues to thrive across America in new and transformed styles and applications. It is a culture that will never die, as its roots—based on Polish and other East Central European folk songs—were firmly planted in American soil.

A film that can be viewed as Detroit Polonia’s answer to both Buena Vista Social Club and Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Dom Polski brings to life the Polish-American culture of Detroit’s east and west side immigrants while capturing and preserving the extraordinary talent and entrepreneurial skill of some of the musicians of the great Polka Era. Along with their contemporaries in other centers of Polonia, they were the creators of a brand new genre of music. And although their heyday was tragically brief and fleeting, the music they created will never die, but rather will live forever, so long as our hearts remember.

Dom Polski:  Dance Hall Days of Detroit's Polonia - Laurie A. Gomulka Palazzolo, Producer, Director, Scriptwriter; Susan F. Tyszka, Chief Editorial Advisor & Researcher; Thaddeus C. Radzilowski, Ph.D., Chief Historical Advisor; Ann Hetzel Gunkel, Ph.D., Historical Advisor; David Reinhardt, Editor; Nathan Hartwick, Restoration Editor; David J. Jackson, Ph.D., Narrator

In addition to documenting the history of Detroit’s Polish immigrants and their customs, as well as the history of the Dom Polskis and the Detroit Polish-American wedding tradition, the Dom Polski film seeks to foster a greater appreciation for the musical culture that was created mostly by second-generation Polish-American musicians who came of age during the Great Depression.  It reveals how they were influenced by jazz, swing, big band, Latin, and popular music styles while they simultaneously upheld the traditions and values instilled in them by their parents.  It discusses the influences of radio, recording, and television and shows how the entrepreneurial and highly adaptive Polish-American musicians used these new media to their advantage rather than allowing the media to displace them.  It reveals how their music impacted the American culture and proves just how resilient, innovative, and even radical their musical art form is.

Scholars interviewed in the film include Thaddeus C. Radzilowski, Ph.D., of the Piast Institute in Hamtramck, MI; Ann Hetzel Gunkel, Ph.D., of Columbia College Chicago; David J. Jackson, Ph.D., of Bowling Green State University in Ohio (also the film’s narrator); and Gregory Adamus, Ph.D., musician and son of Detroit band leader, the late Stanley Adamus.  Also captured in interviews are musicians of the era depicted, including the late Stas' Wisniach, orchestra leader on WXYZ's Club Polka television show (one of Detroit’s first TV shows) and actor and musician for approximately ten years on the Soupy Sales show, as well as Detroit big band leader Ralph Bowen and clarinet player Clarence Gajewski of Hamtramck.

REVIEW by Deborah Greenlee:  “Dom Polski: Dance Hall Days of Detroit’s Polonia,” a film written and produced by Laurie A. Gomulka Palazzolo, M.A., Wayne State University.  (As published in RODZINY, official journal of the Polish Genealogical Society of America; GEN DOBRY, official on-line publication of the Polish Genealogical Society of America; Polish American Journal (Buffalo, NY); Polish Times (Hamtramck, MI); and The Polish Weekly (Hamtramck, MI).  Reprinted with permission.) 

Chief Editorial Advisor and Researcher: Susan F. Tyszka
Editor: David Reinhart
Narrator: David J. Jackson, Ph.D.
Film length: 2 hours 7 minutes.

To ignore this film because you were not raised in the Detroit area would be a serious mistake. Though this film centers on Detroit Polonia, it will appeal to Poles throughout the United States. Moreover, this isn’t just a film about the polka or the history of the Dom Polski dance hall.  The film explores the immigrant’s struggles: hard work, leaving family behind, women coming to a new country alone.

The film starts in the early 1900s when the majority of Polish immigrants arrived in the U.S.  The history of the immigrant experience is explored in depth in words and pictures. We are shown how our immigrant ancestors progressed from individual  newcomers without a community to become the Polonia of Michigan. The culture, religious backgrounds, hopes, and dreams of the new Americans are intricately covered.  Pictures of cars are used to show the passage of time.

This film includes such vast detail as to make it a genealogical goldmine as well. Names and photographs of people, priests, newspapers, fraternal groups, churches, major industries, buildings, dance halls, theaters, and stores, including their addresses, owners, and pertinent dates make this film worth the price. Gomulka and Tyszka clearly had a great deal of experience in family research before they took on this labor of love. It’s difficult to imagine the number of hours which they must have spent compiling all of this information.

The film explains the forgotten meanings of many of the traditions found in American Polish weddings and other celebrations. It provides answers to questions you probably didn’t even know you had. It speaks of a time when immigrants were expected to learn to read and speak English in order to live like Americans. It examines the first and second generations born in the U.S. and shows how their new traditions and cultures changed Polonia. I expect viewers will recognize their own busia/babcia dancing with her sister, Uncle Stas' smoking kielbasa, the women serving bowls and platters of food at important occasions, and the bridal party walking to the church accompanied by the wedding band.

Having thus established the cultural setting, the second part of the film focuses on the music and dance halls of the Detroit area. Gomulka and Tyszka do not simply consider the polka, however. The oberek, kujawiak, krakowiak, mazur, waltz, and mazurka are also explored.  Going back in time, we are caught up in the community spirit which centered upon the Catholic church and which was driven by the Polish culture brought over by our ancestors. “Music was as important an ingredient of life as food, shelter and clothing,” Dr. Jackson tells us.  Dancing and music have always been a part of Polish celebrations.  They were so important to Poles in the U.S. that dance halls were built so Poles could enjoy their pastime not only on weekends, but during the week as well.

The narrator explores the beginnings of polka music in America and how it differed from the music to which immigrants were accustomed back home. He takes you on a trip through the ups and downs in popularity of the polka to the 1960s and Ann Hetzel-Gunkel, Ph.D., speaks at great length about the early beginnings of the polka, which at one time was considered to be a radical art form.

Poles who did grow up in Detroit will certainly recognize the names of polka bands and band leaders Ted Gomulka, Myron “Mickey” Lane, Johnny Sadrack, Wally Trusk, Stanley Wisniach, Wally Duda, Eddie Schick, Stan Skolaris, Ted Koltowicz, the visionary Eddie Gajec, and many, many more. Interviews with famous polka band leaders will provide every viewer with insight into the hearts of those talented and hard working musicians.  Viewers will learn of the camaraderie amongst the bands and will visit the schools which taught these polka kings how to play their horns and accordions.

The list of music played throughout the film seems boundless. Hearing those familiar, bouncy polka tunes will bring back memories of good times with family and friends.  The music played throughout the film is enough to get anyone up off the couch.  Memories of the heavy stepping and vibrating wooden floors will come rushing back, and you'll find yourself singing many of the old familiar songs.  Near the end of the film we witness the reunion of several elderly polka musicians. It’s enough to bring a tear to your eye, but their music will still lift your spirits.  You’ll want to watch this video more than once.

There are over 1700 vintage photos, along with television and home movie clips as well as live interviews with noted historians and the music makers themselves.

David Jackson, Ph.D., does an excellent job as narrator, pronouncing Polish words and names with ease.  My one criticism of this excellent, professional film is that Jackson speaks a bit fast but there is indeed a lot to cover.

A second premiere of this film had to be held in Detroit because more than 650 people wanted to pay between $5.00 and $11.00 to take an enjoyable trip back in time!  Granted, that doesn’t compare with modern box office attendance but it would be wonderful if other cities in America could have their Polonian histories archived in this manner.

“Like our beloved Poland - so long as it exists within our heart, the music will never die.”

Text Copyright 2003-2007 Laurie A. Gomulka Palazzolo. All rights reserved.

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Copyright 2003-2006 Laurie A. Gomulka Palazzolo