Thursday, March 11, 2010

the fugitive



paul muni: september 22 1895 - august 25 1967.


Paul Muni - fugitive from a chaing gang; jewish scarface - fell
into the world on September 22nd, 1895. Haunted by pogroms.
Hiding on the streets of Lwow, Poland. Beset by boys with sticks.

A Hollywood grail of bullets. He faded in the Summer of Love.

My great-grandfather - on my mother's side - was also from Lwow.
Before it was swallowed by Ukraine. His wife was one of the first
road fatalities in Poland. Just as the motor car made its appearance.

My own grandfather journeyed half way round the globe via the
Black Sea and the Suez Canal. Bartering with arabs. Trading dry
goods purchased here and there with rubles from the Soviet army.
He fled Lwow in a hurry. At seventeen he saw no future in it.

Presently, he stepped foot on British soil. I am unclear on the detail.
He is no longer here to corroborate or embroider on it, but it
was certainly here that he met my grandmother. He was enlisted
into the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade in Scotland. They
lent him a gun and dropped him out of an aeroplane over Arnhem.

He was not keen on that either, but he knew better than to argue.

By outrageous good fortune, he made it back to his adopted home.
His elder brother, Stanislaw, fared less well. A dapper wit, skillful
with pencil and sable brush, he perished in the extermination camps.
A younger brother, I believe, was spirited away to a Gulag in Siberia.

Of course. My grandfather remained unacquainted with the facts
until much later. Years of hopeful correspondence turning cold;
slowing to a dutiful trickle as letter after letter disappeared in the void.

He grew weary and forgetful. Outwardly, at least.

And so. When word came at last, slipping through the letterbox with
no more than a whisper, he found he was no longer on close terms
with the script marching across each page. Or the launguage of loss.

After persevering, he carefully laid down his reading glasses and
settled back in his chair. Tuning the dial without expression as a young
Paul Muni danced onto the screen and bailed out under fire.

6 comments:

Anto said...

brilliant!

jonderneathica said...

Seconded.

@eloh said...

I don't think there are many, if any, Muni pictures I haven't seen. I just watched the chain gang picture a day or two ago.

I think he was one of the best actors ever. He could be anyone or anything.

Very interesting story of your grand dads life. Genelogy is one of my favorite subjects.

ib said...

Apologies for the late response, brothers andd sisters.

I've been preoccupied with certain things of late. Once again, real life intrudes. As it always does.

This piece was distilled from a music oriented post from a couple of years back. I happened on it in the process of trawling through the archives for one reason or another, when it struck me that I hadn't come even close to what I wanted to say. We all live in isolated pockets of the world. The realization that I share blood ties with real living and breathing strangers on another corner of the planet sometimes stuns me still.

Not that it necessarily ought to. We are all of us related to a greater or lesser extent.

Paul Muni, as an actor, was improvising with personas out of time. Or ahead of his time. Whichever way you cut it, Muni was brought more to the standard Hollywood fare than those producers had a right to expect. Like John Garfield after him. Or Joseph Losey, for that matter.

Of course. America is America. A vast island built on on diverse strands of DNA.

I watched a documentary on Detroit's rise and plummeting fall from grace just last night. It made for some very depressing viewing. A body decaying from the heart out; a slow death radiating out to the extremeties.

Like Hiroshima burning shadows into the walls right at its epicentre. Eating up the cars and buildings only after the cancer has done its worst.

It made me feel quite at home.

Anonymous said...

Sad. Well-written.

ib said...

Thank you, anonymous.

It is what it is. Or was.