When I was in High School, I had an English teacher who gave us a school assignment of having to keep a diary. We could write whatever we wanted in it and I had decided to test this theory. I was working at a video store and was watching a LOT of movies at the time, so I figured I could review them for my diary. Come Parent-Teacher day, he told my parents that I loved movies. Their response? 'We know.'
So, that brings me to why I'm writing this to you now. I thought it'd be fun to share my passion for movies with you. I was one of those clerks at a Mom & Pops video store who could recommend you a movie that would match your mood, or identify what movie you'd seen based off of an obscure reference or memory of an actor being in it. Basically, I was a late 90's Netflix algorithm. I eventually ran out of movies to watch at the store and would get more from the library to further my film education. I found immense joy when people would come back and want to talk about the movie I had just opened them up to. One person even gave me $20 to give them my top 100 list when the store shut down.
So, on to The Man Who Would Be Polka King. I recently discovered this hidden gem on Netflix. While I am always attracted to dark documentaries that explore the many facets of humanity, this one stood out to me. While it is about a conman who ruined countless lives by bilking retirees of their squirreled-away funds, it's also about a man who was striving to find the American dream.
The man at the focus of the story, Jan Lewan, grew up loving music in Poland and performed with the National Philharmonic there, eventually deciding to emigrate to the US, settling in Pennsylvania. He continued to sing Polka and had quite the following amongst his community. Dressed like some kind of Polka Elvis, he'd shout to the audience, 'Ziggy Zaggy, Ziggy Zaggy, Oi, Oi, Oi!' Elderly fans fawned over him and he built a significant grassroots base in Pennsylvania and other states. He found love and married. But somehow, he was supporting a family, a sizable Polka Orchestra and even a gift shop that sold amber jewelry with Polish imports, all part of Jan Lewan Enterprises. Jan got people to invest in his 'company', offering them 12% interest or more, creating a large, ongoing pyramid scheme in small town Pennsylvania.
Jan would even get his fans to go on European vacations with him, promising to get them VIP access to Pope John Paul! Jan used his charms to meet many celebs, including our current President.
I'll try to avoid spoiling his downfall, as I'm trying to entice you to actually watch this fantastic doc, but it's so bizarre that Netflix decided to even make an adaptation of it starring Jack Black (who does an exemplary job portraying Jan Lewan).
The documentary is told by a local in a bar, which sets such a quirky, yet appropriate, tone for the whole thing, in a Pulaski Hall. Interviews with his victims are raw as they recount being swindled. So, consider taking the hour to check out The Man Who Would Be Polka King. Come for the crime, stay for the polka!