In this thread, please share your favourite films, directors and actors from Czech Republic and Slovakia.
You might like to talk about cultural aspects of films you enjoy, it'd be great to learn more about these two countries with connected histories.
Please also consider Czech & Slovak filmmakers and performers who've worked in other countries (eg. Milos Forman), or perhaps people you like with Czech / Slovak ancestry currently working in Hollywood or elsewhere (eg. Jim Jarmusch, ancestry that's reflected in his work).
I prefer not to try and set any limits on this topic, all contributions are welcome.
"Movies are the enemy of the novel because they are replacing novels. Novelists shouldn’t write for the movies, unless, of course, they discover they’re no good at writing novels." - John Irving
The Czech film industry is said to be among the oldest in the world. Czechs and Slovaks were at the cutting edge of film development, led by pioneers like Czech magician Viktor Ponrepo who led a social revolution by changing the nature of live and recorded performance. I think the largest film studio operating in Czech Republic today is Barrandov Studio.
"Viktor Ponrepo's travelling theatre was so successful that Ponrepo was soon able to afford a coach with a coachman and an assistant. However, at the turn of the 19th century, the art of magic began to lose popularity. People became rather bored with old conjuring tricks, and old-fashioned magic had to compete with the new wonders of technology. More and more people preferred to watch various breathtaking inventions presented to the public at fairs and exhibitions. Viktor Ponrepo knew he had to go with the flow and come up with something new in his show. He bought a phonograph and soon after that a cinematograph. He passed exams to prove he could operate the device - a machine for "living photographs" as he called it - and in 1899 he added the attraction to the repertoire of his travelling theatre. Ponrepo travelled round the country, but what he really wanted was to get to Prague. However, to perform there, he needed a special licence, which was difficult to obtain. But Ponrepo didn't give up. He got together all the necessary documents and kept applying. His dream came true in September 1907. Not far from the house where he was born in Prague's Old Town, Viktor Ponrepo opened his new cinema - the very first permanent cinema in Prague. Viktor Ponrepo's first cinema in Karlova Street replaced an old cabaret theatre. It was a simple room with 56 tip-up seats and a piano in the corner. There was a cloakroom and a refreshment counter in the lobby, too. Films were shown every day except Friday. Viktor Ponrepo was very particular about the reputation of his theatre. He wanted to create a real family atmosphere; he greeted every visitor personally and showed them to their seats. Just in case he couldn't manage to say goodbye to everybody individually, he had a short film recorded of himself standing and bowing to his audience. The 93-frame celluloid film has been preserved until today. In September 1911, the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison visited Ponrepo's cinema during a visit to Prague with his family. Edison is the father of the phonograph, an essential part of Ponrepo's travelling cinema, and he was one of several people who contributed to the development of the cinematograph."
- Pavla Horakova, Radio Prague
"Look at the development of the musical accompaniment in Viktor Ponrepo's cinema: he started with a simple phonograph and went on to very basic live piano and violin music. All the big cinemas later had 18-member orchestras in the 1910s. So even the intimate, homey atmosphere was one of the things that made Ponrepo's cinema unique. Viktor Ponrepo's brother also contributed greatly to the fame of Ponrepo's establishment. His job was to present and narrate the films - live - and the audience loved him for what were almost cabaret shows."
-Ivan Klimes, The Department Of Cinema Studies Of Charles University In Prague
Barrandov Studio in Prague
Gustav Machatý (Born: May 9, 1901 in Prague, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary [now Czech Republic] - Died: December 14, 1963 (age 62) in Munich, Bavaria, Germany)
The first Czech master I learnt about from the silent era was Gustav Machaty. I think this is true for many fans of Czech cinema due to the notoriety of his picture 'Ecstasy' (1933). It stars Viennese whirl Hedy Keisler (later to become Lamarr) whose mother was a pianist from Budapest, Hungary.
I've seen four of Machaty's films and like them all. He was a cinematic poet with technical flair who was keen to develop the language of cinema. 'Ecstasy' captures the close union between Czech Republic and Slovakia in full swing as it was filmed in Dobsina as well as Prague.
'Czech cinema is known today largely for the extraordinary creative flowering, known as the Czechoslovak New Wave, that took place during a relaxation of Soviet domination in the 1960s, producing such major artists as Milos Forman and Ivan Passer. But before (and even during) World War II, Czechoslovakia was home to a highly sophisticated and formally advanced film industry. Programmed in collaboration with the Czech National Film Archive (NFA), this program looks at the wide range of that prewar achievement, including pioneering modernist works like Přemysl Pražský’s Battalion, Karl Anton’s Tonka of the Gallows, Carl Junghans’s Such Is Life and Vladislav Vančura’s On the Sunny Side; the pointed political comedies of Voskovec and Werich; and the brilliant avant-garde work of Gustav Machatý, including the boldly symbolist Erotikon and his early sound masterpiece From Saturday to Sunday, screening here in the world premiere of a new restoration from the NFA. A selection of rarely screened prints from MoMA’s archive adds a sense of the more popular cinema of the period, with major stars such as Oldřich Nový (in Martin Frič’s Lubitschian masterpiece Kristián) and Hugo Haas (in his film of Karel Čapek’s 1937 anti-Nazi allegory The White Disease).'
- 'Ecstasy And Irony: Czech Cinema, 1927–1943', a retrospective at The Museum Of Modern Art
'The Kreutzer Sonata' (1927 - Gustav Machaty)
This movie is an adaptation of a short story by Leo Tolstoy. Gustav Machaty had worked as an assistant to Erich Von Stroheim earlier in the decade. Cinematographer Otto Heller also played a transformative role in the British film industry.
'Seduction' (1929, Erotikon - Gustav Machaty)
'Seduction' is an original melodrama that highlights Machaty's passion for romance. Cinematographer Vaclav Vich later became one of the Italian film industry's top cameramen. You can draw a timeline to Jiri Menzel's lusty Oscar winner 'Closely Watched Trains' (1966).
'From Saturday To Sunday' (1931, Ze soboty na nedeli - Gustav Machaty)
A romantic melodrama based on a story by Vitezslav Nezval.
'Ecstasy' (1933, Ekstase - Gustav Machaty)
'Piano Sonata in F-Sharp Minor' - Jan Ladislav Dussek
I've been keen to learn more about the Slovak film industry. My greatest aid has been one of my favourite study pieces on international cinema, the essay 'That Intense Lyricism : A Brief History Of Slovak Cinema From Its Inception To The New Wave' by Nicholas Hudac, which I'd recommend. My own entry point to some of the oldest existing Slovak visual materials came about when I saw Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland's historical film 'Janosik : A True Story' (2009) which is a co-production between Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. Seeing this movie led me to research the legend of Janosik (he's kind of like a 'Robin Hood' figure) and turned my head towards what's generally regarded to be the first Slovak feature film, 'Janosik' (1921). According to information posted at Wikipedia, 'Janosik' placed "Slovak filmmaking as the 10th national cinema in the world to produce a full-length feature movie". There are many versions of the 'Janosik' story on film and there are many interpretations of the folk legend. Jan Cikker composed the popular opera 'Juro Janasik' in the 1950s.
The first official Department of Film in Czechoslovakia was opened at the School of Industrial Arts in Bratislava in 1938. It was closed in 1939 as Slovakia gained independence. In the modern era, Koliba Studio became a force in national film production but I read in the Slovak press that financial mismanagement has plagued the company's fortunes.
"While many national cinemas (such as American, British, German, and Russian film) began their formative development shortly after the first public screenings of the Lumière Brothers’ cinematograph in 1895, cinema in Slovakia had a much different genesis and evolution. Although the Slovaks’ closest neighbors (linguistically, culturally, politically, and geographically speaking), the Czechs, had a robust early cinematic culture, Slovaks themselves were conspicuously absent from the development of early cinema in their own sphere, though this is not to say they were unaware of the new medium. Rather, although Slovaks themselves were exposed to cinema in a variety of ways— Slovak immigration, traveling cinema shows, scientific demonstrations in the major cities— Slovakia and Slovaks remained mostly spectators and subjects of cinema rather than its producers up until the 1930s. Films made by Hungarian, Austrian, and Czech producers often focused on Slovakia’s stunning natural vistas or the vibrant folk-culture that survived in its mountains while Slovaks themselves were, with a few exceptions, relegated to on-screen talent or local color. Some of this early divide between the Slovak spectator and Slovak film, or more precisely the lack of such films, can be attributed to socioeconomic factors. As Slovak film historian Václav Macek notes, up until 1918, Slovak cinema was under the purview of Hungarian authorities, and, as such, often catered to an Austro-Hungarian audience. Film journals were written in Hungarian, films were shown in German or Hungarian, and many of the early cinema halls were in the major cities and not in the rural parts of Slovakia where much of the population was located. These urban areas, now associated with Slovakia, such as Bratislava (formerly known as Pressburg/Pozsony) and Košice (Kassa in Hungarian), were often multi-lingual and multicultural areas, where Slovak identity often fluctuated with political sentiment."
- Nicholas Hudac, 'That Intense Lyricism : A Brief History Of Slovak Cinema From Its Inception To The New Wave'
"Slovakia sports more than attractive locations for shooting films. Within a small area, filmmakers can find mountains, forests, valleys as well as lakes. In the Záhorie region in western Slovakia, there is even a sand desert. It lacks only the sea, which however, filmmakers miss less than modern film ateliers. The country lost its ateliers, once located at Bratislava’s Koliba, during the scandalous privatisation of the 1990s. Plans to build their modern replacement were unveiled back in 2013. At the time, Solid Enterprise Group introduced its plans to construct film ateliers on fields lying between the Slovak village of Jarovce, part of Bratislava, and the Austrian village of Kittsee. Apart from local filmmakers, also foreign ones were to use them. Yet the construction of the film studios has not yet started. After representatives of the Bratislava city council, Jarovce and Solid Enterprise Group signed a memorandum on cooperation in early March, the materialisation of the plans seems to be closer."
- Jana Liptakova writing in 2017, The Slovak Spectator
Slovak Radio Building in Bratislava
Jaroslav Siakel (Born: January 4, 1896 in Blatnica, Hungary, Austria-Hungary [now Slovakia] - Died: February 19, 1997 (age 101) in Western Springs, Illinois, USA)
Czech cinema in the sound era began with entertainment while Slovak artistic autonomy was still a point of conjecture to many. There were many nice movies being made though, instigating projects that brought friends and families together from both nations.
"Holocaust films will be made and should be made as long as we can't understand what makes people so cruel to each other."
- Milos Forman
Vladimír Slavínský (Born: September 26, 1890 in Dolní Stepanice, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary [now Czech Republic] - Died: August 16, 1949 (age 58) in Prague, Czechoslovakia)
'Three Men In The Snow' (1936, Tri muzi ve snehu - Vladimir Slavinsky)
A dark satire based upon a novel penned by Erich Kastner.
Miroslav Cikán (Born: February 11, 1896 in Prague, Austria-Hungary - Died: February 1, 1962 (age 65) in Prague, Czechoslovakia)
'Andula Won' (1937, Andula vyhrála - Miroslav Cikan)
A sophisticated comedy about social-climbers.
Roberto Land (Born: July 13, 1887 in Kremsier, Moravia, Austria-Hungary [now Kromeriz, Czech Republic] - Died: 1942 (age 54) in Kremsier, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia [now Kromeriz, Czech Republic])
'The Doll' (1938, Panenka - Roberto Land)
A virtually uncategorisable comedy based upon the theories of writer Karel Capek. Vera Ferbasova performs robotics.
Martin Fric (Born: March 29, 1902 in Prague, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary [now Czech Republic] - Died: August 26, 1968 (age 66) in Prague, Czechoslovakia)
'Eva Fools Around' (1939, Eva tropí hlouposti - Martin Fric)
A satrical comedy based upon a novel by Fan Vavrincova.
'A Movie Show' - Věra Ferbasová
Jiří Trnka (Born: February 24, 1912 in Pilsen, Austria-Hungary [now Plzen, Czech Republic] - Died: December 30, 1969 (age 57) in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
'The Czech Year' (1947, Špalíček - Jiri Trnka)
A puppet musical with supernatural overtones that depicts rural life over the course of four seasons. Its influence can safely be said to extend across Czech culture, from Vojtech Jasny's four-part motion portrait 'Desire' (1958) to the song performances of puppeteer Helena Stachova.
Czech animations released during cinema's Golden Age sometimes addressed social concerns, or reflected what was going on in live-action film at the time. The more historically-minded animations often brought to life popular fairy tales and folk stories, drawing from a longstanding Czech tradition in puppeteering. Some filmmakers only made short subject films while others branched out into features.
I like these three experimental Czech animators who were heavily active during these years. All three have short films that are currently available to watch on youtube. For each animator, I've selected a pair of favourites.
"The puppet show has been one of the traditional forms of theatre in the Czech lands for many centuries. It has gone a long way from its origins to its present form. This country enjoyed puppets as early as in the Middle Ages, when puppet shows became a part of comedians' performances at fairs and markets. From the 17th century onwards, Bohemia welcomed English, Dutch, Italian and later also German theatre ensembles, which, besides the classical dramas, staged marionette shows as well. The first puppet makers of Czech nationality appear in historical records in the late 18th century. Regarding the artwork, their marionettes drew especially on Baroque traditions. The Pimprle, later Kašpárek, was a typical comic character of the puppet shows, whose nature resembled that of a common viewer. In the first half of the 19th century, Czech puppeteers played an important role in the process of the national revival, as their shows made the mass audiences familiar with the ideas of the Enlightenment and national resurgence in a simple and comprehensible language. Matěj Kopecký, a puppeteer, is regarded as the symbol of these puppeteers and revivalists and also the founder of the Czech puppet theatre. From the mid-19th century on, the puppet theatre began to spread to small domestic stages, so-called family theatres, many of which achieved an outstanding level and became the basis for public amateur ensembles. These puppet theatres reached the height of their glory after the formation of the Czechoslovak Republic. Marionettes were produced serially; the stage decorations were printed in high quality and the country was the home of more than two thousand groups that staged shows for children on a regular basis. The key role in the further development of puppetry was played mainly by ensembles emphasising artistic value. One of the most prominent was the Pilsen Puppet Theatre, founded in 1930 by Josef Skupa, one of the most significant Czech puppeteers and later founder of the world-famous Spejbl and Hurvínek Theatre (S & H Theatre) in Prague."
- Petra Hubalkova, Hello Czech Republic
The Puppetry Museum in Chrudim
Hermína Týrlová (Born: December 11, 1900 in Brezové Hory, Austria-Hungary [now Czech Republic] - Died: May 3, 1993 (age 92) in Zlín, Czech Republic)
Jiří Trnka (Born: February 24, 1912 in Pilsen, Austria-Hungary [now Plzen, Czech Republic] - Died: December 30, 1969 (age 57) in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
'The Devil's Mill' (1949, Čertův mlýn) / 'The Hand' (1965, Ruka)
Břetislav Pojar (Born: October 7, 1923 in Susice, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic] - Died: October 12, 2012 (age 89) in Prague, Czech Republic)
'School For Cats' (1961, Kocicí skola) / 'Princesses Are Not To Be Sniffed At' (1966, K princeznám se necuchá)
"When I was a young girl, I was an art school student, but the universities were closed during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II. In the summer of 1945, just after the war had ended, I went to a big live-action studio called Barrandov in Prague. I went with a writer friend who was doing research on the German occupation. While we were sitting there, I saw an advert on a little table for the opening of a new animation studio in the center of Prague. The studio chief was Jiri Trnka, who was already a very well known artist. [The studios parent company is Kratky Film Praha. Bratri v Triku specializes in drawn cartoons, with its sister studio, Studio Jiri Trnka, specializing in puppets, though the puppet side is dormant now because of the expense and length of production.] There had been a studio before, working on titles and advertising, so there were already several offices. Everyone was thrown somewhere else during the last years of the war, and, afterward, people were invited to start the studio again. I looked at the advert and thought it might be interesting, so I took my portfolio of drawings and went there. The studio people looked at my drawings. I was maybe too young for them but they said, well, we will try! I started on July 2, 1945, right at the beginning. At first I was coloring and inking, then I was animating. Then, because I had some kind of talent for organization, I became a production manager working with Mr. Trnka, who was then directing and designing films for UNESCO. His client in London came over to Prague and the studio called on me, because I was the only person at Triku who spoke a little bit of English... The early days were an absolutely amazing time. There was a tremendous spirit just after the war. Many young people, thrown out of university, were drawn to the studio. We were really starting from nothing, from blank paper, learning everything, which was absolutely fascinating. The early films were so individual and poetic. There were no series of films, each title was individual and the directors were always thinking of quality, trying to put something special in the design. In 1947, one of our films, based on a famous Czech fairy tale, won a prize at Cannes, and, from then on, we gained a reputation in Europe, where people were very surprised by this Czech studio nobody had heard of. We were growing, growing, growing, with lots of success. I worked with such a good group of people. Animation is not only about talent, but also about patience and love. You dont make cartoons to make money or to become rich, only a few people get rich and then the money comes from merchandising."
I've seen very few Czech films from the 1950s and none from Slovak filmmakers. I hope to one day see Borivoj Zeman's fantasy films 'There Was Once A King ...' (1955), 'The Incredibly Sad Princess' (1968) and 'Almost King' (1977). But I have seen a few films from this decade that I enjoy.
"The film industry in Czechoslovakia had been nationalised in 1945 — that is, three years before the Communist coup of 1948 ― as part of the Beneš decrees. On his return from exile in England, President Edvard Beneš had determined that there should be strong elements of socialism in the resurrected democracy and the film industry was nationalised along with a number of other key industries. It is well to remember that this nationalisation, while linked to a socialist impulse, cannot be equated with the Communist takeover. Its intention was to protect the industry and allow for the production of films that were not solely determined by the demands of the marketplace. After the Communist takeover of 1948, nationalisation, of course, took on an explicitly political role, particularly in the 1950s, when the thematic and aesthetic requirements of Socialist Realism were routinely imposed. Implicit in Socialist Realism was the view that the system must never be criticised and that, at least morally, it should be seen to triumph and lead to a better life. When criticism became permitted in the 1960s, it was still assumed to be “constructive” (that is, aimed at the perfection of the system rather than its overthrow). Arguably, it was only in 1968-69, with films such as The Joke (Žert; dir. Jaromil Jireš, 1968) and All My Good Countrymen (Všichni dobří rodáci; dir. Vojtěch Jasný, 1968), both banned after the Soviet invasion and suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968, and The Ear (Ucho; dir. Karel Kachyňa, 1969) and Skylarks on a String (Skřivánci na niti; dir. Jiři Menzel, 1969), neither released until 1990, that the full truth could be told. At the risk of committing heresy, it is worth drawing parallels between the state industry and Hollywood. After all, routine plots with predictably optimistic conclusions have not been the sole preserve of Socialist Realism. Feature films that deal directly with politics are rare within Western commercial cinema and do not often offer criticism of a system for which, to adopt Margaret Thatcher’s dictum, “there is no alternative.” One of the advantages of the nationalised industry was the fact that, when political control weakened, it could end up criticising the system, allowing for a degree of creative freedom that was impossible under a commercial framework. This is what happened when the Czechoslovak New Wave (1963-69) appeared on the scene, attracting wide international attention and helping to spearhead the reform movement leading to the reform communism of the Prague Spring in 1968. Also, as the novelist Josef Škvorecký once put it, “aesthetic common sense” gnawed at the roots of the system from the very beginning (54)."
- Peter Hames, 'A Business Like Any Other : Czech Cinema Since The Velvet Revolution'
'Měsíčku Na Nevi Hlubokém' - Antonín Dvořák (performed by Lucia Popp)
Vojtěch Jasný (Born: November 30, 1925 in Kelc, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
Vojtech Jasny makes mobile, lyrical films involving dance, memory and dreams that usually carry political undertones. His work has influenced noted technical American film directors like Stanley Kubrick (taken by his use of the camera) and Steven Spielberg (who collaborated with Jasny on the 2002 holocaust documentary project 'Broken Silence'). He also influenced a number of filmmakers associated with the "German New Wave" movement, having relocated to Germany in the 1970s in a quest to find steady work.
'Desire' (1958, Touha - Vojtech Jasny)
'Desire' is a film laid out in four stages that charts the evolution of life through four seasons. The inter-connected segments are 'The Boy Who Sought To End The World', 'People On Earth And Stars In The Heavens', 'Angela' & 'Mother'. Filmmaker Vaclav Vorlicek was assistant director on this project.
Jana Brejchová & Jirí Vala
'The Cassandra Cat' (1963, Až přijde kocour - Vojtech Jasny)
The story of a travelling circus and an all-seeing cat. This is the first Czech fantasy film I ever saw and it's one of my favourites.
'The Pipes' (1966, Dýmky - Vojtech Jasny)
A yodeling musical co-produced by the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria. Though it was ridiculed by some film critics upon its original release, this experimental musical is now used as a study tool in central European film schools. Czech director Hubert Frank later became a yodel king in Germany, shooting ebullient rural comedies like 'Lilli - The Bride Of The Company' (1972), 'Muschimaus Likes It Out' (1973), 'Swap Meet At The Love Shack (1973) and 'Has Anybody Seen My Pants? (1975). The Coen Brothers are American filmmakers from Minnesota who are on record as enjoying a good yodel. Perhaps we all should.
"In Scandinavia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, women herders maintained the pastures and sang songs interspersed yodels, calls, shouts and signals ... songs for communication across mountain ranges."
- Bart Plantenga, 'Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo : The Secret History Of Yodeling Around The World'
'Arizona Yodeler' - The DeZurik Sisters (granddaughters of Slovak immigrants who were raised on a farm in Minnesota)
'All My Compatriots' (1968, Všichni dobří rodáci - Vojtech Jasny)
A lyrical study of Czech culture in which a small Moravian community deals with the effects of political upheaval as communism takes hold. It's set during the aftermath of the 2nd World War.
"The very existence of Vojtěch Jasný’s iconic work All My Good Countrymen is something of a feat. The screenplay was first drafted in 1951, but was deemed too subversive to be made. It was only in 1968, during the relative freedom of the Prague Spring, that the film saw the light of day. Even then, it was blacklisted following the Soviet invasion less than a year later, becoming one of only four films to be banned ‘forever’. Jasný was forbidden to make any more films and, as a result, emigrated to continue his career abroad. Despite the controversy surrounding All My Good Countrymen in Czechoslovakia, it was entered into the 1969 Cannes Film Festival where Jasný won the award for Best Director."
- Judith Fagelson, Made In Prague
''All My Good Countrymen'' is a historic film for both its extraordinary poetic and social qualities and its position as the masterpiece of Vojtech Jasny - father of that brilliant flowering of Czechoslovak cinema brought to a sharp, grim end by Soviet tanks in August 1968. Milos Forman, whose ''Amadeus'' won Academy Awards last week for best film as well as best director, was once a protege of Mr. Jasny, who was official supervisor of Mr. Forman's celebrated ''Loves of a Blonde.'' It is thanks to generous efforts on the part of Mr. Forman, in fact, that we have the opportunity of seeing ''All My Good Countrymen'' at all."
- Richard Grenier, The New York Times
Moravian dancer Drahomíra Hofmanová
'The Clown' (1976, Ansichten eines Clowns - Vojtech Jasny)
'The Clown' is a political drama based on a novel by Heinrich Boll. This German production finds Jasny being granted greater freedom to criticise political systems than he'd had back home.
Helmut Griem & Hanna Schygulla
'Wir' (1982 - Vojtech Jasny)
Having explored movement through the lens in previous film projects, Jasny instead probes the static frame with 'Wir'. It's a strange science-fiction fable based upon a book by Yevgeni Zamyatin. I find it works well as a companion piece to Rainer Werner Fassbinder's science-fiction epic 'World On A Wire' (1973) which was also commissioned by German television.
“I was in the resistance in a factory and I and other workers had some duties to prepare for some actions. The Gestapo found a letter written to me in little letters – it was leftist. And they started to go after me. “I was called to the Gestapo chief of the Vsetín factory, and he wanted to interrogate me. I went to the soldier and said…my German was very good, therefore I was a good British spy… and I knocked on the door and went in and said, Heil Hitler! “He smiled and said, he’s not the man as was reported to me. He said, sit down, will you have a cigarette? I said, sure. He said, we can speak Czech, I speak Czech very well. I said, let’s talk German. You know I will stay in this factory and become an engineer, you will win the war…and so I was saved. “When I came back to the factory there was a call on the speakers from chief engineer Chrast: worker Vojtěch Jasný immediately to engineer Chrast…the Gestapo had asked him to find out who I am. “I came there and he was in an English tweed jacket, blue eyes, rusty hair. He said, you need a good coffee. I said, sure, I didn’t have a good coffee for years. He had coffee made and said, I work for British intelligence – will you work for us? I said, immediately, but if you are Gestapo I’m finished. He said you will work for us because of your very good German. “So I was sent at 18 to the trenches to organise maps for the Soviet army…then in the mountains Major Murzin and the Soviet partisans got my maps and they sent them to Moscow and he gave me a new job…But it was organised by the British.”
- Vojtech Jasny, Radio Prague
'V Mlhách' - Leoš Janáček
Bořivoj Zeman (Born: March 6, 1912 in Prague, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary [now Czech Republic] - Died: December 23, 1991 (age 79) in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
'The Proud Princess' (1952, Pyšná princezna - Borivoj Zeman)
A spoilt princess engages an impertinent gardener in a battle of wills and discovers she still has a lot to learn. The fairy tale musical 'The Proud Princess' is a rustic adventure inspired by a story by Bozena Nemcova. It's also a perfectly orchestrated propaganda piece, reinforcing a sense of national identity and shared values in the post-war era.
Alena Vránová & Vladimír Ráž
Jiří Weiss (Born: March 29, 1913 in Prague, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary [now Czech Republic] - Died: April 9, 2004 (age 91) in Santa Monica, California, USA)
'Romeo, Juliet And Darkness' (1959, Romeo, Julie a tma - Jiri Weiss)
Jiri Weiss was a documentary filmmaker who witnessed shocking events during the 2nd World War. 'Romeo, Juliet And Darkness' is a stark drama about a Jewish girl hiding out during the German occupation of Prague.
Daniela Smutná & Ivan Mistrík
“Of one thing I am profoundly convinced. My people will never abandon their democratic way of life. Their own bitter experience has taught them that government, when divorced from the consent of the governed, becomes tyranny. Our common task is not finished. The British are still engaged in two major wars and in Czechoslovakia we still have the common enemy to expel. We have all the problems of liberation to settle, our industries to revive, our broken social order to restore. But I do believe in the moral strength of my people and I am sure of the success of its post-war efforts.”
I think most film journalists I've read who've documented different chapters in Czechoslovakian film history believe the 1960s to be the decade in which both Czech & Slovak cinema became utterly distinct and gained the greatest international exposure. This is due to the emergence of the movement termed the "Czech New Wave", which was basically a cycle of artistic projects named in deference to the "French New Wave", which at the time, was taking European film theatres by storm. Some of my favourite European films emerged during this decade but I do generally enjoy watching different films from the various "new wave" film movements that were enacted around the globe. These films often reflected the turbulent political climates they were produced in and sometimes echoed the violent pushes for social change that came to encompass the era.
"Following Anthology Film Archives’ showcase in 1990 and Brooklyn Academy of Music’s retrospective in 2006 of early 20th century Czech cinema, the Museum of Modern Art recently programmed another iteration of the series for a new generation of New York cinephiles. Ecstasy and Irony: Czech Cinema, 1927-1943 highlights 14 films made before or during the Second World War. The works in the series demonstrate the depth and breadth of Czech cinema. Historically, Czechoslovakia has always valued culture as a national identity. So, it’s no wonder Czechs elected the playwright Václav Havel as their first post-Communist president, an appointment that sadly, nowadays, seems unheard of in the West. In the early 20th century, Czechoslovakia had a sophisticated cinema on par with France. With a popular and avant-garde tendency, both often blurring together, Czech cinema thrived. As scholar Peter Hames notes, native avant-garde movements, like Devětsil (Nine Strengths), as well as the pan-European movements of Expressionism, Surrealism, and realism nourished Czech cinema. Key players like Toyen, Vítězslav Nezval, and Karel Teige associated with these developments went on to work directly or indirectly on these films. On display in MoMA’s program are films with a variety of form and subject matter and include: actor-director Hugo Haas’ adaption of a Karel Čapek play, the archly anti-fascist sci-fi film, The White Disease (1937); Karl Anton’s Tonka of the Gallows (1930) and Přemysl Pražský’s Battalion (1927), both of which were influenced by realism, particularly of the G B Pabst and the Neue Sachlichkeit variety seen in Germany; and the fragmenting and linguistic explorations of Vladislav Vančura’s Before Graduation (1932) and On the Sunny Side (1933). However, by calling it Ecstasy and Irony, MoMA’s program emphasises filmmaker Gustav Machatý’s importance, as well as the role of comedy in Czech cinema."
- Tanner Tafelski, 'Czech Cinema: The Spectacular, Seductive Films That Inspired The New Wave'
'Tři Strážníci' - Jaroslav Ježek
František Vláčil (Born: February 19, 1924 in Cesky Tesin, Moravian-Silesian, Czech Republic - Died: January 28, 1999 (age 74) in Prague, Czech Republic)
Frantisek Vlacil studied art history as a young man. He was a painter, designer and graphic artist with an interest in architecture who wrote quick scripts commissioned by film studios and puppeteering companies. He became a filmmaker by working within the documentary field and oversaw the production of instructional films. He began directing feature films in 1960. Vlacil made pictures in which individuals are called upon to tweak political structures, subvert conventional wisdom and divert authoritarian rule.
'The White Dove' (1960, Holubice - Frantisek Vlacil)
An eerie evocation of several dark historical chapters connected by the flight of a dove.
“I have always striven for pure film. I wanted film to act as music and poetry.”
- Frantisek Vlacil
'The Devil's Trap' (1962, Ďáblova past - Frantisek Vlacil) / 'Marketa Lazarova' (1967, Marketa Lazarová - Frantisek Vlacil) / 'The Valley Of The Bees' (1967, Údolí včel - Frantisek Vlacil)
Frantisek Vlacil's historical trilogy presents three films concerning tradition, oppression, religion and bondage. 'The Devil's Trap' is based on a novel written by Alfred Technik, 'Marketa Lazarova' is based upon a novel by Vladislav Vancura and 'The Valley Of The Bees' is co-written by Vlacil with novelist Vladimir Korner.
Vancura was a founding member of the "Devětsil Artistic Federation", an avant-garde collective that brought together Czech painters, architects, writers, poets, photographers and musicians.
'Adelheid' (1970 - Frantisek Vlacil)
The drama 'Adelheid' is based on a novel by Vladimir Korner. It takes place during the aftermath of the 2nd World War.
“Some filmmakers, and here I’m thinking specifically of František Vláčil, would say that Army Film was for them really a critical pedagogical moment in their careers. Vláčil is important because he didn’t go to FAMU. He was somebody whose training in filmmaking really happened in Army Film. He had studied, I think, art history and other fields before he entered the army. So certainly in his case it was a moment in his life that set him up for the work that he would end up doing at Barrandov making feature films, even to the point where you see certain short films that he made in the 1950s in Army Film as sketches for his feature films that would happen later.
We can see this in his film 'Glass Skies', Sklenéná oblaka, which was a film that he made in the army right before he left. And when he got to Barrandov he made 'The White Dove', Holubice, which is a film that plays with the same themes and images that he developed in the short film in the army. So Vláčil’s a great example of that. Some filmmakers, especially those who served in the early ‘50s, have a different memory of the studio. I think if were to think of a golden age for Army Film, it would be the ‘60s. Some, but not all of them, remember it as being a place where they were really making films to order. This is in the era when Alexej Čepička was the minister of defence. Čepička was known for both his close ties to the Communist Party, of course, but also to Gottwald himself. He was married to Gottwald’s daughter.
So there are really differing experiences. But I think by and large it was a way for filmmakers to spend their years in the army, honing their craft, and in almost all cases, I think, you do see links between the work filmmakers were making in the army and the work they would make later, whether that’s stylistically, or thematically or otherwise.”
- Alice Lovejoy (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities), author of 'Army Film And The Avant Garde'
Karel Kachyňa ( Born: May 1, 1924 in Vyskov, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic] - Died: March 12, 2004 (age 79) in Prague, Czech Republic)
Karel Kachyna was a professional photographer who entered filmmaking alongside his early collaborator and direct contemporary Vojtech Jasny. These two friends from south Moravia were called upon to document the communist dream together by making state-sponsored documentary films. By the time Kachyna was being called upon yet again, this time to direct the military venture 'Crooked Mirror' (1956), both directors had grown tired of the communist regime and were openly critical of its practises.
In the 1960s, Kachyna and Jasny would frequently run into trouble with government agencies, but Kachyna was allowed to continue working in Czech Republic where he was able to quietly subvert the system.
'The Proud Stallion' (1962, Trápení - Karel Kachyna)
A child escapes into fantasy. Includes a homage to French inventor Albert Lamorisse's experimental short film 'White Mane' (1953).
"František Vláčil, Karel Kachyňa, Vojtěch Jasný, Jiří Menzel and several more of the greatest ever Czech film directors honed their craft in the army during the communist period. And as the Czechoslovak New Wave was blossoming, the country’s military were producing the kind of short films that were the envy of their counterparts elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc."
- Ian Willoughby, Radio Prague
"Karel Kachyna was born in the small town of Vyskov, in Moravia. At 16, during the Nazi occupation, he was forced to work in a German factory. After the war, he studied cinematography at the new Arts Academy in Prague. There, he met a fellow Moravian, Vojtech Jasny, with whom he made his graduate film, a semi- documentary story about farm workers, optimistically entitled The Clouds Will Roll Away (1950). A year later, Kachyna and Jasny went to China, where they filmed a series of reports about soldiers. But when the political climate changed, and China ceased to be Czechoslovakia's friend, these films were banned, a taste of what was to come. One of Kachyna's first solo efforts was King Of The Sumava (1959), which was set in the marshy region of Sumava, on the Czechoslovak-German border, in the summer of 1948, when many people fled the country after the communist putsch. The film became immensely popular among the younger generation, who appreciated its break with platitudinous political dramas, in creating recognisable characters. The film also revealed one of the main elements of Kachyna's style; he preferred visual, rather than dialogue, scenes to move the plot along. In the early 1960s, Kachyna began a long and fruitful collaboration with the screenwriter Jan Prochazka. Their first film together, Hope (1963), started a so-called "black" series of films, which were openly critical of Czechoslovak society. It is a story of two types of outcast, neither of whom officially existed under communism - an alcoholic and a prostitute. This was followed by the ironically titled Long Live The Republic (1965), in which the events at the end of the second world war - the arrival of the Soviet army in Czechoslovakia and the German expulsion- were seen through the eyes of a sensitive 12-year-old boy. The film demythologised the legend of victory, and was eventually banned."
- Ronald Bergan, The Guardian
'Beyond The Mirror Optical Study' by Jaroslav Rössler
'Ear' (1970, Ucho - Karel Kachyna)
Paranoia consumes a married couple who fear their house has been bugged by a government agency.
'We Hear Footsteps' by Toyen
'Pavlinka' (1974, Pavlínka - Karel Kachyna)
'Pavlinka' is a working-class mountain romance set within a welding community. Non-welders have become deeply reliant on the income generated by a single textile factory so they look for other ways to earn money.
This is a film about being resourceful. Karel Kachyna filmed on location in and around Svarov and Tanvald. It's based upon a historical novel by Alfred Technik that was inspired by real events.
'The Little Mermaid' (1976, Malá mořská víla - Karel Kachyna)
An adaptation of a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson.
Libuše Šafránková & Miroslava Šafránková
'Waiting To Do' (1978, Cekání na dést - Karel Kachyna)
The story of a 12 year-old girl confined to an apartment block in Prague who gets lost inside her imagination.
"In the second half of the decade, Socialist Realism in film-making started to lose its iron grip, and the director's film language started to mature. Together with Vojtech Jasny and Zdenek Podskalsky, Karel Kachyna belongs to group of directors who are known as "The First Generation of FAMU." However, not all the film-makers emerging at this time had graduated from this now renowned film school (amongst those who did not are Ladislav Helge, Frantisek Vlacil and Zbynek Brynych), so there is a parallel tag for the whole generation-Generation 1957. The new aesthetic included the critical reflection of reality, more freedom in choosing the themes, the imagery of taboos and also elements of lyricism and fantasy. The creators viewed cinema very seriously; each film they took as a possibility for the condemnation of mistakes of previous times and also as an oppurtunity to show explicit moral positions. The main protagonist is usually a unique individual who stands face-to-face with a very difficult conflict. The importance, pathos and heaviness of testimony are typical elements of the film production of this generation. Even though most of the directors of Generation 1957 emerged in the second half of the 1950s, they experienced their best creative period in the 1960s as a part of the "Czechoslovak cinematic miracle," a multi-generational phenomenon that saw both new and established directors making pioneering films in a variety of styles with a variety of aims. In spite of this large generational and stylistic plurality, a marvellously homogenous stream arose as part of a movement that overtook the whole of Europe, starting in France. Although credit for Czechoslovak New Wave has been attributed to political liberalisation in the late 1960s, the films of Kachyna and his contempories show that the seeds of this golden era were sown in the far-from-liberal environment of the 1950s and that the republic's most famous film era is a logical progression of Czechoslovak cinema language rather than an offshoot of the political changes these films would later become iconic of."
Zbyněk Brynych (Born: June 13, 1927 in Karlovy Vary, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic] - Died: August 24, 1995 (age 68) in Prague, Czech Republic)
'Transport From Paradise' (1962, Transport z ráje - Zbynek Brynych)
A disturbing study of the persecution of Jews during World War 2. I'd like to see Zbynek Brynych's film '...And The Fifth Horseman Is Fear' (1965).
Jindřich Polák (Born: May 5, 1925 in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic] - Died: August 22, 2003 (age 78) in Prague, Czech Republic)
'Ikarie XB 1' (1963 – Jindrich Polak)
An adaptation of 'The Magellanic Cloud' (1955) by Catholic science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem whose works have been filmed by Andrzej Wajda, Andrei Tarkovsky, Edward Zebrowski and Steven Soderbergh among others.
'The Water Goblin' - Antonín Dvořák
Věra Chytilová (Born: February 2, 1929 in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic] - Died: March 12, 2014 (age 85) in Prague, Czech Republic)
'Something Different' (1963, O necem jiném - Vera Chytiolva)
An exploration of the correlation between the responsibilities faced by a housewife and a gymnast.
"Born in 1929, Vera Chytilová initially studied philosophy and architecture, and later worked as a fashion model, designer and photographic assistant. After breaking into the Czechoslovak film industry in a variety of menial capacities at the Barrandov Film Studios in Prague, she was accepted by the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU), the fifth-oldest film school in the world. There, she studied under director Otakar Vávra and completed several student films – including Strop (Ceiling, 1962), a documentary on the life of Marta Kanovská, a fashion model; and Pytel blech (A Bagful of Fleas, 1962), about an oppressive girls’ dormitory – before embarking on her first, highly experimental, feature film, O něčem jiném (Something Different, 1963), which marked the emergence of a major talent on the Czechoslovak film scene. Shot in flat, naturalistic black and white, Something Different intercuts two basic storylines – one staged, and one actual. In the documentary storyline, a champion gymnast, Eva Bosáková, prepares for a competition under the merciless tutelage of a male instructor; and in the fictional section, bored and unappreciated housewife Věra (Věra Uzelacová) contends with the tedium of her daily life while her husband (Josef Langmiler) does nothing more than come home after work and read the paper, expecting Věra to handle all the household chores. Eventually, Věra drifts into a love affair as an antidote to her barren home life, but it’s suggested that there’s no real escape or freedom for either Věra or Eva. They’ll both continue to struggle in a male-dominated world, which deprives each woman of any real chance for independence. It is a brilliant, if depressing, feminist narrative strategy. Throughout the film’s running time, the two stories are repeatedly intercut at seemingly random intervals, and they never converge into one narrative – nor are they designed to. Věra and Eva are representative of the plight of women in Czechoslovak culture in the early 1960s, one that certainly persists to this day. Eva eventually triumphs as a gymnast in a world championship win, but Chytilová is careful to accentuate all the work that went into her eventual victory – a sprained ankle that constantly needs to be taped; the endless drill and repetition of her daily practice sessions – so that even the eventual “victory” comes at such a high price that she has sacrificed the rest of her life as a woman. Věra’s world is equally barren, and her affair offers her no real way out of her predicament as a put-upon housewife and mother. She is painfully aware that the reality of her circumstances doesn’t tally with the idealised vision of domestic life that is sold as a consumerist vision through the media of the day and government propaganda. As Jiří Cieslar notes, The anxiety present in [Something Different] results from a heightened knowledge that both women “compete” in their distant worlds, but with similar questions. Still, Eva’s solution is more positive: “Domestic” Věra, after her useless escape from her tedious marriage into a romantic affair, tries to patch up her broken family ties without any clearer hope for betterment. “Public” Eva’s life also does not improve appreciably, but she at least tries to pass on to her successors what [her trainer] has taught her: an art or a set of skills. Certainly, Eva has not left her space; she does not have any other. It should thus come as no surprise that Chytilová herself continually struggled against the existing system throughout her career as a filmmaker. While all of her films up through Daisies eventually saw a public release, Chytilová was always working against the grain of communist society."
- Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Senses Of Cinema
Eva Bosáková & the Czechoslovakian Gymnastics Squad
'Daisies' (1966, Sedmikrásky - Vera Chytiolva)
An anarchic tale of two sisters.
"In 1966, Vera Chytilová made her second feature Daisies – a playful riot of mischief and joyous, kinetic experimentation. Its giggling accomplices Marie I and Marie II (non-professionals Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová) agree that since the world has gone bad they’ll be bad too. Their pranks wreak havoc around Prague, as they leave the sugar daddies who dine them abandoned with huge bills, and scandalise a dance hall with their beer-stealing antics. The mayhem culminates in a debauched food fight, as the friends lay waste to a banquet that’s been set out for party officials, and swing from a giant chandelier. This irreverent carnival of excess and destruction was the antithesis of state ideology glorifying worker productivity and promising a bright utopian future for heroes of developed political consciousness. The authorities banned Daisies, citing the wastage of food as particularly reprehensible. An end-title dedicated the film “to all those whose sole source of indignation is a trampled-on trifle” – a barb aimed at hypocritical officials who would take offence at such scenes, while turning a blind eye to greater evils."
- Carmen Gray, The British Film Institute
Jitka Cerhová & Ivana Karbanová
'Fruit Of Paradise' (1969, Ovoce stromu rajských jíme - Vera Chytiolva)
The biblical story of Adam & Eve.
'Salome' - Karel Kryl
Jan Němec (Born: July 12, 1936 in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic] - Died: March 18, 2016 (age 79) in Prague, Czech Republic)
Lindsay Anderson & Jan Němec
'Diamonds Of The Night' (1964, Démanty noci - Jan Nemec)
A harrowing episode in the life of prisoners attempting to escape being put in a concentration camp.
'The Party And The Guests' (1966, O slavnosti a hostech - Jan Nemec)
A satirical take on champagne totalitarianism.
Oldřich Lipský ( Born: July 4, 1924 in Pelhrimov, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic] - Died: October 19, 1986 (age 62) in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
'Lemonade Joe' (1964, Limonádový Joe aneb Koňská opera - Oldrich Lipsky)
A comic strip ode to the history of American genre filmmaking.
'Adele Hasn't Had Her Dinner Yet' (1977, Adéla ještě nevečeřela - Oldrich Lipsky)
An anarchic tribute to filmmaker Roger Corman, with an accent on his low budget motion picture 'The Little Shop Of Horrors' (1960). The gadgets and animations were created by filmmaker Jan Svankmajer.
'Coo Coo' - George Mraz
“Don’t go thinking that I despise “B” pictures; in general I like them better than big, pretentious psychological films they’re much more fun. When I happen to go to the movies in America, I go see ‘B’ pictures. First of all, they are an expression of the great technical quality of Hollywood. Because, to make a good western in a week, the way they do at Monogram, starting Monday and finishing Saturday, believe me, that requires extraordinary technical ability; and detective stories are done with the same speed. I also think that “B” pictures are often better than important films because they are made so fast that the filmmaker obviously has total freedom; they don’t have time to watch over him.” - Jean Renoir speaking in 1954
Miloš Forman (Born: February 18, 1932 in Cáslav, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic] - Died: April 13, 2018 (age 86) in Danbury, Connecticut, USA)
Milos Forman was probably the best known Czech film director on the international stage because he directed several American films regarded as classics and won two Academy Awards for Best Director. His early work in Czech Republic introduced his themes and obsessions. The first time I watched his film 'Audition' (1963) I wasn't sure whether it was a documentary, a talent competition or something staged, which I think is testament to Forman's skill as a filmmaker.
'Barrandov Studio wishes world-famous director, author of the eight-Oscar acclaimed masterpiece 'Amadeus', Miloš Forman, a happy eightieth birthday. Globally renowned director Miloš Forman celebrated his jubilee 80th birthday on 18 February, 2012. He is among the legends of Czech cinematography, one of the world’s most respected directors and has an irreplaceable role in the history of Barrandov, which dates back more than eighty years.
Milos Forman’s parents died in a concentration camp and he grew up alone in a youth home for victims of World War II, where he also met future director Ivan Passer. He studied screenwriting and direction at the Fine Arts Academy (FAMU). During his domestic era, he became famous for his work with non-actors and his brisk depiction of “everyday reality” in films like Lásky jedné plavovlásky or Hoří, má panenko. After emigrating in 1968, his American work focused more and more on the relationship between the individual and the society surrounding him, on the uneven battle for individual liberty, ideals, objectives and opinions. His masterpiece, in addition to 'Hair' and 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest', was the eight-Oscar acclaimed 'Amadeus', which was filmed in Prague and Barrandov. It was in fact 'Amadeus' that showed the entire world of film the full beauty of Czech cinematographic art. For this reason, among other, he accepted an annual Jáchym from the management of Barrandov Studio for spreading the good reputation of the Barrandov studios around the world.'
- A message of appreciation for Milos Forman on his 80th birthday, from the staff of Barrandov Studio
'Black Peter' (1964, Černý Petr - Milos Forman)
A coming-of-age comedy about starting work.
Ladislav Jakim & Pavla Martínková
'Loves Of A Blonde' (1965, Lásky jedné plavovlásky - Milos Forman)
Working-class women in a factory town attend a dance in search of suitors.
Hana Brejchová & Marie Salacová
'The Firemen's Ball' (1967, Hoří, má panenko - Milos Forman)
A volunteer fire brigade throws a party.
'Goya's Ghosts' (2006, Los fantasmas de Goya - Milos Forman)
'Goya's Ghosts' sees Milos Forman back in Europe for a co-production between Spain and the USA. Forman wrote the story with Jean-Claude Carriere. Stellan Skarsgard portrays Spanish painter Francisco Goya.
“Star Wars had come out around the time of Seagull, and everyone thought I was a horrible actress. I was in the biggest-grossing movie of the decade, and no director wanted to work with me. Mike Nichols wrote a letter to Anthony Minghella and said, ‘Put her in Cold Mountain, I vouch for her.’ And then Anthony passed me on to Tom Tykwer, who passed me on to the Wachowskis. I worked with Milos Forman a few years later. He said, ‘Mike saved me. He wrote a letter so that I could get asylum in the US’. He did that for 50 people, and it doesn’t make any one of us feel less special.”
- Natalie Portman recalls working with Mike Nichols on stage (Anton Chekhov's 'The Seagull' in 2001) & screen ('Closer' in 2004)
Ivan Passer [Born: July 10, 1933 in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
Like his lifelong friend Milos Forman, director Ivan Passer left the Czech Republic for America in the 1960s, having served as assistant director to both Forman and their mentor Vojtech Jasny. Passer made some interesting big screen dramas in the 1970s and 1980s, before entering television to develop a more settled career.
President Ronald Reagan & Ivan Passer
'Intimate Lighting' (1965, Intimní osvětlení - Ivan Passer)
'Intimate Lighting' is a gentle slice-of-life about the importance of music and what it brings to our daily lives.
Štefan Uher (Born: July 4, 1930 in Prievidza, Czechoslovakia [now Slovakia] - Died: March 29, 1993 (age 62) in Bratislava, Slovakia)
'The Sun In A Net' (1962, Slunce v síti - Stefan Uher)
A student takes a summer job that redefines his life.
Marián Bielik & Jana Beláková
'The Miraculous Virgin' (1966, Panna zázračnica - Stefan Uher)
A mysterious sorceress casts a spell over a group of artists.
Peter Solan (Born: April 25, 1929 in Banska Bystrica [now Slovakia], Czechoslovakia - Died: September 21, 2013 (age 84) in Bratislava, Slovakia)
'Before This Night Is Over' (1966, Kým sa skončí táto noc - Peter Solan)
Two Slovak fitters with eyes for a pair of friendly secretaries haunt a jazz lounge where every table tells a story.
Jitka Zelenohorská, Jana Gýrová & Marián Labuda
Jozef Zachar (Born: December 13, 1920 in Hlohovec, Czechoslovakia [now Slovakia] - Died: January 1, 2013 (age 92) in Piestany, Slovakia)
'A Pact With The Devil' (1967, Zmluva s diablom - Jozef Zachar)
Parents are asked by teachers to keep an eye on five schoolgirls who are suspected of entering into a pact with the devil in exchange for help with losing their virginity.
Zuzana Kocúriková, Vierka Šimeková, Marta Rašlová, Sylvie Turbová & Ivana Karbanová
Eduard Grečner (Born: September 21, 1931 in Kopcany, Czechoslovakia [now Slovakia])
'Dragon’s Return' (1968, Drak se vrací – Eduard Grecner)
A Slovak potter is exiled from his mountain village. His eventual return sends shockwaves through a secluded, superstitious community.
Leopold Lahola (Born: January 30, 1918 in Presov, Austria-Hungary [now Slovakia] - Died: June 12, 1968 (age 50) in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia)
'The Sweet Time In Kalimagdora' (1968, Sladký čas Kalimagdory - Leopold Lahola)
An inveterate prankster deemed too childish to fill society roles endures a seasonal life cycle leading to annual rebirth. The psychedelic fantasy 'The Sweet Time In Kalimagdora' is based on a novel by Jan Weiss.
Gisela Hahn & Rüdiger Bahr
Jaromil Jireš (Born: December 10, 1935 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia [now Slovakia] - Died: October 26, 2001 (age 65) in Prague, Czech Republic)
'The Joke' (1969, Žert - Jaromil Jires)
A political joke causes a man to be expelled from the Communist Party. 'The Joke' is an adaptation of a novel by Milan Kundera.
Luděk Munzar, Věra Křesadlová & Josef Somr
'Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders' (1970, Valerie a týden divů - Jaromil Jires)
A child navigates a slippery path through a nightmare populated by thieves, clergymen and vampires. This surreal fantasy is based on a novel by Vitezslav Nezval.
Elo Havetta (Born: June 13, 1938 in Velké Vozokany, Czechoslovakia [now Slovakia] - Died: February 3, 1975 (age 36) in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia [now Slovakia])
'Celebration In The Botanical Garden' (1969, Slavnost v botanické zahradě - Elo Havetta)
The inhabitants of a Slovak village drink wine and pray for a mircale.
Václav Vorlíček (Born: June 3, 1930 in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic] - Died: February 5, 2019 (age 88) in Prague, Czech Republic)
Vaclav Vorlicek often worked alongside fantasist Milos Macourek to bring artistic visions to the screen. Comic filmmaker Oldrich Lipsky also enjoyed collaborating with Macourek, which is significant because Lipsky's film 'Jaroslav Hasek's Exemplary Cinematograph' (1955) was a major influence on Vorlicek who grasped an opportunity to helm his first feature film in 1960.
Vorlicek's painterly compositions were drawn in dusky woodland tones, darkened block colours and luminous pastel shades, contrasting disparate societal figures in a landscape while exhibiting textural qualities redolent of impressionist art. His precise execution of comic set-pieces and frenzied bouts of technical trickery elevated him to the top of the national film industry where he remained a box of contradictions; as Polish film historian Przemyslaw Koszela noted in his essay 'Czech Fairy Tale Theater', Vorlicek's irreverent sensibility belied his structuralism and revealed a strong sense of nostalgia for a history of wild Czech innovation.
Václav Vorlíček & Miloš Macourek
'Who Wants To Kill Jessie?' (1966, Kdo chce zabít Jessii? - Vaclav Vorlicek)
A scientist working on a dream machine sees the comic book heroine of his fantasies brought to life. 'Who Wants To Kill Jessie?' features illustrations and special effects designed by Kaja Saudek who was known as the "King of Czech Comic Books". Co-writers Milos Macourek and Vaclav Vorlicek skewer the notion of communist distribution, echoing the multi-layered subtext of Oldrich Lipsky's experimental musical 'Lemonade Joe' (1964).
Jiří Sovák & Olga Schoberová
The Kája Saudek Comics Museum in Prague
'You Are A Widow, Sir' (1971, Pane, vy jste vdova! - Vaclav Vorlicek)
'You Are A Widow, Sir' is a science-fiction fantasy in which a monarch's wanton neglect of his national guard sparks a revolt.
Jan Libíček & Iva Janžurová
'The Girl On A Broomstick' (1972, Dívka na koštěti - Vaclav Vorlicek)
A family fantasy in which a teenage witch performing poorly at school faces the prospect of a very long detention (try 300 years!). Vorlicek's final film 'Little Witch On A Broomstick' (2011) was a sequel to 'The Girl On A Broomstick' produced 39 years later.
Jan Hrušínský & Petra Černocká
'Three Wishes For Cinderella' (1973, Tři oříšky pro Popelku - Vaclav Vorlicek)
An adaptation of a fairy tale by Bozena Nemcova (it's the Bohemian version of the 'Cinderella' legend).
'The Prince And The Evening Star' (1979, Princ a Vecernice - Vaclav Vorlicek)
An adaptation of a folk tale by Karel Jaromir Erben.
'Saxana' - Petra Černocká
"Václav Vorlíček studied filmmaking at Prague’s FAMU in the 1950s and started directing films in the early 1960s. His parody on comics' series, 'Who Wants to Kill Jessie?' / Kdo chce zabít Jessie? (1966, produced by Barrandov Studio), was presented at Locarno and Trieste film festivals.
The Czech/German fairy tale 'Three Wishes for Cinderella' / Tři oříšky pro Popelku (1973, Barrandov Film Studio/Deutsche Film, DEFA) is still extremely popular in many countries and no one in the Czech Republic can imagine any Christmas without this fairy tale being broadcast on TV.
His filmography includes also numerous fantasy TV films and series for children from 1980s, including Arabela or Rumburak, produced by the Czechoslovak Television in coproduction with WDR. In 2017, Václav Vorlíček was awarded a Crystal Globe for Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema at the Karlovy Vary IFF."
Jiří Menzel (Born: February 23, 1938 in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
Theatre director Jiri Menzel is the son of author Josef Menzel who developed the popular 'Misa Kulicka' wildlife series with animator Jiri Trnka. Menzel was mentored in film and theatre by director Otakar Vavra who encouraged freedom of expression. His philosophical, free-spirited films have the feel of comic outtakes, capturing the embarrassing nature of human existence in all its forms.
I'd like to see Robert Kolinsky's documentary 'To Make a Comedy Is No Fun : Jirí Menzel' (2016).
Jiri Menzel's breakthrough film is one of several adaptations he'd undertake of stories written by novelist Bohumil Hrabal. It's an observant story set during the 2nd World War in which a young station guard learns to hide his feelings during the occupation while engaging in romance with a train conductor. Menzel shoots an absurd image of Jitka Zelenohorska's bare bottom in 'Closely Observed Trains' and he would go on to shoot images of ladies' behinds in many of his movies; such proclivities are not unusual among filmmakers, as is common to poets, sculptors and painters throughout the ages.
"Think of this film as the original 'Trainspotting', except that in this version, trains are actually spotted instead of bare arms. 'Closely Watched Trains' became only the second film produced in Czechoslovakia to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and thrust its director, Jiri Menzel, onto the world stage. Making this achievement all the more impressive is that 'Closely Watched Trains' was Menzel’s very first directorial effort at making a feature film. The movie is based on the novel by the same name by Bohumil Hrabal who just two years earlier in 1964 had five of his short stories adapted into the anthology film 'Pearls of the Deep'. 'Closely Watched Trains' defies easy categorization as it swings in an elliptical manner between lighthearted comedy (much of it highly sexual in nature) and melodrama; often combining the two extremes at the same time to underline its theme of how heroism is all too often confused with virility. Set during World War II and shot in glorious black and white, the often almost surreal balancing act between comedy and drama, along with its quite pointed focus on the sexual tension that connects these two's emotional register, 'Closely Watched Trains' manages to avoid the documentary-like feel of other post-WWII movies that look back upon that global engagement. One scene unlikely to be found in many World War II docs is the one in which comedy and dramatic tension are both captured in the rubber stamping of a girl’s legs from thighs to buttocks."
"Well, with this and 'The Firemen’s Ball' I’m quickly becoming a fan of the Czech New Wave movement. I enjoyed 'Closely Observed Trains' a lot. First and foremost is the humour. Right from the offset, as Miloš describes the actions of his eccentric slacker family, I was giggling away. The film has a wonderfully offbeat humour that seems ahead of its time and wouldn’t feel out of place in a Coen Brothers or Wes Anderson film. The film this most reminded me of though was Robert Altman’s 'M*A*S*H' made 6 years later in 1972. Like that, 'Closely Observed Trains' sets itself in a grim time and place, but finds the characters paying little attention to the war around them and instead focussing on their childish day to day antics. In both films the plots are pretty flimsy, but they subtly have much to say about the problems at the time and the human condition in general. Like Altman’s film, 'Closely Observed Trains' has a naturalistic approach to performance and setting, but this is visually composed more carefully in sumptuous black and white and also peppered with vaguely surreal moments here and there. One instance of this is when a bomb destroys the house Miloš is sleeping in, but leaves him and the owner untouched in their beds. The latter wakes to see what has happened and merely laughs. This unusual reaction is matched in the surprisingly tragic finale too. The film switches tones like this a couple of times, but effectively so, making for an unpredictable and original experience. There’s even an effectively erotic sequence in the infamous buttock stamping scene, which caused quite a stir on release."
- David Brook, Blueprint
Opening title sequence : 'Closely Observed Trains' / 'The Darjeeling Limited'
A tale of friendship adapted from a novel by Vladislav Vancura in which three middle-aged men become distracted by the appearance of a travelling circus.
"Capricious Summer was a big surprise for me. Unlike the four other films by the Czech master Jiri Menzel that I’ve watched, this wasn’t at all political, thus making it quite anachronistic within the Czech New Wave. And, more interestingly, it was sandwiched between Closely Watched Trains and Larks on a String – two of the most subversive sociopolitical satires I’ve watched. What Menzel presented here was an amusing and laidback comedy on ageing and male friendship."
- Shub Hajit, Cinemascope
'Larks On A String' (1969, Skřivánci na niti - Jiri Menzel)
Members of the Czech middle-class are consigned to a dumping ground for re-education but find valuable nuggets hidden in the junkyard. 'Larks On A String' is an adaptation of a novel by Bohumil Hrabal. It was banned by the authorities who denigrated Menzel and some of his collaborators.
"The film 'Larks on a String' wasn't released until 1990, after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 restored democracy in the country and happened simultaneously with a 3-year extirpation process of Communism in Europe, gaining worldwide acclaim immediately after its release, from the Berlin Film Festival to Cannes. Jiri Menzel's testament has the political ferocity of criticism that Jan Nemec had in 'A Report on the Party and the Guests' (1966), his trademark comedy and themes of sexual awakening and exploration, and the search for the definition of the human identity of Evald Schorm in 'Courage for Every Day' (1964), with a scent of contemplative humanism philosophy. That's precisely what the film is and does. It takes a junk yard full of suspicious "bourgeois elements" imprisoned for differing, and sometimes ridiculous reasons, and transforms it into a shockingly iconic location despite its rotten inert structure full of the exploits of Capitalism. They are divided in two groups: men and women. Another division would identify them as prisoners and guards. All of them constantly interact. They romanticize each other. The play. They laugh. They tell stories. They gather their hands around a fire coming out from a trash can. They philosophize. Above all, they fight to define clearly their human existence and retain their dignity, exalting their impulses, prioritizing their feelings and impulses or their philosophical ideals, this latter range including positive, negative, or unsure remarks on epistemological philosophy, Communism, Socialism, Western Capitalism, Marxism, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Chaplin, Jews, Judaism, Christianism, Czech patriotism, and North Korean empathy. It has everything any cinephile could ask for. The humor is sharp-wittedly acid. The empathy towards the characters is easy to build. The brief moments of slapstick humor is a relief for the soul. Some segments are so obviously symbolic that one cannot miss why the censors felt so insulted for 21 years. The whole setting, despite being grim, irradiates some implicit sparks of Magic Realism and hope in the middle of oppression in a similar way Vittorio De Sica did with 'Miracle in Milan' (1951). Oh, and it is damn funny."
- Edgar Cochran, Letterboxd
"Like most film-makers who grew up behind the Iron Curtain, his career has been marked by interruptions, reverses and entanglements with communist authorities - in all of which Jiri Menzel seems to have seen the funny side. Or at least the ironic side. You could insert the word "ironically" into Menzel's biography, at virtually any point, it seems. He originally wanted to be a theatre director, for example, but was not accepted "for lack of talent" and enrolled at film school instead. In later years (ironically), during periods when he has been unable to make films, he has worked extensively in theatre. His colleagues at film school included the future forerunners of the Czech New Wave: Jan Nemec, Jaromil Jires, and Vera Chytilova among others, who enlisted Menzel to direct a segment of Pearls of the Deep, an adaptation of short stories by renowned Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. "I was not a very distinguished student," he says, "I was the youngest. I was innocent. I had no ambitions." And yet it was Menzel who went on to become the chief interpreter of Hrabal's works, starting with Closely Observed Trains. Based on Hrabal's own experiences, it is set in the 1940s, and depicts a naïve railway apprentice's quest for sexual liberation, which is conflated with the wider struggle for national liberation from the Nazis. Although the movie ends with a tragic (and, yes, ironic) act of heroism, politics are largely on the periphery, with gentle, down-to-earth comedy to the fore. "Good comedy should be about serious things," he says. "If you start to talk about serious things too seriously, you end up being ridiculous." Menzel's blend of compassionate, lyrical realism and French New Wave-influenced stylistic boldness made an impact, particularly on British film-makers like Ken Loach and, later, Bill Forsyth, director of Local Hero. With the success of Closely Observed Trains under his belt, and artistic repression thawing with the advent of the Prague Spring, Menzel started work on another Hrabal adaptation, Larks on a String, a riskier story of "bourgeois" Czechs consigned by the authorities to work at a scrapyard in the 1950s. But in August 1968, Soviet tanks rolled into Prague, and by the time Menzel had finished shooting, the liberal climate had evaporated, the film studio had a new boss, and Larks on a String was suspended indefinitely. "Nothing was ever said to me. You would just hear from people that your film had been shelved," says Menzel. Censorship did not publicly exist behind the Iron Curtain, he explains, but there state control over Eastern Bloc film-making operated on myriad levels: approval of the initial idea and the script, the presence of an "editor" on set, post-production monitoring, cuts to the final print, controlled levels of distribution, "and finally, even if you accepted all this and your film was ready to be shown, they would find some stupid reason for changing it, because if they didn't change anything, people might think they weren't needed at all." Some Czech directors fled to the US: most notably, Milos Forman, who went on to direct One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus. But despite similar offers to work abroad (including a few from Britain's David Puttnam), Menzel stayed put, partly out of loyalty to his countrymen, but also because his passport was taken away."
- Steve Rose, 'Irony Man'
"Censorship was not invented by the communists. Through all cultural history there is censorship. Of course, if you are not adult enough, your parents tell you what you can do or what you can say, and when you are an adult, you know for yourself and you don't need parents to tell you. Censorship is the parents. Now, unfortunately society is not adult enough, and that's a problem. We lose our adults too early. Every one of us has their own censorship because censorship is another name for respect for other people. Or responsibility."
'Seclusion Near A Forest' (1976, Na samotě u lesa - Jiri Menzel)
A family seeks their dream cottage in the country, aware that old mills and abandoned buildings are being made available for those willing to do some building work.
'Bistro Bohem will screen director Jiří Menzel's comedy "Seclusion Near a Forest" on March 19, at 7 pm. In the film, an ordinary Prague family yearns to have a house in the countryside. They make a deal with a charismatic old man to rent part of his summer house where he will live until the spring. Then, he will sell the house to them. As time goes by, the old man makes no effort to leave.'
- Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington, D.C.
'Cutting It Short' (1980, Postřižiny - Jiri Menzel)
An adaptation of an auto-biographical work by Bohumil Hrabal describing small town life for a community who are reliant upon a brewery to attract local tourism and generate income. This is said to be one of the favourite films of the great Czech astronomer Lenka Kotkova.
"The classic 'Shortcuts' is a popular stage show and has been performed by many theatrical troupes in Czech Republic. It boasts the most famous spanking scene in Czech culture which Czech people sometimes cheer during shows."
- Lucie Macak, 'Jiri Menzel : The Erotic Charm Of A Master'
Jiří Schmitzer & Magda Vášáryová
'My Sweet Little Village' (1985, Vesničko má středisková - Jiri Menzel)
A witty, nostalgic look at a small village where workers' solidarity is frequently being tested by outside forces and the mundane has become absurd.
"Jiri Menzel is one of the original members of the Czech new wave, that extraordinary generation of the 1960s that produced Milos Forman and Jan Kadar. He won an Academy Award for "Closely Watched Trains" in 1968.
In "My Sweet Little Village," he discovers some of the same gentle, ironic humor that Forman found in "The Fireman's Ball." He uses everyday life as an instrument for a subtle attack on bureaucracy and a cheerful assertion of human nature. This movie is joyful from beginning to end - a small treasure, but a real one."
- Roger Ebert, The Chicago-Sun Times
Petr Čepek & Libuše Šafránková
'I Served The King Of England' (2006, Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále - Jiri Menzel)
A satirical period piece in which a man recalls his quest to improve his social standing and become wealthy.
"Jan Dítĕ (Ivan Barnev) is a little guy — short in stature, and short on political awareness and social conscience as well. He's just someone who wants to get rich as quickly as possible, which in the course of I Served the King of England he briefly does. When we meet him, however, he is being discharged, penniless, from a Communist-era Czechoslovakian prison, having served a term of almost 15 years because more or less accidentally, and certainly without malice aforethought, he ended up — very profitably — on the Nazi side during the war. After jail, he's exiled to a remote corner of the country, where he has plenty of time to reflect on the error of his ways. His recollections form the substance of writer-director Jirí Menzel's wry yet wiry fable. Jan may be a geopolitical dimwit, but he is extraordinarily shrewd when it comes to his own career in the restaurant business. He's an expert listener, overhearing conversations that enable him to rub off his rough edges and advance his interests. He begins as a waiter in a provincial pub and moves on to a posh Prague restaurant, then to service in a high-end spa. That establishment becomes a camp full of often naked Nazi boys and girls, earnestly attempting to create a genetically perfected Master Race. In time, as the war goes badly for the Germans, it becomes a military hospital. By then, however, Jan has married a Hitlerite, who dies leaving him an invaluable stamp collection she has liberated from a Holocaust victim. The proceeds from its sale enable him to buy the spa, which is where the new Communist regime finds him and, in essence, punishes him as much for his lack of current ideological enthusiasm as for his wartime collaboration with the enemy. Throughout these low-key adventures, Jan maintains his air of wide-eyed innocence. Stuff is always happening to him, and he reacts to circumstances but never acts upon them. When, for example, the maitre d' in that Prague restaurant makes a bold subversive gesture to the occupying Nazis, Jan is sympathetic. But he does not take a stand with the man who has been his friend and mentor. He is, in effect, the heir to "The Good Soldier Schweik," anti-hero of the classic novel by Jaroslav Hasek, which is the Czech anti-epic. Over the years, Schweik has been the model for dozens of fictional characters — among them Yossarian in Catch-22 — and he was a particularly favored template for the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, who was Menzel's friend and collaborator for decades."
- Richard Schickel, Time
"Wes Anderson’s sensibility has, I suppose, always been somewhat “European,” so it’s not a big stretch for him to be extending his storytelling realm to include one of the great cities of Central Europe in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'. And he certainly seems to be having fun with this star-studded, 1920s-era romp, which may be the most visually lavish and designed film of his career to date. On the surface, the film looks like a companion piece to Jiri Menzel’s 'I Served the King of England', which tackles similar subject matter but with a comic bite and political engagement that Anderson has never shown an interest in."
- Nick Dawson, Filmmaker
'The Don Juans' (2013, Donšajni - Jiri Menzel)
A small opera troupe commits to staging a performance of 'Don Giovanni' by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
"Opera is the subject, medium and language of Jiri Menzel’s latest comedy, revolving around a production of “Don Giovanni” by a Czech small-town troupe."
- Ronnie Scheib, Variety
Václav Jílek & Eva Josefíková
'Nový Špalíček H. 288' - Bohuslav Martinů (performed by Magdalena Kožená)
"I really enjoyed Bohumil Hrabal’s work from the moment it started to be published in Czechoslovakia. Hrabal’s work was quite delayed – a lot of it was written much earlier, but didn’t really fit into the mold of the Stalinist literature of the 1950s and so it didn’t come out until a bit later. It came out in the early 1960s, first in magazines and then in book form. As soon as it started to come out, I fell in love with Hrabal’s work because I love Czech literature and I saw in Hrabal a continuation of the outstanding traditions of interwar Czech literature, writers like Karel Capek. I was not alone – my whole generation fell in love with Hrabal. When a bunch of my contemporaries decided to put together a film of short stories based on Hrabal’s work, they asked me to join that project. So I met Hrabal while working on those short films, 'Pearls of the Deep', and then after that I had the chance, of course, to work extensively with him on Closely Watched Trains. From that time, I remained close friends with Hrabal until his death. I got to form a much closer personal relationship with Hrabal at a time when Hrabal was not allowed to publish and I was not allowed to make films, so I spent quite a lot of times at Hrabal’s summer house and got to know him quite well beyond the artistic level as well. I always admired in Hrabal the ability to look at people and see them as they truly are, with a truly uncompromising perspective, but he still loved people. He wasn’t a misanthrope after all that. I would contrast with this the perspective of more recent Czech writers – and world literature in general – where I see a strong misanthropic tendency which is not there in Hrabal’s work, where that love for people is really present."
Elmar Klos (Born: January 26, 1910 in Brünn, Moravia, Austria-Hungary [now Brno, Czech Republic] - Died: July 31, 1993 (age 83) in Prague, Czech Republic)
Elmar Klos & Ján Kadár
'The Shop On Main Street' (1965, Obchod na korze - Jan Kadar & Elmar Klos)
The World War 2 drama 'A Shop On Main Street' is based on a novel by Slovak writer Ladislav Grosman who wrote the screenplay with co-directors Elmar Klos and Jan Kadar (who was born in Hungary but raised in Slovakia). It's a harrowing film about the horror of the pogroms.
Ida Kamińska & Jozef Kroner
Zdeněk Podskalský (Born: February 18, 1923 in Prague, Czechoslovakia - Died: October 29, 1993 (age 70) in Prague, Czech Republic)
'The White Lady' (1965, Bílá paní - Zdenek Podskalsky)
A local council's failings are exposed when a model in a classical painting comes to life and ventures outside her castle. This ironic deconstruction of communist woes has state-of-the-art special effects.
A lecturer and his two assistants at the Research Institute of the Chemical Factories cause mayhem. This is another damning portrait of communist chaos from fantasy filmmaker Zdenek Podskalsky who was known as 'The Wizard'. There's musical performances from Vaclav Neckar.
Jana Brejchová, Iva Janžurová & Vlastimil Brodský
'A Night At Karlstein' (1974, Noc na Karlštejně - Zdenek Podskalsky)
A woman masquerades as a man to enter Karlstein Castle, which doesn't permit the presence of women within its walls. A vibrant musical built around the age-old "battle of the sexes".
Otakar Vávra (Born: February 28, 1911 in Hradec Kralove, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary [now Czech Republic] - Died: September 15, 2011 (age 100) in Prague, Czech Republic)
'Romance For Bugle' (1967, Romance pro kridlovku - Otakar Vavra)
A lyrical romance based on an epic poem by Frantisek Hrubin.
Zuzana Cigánová & Jaromír Hanzlík
'Witchhammer' (1970, Kladivo na čarodějnice - Otakar Vavra)
A historical drama about the persecution of women suspected of being witches. It's based on a novel by Vaclav Kaplicky.
Jiří Krejčík (Born: June 26, 1918 in Prague, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary [now Czech Republic] - Died: August 8, 2013 (age 95) in Prague, Czech Republic)
'Wedding Under Supervision' (1967, Svatba jako remen - Jiri Krejcik)
The investigation of suspects in a rape case leads authorities down some mysterious avenues of inquiry in this troubling black comedy.
Jirí Hrzán, Iva Janžurová & Vladimír Pucholt
'Boarding House For Bachelors' (1968, Pension pro svobodné pány - Jiri Krejcik)
A musical version of a play written by Irishman Sean O'Casey. It's set in a boarding house that women are forbidden to enter.
Juraj Jakubisko (Born: April 30, 1938 in Kojsov, Czechoslovakia [now Slovakia])
Fantasy filmmaker Juraj Jakubisco is a painter, sculptor and photographer who studied film technique under director Vaclav Wasserman. Though he was able to secure financing, he was effectively blacklisted in the 1960s, which led to one film after another being indefinitely shelved. He turned to making documentaries and was finally able to resume his film career in the 1980s. His films are immediately identifiable and marked by evocative use of fisheye camera lens.
'The Prime Of Life' (1967, Kristove roky - Juraj Jakubisko)
A semi-autobiographical portrait of a Slovak artist living in Prague. The experimental drama 'The Prime Of Life' centres around displacement which is a common theme in Juraj Jakubisco's work. Here he conducts a survey of some difficult life choices : home or away, urban or rural, spontaneous or structured, creative invention or practical craft?
'Birds, Orphans And Fools' (1969, Vtáčkovia, siroty a blázni - Juraj Jakubisko)
A Jewish orphan girl wanders through a bombed out landscape. 'Birds, Orphans And Fools' was instantly banned by communist authorities who condemned its decadence.
'The Feather Fairy' (1985, Perinbaba - Juraj Jakubisko)
Lady Winter cares for a fearless boy whose immortality prevents him from experiencing the human joys of time-shared experience. 'The Feather Fairy' is based on a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.
“What you do now with the special digital effects we did without them. My friend Federico Fellini persuaded Guilietta Massina to be the Feather Fairy and she brought a spark and lightness to the story.”
- Juraj Jakubisco
Giulietta Masina & Petra Vančíková
'Sitting On A Branch I Am Fine' (1989, Sedím na konári a je mi dobre - Juraj Jakubisko)
A soldier, a circus performer and a feral girl try to survive in a devastated countryside following the 2nd World War, at a time when the implementation of communist policies is solidifying rationing due to limited supplies.
Bolek Polívka, Ondřej Pavelka & Markéta Hrubešová
'Post Coitum' (2004, Post koitum - Juraj Jakubisko)
A decadent tale of forbidden lust in which disparate characters come together internally.
'Bathory' (2008 - Juraj Jakubisco)
An account of Countess Elizabeth Bathory's alleged conversion to witchcraft.
Juraj Herz (Born: September 4, 1934 in Kezmarok, Czechoslovakia [now Slovakia] - Died: April 8, 2018 (age 83) in Prague, Czech Republic)
Fantasy filmmaker Juraj Herz worked as an assistant to director Zbynek Brynych in the early 1960s. A holocaust survivor, Herz studied puppetry at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (DAMU) alongside stop-motion animator Jan Svankmajer. His films are spirited, colourful and imaginative, with a dark comic sensibility.
Iva Janžurová & Juraj Herz
'The Cremator' (1969, Spalovač mrtvol - Juraj Herz)
A crematorium technician experiences dangerous delusions of grandeur as fascism grips Europe in the 1930s. 'The Cremator' is an adaptation of a novel by Ladislav Fuks who co-wrote the screenplay with Juraj Herz. It's now a successful stage show.
Vlasta Chramostová & Rudolf Hrušínský
'Sweet Games Of Last Summer' (1969, Sladké hry minulého léta - Juraj Herz)
A romantic comedy in which a painter and his guests are thrown by the presence of a group of playful women. 'Sweet Games Of Last Summer' is based upon a short story by Guy De Maupassant and plays like a moving painting.
Jana Plichtová & Peter Debnár
'Morgiana' (1972 - Juraj Herz)
A morbid tale of two jealous sisters who clash over their late father's inheritance. It's based on a story by Alexander Grin.
'Porcelain Girls' (1975, Holky z porcelánu - Juraj Herz)
A tinky-tonk musical in which five working-class girls are employed at a warehouse at a porcelain factory, one of whom is only 15 years old.
Marta Rašlová, Jelena Šebestová, Eva Cerovská, Lenka Kořínková & Dagmar Veškrnová-Havlová
'Beauty And The Beast' (1978, Panna a netvor - Juraj Herz)
A vivid adult retelling of the popular fairy tale 'Beauty And The Beast' by novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne De Villeneuve, which was rewritten in an abridged version by Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont.
Zdena Studenková & Vlastimil Harapes
'Ferat Vampire' (1982, Upír z Feratu - Juraj Herz)
A surreal comic horror mystery about a doctor who suspects his car-racing nurse of serious foul play.
It can be difficult to know where fact begins and fiction ends when it comes to Czech and Slovak filmmaking, such is the versatility on display, aligned to a will to experiment. I've picked out 5 documentaries and 7 short subject films of varying lengths that I feel best illustrate this conundrum. There are many others available for viewing but these are my selections as of today.
Short Subject Films
'A Loaf Of Bread' (1960, Sousto - Jan Nemec)
'I Survived Certain Death' (1960, Přežil jsem svou smrt - Vojtech Jasny)
'A Bagful Of Fleas' (1962, Pytel blech - Vera Chytilova)
'Ceiling' (1962, Strop - Vera Chytilova)
'Joseph Kilian' (1963, Postava k podpírání - Pavel Juracek & Jan Schmidt)
'Fugue On The Black Keys' (1965, Fuga na cerných klávesách - Drahomira Vihanova)
'Wandering' (1965, Bloudení - Antonin Masa)
Czech girls wearing the national dress
Tradition is key; from the Pittsburgh Area Slovak Folk Ensemble to the Lucina Slovak Folk Ensemble Of Greater Cleveland, states in America like Pennsylvania and Ohio preserve original musical and cultural practises for all to see, while Czech dance (particularly Bohemian & Moravian) continues to be observed in dynamic pockets throughout the world.
'Marked By Darkness' (1959, Poznačení tmou - Stefan Uher)
'Audition' (1964, Konkurs - Milos Forman)
'Why Do We Need The Bands?' (1964, Kdyby ty muziky nebyly - Milos Forman)
'Pictures Of The Old World' (1972, Obrazy starého světa - Dusan Hanak)
'Toyen' (2005 - Jan Nemec)
Slovak girls wearing traditional dress participate in an Easter celebration in Jakubany
Bohemian Rhapsody : The King Of Live-Action Animation
Karel Zeman (Born: November 3, 1910 in Ostromer u Nové Paky, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary [now Czech Republic] - Died: April 5, 1989 (age 78) in Prague, Czech Republic)
Karel Zeman once created short advertisements for businesses, working for a promotional wing of the shoe company Bata whose advertising department was overseen by filmmaker Elmar Klos. Zeman became an assistant to animator Hermina Tyrlova at Zlin Animation Studio where he received important backing from Klos which helped him gain a foothold. Inspired by Hungarian animator George Pal's 'Puppetoons' series, Zeman created the character Mr. Prokouk who became a key figure in 1940s stop-motion animation. This success allowed him to secure the financial backing required to direct feature films combining animation techniques with live-action footage. In addition to his film work, Zeman also performed a live puppet show set to the music of fellow Bohemian Antonin Dvorak.
"To understand Karel Zeman's achievements, we must look at the history of three-dimensional animation before CGI. The road to stop-motion begins with Georges Melies, the first person to realise objects could be made to move, appear and disappear through editing and substitutions. His status as the first occupant of the territory later claimed by Eastern European animators was made literal when Ladislas Starevich (Wladyslaw Starewicz), the Polish-Lithuanian director of 'The Cameraman's Revenge' (1912) moved into Melies's old studio.
Today Melies is often remembered as the father of special effects, and this dual legacy hints at an early advantage stop-motion had over hand-drawn animation. Until the rise of CGI animation, no other form of animation could share the frame with live action without calling attention to its status as animation. The sequences where Gene Kelly and Bob Hoskins interact with cel-animated characters in 'Anchors Aweigh' (1945) and 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' (1988) respectively are certainly designed to astonish, but their wow factor rests on the audience recognising that they are cartoons.
By contrast, a stop-motion animator like the Hungarian George Pal could handle a special effects blockbuster like 'War Of The Worlds' (1953) using techniques not far removed from his earlier 'Puppetoons' like 'Tubby The Tuba' (1947). Ray Harryhausen may be an animator, but few refer to 'Jason And The Argonauts' (1963) as a part-animated film. Harryhausen's contributions sit naturally alongside the live action, never appearing to be part of a different universe. The line between animation and effects is interestingly porous in stop-motion, and Zeman's features hop all over it with infectious mischief."
- Graham Williamson, 'The Universal Language Of Karel Zeman'
"We try and capture a tiny fragment of the genius of Antonin Dvorak."
- Pavel Šporcl
Animator Ludmila Zeman with her father Karel Zeman
'Bagatelles, Op.47_1. (Allegretto Scherzando)' - Antonín Dvořák
'The Deadly Invention' (1958, Vynález zkázy - Karel Zeman)
A film inspired by the novel 'Facing The Flag' (1896) by Jules Verne.
"Robert Skotak and I are both huge fans of fantasy filmmakers like Alexander Ptushko, Karel Zeman, and Jean Cocteau."
- Dennis Bartok, Horror Asylum
Jana Zatloukalová & Arnošt Navrátil
'The Fabulous Baron Munchausen' (1962, Baron Prášil - Karel Zeman)
A film inspired by the book 'Baron Munchausen's Narrative Of His Marvellous Travels And Campaigns In Russia' (1785) by Rudolf Erich Raspe.
"Karel Zeman? Oh, he’s a great inspiration! You’ve seen his version of Munchausen? Some Czech friends are doing a documentary about him, for which I’m being interviewed in a couple weeks."
- Terry Gilliam, Slant
'A Jester's Tale' (1964, Bláznova kronika - Karel Zeman)
A pseudo-historical film set during the Thirty Years' War.
“His films, like Baron Munchausen. And I remember some dinosaur series with kids in it. And I remember where I grew up in Burbank there was a documentary on Karel Zeman that showed his creative process and that was extremely inspirational to me. I think he and Ray Harryhausen were probably my two big inspirations in terms of doing stop motion and a more handmade quality. Karel Zeman did that amazingly.”
- Tim Burton, Radio Prague
Emília Vášáryová & Petr Kostka
'On The Comet' (1970, Na kometě - Karel Zeman)
A film inspired by the novel 'Off On A Comet' (1877) by Jules Verne.
'Black and white fantasy comedy "The Fabulous World of Jules Verne" opens the program. This magic movie by the Czech film innovator Karel Zeman, cited by Wes Anderson in "The Grand Budapest Hotel", is based on several works by Jules Verne. It combines cinema with animation, and creates a moving exciting world that looks like engravings of old adventure novels.'
- Introduction to the film retrospective 'Time Machines : The Fabulous World Of Jules Verne'
Several years ago, Czech filmmaker Tomas Hodan directed the documentary 'Karel Zeman : Adventurer In Film (2015). It includes contributions from filmmakers Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, sisters Emilia Vasaryova and Magda Vasaryova, and actress Valentina Thielova.
"In 1874, Brahms reluctantly sat on the jury of the Austrian State Stipendium with the critic Eduard Hanslick and the Director of the Imperial Opera, Johann Herbeck. The jury was to award financial support to talented composers in need within the Habsburg Empire. Brahms encountered a massive submission from an obscure Czech composer: fifteen works including two symphonies, several overtures and a song cycle (Op. 7). Brahms was visibly overcome by the mastery and talent of this unknown individual. As a result of Brahms’s support, Antonin Dvorák received the stipend (and twice more in 1876 and 1877). In 1877, Brahms arranged for Dvorák’s work to be given to Brahms’s own publisher, Simrock. Simrock not only accepted Dvorák’s Moravian Duets, Op. 20, but commissioned what was to become one of Dvorák’s most enduringly popular works, the Slavonic Dances, Op. 46. It was also through Brahms’s intervention that the critic Louis Ehlert came to write his famous critical essay in 1880, which brought the international breakthrough in Dvorák’s career for which the dispirited composer had been waiting. Throughout Europe, German musical criticism and the German music industry dominated, and recognition by the German-speaking community was indispensable for any aspiring composer in both central and eastern Europe. Dvorák’s prior success in Prague constituted at best a provincial achievement; he needed to be accepted internationally – and that is precisely what the acknowledgment of Brahms provided. As Hanslick wrote to Dvorák in an 1877 letter discussing Brahms’s enthusiasm, “it would be advantageous for your things to become known beyond your narrow Czech fatherland, which in any case does not do much for you.” For Brahms, Dvorák’s Czech “otherness” was no more exotic than the Hungarian elements in his own music. What impressed Brahms about Dvorák was the seemingly unlimited inventiveness of Dvorák’s melodic materials, his uncanny sense of time and duration, and the dazzling sense of musical line that the younger composer achieved. Brahms considered string quartets to be one of the most difficult forms of composition; he did not think well of his own efforts in this area. Though he criticized Dvorák s as well, Dvorák was unique in Brahms’s view for having produced worthy contributions to the genre. Brahms’s enthusiasm for Dvorák was rooted in his recognition that Dvorák was a composer of such tremendous capacity that he possessed more than the ability to write novel tunes; Dvorák could in fact write extended musical essays of the quality to which Brahms himself aspired – modern incarnations of classical models. Dvorák never forgot that he owed his dramatic international rise to Brahms’s interest. From the mid-1870s on, Brahms and Dvorák were in regular contact with each other, the older composer constantly offering advice and support. During Dvorák’s sojourn in America, Brahms took the remarkable step of serving as copy editor and proofreader for Dvorák’s submissions to Simrock in order to facilitate their timely publication. Even Haydn’s admiration of Mozart did not reach such an active level of involvement. Brahms even offered to leave his entire estate to Dvorák if he would move to Vienna, an offer Dvorák ultimately refused. Brahms was once quoted as saying that any composer would be honored to have the ideas that Dvorák discarded." - Leon Botstein, American Symphony Orchestra
“It is very rare for an artist that his outward expression finds itself in such perfect accord with his art, as it does in the case of this great Czech musician, in whom the purely human aspects and the artistic traits come together as one.” - Jean Sibelius on Antonin Dvorak
“We will always remember Antonin Dvorak as one of the few great figures of our day. I recognised in him a kind-hearted, truly enchanting individual. There was something severe and restless about him, something which unsettled people who didn’t know him. But this soon disappeared and I am glad that he has left me forever with the impression of a man whose personal and artistic aims were high.”
- Edvard Grieg
The Karel Zeman Museum in Prague
'Bagatelles, Op.47_5. (Poco Allegro)' - Antonín Dvořák
Censorship, persecution, political upheaval, general unrest and a period of heavy suppression led some Czech and Slovak filmmakers who'd been active in the 1960s to go into exile. The 1970s ushered in tangled strings of films that at times appeared to outside audiences as if they were polar opposites, serious social dramas and bitter satires regularly competing with family portraits and fairy tale fantasies at the box-office, yet many of these films were steeped in history drawn from two sister nations.
'In 1967, Czech students began peacefully demonstrating against Antonin Novotny’s rule. Novotny asked the Soviet leader, Brezhnev, for help to crackdown on the protests, but Brezhnev refused, and in early 1968 Novotny was replaced as Communist Party Secretary by Alexander Dubcek. In April 1968, Dubcek announced an Action Plan to deliver 'Socialism with a Human Face’ which, in a nutshell, meant removing state control of the economy and allowing freedom of speech. Dubcek’s reforms began to worry the Soviets because although he claimed to be a committed communist, Dubcek proposed allowing non-communist political parties to be set up and to put up candidates for election. Also Dubcek said that Czechoslovakia would remain in the Warsaw Pact, but then welcomed Marshal Tito, President of Yugoslavia, to Prague. Yugoslavia had been communist since World War Two but was not a member of the Warsaw Pact and Moscow was wary of Tito. Worried that Czechoslovakia was slipping from his grasp, the Soviet leader, Brezhnev, declared that the USSR would not allow the countries of Eastern Europe to reject communism ‘even if it meant a third World War’. This became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine. To prove he meant business, on 20 August 1968, Brezhnev sent an invasion force of 500,000 troops from Warsaw Pact countries into Czechoslovakia. Possibly terrified at the prospect of facing 500,000 soldiers, the Czechs did not fight back. Instead they employed peaceful protest tactics - standing in front of tanks and offering flowers to soldiers. The student activist, Jan Palach, burned himself to death in Prague’s Wenceslas Square. Dubcek was arrested and taken to Moscow. The pro-Soviet, Gustav Husak, was installed as the Czech leader to be Brezhnev’s lapdog. Husak reversed Dubcek’s reforms and Czechoslovakia remained a communist country inside the Warsaw Pact. As in Hungary in 1956, the Western powers did nothing to actively support the Czechs in their ‘Prague Spring’. The US accepted that the Soviets were taking this action in their own sphere of influence, and the US was not going to consider any intervention that would constitute roll back of communism in Eastern Europe.'
- 'History : The Cold War (1961 - 1972)'
'South Slavonic Rhapsodies' - Karel Bendl
Karel Steklý (Born: October 9, 1903 in Prague, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary [now Czech Republic] - Died: July 5, 1987 (age 83) in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
'Mr. Voka's Wedding' (1971, Svatby pana Voka - Karel Stekly)
An amorous nobleman must decide which lady to marry among his entourage. This historical romance from the veteran Karel Stekly is immensely popular with Czech audiences.
Marie Drahokoupilová & Darina Chlebová
'Proč Žiješ Rád' - Zdeňka Lorencová
Péter Bacsó (Born: January 6, 1928 in Kosice, Czechoslovakia [now Slovakia] - Died: March 11, 2009 (age 81) in Budapest, Hungary)
'Sparkling Girls' (1974, Szikrázó lányok - Peter Bacso)
Workers at a cannery are forced to find ways to ensure daycare for their babies due to the lack of a suitable creche. One woman smuggles in her baby with alarming results in this Hungarian musical from Slovak director Peter Bacso.
Erika Bodnár & Ildikó Bánsági
'Tajná Dvířka Odmykám' - Jana Robbová
Věra Plívová-Šimková (Born: May 29, 1934 in Lomnice nad Popelkou, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
'How To Spinny' (1977, Jak se tocí Rozmaryny - Vera Plivova-Simkova)
A film director sets about casting her latest project but has trouble finding a child who's willing to shave her head to play the main role. A semi-autobiographical piece from family film director Vera Plivova-Simkova, 'How To Spinny' is about finding resolve and earning acceptance through exercising imagination and cementing personal identity.
Dušan Hanák (Born: April 24, 1938 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia [now Slovakia])
'Rosy Dreams' (1977, Ruzové sny - Dusan Hanak)
A forbidden gypsy romance steeped in folklore, starring experimental violinist Iva Bittova. It's directed by Slovak documentarian Dusan Hanak.
'Mary, although very popular in the Catholic religion, is actually an ascended master who works with people of all faiths. Her energy is gentle yet strong, constant, nurturing, grounded and wise. Mary is an ideal divine entity to call upon if there is a situation you need to surrender to. Mary understands as well as anyone the many challenges, lessons and limitations of earthly life, so Mary will often enter our lives when we need someone to stand beside us during our trials. If you want to be a parent, are in the midst of raising children or are observing the paths of adult children, you can call on Mary in your thoughts, prayers or journal for advice—and she will always answer. Mary is sometimes referred to as the Queen of Angels. That is partly because she's had so many interactions with angels: Her own birth was predicted by angels, and Archangel Gabriel personally gave Mary the news that she was destined to be the mother of Jesus. But more than that, Mary has much in common with the angels.'
- Mary Queen Of Angels
Pavel Hobl (Born: June 20, 1935 in Prague, Czechoslovakia - Died: May 20, 2007 (age 71) in Prague, Czech Republic)
'Thirty Maidens And Pythagoras' (1977, Třicet panen a Pythagoras - Pavel Hobl)
A teacher applies music to mathematics at a girls school with surprising results. 'Thirty Maidens And Pythagoras' is a sundazed fantasy musical that puts the fun back in algebra and reignites trigonometry, utilising the extraordinary vocals of Jitka Molavcova for overdubs.
Ladislav Rychman (Born: October 9, 1922 in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic] - Died: April 1, 2007 (age 84) in Prague, Czech Republic)
'Let Him Face The Music' (1978, Jen ho nechte, ať se bojí - Ladislav Rychman)
An underground theatre company in Prague attracts a writer who could contribute songs for their new production. Director Ladislav Rychman made the popular musical 'The Hop Pickers' (1964) and became an industry pioneer in utilising the new music video format.
Golden Kids Europarty with Marta Kubišová, Václav Neckář & Helena Vondráčková
Milan Muchna (Born: March 5, 1940 in Plzen/Pilsen, Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia [now Plzen, Czech Republic])
'Monkey's Playtime' (1978, Hop - a je tu lidoop - Milan Muchna)
A spin on the old genie-in-a-bottle legend with apes.
Monika Hálová & Vladimír Dlouhý
'Chasing The Cat' (1980, Hon na kocku - Milan Muchna)
A naive and impressionable girl looks for adventure in all the wrong places.
Bronislav Poloczek & Jaromíra Mílová
'Matej, Why Don't You Want Girls?' (1981, Mateji, proc te holky nechtejí? - Milan Muchna)
A clumsy boy experiences growing pains.
Ivan Wiesner & Dita Kaplanová
Vladimír Sís (Born: July 7, 1925 in Brno, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic] - Died: September 7, 2001 (age 76) in Prague, Czech Republic)
'Ballad For A Bandit' (1979, Balada pro banditu - Vladimir Sis)
Rustic folk musical with performances laid out before an amphitheatre. It's based on a controversial play by Milan Uhde.
"It wasn't possible for me to leave that time (August 1968) because I was just finishing the shooting of 'Spalovac mrtvol'. I had to wait for Rudolf Hrusinsky who was hiding somewhere in a factory, and he came back sometime after two months and then we had to shoot the interiors. It was a very euphoric time when I was shooting 'Spalovac'. I had the feeling that the whole Czech nation braved against the Russians. One day it was said that the names of the streets would be changed so the Russians would get confused and the next morning there were no signs on the streets at all. I never thought that this nation could be broken. I also got the offer to go to film 'Sladko hry minuleho leta' in Slovakia, so all the events that happened during the next year in 1969, the beginning of Normalization, just passed by me with no real impact. It was a very difficult filming because there were some production problems and almost all the actors were alcoholics, so I had to be really concentrated to finish the work. The politics was going around me, and when I came back after all the lawsuits with Slovak television it was already too late to leave." - Juraj Herz, Kinoeye
Antonín Kachlík (Born: February 26, 1923 in Kladno, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
Some filmmakers, it seems, are destined to lead lives that are every bit as extraordinary as the fictional characters they breathe life into. Antonin Kachlik is a communist who joined resistance fighters during World War 2 to battle against the Third Reich. He's held on to his political ideals, taking up government positions and serving as director of the Workers Theatre in Zlin. He retired from cinema in 1987 but remains politically active.
Antonín Kachlík & Milan Kundera
Helena Růžičková & Antonín Kachlík
'Rozmarné Stvoření' - Vlasta Průchová
'Prince Bajaja' (1971, Princ Bajaja - Antonin Kachlik)
A supernatural fantasy about a quest undertaken by a dragonslayer elect. 'Prince Bajaja' is based upon one of Bozena Nemcova's fairy tales.
Magda Vášáryová & František Velecký
'Risk-Formula Driver' (1973, Jezdec formule risk - Antonin Kachlik)
A psychological drama examining issues surrounding social mobility; the story in 'Risk-Formula Driver' questions whether a sporting life can offer a young man some form of salvation.
'Joy To The Morning' (1978, Radost až do rána - Antonin Kachlik)
A psychological study of unhappy relationships. This odd comic melodrama is inspired by a novel written by Vladimir Paral whose work was the driving force behind the successful Czech 'Playgirls' erotica film series of the 1990s.
Lenka Kořínková & Eva Tučková
'Princess Julia' (1987, O zatoulané princezne - Antonin Kachlik)
A runaway princess joins the circus. Antonin Kachlik's final feature film to date is this playful entry in the evergreen Czech & Slovak fairy tale cannon.
Dušan Klein (Born: June 27, 1939 in Michalovce, Czechoslovakia)
The mass exodus of filmmakers and technicians that occurred during Czechoslovakia's period of "normalization" presented career opportunities as the studios looked to replace them. Dusan Klein stepped up to become the premiere crime specialist at Barrandov Studio in the 1970s, engineering a spectacular run of box-office successes within the genre. Klein wasn't beyond criticising state control but he achieved this through the presentation of spy tactics, informants and shadow organizations, creating a separate universe that looked unerringly like life on the ground.
In the 1980s, Klein displayed a natural affinity for life stories and made seriocomic drama his defining statement. More recently he's become one of the leading exponents of the fairy tale tradition that's been so successful at the box-office in Czech Republic and Slovakia, though most 21st century productions are being shot for television. As a recognised pioneer who teaches film and media studies in the Czech Republic, it's worth noting that Klein was one of the first directors to experiment with the concepts of interactive television and interactive filmmaking. He's also one of Slovakia's leading photographers.
'Sonata No. 1 in G Major for 3 Violins (Allegro moderato) - Ján Levoslav Bella
'The Secret Of The Golden Buddha' (1973, Tajemství zlatého Buddhy - Dusan Klein)
In the 19th century, the exploitation and debasement of workers by a ruling elite aren't their only crimes. The period piece 'The Secret Of The Golden Buddha' explores issues around class division and the struggle for workers' rights. It's based on a novel by science-fiction writer Josef Nesvadba.
'Arresting The Kingship' (1974, Zatykač na královnu - Dusan Klein)
The life of a prostitute falls under the microscope when it transpires she holds connections to a variety of criminals. The crime drama 'Arresting The Kingship' deals with the oppression of women, particularly lower class women who are shunned or treated unfairly by society. It's a loose adaptation of a novel credited to Bendrich Skocdopole.
Regina Rázlová & Jiří Lábus
'The City Knows Nothing About The Crime' (1975, Město nic neví - Dusan Klein)
An investigation into the death of a minor. Three stories are interconnected in this mystery set in the industrial city Ostrava.
Alfons Mucha paints 'The Slav Epic'
'Čekám' - Valérie Čižmárová
'How The World Is Losing Poets' (1982, Jak svět přichází o básníky - Dusan Klein) / 'How Poets Are Losing Their Illusions' (1985, Jak básníci přicházejí o iluze - Dusan Klein) / 'How Poets Are Enjoying Their Lives' (1988, Jak básníkům chutná život - Dusan Klien)
The six-part 'Poets' series follows a young poet through life as he experiences the trials of work and relationships. The first three films incorporate art, photography, theatre and filmmaking into their plots which I find appealing. Dusan Klein has gone on to make 'The End Of Poets In Bohemia' (1993), 'The Poets Never Lose Hope' (2004) and 'How Poets Wait For A Mircale' (2016) but I think the essential flavour of the original 1980s trilogy wins out.
Miroslava Šafránková & Pavel Kříž
Adriana Tarábková & Pavel Kříž
Eva Vejmělková & Pavel Kříž
'Sunny' - Valérie Čižmárová
'Evil Artists' (2002, O Víle Arnostce - Dusan Klein)
A fretful King oversees a garden of fairies and nymphs. The clean, neon-pastel-tinged colours used to illuminate parts of the pastel-coloured mythological fantasy 'Evil Artists' are intoxicating.
Cinderella's shoe by KMEC Crystals in Prievidza, Slovakia
'The Wedding On Battle Field' (2008, Svatba na bitevním poli - Dusan Klein)
Roleplayers enact major battles, causing friction within their community.
Bolek Polívka & Jana Doleželová
Swarovski Fairy Tale Figurines
'Goldilocks And Francis' (2009, Fispánská jablícka - Dusan Klein)
A reinterpretation of the legend of Goldilocks.
'The manufacture of bohemia hand-cut lead crystal is one of the most important industries, with the oldest of traditions, in the Czech Republic. Glass and crystal has been made in Bohemia for more than 800 years. The industry is founded on well-established craftsmanship, technical skill and artistic inequity, which is much admired the world over. The skill of the glassmakers is combined with artistic craftsmanship in manipulating this material to make the most of the high refraction of light that the brittle beauty of products cut from lead crystal possess. The excellent level of Czech, or so-called Bohemia cut lead crystal production is based not only on tradition accumulated over the centuries, but also on skill, experience and training of glassmaker in quality craftsmanship and the ability to create an attractive and tasteful product and discover new techniques. Glassmakers are trained in the special schools of glassmaking, which are unequalled in the world, the earliest of which was founded in 1856. These special schools train qualified painters, stained glass makers, crystal cutters, engravers and technicians. Leading specialists take care of the development of each student, passing the expertise and skill down the generations. Alongside the traditions, creativity in production techniques and design developments are encouraged to keep Bohemian crystal among the world's leading products.'
- Manufacturing Of Bohemian Crystal
"That composers such as Antonín Dvořák, Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss admired the great romantic Ján Levoslav Bella is undoubtedly important in itself, but for Slovaks, he stands as godfather to so many great classical composers, inspiring music written by Eugen Suchoň, Alexander Moyzes and Ján Cikker."
- Derek Leslie Bell, 'The Romantic Masterpieces Of Jan Levoslav Bella'
Cinderella by Swarovski Crystals (founded by Daniel Swarovski who was born in the village Jiretin Pod Bukovou in the Liberec Region of Czech Republic)
"I grew up in America with Communism as the tiger at the gate."
- Terry Gilliam
Terry Gilliam (animator from Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Jiří Brdečka (Born: December 24, 1917 in Hranice/Mährisch Weisskirchen, Moravia, Austria-Hungary [now Hranice na Morave, Czech Republic] - Died: June 2, 1982 (age 64) in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
'Lemonade Joe, The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians, Adele’s Dinner, The Emperor and the Golem… These and other hits of Czech cinematography are linked by one name: Jiří Brdečka. Screenwriter, author, and illustrator, Brdečka found fame through his work with Jiří Trnka, Jan Werich, and Oldřich Lipský. He achieved international renown as a respected director of animated films. But what kind of person was he? Where did he seek inspiration? What was his mind like? Where did he hide from the oppressive political regime, only to later show his timeless art to the world? Director Miroslav Janek gradually enters the mind of one of the most prominent figures of Czech cinema and introduces the viewer to a world of oil paintings, graphics, watercolors, frescos, and mosaics that miraculously come to life. Christmas Eve of 2017 would have been Jiří Brdečka’s 100th birthday.'
- Evolution Films introduces an Evening with Jiri Brdecka
"My whole idea actually came from the constant struggle with the cobwebs that arise steadily and everywhere. about the spider family as a parallel to the human world."
- Katarina Kerekesova, SME Kultura
"Josephine Kablick of Bohemia studied under the best botanists of her time. She was an indefatigable explorer, strong and healthy. She was an enthusiastic collector, and many public institutions owe their best samples to her endeavors. Many other women worked alongside their husbands and brothers illustrating their work with delicate yet thorough and accurate drawings thus contributing silently and beautifully to the advance of the field. The sciences of botany and zoology are, in part, a natural outgrowth of the painting and drawing (and close attention to detail), skills taught to many women. In 1822, New York botanist/geologist Amos Eaton said "I believe more than half the botanists of New England and New York are ladies."
- Doctor Deborah Crocker & Doctor Sethanne Howard, '4000 Years Of Women In Science'
"Izabela Textorisová (16.3.1866 Ratková - 12.9.1949 Krupina), a postal worker by profession, was Slovakia's first female botanist. Her formal education ended with the sixth class of elementary school in 1877, after which she was purely self-taught. In 1886 she passed an examination, in Revúca, for a position with the postal service and went to work at newly established offices in Blatnica, where she remained for the rest of her life. So profound was her thirst for education that, in addition to holding down a demanding job and looking after her parents and three sisters (and despite all the prejudices of the time against the work of women), she learned a number of languages and applied herself vigorously to the study of plants, minerals and speleology. In botany she became a renowned and acknowledged expert, particularly in the flora of Turiec. She collected and classified plants, and exchanged specimens with many leading authorities. Her copious herbarium, now deposited with the botany department of Comenius University in Bratislava, is still today, as in the past, a source for botanists of the highest rank. In 1913 she published the results of her work in the journal Botanikai Kozeményiek under the title "Flora Data from the County of Turiec", setting out more than a hundred plants whose presence in Turiec had previously passed unrecorded. The distinguished Hungarian botanist Margittai named a new species of thistle, which she discovered in 1893, in her honour: Carduus textorisianus Marg. Izabela Textorisová played an active part in the cultural and civic life of her people, and made the acquaintance of numerous Slovak intellectuals, mostly writers. She contributed to journals, mostly under a pseudonym, and although without formal training in botany, became a well-known and respected specialist in the discipline. The whole of the botany community holds her contribution to Slovak science in high esteem, continues to draw on her work and recognises her as Slovakia's first female botanist."
- Marta Vozarova, Pofis
'Stones' (2010, Kamene - with Ivana Sebestova) / 'Mimi & Lisa : Twins From The Cards' (2013, Mimi a Líza - Tety z pexesa)
"I believe that there is currently only a small cluster of female animators from English-speaking countries who have introduced the kind of anarchic, black twists to their narratives that one often encounters in the work of Michaela Pavlatova. Part of the reason for this phenomenon could be that the Western acculturation of women requires an observation of polite rules of etiquette in order to be ‘ladylike’ and therefore attractive to men. The edgy, gutsy humor of Matt Groening, Bill Plympton, Phil Mulloy and Mike Judge is able to accommodate nudity, farting, burping, sexual innuendo (and in the case of the independent animators Plympton and Mulloy, explicit sexual depictions), violence, and leaking orifices, with nary the lifting of an eyebrow, but I believe that the audience response might involve a greater sense of discomfort if one of these creators was a female. Pavlatova herself has commented that she could have pushed the sexual content of Carnival of Animals further, and created less controversy, if she was a male animator. In a 2006 interview she observed that: ‘I think that if a man had made this movie it would be more daring and more direct’ (Halkova 2006). Pavlatova has therefore employed strategies that involve a certain veiling of her content, such as symbolism, allegory, and irony, in order to temper the directness of her message, but such techniques also increase the outlandish humour and delicious nuttiness within the animation."
- Miriam Harris, Animation Studies
'Podivuhodný Mandarin' - Plastic People Of The Universe
The winds of change swept through Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, planting the seeds for two proud, but separated, sister nations to emerge in the following decade. But for now, they stood unified against their communist oppressors, dealing a largely peaceful series of death blows to a crumbling regime. Understandably, cultural offerings from both peoples were characterised by an unbridled sense of optimism and fairy tale films once again reigned supreme at the domestic box-office.
'During the second half of the 1980s, the general situation in Czechoslovakia became more easygoing, especially after the introduction of Perestroika reforms in the Soviet Union. But the Czechoslovak leadership, still headed by Gustav Husak who had assumed power after the Soviet Invasion of 1968, was wary of movements intended to “reform communism from within” and continued to toe a hard line in Czechoslovakia, much to the chagrin of Mikhail Gorbachev. By 1988 there were organised demonstrations demanding change – and just about one month after the fall of the Berlin Wall, communism in Czechoslovakia became a casualty as well. The six-week period between November 17th and December 29th 1989, also known as the “Velvet Revolution” brought about the bloodless overthrow of the Czechoslovak communist regime. Almost immediately, rumours (which have never been proved) began to circulate that the impetus for the Velvet Revolution had come from a KGB provocateur sent by Gorbacev, who wanted reform rather than hardline communists in power. The theory goes that the popular demonstrations went farther than Gorbachev and the KGB had intended. In part because of this, the Czechs do not like the term “Velvet Revolution,” preferring to call what happened “the November Events” (Listopadove udalosti) or – sometimes – just “November” (Listopad). But we digress. It all started on November 17th 1989 – fifty years to the day that Czech students had held a demonstration to protest the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia ...'
- Living Prague
'Byla Jedna Holčička' - Sestry Allanovy & Orchestr Karel Vlach
Ladislav Smoljak (Born: December 9, 1931 in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic] - Died: June 6, 2010 (age 78) in Kladno, Czech Republic)
Ladislav Smoljak & Zdeněk Svěrák
'Waiter, Scarper!' (1981, Vrchní, prchni! - Ladislav Smoljak)
'Waiter, Scarper!' is a modern adult fairy tale in which a man struggling to meet financial demands becomes a phantom (tip-collecting) waiter. This project was originally intended for Jiri Menzel to direct, but when Menzel was forced to bow out due to scheduling conflicts, he recommended that seasoned comedy writer Ladislav Smoljak be handed the reigns.
Josef Abrhám & Libuše Šafránková
Martin Hollý (Born: August 11, 1931 in Kosice, Czechoslovakia [now Slovakia] - Died: March 18, 2004 (age 72) in Bratislava, Slovakia)
'The Salt Prince' (1983, Soľ nad zlato – Martin Holly)
'The Salt Prince' is a fairy tale about a king and his three daughters. It's based on a novel by Slovak folklorist Pavol Dobsinsky.
Hynek Bočan (Born: April 29, 1938 in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
Jiří Stránský & Hynek Bočan
'Give The Devil His Due' (1985, S čerty nejsou žerty - Hynek Bocan)
'Give The Devil His Due' is a fairy tale about a special boy who's rejected by his wicked step-mother. It's based upon a story by Czech folklorist Bozena Nemcova.
Jiří Barta (Born: November 26, 1948 in Prague, Czechoslovakia [now Czech Republic])
'The Pied Piper' (1986, Krysař - Jiri Barta)
'The Pied Piper' is a fairy tale based on the old German legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
'Toys In The Attic' (2009, Na půdě aneb Kdo má dneska narozeniny? - Jiri Barta)
Toy creatures team up to rescue their friend Buttercup from the Land of Evil. The screenplay for this stop-motion adventure is co-written by novelist Vivian Schilling.
"The strange, often beautiful beings in the animated feature “Toys in the Attic” exist in a faraway land located somewhere between Czech surrealism and Pixar communitarianism. A simple story intricately told, it centers on a small familial group — a doll named Buttercup, a teddy bear, a marionette and a blob — whose happy life is threatened by a bust of a bald man that looks as if it once sat on a pedestal in Communist Party headquarters. The bust is attended to by a motley assortment of minions, including what looks like a termite with a human head, and a severed arm wearing a black leather glove, which suggests that the director Jiri Barta is a Stanley Kubrick fan."
- Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
"Watching Jiří Barta’s stop-motion masterpiece, Toys in the Attic, makes you realize that no amount of movie making budget can substitute for the power of a talented visionary with a clever story, a dedicated crew, a camera and an attic full of dusty old rubbish. Barta’s film boasts neither sophisticated armatures nor 3D color printers, but rather, brilliant designs, rich characters and sets built from the oddest and most enchanting collection of household junk you’ve ever seen. Sometimes silly, sometimes creepy, but always interesting to watch, Toys in the Attic is a welcome reminder of the inherent visual storytelling power of stop-motion animation."
- Dan Sarto, 'The Magical Junk-Filled World Of Jiri Barta'
"Although our country was under Soviet influence and pressure for 40 years, the amount of Czechoslovakian animated film production was quite huge, about 250 projects every year. A large portion of that production was children’s programming distributed for TV, while a smaller share of production was focused on individual projects such as animated shorts, which were shown in cinemas before a feature film or at film festivals. Along with my colleagues, who were also directors, designers and animators, I primarily made short films when presented with an opportunity to produce my own stories. The censorship of Czechoslovakian film production was stronger with live action feature films than with animation, so my colleagues and I had a better chance to put our ideas into an art style that embraced our metaphors, symbols and hidden meanings. I know many of my colleagues elsewhere in Eastern Europe followed the same path into the field of animation. We took a big chance, and faced big challenges, finding a small amount of creative freedom within the big labyrinth of the government regime."