|Early in the 19th century one experimented with appliances which could awake the illusion of pictures in motion. However, the real start of cinematography is dated in 1895 when the Lumičre brothers took out a patent for their camera or ‘cinematographe’. Already in 1896 an American film-company shooted a feature film in the South Bohemian town of Horice. They filmed a performance of the famous local Passion Plays. This new kind of entertainment was brought from Paris to Prague at the turn of the century by the architect Jan Krízenecký (1868-1921). With the Lumičre camera he directed numerous comic short films. During the first decade of the 20th century cinematography grew out to public amusement. The American film industry developed very fast and blowed over to Czechoslovakia. Czech film evolved so to Hollywood-like productions.|
|During the twenties there were 20 feature films made each year in Czechoslovakia. It mainly concerned melodramas with social themes. These silent movies were shooted in studios and exceptional on location. The end of the silent film was heralded around 1927. Until then it was almost impossible to synchronize image and sound well. Actors and actresses who owed their fame to their looks, now had to prove their verbal talents. Who had an unpleasant voice saw his or her film career perish very fast. For others was the sound picture more an extra impuls, like for the famous Czech actress Anny Ondráková (1902-1987). She played the leading part in Alfred Hitchcock’s first sound film and became an international star.|
The sound film made cinema very popular. No European city counted so many
cinemas per capita as Prague. The number of productions increased
systematicly each year and gradually the film industry
needed more film studios. It was Milos Havel (the uncle of President Vaclav
Havel) who instructed in 1931 to build a modern film studio in the Prague
suburb Barrandov. At the same time they builded luxurious villas for film
stars on the hill near the Vltava. From 1933 the Barrandov film studio was
put into use. Rapidly there were 80 films shooted each year and also foreign
producers came to direct their films.
The thirties were especially the years of 'Czech modernism'. Avant-garde and commercial pictures went very well together and led to renewal in the film. The most important director of this period was undoubtedly Gustav Machaty. He directed Erotikon (1929) and the absolute masterpiece Extasy (1933), which caused sensation in that time because of the two nude scenes starring the young Hedwig Kiesler. Pope Pius XII excommunicated the film and Hitler forbade it. Nevertheless, all those row caused that Kiesler got a contact in Hollywood, where her name was changed in Hedy Lamarr.
Equally important for that period were the films of the comic duo Voskovec and Werich. These famous actors combined faultless theatre and film. They got their inspiration from Dadaism and Surrealism, their examples were Charly Chaplin and Buster Keaton. A few of their best known films are Your money or your life (Penize nebo zivot) from 1932 and The World belongs to us (Svet Patrí Nám) from 1937.
|After the invasion of Czechoslovakia (1939), the Germans largely took over the Barrandov Film Studios. Namely, the Nazis knew very well that controlling the media was very important for purposes of propaganda. Joseph Goebbels had the complex expanded to make the Barrandov Studios equal to the big film studios of Berlin and Munich.There were three studios added with a total area of 4000m˛. During the Second World War there were no films made with great artistic value. Most productions shooted in Barrandov were German-speaking with German filmmakers (Leni Riefenstahl made in Barrandov her film Tiefland) and there even the names of the Czech actors got a small adjustment to let them sound more German.|
|A new era was heralded by the communistic Coup of 1947. As well the film studio of Barrandov as the smaller studio facility at Hostivar were nationalised and remained state property until 1990. Barrandov acquired a Special Effects studio and a film laboratory. The Russians introduced their own ideas in Czechoslovakian film and soon strict censorship and 'social realism' ruled. This communist trend in film was graft upon the Marxist principals and was nothing more than a glorification of the strict regime and the proletarian idiom. Films were interlarded with walking-on saboteurs and criminals striving to disrupt the unity of the working class. Also anti-American propaganda films were popular like The Kidnapping from 1952, directed by Ján Kádar and Elmar Klos. An other representative picture was The Silent Barricade from 1949. This production gifs a distorted image of the resistance in Prague during World War II and the liberation by Soviet troops.Director Otakar Vávra became with this picture the most important filmmaker of the strict-communist era.|
|As opposed to the fifties which was characterised by a reign of terror, the government in the next decennium was more open-minded. The crimes of the past were admitted and socio-political criticism was tolerated. This gave a new generation of filmmakers the opportunity to criticize political and social aspects in their productions and to strive to personal expression. In agreement with their French colleagues this new trend was called ‘Nouvelle Vague’ or Czech New Wave. Most of the directors finished their studies at FAMU in Prague which was one of the best film academies in the world. As most famous representatives of Czech New Wave people can be mentioned like Milos Forman, Jirí Menzel, Vera Chytilová, Jan Nemec, Ivan Passer and Vojtech Jasny. Elmar Klos en Ján Kádar belonged to and older generation of filmmakers, but were equally representative for this wave of newcomers. Because this style produced a whole lot of splendid films, the attention of the international press for Czech film was quickly caught. Critiques were very favourable and as well The Shop on the Main Street (Obchod na korze) by Ján Kádar and Elmar Klos (1965) as Closely Observed Trains (Ostre sledované vlaky) by Jirí Menzel (1967) received an American Academy Award for the Best Foreign Film. Two other films, both directed by Milos Forman, achieved 'Oscar' nominations: Loves of a Blonde (Lásky jedné plavovlásky) from 1966 and The Firemen's Ball (Hori, má panenko) from 1968. Vojtech Jasny won at the Festival of Cannes the Speciale Jury Prize for All My Good Countrymen (1968). An other famous Czech filmmaker is Vera Chytilová, especially because of her surrealistic fantasies such as The Daisies (Sedmikrásky) from 1966. The end of the Golden Years of Czech film was heralded by the Soviet invasion of August 1968.|
The end of Prague Spring was for several directors also the end of their film
carreer. Along with Dubcek’s normalization policy came again strict
censorship and a limitation on freedom of speech. Many filmmakers like
Forman, Passer, Kádar en Jasny emigrated to foreign countries and kept on
making films.Milos Forman for example became a respected filmmmaker in
Hollywood and shooted some
sentational films like One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, Hair and
The People Vs. Larry Flint.Those who stayed in Czechoslovakia were
forbidden to shoot films for several years. About all films of the
'New Wave' were proscribed and mostly after the Velvet Revolution they could
be shown again. From the 2th part of the seventies directors like Vera
Chytilová and Jirí Menzel got the chance to shoot in studios again, but they
couldn't reach the qualitiy of their earlier films.
From 1980 also the foreign filmmakers returned to the Barrandov Studios and to the country that offered them a wide range of good film locations. Both Barbara Streisand and Milos Forman chose Czechoslovakia to shoot some films.
After the Velvet Revolution of november 1989 Czech film was going through a
fundamental change. The state monopoly which guaranteed for a continuous flow
of film productions, was raised and the big studios like Barrandov were
privatized. Foreign productions overran the cinemas which had dramatic
consequences for the number of Czech motion pictures. In 1992 only 8 films
were shooted compared with 25 each year in the golden sixties. Besides, the
shooting costs increased with a big step. The older generation of directors
(like Menzel and Chytilová) who liked to accuse political and social affairs,
saw their artistic creativity curtailed by the new freedom and
socio-political atmosphere. So there came a whole generation of filmmakers to
the front whom made especially commercial productions without social themes.
The personal message made room for the story, film returned to entertainment.
The new generation brought Czech film back to the international scene and
from 1993 the amount of productions increased gradually.
The most famous filmmaker of the 1990s is without doubt Jan Sverak, graduated at FAMU on the subject 'documentary film'. His first motion picture Elementary School (Obecna skola) from 1991 was instantly nominated for a US Academy Award. Jan Sverak also received a Student Oscar (1988) for his film Ropaci, a mystification with ecological theme. In 1994 he made the sci-fi parody Accumulator I and Ride (Jizda), a Czech version of the cultfilm Easy Rider. 1996 became an excellent year for Sverak; he received an Academy Award in the category Best Foreign Language Film for his masterpiece Kolya. An other great talent is Sasa Gedeon, famous for his modest way of directing. In contrast with Sverak who loves action and motion, Gedeon is fascinated by human behaviour and the relations between people. Gedeon's movie Indian Summer (Indianske Leto, 1995) was rewarded at several filmfestivals. Sasa Gedeon is also very good in short-films like Closed due to Family Mourning (Zavreno pro rodinny smutek, 1991). Other remarkable directors of the 1990s are Vladimir Michalek, Zdenek Tyc and Petr Vaclav. Also the Slovaks made a few good pictures which is testified by The Garden (Zahrada) by Martin Sulik (1994). Sulik received before international prizes for his masterpiece Everything I like from 1992.
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