In the mood for another 1960’s Czech movie after Loves of a Blonde. ChytilovÃ¡ pre-Daisies doing the hybrid-doc thing before it was invented. The mom having an affair with a light-haired guy isn’t terribly enlightening – I came for the dance segments. Good photography overall, but one particular shot, the camera upside-down then rotating rightside in sync with the dancer’s flip, takes your breath away.
Opens with a catchy pop song about turning into a hooligan. At least half the movie is the party scene (dudes chasing after blondes) and her at the musician’s house with his parents, waiting for him to come home (blonde chasing after dude). Forman must’ve stayed in touch – the blonde cameos in Amadeus.
One love of a blonde, a dodgy musician:
Dave Kehr called it “certainly one of the most sweetly seductive films ever made, an ironic quality in a film whose main theme is the cruelty of seduction and its costly aftermath.”
Harsh party scene, soldiers have a bottle of wine delivered to the wrong table of girls:
Zeman’s followup to Invention for Destruction is another absolute wonder. Actors filmed b/w and composited somehow with variously tinted objects and backgrounds. Still don’t know how this was done – saving the making-of doc for after I watch the dinosaur feature.
The story opens with astronaut Tony landing on the moon and discovering the Baron (Munchhausen), who calls him a moonman and takes over the narrative (I don’t think Tony speaks in the first half). Baron returns them to Earth, but a fantasy version, the jet planes in the opening scene replaced by flying monsters.
They rescue a kidnapped princess from a sultan, she falls for Tony, and the Baron spends the rest of the movie trying to convince her that he’s more impressive that boring old Tony (true). Along the way they jump their horses off a cliff, create a tobacco smokescreen to confound the sultan’s fleet, get swallowed by a whale and scooped up by a giant bird, ride a cannonball, escape from prison and return to the moon via rocket-propelled castle tower, all in about half the runtime of the Gilliam version.
Whoa, big movie… I was hoping for something Tarkovsy-esque, but if anything it was closest to Andrei Rublev. Too plotty, full of unhappy Christians doing desperate things. Choir music, the voices dubbed with a mesmerizing echo effect. Some proto-Hard To Be a God ancient miserablism. The movie is full of birds – generally a good thing, but with a notable bird death.
Catching up on the storyline via wikipedia, and most of this is news to me. I did not realize that Kozlik (the bald guy with a crack in his head) and Lazar (Marketa’s dad) were rival clan leaders, both under assault by the King’s captain. I got the relationship and revenge-killing stuff, with thanks to the descriptive title cards before each chapter, but not that one-armed Adam’s other arm was removed as punishment for sleeping with his sister. The arrows being shot into everyone in the last hour look unnervingly real.
Jiri Menzel had just died, but instead of one of his movies on a Monday night I chose his countryman. I’ve seen some career-bookend works by Zeman, his early Prokouk shorts and late feature The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but not the heyday works, and this was spectacular. Real people against illustrated backgrounds, the Sin City of its time. Every kind of animation and visual trick seamlessly integrated, the thin striped pattern from the book illustrations appearing everywhere, overall amazing visual design… and to think his Baron Munchausen is supposed to be even better and I’ve been meaning to rent it for twenty years.
Our Narrator is assisting a scientist when the two are kidnapped (along with a pretty lady, of course) by pirates and taken to an evil mastermind inside a volcano who gets the scientist to help him unlock the secrets of the atom and conquer the world. The narrator is alarmed by all this but the scientist is happily distracted with a new lab and new problems to solve, until the very end, when he realizes what he’s doing and nukes the volcano. In the meantime we get submarines, a fighting octopus, parrots and fishes, of course a balloon or two, and a fantasy tour through all the inventions of the era, real and imagined (camels on rollerskates!), an alternate vision of what Tesla could’ve been.
The Lion and the Song (1959, Bretislav Pojar)
Accordion player wandering the sand dunes finds an oasis and amuses the desert creatures with a pantomime dance, with his cape representing his lost love. Lion is more hungry than amused, eats our man, then dies of internal accordion-related pains. Czech stop-motion puppetry, obviously very good even in my old SD copy.
My Green Crocodile (1967, Vadim Kurchevsky)
A crocodile who adores flowers meets a beautiful cow, and they fall in love based on their shared interests, though the other crocs and hippos scoff at their relationship. When autumn arrives, the cow declares their love is gone with the flowers and leaves, so the croc in desperation climbs a tree and transforms himself into a green leaf. The narrator seems to approve of this action, though it feels like a downer ending. Loved the harpist moon.
Film Film Film (1968, Fyodor Khitruk)
Opens with a slideshow/montage music video, then goes into a comic parody of the process of feature filmmaking. After the tormented, sporadically inspired, often suicidal screenwriter creates a perfect script, the valium-popping director takes a hundred meetings, modifying the script each time. And so on – equipment problems, child actors, a tense premiere. 2D animation with a few cool bits and a sixties-rockin’ theme song. I wouldn’t have pegged this as the same guy who started making Winnie the Pooh shorts the next year.
how a cinematographer works:
How A Sausage Dog Works (1971, Julian Antonisz)
Some animation techniques using gels and layers and liquids that I don’t think I’ve seen before. Narrator with a high, irritating voice, untranslated. Based on the title, I might’ve assumed the vision of a dachshund full of gears with a heart in the middle, but I didn’t predict the dachshund being squished underfoot by the devil. Without translation, I don’t have a clear idea of what is happening here, but it looks like pure lunacy, and I love it.
Apel (The Roll-Call, 1971, Ryszard Czekala)
Shadowy semi-figures – smeary motion-blurs and tops of heads.
Not much of a roll call – the only words are Down/Up/Fire – a military commander or prison guard yells commands at a mass of bald figures. After one refuses to obey and is killed, all the rest refuse to obey and are killed. Not the most uplifting little movie but it has a cool look I guess?
Crane’s Feathers (1977, Ideya Garanina)
Convincingly Japanese-looking stop-motion tale of the Crane Wife. I do love cranes, and ten-minute tragedies. Does our lead guy hang his head low at the end? You bet he does.
King’s Sandwich (1985, Andrey Khrzhanovskiy)
Weird intro, steampunk imagery over the sound of a workout video. So far, all the stop-motion shorts – the Lion, the Crocodile and the Crane – have featured butterflies. This is 2D animation with a nude man and a sausage dog and a cigar-smoking cat dancing with a busty cow – but no butterflies… oops, I watched this thinking it was Khrzhanovskiy’s Butterfly from 1972. This one’s the story of a fussy king who just wants butter for his bread, despite the gigantic queen and the dairymaid trying to convince him to try marmalade instead, while shadowy security agents lurk absolutely everywhere. Bleepy electronic soundtrack.
Repeat (1995, Michaela Pavlatova)
Sketchbook 2D with crosshatch texture. Tight repeating behaviors: a man taking his dog for a walk, a wife feeding her husband, an interrupted tryst, a dramatic breakup, repeating and colliding until the dog brings the whole thing to a halt, wakes everyone up from their motion loops, leading to an orgy, before it all starts again.
Adagio (2000, Garri Bardin)
A stop-motion funeral procession through a terrible storm by origami monk crows. All seems hopeless until a white Jesus-crow leads the way. When the white crow displays his magical powers of cleanliness, the others beat the shit out of him, but after his dramatic resurrection, they all worship him with white-crow billboards. Kind of a dour little movie with halfway decent origami.
Deputy Droopy (1955, Tex Avery)
The one where two safecrackers have to be quiet, Droopy torments them into making noise, so they keep running out to a nearby mountain to unleash their yells. Droopy’s attacks range from silly (get ’em to sit on a snapping lobster) to quite violent (wailing on ’em with a spiked board while their feet are stuck in glue). Anticlimactic hearing-aid joke at the end.
Don’t know if it counts as a short film, but we watched Spike Lee’s NYC pandemic montage, psyched that he has a new feature out in a couple weeks.
After amazing opening title artwork, we open with a festive animal-slaughter montage, why? So far so familiar – golden-haired beauty Julie (Zdena StudenkovÃ¡, also of a Sleeping Beauty movie) loves her merchant father, whose entire fortune is in a wagon train that gets violently lost when it strays too close to a cursed castle. Julie’s sisters are actually nice to her until the family’s fortune turns, then they become horrible. Dad is imprisoned in the castle when he searches for the lost shipment, and when released for a day to say goodbye to his family, he’s mid-conversation when Julie grabs a horse and rides off to take her father’s place.
It’s halfway through the movie before we see the beast’s face – he’s a BIRDBEAST! – and fifteen minutes to the end before Julie sees it. The castle and its furnishings are alive in a shady and sinister way, overall more of a horror movie than any other adaptation I’ve seen, always whispering to Beast that he should kill Julie. There’s also no Gaston equivalent, nobody from town looking for Julie, and after she visits home and everyone’s a pain in the ass to her, she runs back to her Beast, who transforms out of love, to a really nice piano theme by Petr Hapka (whose music was in Ferat Vampire and The Grandmaster!)
The sisters: Jana BrejchovÃ¡ was in Return of the Prodigal Son and Baron Prasil and I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen, and Zuzana KocÃºrikovÃ¡ was in, uh oh, an Alain Robbe-Grillet film. Dad was in Murder Czech Style. Vlastimil Harapes is under the bird-beast makeup, had a smallish role in Marketa LazarovÃ¡.
Part of Shadowplay‘s Project Fear. The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004, and has no immediate plans to leave (or “czexit”). I’m seeing no Britain connection, though Å koda Motorsports’s website says one of their cars won a British rally the year this was filmed, so it’s probable that some British racers were present at the 8th International Å koda Rally, where this film’s climax was shot. Also, our hero JirÃ Menzel would later shoot an award-winning adaptation of I Served the King of England.
The titles appear in a black void revealed behind a canvas being pulled away by hooks – then illustrations of a car getting progressively evil via crossfades, sparking brief hope that the design of this movie would live up to the high standards of Polish film posters. No such luck, it’s mostly guys in drab clothes having conversations… though a sinister low-angle camera and atonal doom music introduce the Vampire: a prototype Å koda Super Sport which runs on blood drawn from the driver’s pedal foot. “With today’s energy crisis, blood is the cheapest fuel I know.”
Two flirty ambulance drivers chase down the Vampire after it causes an apple-truck accident, and they chat briefly with Luisa, Ferat’s hired racer who complains of foot pains then drives off and dies immediately. Ambulance medic Merak follows up, an amiable morgue attendant telling him it looks like someone bit the racer’s foot off.
“She wants to be bitten again. It’s like a drug.” Professional conspiracy theorist Kaplan pins down Merak and explains the vampire car principle by showing scenes from Nosferatu (source of the Ferat name), but a fake version of that film starring our director Herz(e) in the title role. Meanwhile, Merak’s ambulance-driving sweetie Mima is applying for the vacant position of Ferat racecar driver. Kaplan: “It might be circling around Prague now, and during every push on the accelerator pedal your loved one’s blood is travelling through its internals.” The movie is still mostly drab-looking dialogue scenes, but Herz is trying to keep things visually engaging – his mobile camera runs up and down hallways, and he opens one scene with Mima blasting the camera with a hose.
“I haven’t been myself lately” says Luisa’s identical-twin sister Klara, right after blaming Team Ferat boss Cross for the auto death, and right before seducing Merak. They discover bottles of blood at the sister’s place, and Merak dreams of the car as a Cronenbergian flesh machine. I can’t tell whether the repeated images of Merak being chased by cars are part of the dreams, or if he keeps running into traffic like an idiot. After a major rally race, Mima is rushed to the hospital for blood loss
“We’ll start from where the truck opens. Play it again from there.” It’s increasingly clear that doctor Merak is being played, and Madame Ferat has been encouraging his investigation and filming events – the phantom director of the very film we’re watching – cutting them into promotional materials for the commercial release of the car, driving huge pre-sales. I thought the “vampire car possessing its drivers” concept might be a metaphor for how perfectly nice people like Mima become huge assholes when they get behind the wheel of a car, but the movie ends on a more cynically anti-capitalist message: “Hundreds of people can’t wait to feel the thrill of dying in a Ferat.”
Herz was a prolific director, working almost up until his death last year. Ferat Vampire came a decade after his Cremator and a few years after his acclaimed Beauty and the Beast. Story by Josef Nesvadba, writer of both my favorite 1970’s Czech time-travel comedies, Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea and I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen.
Lead medic Merak is played by Closely Watched Trains director JirÃ Menzel. Ambulance-turned-racecar driver Mima is Dagmar HavlovÃ¡ of time-traveling sci-fi miniseries The Visitors, VÄ›ra ChytilovÃ¡’s The Inheritance, and at least a couple movies with exceptional posters – also, she would later marry the President. Luisa/Klara is Jana BrezkovÃ¡ of ChytilovÃ¡’s Panelstory, and conspiracy theorist/participant Kaplan is Jan Schmid of ChytilovÃ¡’s Fruit of Paradise.
As far as vampire/zombie/possession movies go, this falls chronologically between 1981’s semi-comic zombie-town Dead & Buried and 1983’s possessed-car movie Christine. Thematically, it’s got the auto-executive intrigue of Black Test Car mixed with the car-crash penetration-fetish of Ballard & Cronenberg’s Crash mixed with… I dunno, Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Something where our investigative lead finds out the horrible truth at the end, but nobody cares and capitalism triumphs. The fact that the car was German seems significant, since most of the Czech movies I came across while researching actors were WWII-related – and this movie had a cool German title (Der Autovampir). Maybe the time is right for Tarantino to film a remake – a fast car that sucks on women’s feet seems right up his alley.
What The Eyes See (1987, Pavel KoutskÃ½)
Starts out pretty ordinary then goes nuts. A happy-go-lucky wooden Amish man is saddened when a fat guy, a moonface, and a green Swede yell at him. He wanders, head low, being verbally attacked from all directions. Then the animation slows to a halt and we see the animator’s hands moving the little guy around… wide shot to the animator walking around the studio posing and filming the scene… then he slows down and we see giant hands manipulating the human animator. Reverse back into the original scene, where the wooden guy kicks the ass of the next fella who gets in his face.
Strazce majaku (1968, Ivan RenÄ)
A ship-traveling dandy sexually harasses the boat’s mermaid figurehead, who awakens and heads into the sea to distract the man in charge of the coin-op lighthouse protecting some jagged rocks. She finally drives the lighthouse keeper insane until he retreats inside, projecting his vainglorious dreams on a movie screen using a phonograph horn and pretending to rescue a toy boat in his bathtub, while outside, the real boat runs into the rocks and sinks. I love this. Got a bunch more Czech shorts to go through later.
The Old Lady’s Camping Trip (1983, Les Drew)
Opening credits reveal this was presented by the Fire Prevention Association, so we know it’s not just a casual character moment when Cousin Jim is introduced smoking in bed. Jim is a regular clumsy firebug, and the Old Woman Who Lives In A Shoe is unusually fire-conscious, bringing extinguishers and smoke detectors on a camping trip.
Every Dog’s Guide to Complete Home Safety (1987, Les Drew)
Opens with a cool low-angle view of a spider racing through a house, then turns into the same kind of pleasant-enough kids’ cartoon as the camping trip one – a “safety dog” just wants to practice roller skating but the family dad keeps putting him in dangerous situations as prep for an “iron dog” competition. In the end the dog skates/wagons the family to a hospital when the pregnant wife needs a ride, I’m not sure why.
Evolution (1971, Michael Mills)
History of planetary species in ten minutes. Brightly colored planetary landscapes beget giggling single-cell eyeballs beget water plants and fishies beget land creatures beget monkey-things beget intelligent space-traveling aliens. Innovative approach to reproduction and mutation and natural selection (and creature design) with typical gender division stuff: all creatures are assumed male except the big-titted ones who knit while bearing children. Oscar nominated the year of The Selfish Giant and the inferior Crunch Bird, Mills made a bunch more shorts that would be worth looking up.
La Salla (1996, Richard Condie)
I’ve seen this before, ages ago: early, hideous computer animation with a big-nose opera-singing guy in a room full of living objects making inappropriate sounds, like a surreal indie Toy Story demo. Lesson learned: never open the door. The last of a series of Canadian shorts made by Condie, Oscar nominated the year Quest won.