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Army Film and the Avant Garde

Army Film and the Avant Garde: Cinema and Experiment in the Czechoslovak Military

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Indiana University Press
Pages: 322
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  • Book Info
    Army Film and the Avant Garde
    Book Description:

    During the 1968 Prague Spring and the Soviet-led invasion and occupation that followed, Czechoslovakia's Army Film studio was responsible for some of the most politically subversive and aesthetically innovative films of the period. Although the studio is remembered primarily as a producer of propaganda and training films, some notable New Wave directors began their careers there, making films that considerably enrich the history of that movement. Alice Lovejoy examines the institutional and governmental roots of postwar Czechoslovak cinema and provides evidence that links the Army Film studio to Czechoslovakia's art cinema. By tracing the studio's unique institutional dimensions and production culture, Lovejoy explores the ways in which the "military avant-garde" engaged in dialogue with a range of global film practices and cultures. (The print version of the book includes a DVD featuring 16 short films produced by the Czechoslovak Ministry of Defense. The additional media files are not available on the eBook.)

    eISBN: 978-0-253-01493-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Film Studies
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. ix-xii)
  4. NOTE ON TRANSLATION (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction (pp. 1-17)

    On the morning of January 25, 1969, a group of Czechoslovak Army directors and cinematographers set off, cameras in hand, for the center of Prague. There they joined over 500,000 others for the funeral procession of university student Jan Palach, who a week earlier had publicly immolated himself in protest of the results of the August 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia and the occupation that followed it. Crowds ringed the city’s streets, from Charles University’s Carolinum, where Palach lay in state, through the Old Town, to the University’s Philosophical Faculty, where he had studied. In luminous black and white,...

  6. 1 A Deep and Fruitful Tradition: Jiří Jeníček, the Film Group, and Cinema Culture of the 1930s (pp. 18-52)

    “On the goals and responsibilities of Military Film,” a 1937 article by Czechoslovak Army filmmaker Jiří Jeníèek, does not open—as one might imagine from its staid title—with the history of battles or proclamations about duty to country and flag. Instead, it begins with a quote from Béla Balázs’s 1924Visible Man:“Film isthe popular artof our century.”¹ This quote serves as pretext for Jeníèek’s contention: that militaries throughout the world have long been a central source for new understandings and uses of cinema. “A good eight years before Balázs,” he writes,

    during the last part of...

  7. 2 All of Film Is an Experiment: Army Documentary, Postwar Reconstruction, and Building Socialism (pp. 53-91)

    In the inaugural editorial of the weekly newspaperKulturní politika(Cultural Politics)—published on September 14, 1945, four months after Czechoslovakia’s liberation—editor-in-chief E.F. Burian wrote that the paper would be of most use to the country, an “avant garde of democracy,” if it furnished its readers with information “from both the West and the East.” For the postwar state, in Burian’s conception, remained as exceptional as it had been in the interwar period, an “ experiment” that should borrow from various models as it emerged from the year zero of the war.¹ Cinema offers another reading of this situation....

  8. 3 The Crooked Mirror: Pedagogy and Art in Army Instructional Films (pp. 92-120)

    When, in march 1955, the Combat Training Directorate (Správa bojové přípravy, SBP) hosted a conference on instructional filmmaking, Army Film’s chief, Ludvík Zavřel, spoke second in the program. Following a tribute to Alexej Èepièka’s vision for military cinema by Deputy Minister of Defense Bohumír Lomský (himself to become minister the following year), Zavřel turned to film itself. “We see in the newsreel, documentary and acted film,” he said,

    a powerful means of political education for our soldier, for all the virtues and qualities that the military oath entails of him.

    The second of our most important tasks is to help...

  9. 4 Every Young Man: Reinventing Army Film (pp. 121-167)

    Bedřich benda, who succeeded Ludvík Zavřel as Army Film’s chief, had been in office for five years when, at the end of November 1965, he sent an unusual proposal to the Main Political Administration (HPS). “With the increasingly wide distribution of our films to cinemas and television, both domestically and abroad,” he wrote, “we are encountering difficulties when the studio’s full name [Czechoslovak Army Film] is used. . . . In 1951, the abbreviation ÈAF was established. There is no point in changing this brand; rather, we should emphasize it.” He requested that from January¹, 1966, the studio’s name be...

  10. 5 A Military Avant Garde: Documentary and the Prague Spring (pp. 168-197)

    When czechoslovakia hosted joint Warsaw Pact military maneuvers in late September 1966, Army filmmakers—among them, Rudolf Adler, Ivan Balad’a, Karel Vachek, Juraj Šajmoviè, Ivan Koudelka, Jaromír Kallista, Hynek Boèan, Jaromír Šofr, Tomáš Škrdlant, and Karel Slach—were sent to south Bohemia to document the war games. Kallista remembers the Vltava Maneuvers as a “Švejkish” event. On their last day, he recalls, the filmmakers, wearing the blue jeans and striped sailor’s T-shirts in fashion at the time, were placed in an Army transporter painted repeatedly with the word film (“so they wouldn’t confuse us”) and driven in front of the...

  11. Coda (pp. 198-204)

    Alexander Dubèek resigned in April 1969. That summer, under his replacement, First Secretary Gustáv Husák, the prolonged process of “cleansing” Czechoslovak society of its reformist elements began. In spite of this, Army Film remained confident in its late-1960s course. Stanislav Ceřovský, in his summary report for 1969, continued to emphasize the social and military relevance of the studio’s critical films, particularly to Czechoslovakia’s youth. “The living environment, free time or ‘moral profile’ of [military] youth,” he wrote,

    is connected with . . . these issues in [soldiers’] civilian lives, both before and after their time in the Army, which, in...

  12. NOTES (pp. 205-232)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 233-248)
  14. FILMOGRAPHY (pp. 249-282)
  15. INDEX (pp. 283-301)
  16. Back Matter (pp. 302-302)