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JURAJ HERZ:
IN AND OUT OF THE CZECHOSLOVAK NEW WAVE
TOURING RETROSPECTIVE
Starting August 2, 2019

MORGIANA (1972) courtesy of Czech National Film Archive

JURAJ HERZ: IN AND OUT OF THE CZECHOSLOVAK NEW WAVE

Film retrospective North American tour starts August 2, 2019 at Metrograph, New York

 

This touring retrospective runs concurrently with the Janus Films release of the newly restored masterpiece THE CREMATOR. Four of the films are presented with newly translated subtitles.

 

The singular career of the prolific film director and occasional actor Juraj Herz is without parallel in the context of the cinema emerging from Czechoslovakia starting in the mid 1960s. He was a breed apart and decidedly a filmmaker of excess—in his visual style and art direction, as well as in the abundance of horror and eroticism in his genre-bending dark comedies, fairy tales, and dramas. Under the surface of genre, he smuggled in clear-eyed and engaged social and political commentary, while attaining the heights in his mastery of the formal language of cinema.

 

Herz entered the Prague scene at the same time as the core group of filmmakers of the Czechoslovak New Wave, though he never truly considered himself one of them. Even if he personally operated on its margins, however, his most important film, the psychological horror THE CREMATOR, and a number of his other works, fall squarely among the best films of the Wave and address the same issues. This led censors to intervene often, but being one of the most bankable film directors in the country assured him work, apart from a few brief spells, throughout his career.

 

His penchant for the macabre, his gothic style, and his examination of the underbelly of the human psyche made Herz a darling of the fantasy and horror film scene, and in the past couple of decades his films have achieved cult status among genre film geeks in Europe and the U.S. alike.

 

Continue reading notes on the director by Irena Kovarova here.

 

The touring retrospective is produced by Comeback Company. Curated by Irena Kovarova. Originated at the Metrograph, New York. Films provided by the Czech National Film Archive and První veřejnoprávní. Photos courtesy of Czech National Film Archive except where noted otherwise.

 

Acknowledgements:

Alex Zucker; Martina Raclavská; Anri Vartanov; Michal Bregant, Tomáš Žůrek, Kateřina Fojtová, Czech National Film Archive; Čestmír Kopecký, První veřejnoprávní.

 

Film notes: Metrograph/Nick Pinkerton

 

“Few movies have shown the capitulation to a totalitarian worldview more mordantly” —J. Hoberman, THE NEW YORK TIMES

 

"essential viewing if you're a lover of morbid black comedy" —Jonathan Romney, Film of the Week, FILM COMMENT

 

"these seductive, foolish dreams are nothing other than the way we all live" —Courtney "Kit" Duckworth, EDITION

THE JUNK SHOP (Sběrné surovosti, 1965) THE JUNK SHOP (Sběrné surovosti, 1965) A work of nonstop invention set over the course of a single day at a paper recycling facility frequented by oddballs, including manager and aesthete Bohoušek, based on Bohumil Hrabal's life and a story from his book Pearls of the Deep. SIGN OF CANCER (Znamení raka, 1966) SIGN OF CANCER (Znamení raka, 1966) A warped detective story that begins with a murder in a hospital, the investigation of which reveals rampant incompetence, the film’s implicitly critical depiction of a public service sector overloaded with underqualified Party stooges would land Herz in trouble with censors for what was not to be the last time. New subtitles! THE CREMATOR (Spalovač mrtvol, 1969) THE CREMATOR (Spalovač mrtvol, 1969) Herz's masterpiece, in a new digital restoration released by Janus Films in North America, is set in 1930s Prague, where Nazi ideology hangs as thick as the charnel fumes over the crematorium run by the troubled Karel Kopfrkingl. This macabre and harrowing work of psychological and social breakdown was banned after its 1969 debut only to re-emerge and garner deserved praise twenty years later. OIL LAMPS (Petrolejové lampy, 1971) OIL LAMPS (Petrolejové lampy, 1971) Contender for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1972, this early 20th Century period piece is set in a provincial town, Jilemnice, that’s riven by repressed desire and smoldering secrets. Herz plumbs deep within the psychology of his characters in this gripping and gorgeous film, which investigates the rot beneath the decoration and decorum of the Secession era. New subtitles! MORGIANA (1972) MORGIANA (1972) A Gothic drama about two sisters, Klára and Viktorie—both played by Iva Janžurová, in an amazing double-role performance—are put at loggerheads when the sweet, vapid Klára receives the better part of their father’s sprawling estate and the love of the man that Viktorie adores, leading the spurned sibling to venomous thoughts of murder.  BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Panna a netvor, 1978) BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Panna a netvor, 1978) A tale you’ll know well—innocent girl presents herself as sacrifice to a cursed, freakish beast living in isolation, and learns to live with and love her captor—but turned into something very different in Herz’s morbid imagining. New subtitles! FERAT VAMPIRE (Upír z Feratu, 1981) FERAT VAMPIRE (Upír z Feratu, 1981) A satire on consumerism, a potent piece of anti-automobile propaganda, and perhaps the purest horror exercise that Herz produced. Starring the excellent Jiří Menzel (the Oscar winning film director) in the lead role of Dr. Marek. New subtitles! CAUGHT BY NIGHT (Zastihla mě noc, 1985) CAUGHT BY NIGHT (Zastihla mě noc, 1985) Conceived as a biography of Communist journalist Jožka Jabůrková, a victim of Ravensbrück, Herz went his own way, creating a nauseously stylized vision of hell on earth that is, with Wanda Jakubowska’s 1948 The Last Stage, one of only two fiction films made by a camp survivor about the experience.  GOLDEN SIXTIES: JURAJ HERZ (Zlatá šedesátá, dir. Martin Šulík, 2009) GOLDEN SIXTIES: JURAJ HERZ (Zlatá šedesátá, dir. Martin Šulík, 2009) An illuminating portrait of Juraj Herz from a 27-part TV series about masters of the Czechoslovak New Wave.


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