In today's Arts: a look at Milos Forman's new film Goya's Ghosts, starring Natalie Portman and Xavier Bardem. (A gala premiere was held in Prague this week). Also, a new exhibition looks at the work of 20th century Czech-American photographer Drahomir Josef Ruzicka.
"Fortunately I also have a few very powerful friends."
- from Goya's Ghosts
This week saw the Prague gala premiere of Milos Forman's newest film Goya's Ghosts, his first feature since 1999 and his first costume drama since the 1980s when he made the hugely popular Amadeus as well as Valmont. Goya's Ghosts stars a new generation of European and American actors including Stellan Starsgard, Xavier Bardem, and Natalie Portman. Ms Portman attended the Prague premiere. Here she describes what it was like to work with Milos Forman:
"Oh, it was so lucky (laughs). I was just saying that the first time we met I came an hour late to the meeting because I was an idiot because I didn't realise the difference between Paris and London time. And I was looking at my watch thinking I had so much time and I arrived to the meeting with Milos and Jean-Claude Carriere an hour late. I arrived in tears, you know 'I'm so sorry...' and they were kind and said Sit down, have a glass of wine, relax!'
It's always strange to talk about someone when they're right beside you but it was just so nice being with someone who is just such a confident leader. He really knew exactly what he wanted and was able to express this so clearly to all of us in the cast and crew. When you feel safe with your 'leader' you try all kinds of crazy things and you can feel safe that they will lead you the right way. It's so much less stressful when you have someone who is so expert guiding you. So, it was fun."
To say that Milos Forman and his films are highly-regarded in the Czech Republic is something of an understatement: in short, he is a phenomenon, one of the best filmmakers this country ever produced, from early features like The Fireman's Ball to American productions like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Goya's Ghosts, however, has not gone down well with a number of Czech reviewers and some have been downright scathing. Ondrej Stindl is a film critic for Tyden, a popular weekly newsmagazine:
"I would say that the basic problem of Goya's Ghosts is that it is basically unfocused trying to say too many things at once but none of it let's say properly or some sort of depth. It's kind of surprising given that Forman collaborated on the script with Jean-Claude Carriere, the European screenwriting 'superstar' of the 60s, 70s, & 80s. Some scenes had potential, especially at the beginning, but the movie never follows up and kind of loses itself, sometimes in kind of a melodramatic mess that is at times cheap, sometimes shockingly so."
At its core, Goya's Ghosts tells the story of three characters: a monk in the Spanish Inquisition, a beautiful woman imprisoned by the Church, and Goya himself, whose lives intertwine with fatal consequences. By turns, all three struggle to keep their heads above water during turbulent events But while plot twists are many, they aren't always convincing. Mirka Spacilova - one of the country's best-known critics - put it diplomatically in her review for the Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes. To paraphrase her words: Forman remains a great director but Goya's Ghosts can't be considered a great film. Critic Ondrej Stindl again:
"I mean, the movie is quite well-cast but the actors do what the script allows them to do and that's not much."
In other Arts news, a new exhibition recently opened at Prague's Josef Sudek gallery near Prague Castle: it celebrates the work of Czech-American photographer Drahomir Josef Ruzicka, born in 1870. Ruzicka's family moved to America when he was only a boy, nevertheless he kept strong ties to his homeland as an adult. A paediatrician by profession, he was a dedicated photographer all his life, who had a significant impact on a number of Czech greats. Photography specialist and curator of the exhibition Jan Mlcoch:
"Drahomir Josef Ruzicka has an elite place in history, and he has been dubbed the father of modern Czech photography. Born in the Czech-Moravian highlands, he was Czech by birth, but his family moved to the United States when he was only six. The US was a land of opportunity for his father who was a doctor but could no longer earn enough of a living in the Czech lands. Eventually, the family moved to New York, and later Drahomir Ruzicka studied both there and in Europe. "
As a physician Drahomir Ruzicka began experimenting with X-rays and began his first forays into photography in the early 1900s. By 1908 photography had become a pastime he pursued with a passion, one he would keep up throughout the rest of his life.
"He was an amateur photographer but by no means a dilettante: he was an amateur with very modern sensibilities, seeking out dynamic subjects including the modern city. Later, this would have a profound impact on a number of photographers here. When he visited Czechoslovakia in 1921 he influenced people like Josef Sudek and others."
According to Mlcoch, one of Ruzicka's great themes was the city, in his case New York. A number of these prints can be seen in the current show. One hazy black & white shows that most famous of views towards the southern tip of Manhattan, with the Empire State Building rising up. Other areas photographed included Central Park, and famous streets like Fifth Avenue. Jan Mlcoch points out that often the prints are dynamic and capture the interplay between light and figures in motion. But two of the most famous prints in the show feature the Brooklyn Bridge and the open sea.
"He was a pioneer and he brought America as a theme to Czechoslovakia, a theme picked up by many later generations of Czech photographers - from Alexandr Hackensmied to Jan Lukas to Eva Fuka and this trend, this fascination with the American city I think continues to this day. It began with Ruzicka."
The exhibition continues at the Josef Sudek Gallery until mid-April.
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