In this month’s show we will be talking a look behind the hallowed grey facade of one of the Czech Republic’s most famous institutions – Barrandov Studios, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary.
I took the bus up the hill from Smichov Station to the front of the studios where I was met by Jan Hrubek, Barrandov Studios marketing manager.We started with a quick tour of Barrandov’s massive sound stages – a mixture of old design as well as the very latest:
JH:Now we are in the oldest building here at Barrandov. One of our old stages that was built in 1931. The first movie here was shot in the winter of 1932-33.
PS:And the actual founding was done by the Uncle of President Vaclav Havel?
JH:It was his father and uncle’s work. These two men were big important businessmen of the era. They decided not only to be active in business but also in cinema, and they chose Barrandov Hill because it was completely clear with nothing on it. So they decided to build up the studios and all the villas around. Like a corner for rich people shall we say. The chose it as a Hollywood Land.”
PS:So the whole area was modelled on Hollywood – with the film studios in the middle and all those lovely villas around connected to it to attract people?
JH:Something like that. We can say that. For the construction of the stages themselves they were totally inspired by the American studios. So this building was one of the most modern studio facilities in the 1930s.”
From there Jan whisked me off to see the crown jewel of Barrandov – a structure aimed at attracting big budget productions.
PS :Well we’ve walked into this massive space. You call this The Max Stage – and it’s quite clear why you do. And I believe this is only half of it?
JH: Exactly half of it. On the left side we have two more stages of a half size each and we can connect them this area here.
PS: And it’s got a wonderful air-conditioning system because it’s very cool in here. Is it five years old?
JH: Built in 2006
PS: And since that time it’s been used for?
JH: The Narnia Chronicles of G.I. Joe.
PS: And how often is it in use? Something this big it cannot be in use all the time.
JH: Quite often.
PS: It actually looks like a very very big school sports hall and all it needs at either end are a couple of basketball hoops. But the players would have to be very tall.
PS: There are some big productions coming here and you’re not telling me what they are. The new James Bond film perhaps?
JH: I can’t.
PS: I know they have five locations. Is one of them here? I am not going to get a Bond answer from you.
PS: If there was a big production, how many people would be working in that place? You’ve got room for thousands.
JH: I wouldn’t say thousands, but hundreds.
PS: You can CGI them now, you know..! From there it was back to Jan’s office, where he told me more about how the history of Barrandov and the history of Czech cinema were inextricably linked.
JH: The thirties – which we can call the Golden Era of Czech cinematography and therefore of Barrandov itself – is full of famous names, directors, actors – Martin Fric, Innerman, Slavinsky.
PS: We could say that the Czech movies reflected the era itself because the era between the wars was a relatively optimistic time.
JH: Definitely, we can say that the studio system was like in Hollywood. Several studios managing directors and actors – people like Lida Barova, Hana Vitova, Oldrich Lipsky – a famous romatic hero of the era. A Czech Hollywood.
PS: During that time there were a lot of comedies, social dramas. A lot of them we see on Czech television on Sunday mornings. I’m not Czech but I can sit there and watch those films. And they really capture the time, I think.
JH: Romantic dramas, melodramas, soft themes. Those early heydays finally came to an end and Barrandov was utilised to produce Nazi propaganda filsm during the WW2 occupation. Three large sound stages built by the Germans are still in use today. After liberation, though, the studio was quickly nationalised, as Jan Hrubek explained.
JH: Aftet the war, the whole Czech film industry was put into the hands of the state.
PS: That is interesting. As an outsider, I would assume that it was nationalised after the 1948/49 communist putch. That shows that after the war, the government had very clearly seen the power of movies to influence the population and they wanted some control over it.
JH: Yes, the state felt this power and the power of money that came with it. Nevertheless, Barrandov played it’s part in the so-called Czech new wave of cinema in the 1960s. Film directors working at Barrandov at this time included Miloš Forman, Jiří Menzel, Věra Chytilová, Jan Němec, Ivan Passer and Ján Kadár. Closely Watched Trains (Menzel) and The Shop on Main Street (Klos and Kadár) each won Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, and Forman’s The Firemen's Ball and Loves of a Blonde achieved Academy Award nominations. But in 1968 the Warsaw Pact tanks rolled in and the Prague Spring of the 1960s was rolled back. The industry was once again in flux.
PS: Normalisation. Now director s had to be quite creative and do things that would not upset the regime. So did this mean that they took a turn towards for example fairy tales, historical dramas, comedies, children’s stories?
JH: Most of them yes. With normalisation the directors had to choose. Either you do this or you change your focus. Optimism, Socialism-building comedies – again comedies. It’s the Czech nature.
PS: Nothing wrong with the world? All is happy.
JH: It was the 50s and the first half of the 60s that marked these kinds of movies. So state control, very loyal, censorship, even self-censorship by directors, script writers, etc. Inevitably the good times returned – although in Barrandov’s case, the modern era of its film production started shortly before the Velvet Revolution. Thanks to one of their own – director Milos Forman – and his 1984 movie Amadeus.
JH: It was in fact Amadeus that said to everyone “Hey look what they can do!” Then starting with the 1990s era I would say in was Mission Impossible in 1995 Thanks to Jan Hrubek of Barrandov and no doubt I’ll be back at the studios sometime soon.
CZECH MOVIE NEWS
OLIMPIADI SEGRETI shooting in Czech Republic Italian broadcaster RAI 1 is currently shooting Olimpiadi segreti (The Secret Olympics) on location at Terezín, Doksany and other nearby locations. Production on the two-part TV film began September 5 and wraps later this week (Oct. 30th) The film’s story is based on actual events which took place during the Second World War. In 1944, POWs in a German prison camp decided to organize a version of the Olympic Games, even as the war continued around them. The prisoners’ plan would give them the opportunity to celebrate their respective nationalities in the Olympic spirit – and provide cover for an escape. A crew of just 15 Italian crew members is assisted in the Czech Republic by 70 local film professionals and several dozen more service providers.
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