The Czech/Slovak New Wave

We are now very used to the idea of the ‘New Wave’, applying it to literature (especially science fiction) and popular music as well as cinema. The term appears to have become current in relation to the French New Wave in the late 1950s and the other two New Waves that have been most foregrounded are the British (late 1950s to 1963/4) and the Czechoslovakian (roughly 1962-68). The one that is left out tends to be the Japanese New Wave at roughly the same time as the British and French (probably because the films weren’t seen in the West). Others followed under slightly different titles — often simply as ‘New Cinema’.

It strikes me that the French New Wave had two major distinctive features – the enormous number of first-time filmmakers in the period (and thus a ‘youth quality’) to much of the work and secondly the development of critical writing from the directors themselves and others. Some of the short dictionary type entries make the mistake of linking the Czech/Slovak directors to those in France, but in fact there seems to have been some antagonism between them. The Czech/Slovak directors were generally well-trained and experienced (unlike Godard/Truufaut etc.) and older filmmakers released ‘new style’ films alongside the younger directors. Like the British, some of the Czech directors used a form of social realism, but others used fantasy and surrealism. Also like the British, literary adaptations were important. Where the French turned to American pulp fiction, Czechs turned to Bohumil Hrabal and other writers. The French New Wave comprised some 200 films mostly made by small production companies, the British New Wave coming at the end of the studio period relied on new companies and state funding in a changing industrial scene. The Czech/Slovak productions all came from state-funded studios but several films were banned in the late 1950s and not released until 1963, the ‘New Wave’ then being a possible in a ‘reform period’ between two bouts of repression. Note that the ‘Prague Spring’ (when the reformist Alexander Dubcek took control of the Czech Communist Party) was just the Spring of 1968, the New Wave started much earlier. Institutional factors are often important in New Waves.

Reference: Alistair Whyte (1971) New Cinema in Eastern Europe, London: Studio Vista

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