The Films of Jan Kříženecký

Director:
Jan Kříženecký
Year:
1898–1911

About film

Earliest Czech films in digital space

So far, the history of the “first” Czech films[1] made by Jan Kříženecký between 1898–1911 has been shaped by the struggle for their visibility, graspability, and classifiability. Not only are some of Kříženecký’s films incomplete, damaged, or even lost, but the works seen as “complete” cannot be considered as films as we know them today. The aim of these short, fragmentary images of ceremonial and everyday moments was not to provide a comprehensive picture of a phenomenon, but to grasp it and make it perceptible despite the limited technical possibilities of the time.

Used by Kříženecký in shooting, developing, and screening his films, the original nature of the Lumière brothers’ early film technology is involved in the visual figuration much more markedly than we are used to – in some cases, the films are nearly experimental. As such, the main purpose of releasing the pioneering films digitalized from the original Lumièresque nitrous materials (copies and original negatives) is to return to films as distinctive archive artefacts with inherent questioning of the form, meaning, and effect involved in their changeable material qualities and circulation through several eras and contexts.

It is not a coincidence that Kříženecký introduced his first films in the context of the exhibition bustle of the 1890s, in an era obsessed with technical inventions, industrial successes and entertainment potential of new media and apparatuses.[2] At the Prague 1898 Architecture and Engineering Exhibition, he opened the Czech Cinematographer pavilion together with his colleague from the building authority Josef František Pokorný, screening films or “animated photographs”.[3] Hardly anyone perceived these films as distinctive works (let alone works of art). They were screened as part of longer blocks, often without noticeable transitions, serving as one of the many exhibition attractions. Given the limited length of the film strip (only 17 m), the films could only be several tens of seconds long and their length and the patterns of movement of characters and their environment depended on how fast the projectionist was cranking. Moreover, the recognition of lived reality on the screen was hindered by several “slips” of the analogous image, such as flashing, shaking, or blurring. It was thanks to this as well that the films were seen as an attraction creating wonder while provoking with their ambiguity.

The films screened at the Architecture and Engineering Exhibition mostly documented official and everyday events in Prague, their form and topics markedly resembling their model – films by the Lumière brothers (city bustle, gymnastic exercises, festival, cannon firing, firemen’s alarm, and even train arrival). Unfolding before the spectators, the images were both moving and static, flat and three-dimensional, realistic and illusory. The indecision between the constantly fleeing action in the image and the limiting static frame can be seen for instance in Cyclists (Cyklisté, 1898).  Passing the camera, the racers gradually disappear over the horizon, making it clear that what we see is only a carefully made cut-out of reality. Another ambivalence is revealed by Midsummer Pilgrimage in a Czechoslavic Village (Svatojanská pouť v českoslovanské vesnici, 1898) screened on the very day of the pavilion opening. The image of a traditional religious ceremony is divided into several plans both on the horizontal and vertical levels. Fighting for our attention, there are passing visitors, exercising gymnasts, dancing couples, and a revolving merry-go-round in the background. These elements seemingly don’t react to each other, but together, they create perfect rhythmical harmony. The third paradox is probably most obvious in Žofín Swimming Bath (Žofínská plovárna, 1898), one of the films released later and allegedly screened backwards. The shot captures an ordinary scene of swimmers jumping in the water, but the image was manipulated in a way that it looks like they are jumping out of the water.

Another popular curiosity were the “live action” scenes staged by Josef Šváb-Malostranský. But what was a live action film in the context of the cinema of the time? An Assignation in the Mill (Dostaveníčko ve mlýnici, 1898) and The Exhibition Sausage Seller and the Bill-poster (Výstavní párkař a lepič plakátů, 1898) are humorous scenes with a simple “plot”, with any arranged scheme lost in the chaotic turmoil of all present. Again, what seems much more prominent than the story and characters presented is the bustle of life delimited and shaped by the cinematograph. Similarly, Laughter and Tears (Smích a pláč, 1898), a study of the mimics of human face through a close-up of Šváb-Malostranský, presents a staged scene unknowingly revealing not just the little, otherwise hardly noticeable facial expressions, but also traces of living and nonliving matter gradually clinging to the film skin. The more obvious staged nature of the films doesn’t prevent them from capturing “reality” – quite the contrary.

In the films made in 1898, there is also a motif Kříženecký elaborated on in his later work: the patriotic and gymnastics association Sokol. Sokol exercises were good film material not just because of their popularity with the Czech public, but also for the elaborated, absolutely accurate rhythm of exercising bodies which was perfectly in line with the film obsession with mechanic movements. Already the newsreels Exercises with Indian Clubs by the Sokol of Malá Strana (Cvičení s kužely sokolů malostranských, 1898) and Vaulting of the Prague Sokol Equestrian Section (Voltýžování jízdního odboru Sokola pražského, 1898) show the unusual effects produced by the confrontation of mechanical repetition of individual and group gestures with the unstoppable movement of film frames. Kříženecký later used this motif on a larger scale in his monumental reportages from Sokol rallies – Fourth All-Sokol Rally in Prague (Čtvrtý všesokolský slet, 1901, not preserved), Fifth All-Sokol Rally in Prague (Pátý všesokolský slet v Praze, 1907) and Sokol Rally in Prostějov (Slet sokolstva v Prostějově, 1908). In both compilations preserved, we witness monumental parades of synchronized group movement, sometimes even creating majestic live pictures that astonish with their precision but can be upsetting as well, when we think about the later misuse of mass ornaments by the totalitarian regime.

Kříženecký’s later films are generally rather overshadowed by those presented at the Architecture and Engineering Exhibition, the reason probably being that they weren’t all-time firsts, were not so innovative or reflected the rather haphazard and random nature of Kříženecký’s filmmaking activities of the time. In addition to the above mentioned Sokol rallies, it’s again mainly newsreel films taking place in Prague, but rather than capturing one-time moments, they turn into more complex (albeit still relatively episodical) reportages about important social events (e.g., those related to the 1908 Anniversary Exhibition of the Chamber of Trade and Commerce, where Kříženecký made an unsuccessful attempt to pick up on the Czech Cinematographer). However, as archive and aesthetic artefacts, these later works are just as valuable as those from 1898. Even though the formal and technological changes to the canonical works can seem relatively subtle, they should not be underestimated in terms of film history. Thanks to continuous improvements of the original model of the Lumièresque cinematograph, Kříženecký could make longer shots, make better and more efficient movements with the camera, and contain much more of the reality in front of the camera. The advantages of such improvements can be seen for instance in the reportage The First Day of the Spring Races of Prague (První den jarních dostihů pražských, 1908), where the upgraded camera is not only used for panoramic shots of the racing thrill in the stands, but also for telling various micro-stories (such as the one about a little girl who wants her picture taken at all costs). At the same time, his late films bring even more possibilities for technological “defects” to influence the meaning and message of moving pictures. A prime example is Opening Ceremony of the Čech Bridge (Slavnost otevření nového Čechova mostu, 1908), in which the image of white-collar magnates walking over the bridge shakes more and more with them approaching the camera when for a brief moment, they turn into a mass of black phantoms. The threat of distance disappearing between the spectator and the film is made present not only through the composition selected, but mainly through the aptly unstable apparatus.

Jan Kříženecký’s last newsreel was František Palacký Monument Prior to Its Completion (Pomník Františka Palackého před dokončením, 1911), offering close-ups and shots from different angles of the new sculpture of the Czech historian. In a way, the culmination of Kříženecký’s creative path with this film is symbolic. Thirteen years before that, during the Architecture and Engineering Exhibition and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Palacký’s birth, he had made Foundation Ceremony of the František Palacký Monument (Slavnost zakládání pomníku Františka Palackého, 1898) at a time when neither the location nor the author of the monument were certain. When the work of art was officially unveiled in summer 1912, Kříženecký made his Ceremonial Unveiling of the František Palacký Monument on 01 July 1912 (Slavnost odhalení pomníku 1. července 1912), which – in addition to shots of the inauguration – also contains a slightly modified version of Kříženecký’s original film. Together, these fragments represent a time-lapse documentary of sorts, highlighting the remarkable ability of film to preserve history – incomplete, but perpetually repeating.

After the release of the special DVD/Blu-ray collection Jan Kříženecký’s Films at the end of 2019, the first Czech films are now officially entering the online space. Thanks to a non-intrusive digitalization approach without retouching[4], the films are now paradoxically so far the closest to its original material form, especially in a situation where the original nitrous materials cannot be screened as they have only one round perforation. However, it is all the more obvious that the films have never been understandable, identifiable, and coherent. Even though all the films have been scanned in 4k resolution, it is not always clear what is going on in the images. Be it through traces of ageing and wear and tear of the film material, or through the original features of the technology by the Lumière brothers – the films are changed in such a way that we can’t quite imagine them without the material deformations. Nevertheless, digital technologies can help us much more accurately locate and understand specific manifestations of physical deformations – from horizontal and vertical shaking of the camera over static discharges to yellow-orange colouration of unknown origin on nitrous copies – and how they influence what elements of the image we perceive as visible, what image components can or should be uncovered and, by contrast, what components are hidden forever.[5]

At the same time, we must keep in mind that films change and will change in the digital world. During their “second lives”, Kříženecký’s films have rather been an echo, randomly appearing in memorial screenings, compiled documentaries, edited TV shows and, only very partially, online. Now they are finally approaching the form of independent artefacts, properly identified and provided with text and audio-visual context. However, the entry of artefacts into the digital world is indeed not neutral: we force upon them the specific material qualities of algorithmic operations and mechanisms of compression and decompression, and we inevitably extend the network of possible contexts they can be part of – from amateur compilations over interactive school education to for instance marketing. In a situation like this, a curator must do more than “just” put the films into context and organize them into different categories. He or she needs to look for ways to express the ephemeral nature of films in the online space through formats typical of this space. This is one of the reasons why the edition contains interactive web features such as a map of Kříženecký’s shooting locations, a timeline of Kříženecký’s life, but also original works, such as video-essays articulating the complexities of transferring nitrous material into the world of zeros and ones and building on them. Without looking for excuses, we can admit that even this framing is only a provisional stop in the long search for understanding what the first Czech films are or could be.

Jiří Anger

Note

At the time it is made accessible, the online edition of Jan Kříženecký’s films contains 31 digitalized materials (15 negatives, 13 copies, 3 compilations). Some films have been preserved in two full versions (original copy and original negative) which are not always of the same length. The compilations of two Sokol rallies and the Anniversary Exhibition of the Chamber of Trade and Commerce have been newly made of film materials of several generations, and they probably weren’t presented in this form in their day. Transferred to Blu-ray from a modern copy made in the French Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, the recently discovered nitrous copy of Escorting the Cradle of František Palacký from Hodslavice to the Prague Exhibition Grounds (Přenesení kolébky Františka Palackého z Hodslavic na Výstaviště, 1898) will be released once it is digitalized.


Notes:

[1] In filmmaking, priority is always questionable. There are films that had been made or released on the Czech territory earlier than those by Jan Kříženecký; moreover, it is to be noted that at the end of the 19th century, the Czech lands were still part of Austria-Hungary. Not to mention that we don’t know and probably won’t ever know of many films from the turn of the 19th to 20th century. Therefore, we consider the priority of Jan Kříženecký’s films a discursive construct established with the Czech Cinematographer at the Architecture and Engineering Exhibition and reproduced by Czech historiography and popular press.

[2] For the context of industrial exhibitions of the late 19th century, see for instance Kateřina Svatoňová, Odpoutané obrazy: Archeologie českého vizuálního prostoru. Praha: Academia 2013, pp. 100–112.

[3] For more information on the Czech Cinematography at the Architecture and Engineering Exhibition, see Ivan Klimeš, Český kinematograf v Královské oboře 1898. In: Týž, Kinematograf! Věnec studií o krátkém filmu. Praha: Národní filmový archiv – Casablanca 2014, pp. 24–39.

[4] In this edition, Jeanne Pommeau deals with the process of digitalization.

[5] For more information on this topic, see Jiří Anger, Found footage efekt: Digitální Kříženecký a prasklina filmového média. Iluminace 31, 2019, No. 2, pp. 89–117.

Filmographic data

Production, cinematography, director: Jan Kříženecký

Austria-Hungary 1898–1911

Films

Videos

Texts

The First Frames of Czech Cinema (audiovisual essay)

Three cheers. The first official films in the history of Czech filmmaking made by Jan Kříženecký between 1898–1911 are finally digital and can circulate freely in the digital space. Thanks to a non-intrusive digitalization approach without retouching, new viewers can enjoy them in a form at least approaching the nitrous copies and negatives of the time with a Lumièresque perforation – which can hardly be presented today using a traditional technique – and admire their fascinating material history. It’s all the more a reason to ask what the digitalized film objects are like, and what we are losing or gaining when watching them compared to the “original” viewing experience.

Let’s take for instance the frames. In the analogous form, these are independent, tangible carriers of visual information, and even though they are sidelined by the unstoppable movement of the film in the projector, they bear every damage or dirt like an imprint and make it show in the image in some way or another. At the same time, there is a gap between the individual frames that we perceive during the screening at least subliminally (through the flashing) – indeed, this was much truer of the earliest films than current ones. Digital frames lack this material embodiment and as such are even more invisible during the screening. However, even for a common viewer, it is much easier to stop the film, take a screenshot and examine it independently, not to mention the complex mosaics of frames in editing programmes. In a way, the frames from Jan Kříženecký’s digitalized films are a combination of both these principles – formed through an advanced digital technology (scanned in 4K resolution), they still bear more or less visible traces of physical deformation. Looking at the individual film frames, we often see things that undoubtedly aren’t part of the usual PC film-watching experience, but through shaping and modulating the frames using software, they can be made to show details that would be completely lost in the analogous version.

A suitable format to examine and present such borderline film objects is a videographic essay (also called an audiovisual essay or video-essay) allowing for an analysis using the images and sounds themselves, i.e., in the context of the medium being analysed.[1] The short experiment The First Frames of Czech Cinema (První políčka českého filmu) creates specific images, taking the first frame from each digitalized original material. Why exactly is it the first frames? The underlying consideration is that when releasing films with the status of first Czech films for the first time in the digital space, it would be appropriate to look at the actual first images of the individual films. These are the images that first pass the scanner; we see them first during the screening (except for the opening credits and the added black frames), and they carry the first visual information (albeit maybe barely recognizable). While we often don’t notice these images during usual continuous film-watching, they are often the most vulnerable during physical manipulation, which is also reflected in their digital version.

The video-essay was conceived in a way not to cover the hybrid nature of the digital frames or the complex history of their reception, but to emphasize it – even at the expense of turning analogous and digital principles against each other. The individual frames are always presented independently first, then shaped in different ways and, in the end, they are added into a gradually emerging mosaic of all the first frames in the background. Different forms of digital manipulation, such as zooming in and out, widening and narrowing, or rotating images around their axes (which might be problematic for analogous purists), remind us that even though the nitrous copies and negatives are replicated closely, the digitalized frames acquire a quality of shapeability that would be difficult to conceive in the analogous version. Even this unconcealed digital presentation can – besides material qualities – contain a very symptomatic element of early film screenings. In his article “An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)Credulous Spectator” (1989), Tom Gunning mentions that “in the earliest Lumière exhibitions, the films were initially presented as frozen unmoving images, projections of still photographs. Then, flaunting a mastery of visual showmanship, the projector began cranking and the image moved.”[2] At the beginning of every miraculous screening of moving pictures, there were independent static frames as a reminder that “at the heart of the cinema are acts of intervention in the living tissue of time, that the cinema is ‘death at work’.”[3]

What do we find out about the individual frames as such with this experiment? I would like to leave this question open as it is mainly answered by the video-essay; however, what is especially obvious is their composite nature. Thanks to the initial unsteadiness of figurative images and the above-mentioned vulnerability, the first images often contain just a fraction of visual information; sometimes it’s just fragments of remaining material that when put together create more or less recognizable shapes. Especially remarkable are those frames where missing parts were replaced by newer material already with the typical four perforations on each side, or for instance the first image of Cyclists (Cyklisté, 1898), where new perfs were made to make it seemingly correspond to standard film strips.

As such, each first frame can be seen as an original with a varied, often contradictory material past and future, and we can often only imagine when, how and why the different elements were included in the film. Reframing the first Czech films based on these pushed out images is one way to show that digital manipulation needn’t be a way to clear or even improve archive artefacts – on the contrary, it can highlight the fact that they are never what they seem to be.

Note

Frames 1–9 are images of Prague life presented during the Prague 1898 Architecture and Engineering Exhibition. Frames 10–15 correspond to staged scenes with Josef Šváb-Malostranský, also shown during the Exhibition. Nos. 16–18 contain seeds of the Sokol motifs already in the first films of 1898, later developed by Kříženecký in his monumental reportages from Sokol rallies. Frames 19–26 follow Kříženecký’s creative trajectory between 1901–1908 including the news screened at the Anniversary Exhibition of the Chamber of Trade and Commerce in 1908 in Prague. The last two frames, 27–28, are shots of František Palacký’s monument representing a time-lapse documentary in a way.

Compilations from the Sokol rallies and the Anniversary Exhibition of the Chamber of Trade and Commerce were not included as they were put together artificially, and their initial frames come from duplicate materials of second and later generations. The first frame from Escorting the Cradle of František Palacký from Hodslavice to the Prague Exhibition Grounds (Přenesení kolébky Františka Palackého z Hodslavic na Výstaviště, 1898) was not included either as the original nitrous copy has only been discovered recently and is awaiting digitalization.

Jiří Anger

 

Notes:

[1] A basic introduction and definition of video-essays and videographic film studies is for instance contained in Jiří Anger, Médium, které myslí sebe sama: Audiovizuální esej jako nástroj bádání a vyústění akademických trendů. Iluminace 30, 2018, No. 1, pp. 5–27.

[2] Tom Gunning, “An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)Credulous Spectator” , Art and Text 34, Spring 1989.

[3] Thomas Elsaesser, Stop/Motion. In: Eivind Rossaak (ed.), Between Stillness and Motion: Film, Photography, Algorithms. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2010, p. 118.

The Digitiation of Jan Kříženecký's films

The aim of this project was the digitisation of the preserved films of Jan Kříženecký, the first films made and presented in the Czech lands. In this case, we decided not to use the term “digital restoration”. Since our aim was to preserve the historical value and authentic photographic quality of the films, digital retouching would not be appropriate. We wanted to present the films in a form that would respect the current state of the materials and, at the same time, make them accessible to contemporary audiences.

The digitisation was based on film stock of various origins: a major portion had been collected by Jindřich Brichta at the National Technical Museum, probably already during the interwar period. The materials came into the Národní filmový archiv in many waves, most recently in 2002. Kříženecký’s films survived in various forms: while some of them were preserved as original negatives or vintage prints, others were preserved only in the form of acetate prints made in the second half of the 20th century. Some of the films were preserved during the 1920s in the form of nitrate prints,[1] under conditions that did not respect their original frame setting or their photographic quality. The film strip shifted in the printer to such an extent that a visible frame line often appeared within the original frame. Consequently, these prints were deemed unsuitable as source materials.

Paradoxically, the films preserved by printing on safety material in the 1970s were in problematic condition, while the materials that survived on the original nitrate film base have outstanding photographic quality, in some cases even without significant chemical or mechanical damage. Apart from some prints that have undergone substantial degradation or disintegration (such as Coach Transport [Kočárová doprava, 1908],[2] Midsummer Pilgrimage in a  Czechoslavic Village [Svatojanská pouť v  českoslovanské vesnici, 1898], and Grand Consecration of the Emperor Franz I Bridge   [Slavnostní vysvěcení mostu císaře Františka  I., 1898]), or exhibit major mechanical defects (such as Laughter and Tears [Smích a pláč, 1898], and An Assignation in the Mill [Dostaveníčko ve mlýnici, 1898]), most of the film materials dating to the time of their first screening do not show any noticeable signs of aging. In particular, the original camera negatives, which have not been used as often as, for example, the vintage prints, are in excellent technical condition. Authentic photographic materiality thus triumphs over the ravages of time.

The analysis of documentation preserved in the National Archive, the Národní filmový archiv, and the National Technical Museum, as well as the materials found in the Cinémathèque française and various studies on the Lumière brothers and Kříženecký, provided us with basic information on the specific features of the digitised films. A 2017 article on the Lumière brothers by Laurent Mannoni helped us perceive the original film stock in a way that better reflects its uniqueness.[3] Although there is still considerable uncertainty about the methods Kříženecký used to process his films and about some of the physical and chemical properties of the film strips, these new findings played a crucial role in determining our approach toward the digitisation.

Kříženecký used a “Cinématographe-type” apparatus for filming, which he acquired directly from the Lumière brothers in 1898,[4] and which has been preserved in the National Technical Museum. This device served not only as a  camera but also as a  printer and a  projector. In Kříženecký’s films, we can observe several technical particularities typical for films shot with this device. The most obvious feature of this model is undoubtedly the single round perforation on each side of the film frame.[5] Furthermore, on the left side of the frame there are also remnants of fuzz from the velvet strip placed at the projector gate. We can also observe vertical instability, which was quite common at that time, but more visible with the Cinématographe-type, as well as horizontal instability, which was a problem specific to films shot on this apparatus. The film feeding mechanism of the cinematograph, which ensures the motion of the film strip in the camera and keeps it in place during exposure, causes substantial fluctuation of the image during screening.[6] Nevertheless, the photographic image is generally very sharp and characterised by a large dynamic range.

The Lumière film strips[7] are also specific in many respects. One of their typical features is high sensitivity to static electricity that can occur during filming or printing, and can leave traces on the emulsion when there is electrical discharge.[8] The contemporary viewer might be most surprised to discover that the original prints are not black and white, but monochromatic: in the case of Kříženecký’s  films they are yellowish-orange, sometimes with visible colour variations between individual prints. This single spread of colour over the entire surface of the film might seem reminiscent of the practice of film tinting, which existed since the very beginnings of cinema. However, the homogeneity of the shades, as well as their presence in films shot by various “cinematographers” from different parts of the world and developed with varying techniques, etc., indicate that the Lumière film stock probably already contained colour prior to the printing process.

All this information has helped us appreciate the key features of the cinematographic apparatus and the Lumière film stock, as well as the aesthetic options offered by them. However, it was also necessary to account for why some of Kříženecký’s films have a different exposure level than other films shot on Lumière stock. Most of the Lumière “opérateurs”[9] had previously worked in the Lumière factory, which produced photographic plates and film stock. Jan Kříženecký, however, was a photographer and construction technician, not a Lumière opérateur, so he only learned how to work with the camera and the processes of printing, processing, and projecting only after he obtained the cinematographic apparatus. It is likely for this reason that some of his films, especially Consecration Ceremony for the Foundation Stone of the Jubilee Church of St. Anthony in Prague VII  (Svěcení základního kamene jubilejního kostela sv. Antonína v Praze VII., 1908), were not optimally exposed. For a better understanding of the nature of the original film stock, it is also important to realise that Kříženecký initially bought six negatives and six positives from Lumières, in addition to the cinematograph itself, which means that each negative was intended to serve for only one positive print. The singular status of the prints of Kříženecký’s films is thus even more apparent than with most others: each individual print is unique.

In order to maintain the specific traits of the initial stock, and to preserve its value, we proceeded as follows: in the digitisation process itself, all surviving film stock (except duplicates in poor condition) was first scanned at 4K resolution on a FilmLight Northlight 2 device with capstan drives – the original stock has a different perforation than modern film strips. These scans were then digitally archived to serve for future research or potential reinterpretation.

Digital retouching is usually performed after the scanning process, but we decided not to interfere with the material in this way, for two reasons. First, some signs of damage could not be retouched without creating an entirely new digital image. Second, since these were historically the very first Czech films which reproduced actual motion, we wanted to remain faithful to their original materiality. Such an approach highlights the authentic photographic quality of the artworks: soft contrast, depth of field, and grain survived without digital intervention.

We also tried to preserve the current state of the materials when carrying out colour corrections on the scanned original prints. Therefore, we adjusted brightness and tone, so that even traces of colour degradation, which are more intense and almost red, would be recognisable in all their nuances. Each film roll was graded separately, since the shades among them vary slightly – sometimes the saturation changes even within a single shot. Since we could not rely on period references for orientation, when processing other materials (modern prints, original negatives, duplicate negatives and positives), digital grading was performed so that the black-and-white photographic image was as discernible as possible. In cases where original negatives were used, we also present the films in their positive form in order to allow the viewer to compare the quality of the respective materials.

We also had to decide on the appropriate degree of digital correction with regard to image instability during the scanning procedure. Although it is technically possible to repair the image so that it is completely stable, we decided to compensate for instability only when it occurred as a result of the film strip fluctuation in the scanner. Additionally, if we stabilised the films according to the exposed or printed image, we would mask the instability created in the apparatus during the shooting. Therefore, we decided to use the perforations at the edges of the strips as reference points. However, stabilisation based on the perforations was complicated by the fact that they are not angular but round, since the software is capable of automatically stabilising the image only by referring to horizontal or vertical lines. On top of that, mechanical damage often made it impossible for the software to determine the location of the sprocket holes, so we had to move each frame manually. At the same time, due to their poor condition, the fluctuation of some film strips in the scanner was so irregular that the image occasionally slid slightly out of the scanner frame. Wherever possible, we decided to present the original picture frame in its entirety as well as part of the perforation.

Since the digitised films were intended for DVD and Blu-ray release as well as for cinema screenings (in DCP format), their screening frame rate had to be adapted. Since Kříženecký’s films were shot manually, i.e. in irregular rhythm, and were not screened at any predetermined tempo, it was not necessary to abide by any particular rate. If we were to adjust the frequency to natural motion, e.g. 18 frames per second, we would have to duplicate every third film frame and then change the rhythm of motion, which we found unacceptable. Therefore, we chose frame rates that correspond to standard projection frequencies for the target media: 24 fps for Blu-ray and DCP, 25 fps for DVD.

Due to our intention to reflect the materiality of the films, the aspect ratio was adjusted in order to make the entire frame visible (even during moments of vertical instability) and also the perforation whenever it was possible. This is the reason why the aspect ratio does not correspond with contemporary standards.

The most valuable outcome of the digitisation project is that we have made Jan Kříženecký’s films available in a form that would not have been achievable by photochemical procedures. The way in which they are now presented brings their diversity and material beauty to the fore.

Jeanne Pommeau

 

Notes:

[1] With the support of the Czechoslovak Society for Scientific Cinematography, Karel Smrž and Ľudovít Honty transferred the original Lumière perforated film stock (with one round perforation on each side of a film frame) onto classic Edison perforated film stock (with four “angular” perforations on each side of a frame) in 1926

[2] This fragment is also presented in the newly assembled compilation Anniversary Exhibition of the Chamber of Trade and Commerce in 1908 in Prague  (Jubilejní výstava Obchodní a živnostenské komory 1908 v Praze, 1908).

[3] In his article, Laurent Mannoni outlines the development of various cinematographic devices produced by the Lumière brothers, including the Cinématographe-type, used by Kříženecký. Laurent Mannoni, Les Appareils cinématographiques Lumière. 1895, autumn 2017, no. 82, pp. 52–85.

[4] There is an invoice deposited in the National Technical Museum certifying that Kříženecký bought the Cinématographe and film stock from the Lumière brothers in May 1898.

[5] The only exception is the film František Palacký Monument Prior to Its Completion (Pomník Františka Palackého před dokončením, 1911) which was shot on film material with the standard four perforations.

[6] Such instability is clearly observable, for example, in Opening Ceremony of the Čech Bridge (Slavnostní vysvěcení nového Čechova mostu).

[7] The film strips used by the Lumières were exclusively manufactured by Victor Planchon. In 1896, he even founded the Société anonyme des pellicules françaises in Lyon, where the Lumière factory headquarters were located.

[8] The small size of the device also increases the amount of static elektricity.

[9] The expression “opérateur” was used at that time to identify the profession, which included the jobs of both the cinematographer and the projectionist.

Information about the films

The films presented on this portal are the product of the digitalization of period nitrous film materials (original copies and original negatives). The only exceptions are the compilations from two Sokol slets and from the Jubilee Exhibition of Chambers of Trade and Crafts, which are made of materials of several generations. Some films have been preserved in two full versions (vintage print and original negative), which are not always of the same length.[1] There are 31 materials in total, of which there are 15 prints, 13 negatives, and 3 newly made compilations.

The ordering of the preserved films was mainly based on two criteria – the year of production, and then thematic affinities. The first group of materials includes images of Prague life presented during the Prague 1898 Architecture and Engineering Exhibition. Films in the second section correspond to staged scenes with Josef Šváb-Malostranský, also shown during the Exhibition. Other films revolve around Kříženecký’s favourite topic – the Sokol gymnastics organization – and range from films presented at the 1898 Exhibition to later monumental reportages from Sokol slets. Materials from the fourth category follow Kříženecký’s creative trajectory between 1901–1908; specifically, it’s a short actuality entitled Grand Consecration of the Emperor Franz I Bridge (Slavnostní vysvěcení mostu císaře Františka I.), a film interlude for the theatre play Satan’s Railway Ride (Satanova jízda po železnici), and reportages made or presented at the Prague 1908 Jubilee Exhibition of Chambers of Trade and Crafts. The last group contains shots of František Palacký’s monument representing a time-lapse documentary, in a way. This division is indeed arbitrary and can be revised as it is just rough.

The films were named pragmatically since, in their day, Kříženecký’s films didn’t have proper names. As Ivan Klimeš points out, the then “names” mainly served to identify the films and present their content and were not constant or binding.[2] That’s why we have stuck to the established names mentioned in the NFA records or those on film boxes in Kříženecký’s legacy, and in some cases, we have added alternative names from the press of the time.

However, there have been exceptions where some correction has been appropriate. This is the case of Grand Consecration of the Emperor Franz I Bridge, which has been incorrectly presented as Grand Consecration of the Emperor Franz Joseph I Bridge until now. The name of the film about firemen is a deliberate compromise. According to the available information, there had been two films about Old Town firemen: The Firemen’s Alarm and The Firemen’s Ride with a Steam Hose to a Fire. The content of the preserved film corresponds more to the latter, but the evidence is not sufficient; that’s why we have come up with an artificial name, Old Town Firemen.

We have discovered that some films are not what they seem to be. It turned out that a film referred to as Best Number (Nejlepší číslo) – screened in October 1902 as part of the theatre farce The Best Number (To nejlepší číslo) in the Smíchov Arena –[3] hasn’t been preserved. From advertisements and news of the time, we learned that the content of the film corresponds to Satan’s Railway Ride (Satanova jízda po železnici), screened during the performance of the farce Satan’s Last Trip (Satanův poslední výlet) in August 1906 in the same arena.[4] Two film versions were made for the performance: one was by Jan Kříženecký, the other by Antonín Pech. The director of the farce, Antonín Vaverka, confirms the film shooting and Kříženecký’s presence in his memories.[5]

As for the film Laying of the Foundation Stone to the Palacký Monument

in Prague (Kladení základního kamene k Palackého pomníku v Praze), it turned out that it depicts the laying of the foundation stone of a completely different monument in a different place and 10 years later. From the identification of houses on today’s Strossmayer Square in Prague 7, the presence of Archbishop Lev Skrbenský of Hříšť and the unveiled sign “Construction of Jubilee Ch-” in the background, it is clear that it shows the consecration of the foundation stone of the “jubilee” St. Anthony of Padua’s church on 25 October 1908. We named the newly discovered film Consecration Ceremony for the Foundation

Stone of the Jubilee Church of St. Anthony in Prague VII (Svěcení základního kamene jubilejního kostela sv. Anotnína v Praze VII).[6]

The most recent revelation of this kind was the fact that the material considered to be Celebration Held to Honour the 550 Years of the Imperial-Royal Privileged Corps of Municipal Sharp-Shooters in Prague (Oslava uspořádaná na počest 550letého c. k. privilegovaného sboru městských ostrostřelců v Praze) from 1910 was actually confused with shots of a ceremony of armed corps in Prague during an Emperor anniversary ceremony in 1908 in the presence of Archduke Charles I and Archbishop Lev Skrbenský of Hříšť.[7] It was the recognition of the latter that (again) served as a clue that the preserved film could not be the 1910 Celebration since it was the priest Fr. X. Janků who said Mass in the Church of Our Lady before Týn at this event.[8] The existing material corresponds to what Zdeněk Štábla mentions as Jubilee Celebration of the Prague Municipal Corps (Jubilejní hold městských sborů pražských) and Drumhead Mass on the Old Town Square (Polní mše na staroměstském náměstí).[9] Given that in the original negative both the parts are connected, we called the material Jubilee Celebration of Prague Municipal Corps (Jubilejní hold městských sborů pražských).

As for František Palacký’s Monument Prior to Its Completion (Pomník Františka Palackého před dokončením), it was established that it is part of Unveiling Ceremony of the Monument – July 1, 1912 (Slavnost odhalení pomníku 1. července 1912). This film primarily covers the ceremonial unveiling, but it also contains a sequence of shots of the incomplete parts of the building that corresponds to the film about the monument found in Kříženecký’s legacy (albeit in a shortened form). The material used for the film had the typical four perforations on each side (unlike the other original materials with one Lumièresque perforation on each side) and the film was shot on an Ernemann camera lent by Josef Brabec. It is an interview with Brabec archived in the NFA oral history collection that contains evidence that František Palacký’s Monument Prior to Its Completion was really made by Jan Kříženecký for Illusionfilm.[10] As for the later made Unveiling Ceremony of the Monument, it has been assumed until now in line with Zdeněk Štábla that the author is Antonín Pech and his Kinofa;[11] however, Štábla doesn’t mention any source to support this. As such, there is no clear evidence regarding the author.

In two films, we had to deal with interrupted continuity. A print of An Assignation in the Mill (Dostaveníčko v mlýnici) has been preserved on two broken reels which were scanned separately and then reassembled in their original order. The Exhibition Sausage Seller and the Bill-poster (Výstavní párkař a lepič plakátů) had been shot multiple times. Two versions have been preserved: “take A” in the vintage print and original negative, and “take B” only in the vintage print. In take A, the man puts a slightly torn poster of Czech Cinematography on the wall, whereas in take B, he is taping up the poster with a thin strip. It was not possible to establish the order in which the scenes were shot, and the names “version A” and “version B” do not imply the actual chronology of scenes.

A special case is the three compilations made of parts that had often been screened independently. The aim was to correct the deficiencies occurring gradually from the time the films had been made until now since fragments have been preserved from different sources and different stages of printing. Materials were basically classified according to available information for them to be presented in a more meaningful way. Anniversary Exhibition of the Chamber of Trade and Commerce in 1908 in Prague (Jubilejní výstava Obchodní a živnostenské komory 1908 v Praze) contains all the available shots from the Exhibition. The film material was recompiled to maintain the logical course of events as much as possible. The last segment, Coach Transport (Kočárová doprava), has been preserved in the vintage print as well, and that’s why it is also presented independently. Fifth All-Sokol Rally in Prague (Pátý všesokolský slet v Praze) was newly compiled in a way for the preserved shots from the different exercises to match the actual slet programme as much as possible, the programme having reportedly been adapted due to bad weather.[12] Sokol Rally in Prostějov (Slet sokolstva v Prostějově) was put together from two parts. It is opened by shots of a slet parade archived in the NFA collection under the name “Sokol Parade in Prostějov” (Průvod sokolstva v Prostějově), and then there are shots of the different exercises.

Escorting the Cradle of František Palacký from Hodslavice to the Prague Exhibition Grounds is still missing in the current selection. Released on Blu-ray from a modern print made in the French Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée, the film has recently been discovered on a nitrous print as well. It will be released once it is digitalized.

Jiří Anger a Jaroslav Lopour

 

List of films

Scenes from Prague Life (1898)    

Midsummer Pilgrimage in a Czechoslavic Village (Svatojanská pouť v českoslovanské vesnici ) • 1898 • vintage print • 00:46

Midsummer Pilgrimage in a Czechoslavic Village (Svatojanská pouť v českoslovanské vesnici ) • 1898 • original negative • 00:48

March Past During Corpus Christi Feast in Hradčany (Defilování vojska o Božím těle na Královských Hradčanech, Slavnost Božího těla na Hradčanech) • 1898 • vintage print • 00:23

Noon Cannon Firing on the Marian Walls (Polední výstřel na Mariánských hradbách, Polední výstřel, Polední výstřel pražský) • 1898 • vintage print • 00:41

Cyclists (Cyklisté) • 1898 • vintage print • 00:38

Old Town Firemen (Staroměstští hasiči, Jízda hasičů s parní stříkačkou k ohni) • 1898 • vintage print • 00:47

Old Town Firemen (Staroměstští hasiči, Jízda hasičů s parní stříkačkou k ohni) • 1898 • original negative • 00:40

Žofín Swimming Bath (Žofínská plovárna, Výjev z lázní žofínských) • 1898 • vintage print • 00:46

Žofín Swimming Bath (Žofínská plovárna, Výjev z lázní žofínských) • 1898 • original negative • 00:49

 

Staged scenes with Josef Šváb-Malostranský (1898)

An Assignation in the Mill (Dostaveníčko ve mlýnici, Švábovo zmařené dostaveníčko) • 1898 • vintage print • 00:57

An Assignation in the Mill (Dostaveníčko ve mlýnici, Švábovo zmařené dostaveníčko) • 1898 • original negative • 00:45

The Exhibition Sausage Seller and the Bill-poster (Výstavní párkař a lepič plakátů, Pražský párkař a lepič plakátů, Biřtlářova nehoda U Nesmysla) • 1898 • vintage print (take A) • 01:03

The Exhibition Sausage Seller and the Bill-poster (Výstavní párkař a lepič plakátů, Pražský párkař a lepič plakátů, Biřtlářova nehoda U Nesmysla) • 1898 • original negative (take A) • 01:06

The Exhibition Sausage Seller and the Bill-poster (Výstavní párkař a lepič plakátů, Pražský párkař a lepič plakátů, Biřtlářova nehoda U Nesmysla) • 1898 • vintage print (take B) • 01:00

Laughter and Tears (Smích a pláč, Pláč a smích, Tvář Švába-Malostranského, Sólový výstup p. Švába) • 1898 • vintage print • 00:31

 

The Sokols (1898–1908)

Exercises with Indian Clubs by the Sokol of Malá Strana (Cvičení s kužely Sokolů malostranských, Sokola malostranského nové cvičení s kužely) • 1898 • vintage print • 00:50

Exercises with Indian Clubs by the Sokol of Malá Strana (Cvičení s kužely Sokolů malostranských, Sokola malostranského nové cvičení s kužely) • 1898 • original negative • 00:44

Vaulting of the Prague Sokol Equestrian Section (Voltýžování jízdního odboru Sokola pražského, Sokola pražského voltýžování na bělouši Vasilu) • 1898 • vintage print • 00:47

Fifth All-Sokol Rally in Prague (Pátý všesokolský slet v Praze) • 1907 • newly compiled material • 11:39

Sokol Rally in Prostějov (Slet sokolstva v Prostějově, Sokolský sjezd v Prostějově) • 1908 • newly compiled material • 22:13

 

Scenes from Prague Life II (1901– 1908)

Grand Consecration of the Emperor Franz I. Bridge (Slavnostní vysvěcení mostu císaře Františka I.) • 1901 • vintage print • 00:46

Satan's Railway Ride (Satanova jízda po želenici, Satanův výlet na svět) • 1906 • original negative • 00:47

Opening Ceremony of the Čech Bridge (Slavnost otevření nového Čechova mostu) • 1908 • original negative • 01:48

The First Day of the Spring Races of Prague (První den jarních dostihů pražských) • 1908 • original negative • 04:51

A Ride through Prague in an Open Tram (Jízda Prahou otevřenou tramvají) • 1908 • original negative • 01:57

Anniversary Exhibition of the Chamber of Trade and Commerce in 1908 in Prague (Jubilejní výstava Obchodní a živnostenské komory 1908 v Praze) • 1908 • newly compiled material • 14:49

Coach Transport (Kočárová doprava) • 1908 • vintage print • 00:59

Consecration Ceremony for the Foundation Stone of the Jubilee Church of St. Anthony in Prague VII (Svěcení základního kamene jubilejního kostela sv. Antonína v Praze VII) • 1908 • original negative • 02:51

Jubilee Celebration of the Prague Municipal Corps (Jubilejní hold městských sborů pražských) • 1908 • original negative • 06:40

 

František Palacký monument (1898–1911)

Foundation Ceremony of the František Palacký Monument (Slavnost zakládání pomníku Františka Palackého, Kladení základního kamene k Palackého pomníku v Praze, Zakládání pomníku Fr. Palackého) • 1898 • vintage print • 00:47

František Palacký Monument Prior to Its Completion (Pomník Františka Palackého před dokončením) • 1911 • original negative • 01:20

 

All films were produced on a 35mm film strip. They are shown at 24 frames per second.

 

Notes:

[1] For instance, whereas Exercises with Indian Clubs by the Sokol of Malá Strana (Cvičení s kužely Sokolů malostranských) contains two shots in the original copy, it has only one shot in the original negative. 

[2] Ivan Klimeš, Český kinematograf v Královské oboře 1898. In: Týž, Kinematograf! Věnec studií o krátkém filmu. Praha: Národní filmový archiv – Casablanca 2014, pp. 24–39.

[3] Národní listy 42, 1902, No. 275 (06. 10.), p. 3.

[4] For instance, Národní listy 46, 1906, No. 219 (10. 08.), p. 3; Pražský illustrovaný kurýr 15, 1906, No. 219 (10. 08.), p. [10]; Divadlo 4, 1906, No. 20 (05. 09.), p. 449.

[5] Národní filmový archiv, f. Vaverka Antonín, k. 1, inv. No. 11, Antonín Vaverka, Mé vzpomínky od zlaté Prahy až po americké hvězdy, pp. 22–23.

[6] At the end of the film, there is a shot of about four seconds from Old Town Square unrelated to the previous ones. Kříženecký probably needed to finish a reel, and that’s why he used the last shot in this way.

[7] Národní listy, 30. 06. 1908, p. 3.

[8] Národní listy, 26. 05. 1910, p. 4.

[9] Zdeněk Štábla, Český kinematograf Jana Kříženeckého. Praha: Čs. filmový ústav 1977, p. X.

[10] The interview with Josef Brabec was conducted by Zdeněk Štábla in 1969, National Film Archive, Sound Recordings Collection, N0020-01-01-ROZ-T.

[11] Štábla, Český kinematograf Jana Kříženeckého, p. 246.

[12] Pátý slet všesokolský v Praze 1907. Sokol 1908, pp. 4–11, 31–43.

New Music for the Early Czech Films

All of the Kříženecký films presented in this edition, including those presented in two versions (prints and negatives), have been supplemented with an original musical accompaniment by Jan Burian.

Early cinema is colloquially referred to as “silent”, even though the exhibition of cinema in those days was never entirely silent. Indeed, some form or musical or sound accompaniment, which supplemented the image with an audio component, was a standard part of most film screenings. In the Czech context, it was not until the turn of the 1920s to the 1930s that audio elements could be recorded directly onto the film strip itself. Little is known about the type of audio that accompanied Jan Kříženecký’s films – the sound tracks on this release represent one contemporary artist’s free interpretation of how music could be used to contribute to these silent films.

Burian’s accompaniment does not attempt to banally adhere to the narrative component of the films or to diegetically enter their sound world, but rather seeks to thematise the film material itself. Burian sees the materiality of the films as an equal partner to their content and responds to the specific properties of the materials, be they the result of period technology or the ravages of time. This novel approach allowed Burian to compose subtle sound illustrations, which are most effective when played back at low volume, as he intended.

Jan Burian (1976) is a Czech composer, multi-instrumentalist, and performer. In addition to performing in the bands Tyto alba and Kyklos Galaktikos, he also creates dramatic music for the theatre, such as the accompaniment to Japanese dancer Min Tanaka’s performance A Body (2017) at the Divadlo Archa (Archa Theatre) in Prague. He also has a wealth of experience in creating film music. Among other things, he composed the musical accompaniment to the NFA digitally restored film Such is Life (Takový je život, Carl Junghans, 1930) in 2016.

The accompanying sound tracks in this edition were mastered by the Národní filmový archiv, Prague.

Jonáš Kucharský

 

Images of Czech Film Cracks (audiovisual essay)

Thanks to the digital versions of film pioneer Jan Kříženecký’s early films, the general public can, after a long time, discover the first Czech documentaries and motion pictures, and place themselves in the period of more than a hundred years ago. However, led by the National Film Archive, the digitalization process itself was very complicated mainly due to the poor condition of the film material. That’s why the team of restorers decided not to take the standard path of digital retouching but to “present the films in a way implying the current condition of the film material”.[1]

The absence of “embellishing effects” in the digital version of Jan Kříženecký’s films is reflected in the audiovisual essay Images of Czech Film Cracks (Obrazy českých filmových prasklin). It is based on the assumption that the material damage, which in very fleeting and transient moments flashes in the film frames, radically affects our viewing experience of the screened films, even though we might not realize it at all when watching them.

The audiovisual essay deals with three films – Cyclists (Cyklisté, 1898), Žofín Swimming Bath (Žofínská plovárna, 1898), and Midsummer Pilgrimage in a Czechoslavic Village (Svatojanská pouť na českoslovanské vesnici, 1898). It focuses on their original copies that – contrary to the original negatives – were used in several film screenings, which has significantly influenced their current condition together with the material degradation due to the age of the film strips.

The principal question in Images of Czech Film Cracks is what happens with the brief images of Prague life if the fleeting analogue fissures and cracks are preserved in the viewers’ minds forever. Through purely digital editing, material deformations are taken out of the passage of time in the film medium; they are layered and cover the original content of the footage. The audiovisual essay accepts analogue cracks as an integral part of a film medium, bringing a whole new perspective on the material beauty of the Czech film heritage.

Jan Kinzl

 

Notes:

[1] Jeanne Pommeau, Digitalizace filmů Jana Kříženeckého. Online: <https://www.filmovyprehled.cz/cs/revue/detail/digitalizace-filmu-jana-krizeneckeho>, [cit. 14. 01. 2022].

Reviews

One of the most interesting sources of amusement at the exhibition will be the Czech Cinematograph, which will produce “living photographs” at the Urania Scientific Theatre, far surpassing similar foreign companies in its exactitude, achieved through the latest research. Architects Jan Kříženecký and Rudolf Pokorný[1] have already received a formal permit for the event at the “Urania”[2] theatrical building, which was required for security reasons. As has been properly verified, the Cinematograph of the above named gentlemen provides complete and absolute security, so there is no chance of even the slightest danger. There will be regular performances with the cinematograph in “Urania”, and they will surely attract every exhibition visitor.

Czech Cinematograph. Národní listy 38, 1898, no. 125 (May 6), p. 3.

 

It must be admitted that the realisation of the original films does not in any way lag behind their French model, and can boldly compete with them in terms of purity and lifelikeness. The best proof of the fact is “Midsummer Pilgrimage in a Czechoslavic Village” (Svato-Janská pouť v česko-slovanské vesnici). In the full light of the sun, the bright gowns of the passing ladies rush by, relentlessly dancing couples swirl in a reserved space to the sound of merry music, and at the back, a carousel spins and “artists” perform on a  rope. The chaos and life of the exhibition fair is captured here in the full freshness and colourfulness of its impressions. Or “Noon Cannon Firing” (Polední výstřel): in one minute, the entire operation of charging, firing, and cleaning a cannon is displayed. In the film “ Purkyně Square in Královské Vinohrady” (Purkyňovo náměstí na Král. Vinohradech), the true hustle of the city life whirls, with cars, pedestrians, and hasty bicyclists weaving around and between the electric trams. Foreign films display scenes both serious and cheerful, deserving of general attention. It is up to the audience to support this new Czech enterprise with abundant visits, to allow for frequent programme changes and replenishment with new original shows.

Czech Cinematograph. Národní listy 38, 1898, no. 171 (June 23), p. 3.

 

Such enterprises, run by the Exhibition Committee, are often accompanied by many attractive and entertaining private events. In the first place, let us name as a novelty the Czech Cinematograph located in the lower avenue beside the artists’ tavern. Our readers are already well acquainted with the principle and equipment of the cinematograph from the article and illustration published by Světozor in 1896. Projection of the images is accomplished by means of an electric arc lamp with manual control, using a current of 15 Amps and 50 Volts, and a luminance of 1600 candles. The condensation lenses illuminate the slides, so that they are in the focus of the light rays, and if we think in terms of the rays’ progression when the image appears on the plate in the photographic apparatus, the process is completely inverted here as the image is projected, so that the image on the plate produces a life-sized or even enlarged image on the screen. The images on the film move at a rate of about 900 images per minute, so the human eye – with the duration of the impression being less than 1/10 of a second – does not see the individual images, but the resulting impression of them: objects in faithfully imitated motion. The size of one film containing images of objects in varying phases of motion is 17–18 m; to develop the film, Lumière needs 20 litres of developer; our organisers have managed to reduce the amount to 3 litres. Czech photographs, produced by Mr. Kříženecký, who is famous for his photographic works, are often requested for exchange by the Lumière company.

Exhibition of Architecture and Engineering. Světozor 32, 1898, no. 37 (July 29), pp. 440–441.

 

The Czech Cinematograph at the Exhibition of Architecture and Engineering in Prague. The entrepreneurial spirit of architect J. Pokorný and member of Amateur Photographers Club in Prague J. Kříženecký, enriches the exhibition with the most interesting piece of entertainment: the Czech Cinematograph. Our readers are already acquainted with the general function of the device and its production from previous issues of our magazine, so we mention here the performance of this first Czech cinematograph only briefly. The productions are shown in a special pavilion behind the avenue in the lower part of the exhibition grounds opposite the artistic tavern “U Nesmysla” every afternoon, and on Sundays at 10 am. In addition to the original Prague films, the audience is also shown successful films from foreign lands. Among the domestic films, produced by Mr. Kříženecký, we can name films depicting: a fire alarm, the noon cannon shot, a celebration on the exhibition green, laying the foundation stone for the Palacký monument (a  very valuable film), Mr. Šváb’s unsuccessful rendezvous, the Corpus Christi celebration in Hradčany, the Moravian parade at the Architecture Exhibition, “Sokol” exercises, etc., all of which are well known to the audience from reality, yet still manage to astound through their pure elaboration, and many viewers, without having the slightest idea that they had been photographed, see themselves in the images of the cheerful crowd. Our amateurs will surely be interested in the fact that a special device must be built in order to develop the entire film evenly. With this device, the negative is used to create a positive under a light not brighter than an oil lamp, such is the sensitivity of the film layer. Developing one of the film strips requires around 30 guldens[3] just for the material – and it is up to the audience to support this costly enterprise as much as possible. Let there not be a single amateur, who does not visit the Cinematograph. We wish the entrepreneurs the greatest success.

The Czech Cinematograph at the Exhibition of Architecture and Engineering in Prague. Fotografický obzor 6, 1898, no. 8 (August 10), pp. 125–126.

 

Jenda[4] [Kříženecký] was quite electrified with this novelty [the cinematograph], and he immediately had an idea: if the French can have such a device – why shouldn’t the Czechs, too? He was a great specialist in photography, awarded with a medal at an amateur exhibition, and he later oversaw the municipal photographic department and was delegated to produce a countless number of photographs, especially of historical sites in Prague such as palaces, the statues on the Stone Bridge, the Villa America, etc. He eagerly set himself to the task, worked long nights, made the films (images) himself, drew designs for the film reels, according to which he had them produced, and, of course, he also got in contact with the “Lumière” company in France, from which he ordered the already mentioned expensive machine. We shared a flat on Sokolská street, and often, I was able to help him when “developing” the film or by running errands, or by carrying the device. The best reward for me was the beautiful view of the training ground – for he was often sent to shoot films during the Sokol rallies. For this purpose, there was a special “booth” installed in the northern corner of the training ground, into which we climbed as if into a pigeon-loft, from where the event was filmed; only a few people were permitted access, mostly members of the Amateur Photographers Club and other specialists. We had a beautiful view, available to less than one person in a thousand, for the cabin was placed above the stands in the highest spot. Some films were also shot by Jenda from a podium built near the gymnasts (I remember the Poles with spears, French gymnasts, etc.).

Ferdinand Gýra, The Beginnings of Czech Cinema. Kino, 1927, no. 24 (March 19), n.p.

 

Since I played comic roles in Old Bohemian plays in the Old Prague courtyard at the “Ethnographic”[5] in 1895 (which was one of the main exhibition attractions), under the direction of the unforgettable theatre director Kubík, and I also performed in the historical “ring toss” and later in the traditional student amusement as the main “beanus”[6], Mr. Kříženecký approached me with an invitation to prepare some sort of humorous scene as an experiment for him to film. I complied with his kind request enthusiastically, and so the first four Czech films were created, which were then screened every night at the exhibition. Of course, these cinematic productions were always sold out and our audience was well entertained, even without all those Fairbankses, Chaplins, and Mozzhukhins, who had not even dreamt about film at that time.

Josef Šváb-Malostranský, Memories on the First Filming in Prague. Rozpravy Aventina 3, 1928, no. 18–19 (May 24), p. 222.



Notes:

[1] The name of Kříženecký’s colleague was not Rudolf Pokorný but Josef František Pokorný [ed.].

[2] In the end, Kříženecký’s films were not screened in Urania, but in front of the artistic tavern U Nesmysla [ed.].

[3] Gulden, forint or zlatý (golden coin) – official Austro-Hungarian currency at the time [trans. note].

[4] Jenda – a familiar version of the name Jan, referring to Kříženecký [trans. note].

[5] The Ethnographic Czechoslavic Exhibition in Prague [trans. note].

[6] Beanus (from French bec jaune – yellow beak) – a term used to describe a new university student (freshmen or “greenhorn”), who had to undergo a semi-official initiation ritual called “the deposition”, a tradition common from the Middle Ages until the 18th century [trans. note].