A Czech Funeral. Picture, time and emotions

In an essay on the topic of a Czech Funeral in which film historian Lucie Česálková analyses the picture, time, emotion and sense of pragmatism where one can find the illusion of eternity.

"At the time, the city found itself in a whirlwind of touching excitement, huge crowds of people were pushing each other to see the exposed coffin, showing great compassion ..."

Picture

The film piece, The Last Summer with TGM, was filmed by Alexander Hackenschmied and Jan Lukas during July and August 1937 about the death and funeral of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Upon the death of the president the wind picks up, people in the fields and behind machines stand numb and still in a collective remembering. Without any commentary, they just do so. Funerals of important figures in Czech history are moments of rallying and collective remembrance. Whether they are captured on film as a magnificent parade of crowds, or symbolized by the image of an empty landscape, empty workplaces or candles burning in "eternal flame", the rituals manifest a solidarity with the legacy of the deceased. The spectacle that lies in the pictures of the exposed coffin and empty offices, although both meant to be admired, is slightly different. Pictures of empty cities, very different from ones of marching masses, are included as if to emphasize the invisible power of the inner spirit which has not disappeared from there. They are more pious, free from the emotional excitement of a procession.

Funeral films have all aspects of saying farewell, departure, memories of the last goodbye. The images conveyed by the funerals are the gateway to the time gap between glory and oblivion - delaying the inevitable end, they are the last opportunity to experience fellowship with the deceased. That's why they have such an intense ritual character and a symbolic overlay. Besides the fact that they document specific events and their time, they are a mostly a symbolic media that transmit and preserve the time lapse. From today’s perspective, they may seem pathetic or even naive in the repetitive reassurance of the immortality of the deceased’s work. On the other hand, they can help us understand the current popularity of live television broadcasts of funerals – even those are a pragmatic space put into space-time eternity.

And his spirit will live on forever in his work.

Time

Funeral films and broadcasts are media of time- they quickly pass, are key in the days of sadness, they are a throbbing internally restless cell in which the legacy of the late genius being buried is shaped. Edvard Beneš addressed the entire nation in his speech at the funeral of TGM "without exception, from left to right, from the last village up to the capital city, from Aša to Jasina," and called for it to continue fulfilling the legacy and work of TGM. He was building a "perfect, harmonious, socially, ethnically and politically righteous state" and to stay true to that message. With this he confirmed the collective-national dimension of the event and by emphasizing the message he referred to the symbolism that Masaryk’s person transcended. Similarly, that was the case with funerals of others- the speeches always included a summary of the legacy, usually interpreted according to the needs of the particular time. Thus, as in the case of Karel Čapek, who, in the words of Joseph Hora, left the people of turbulent times in the second republic with the following sentence: "Not all is lost, hope yet remains." The event of a funeral is as if a time lapse, three times projected all at once: the present which turns into the past and future simultaneously. The memory of the "legacy and work" calls for its maintenance by future generations. Films depicting funerals thus acquire the dimension of an eternal memory.


Few know that one of the hobbies German writer Stefan Zweig was passionate, almost obsessed with was collecting memorabilia of the great artists of his lifetime. Besides autographs, his little museum also featured everyday items connected to work. According to Zweig it "was a worldly genius embodied in a kind of moment of eternity." The idea was that he would witness a spark of creativity in the locks of hair, a writing pen and a sheet of writing paper which belonged to these masters. The need to cherish other materials aspects of artistic creation, is certainly closer to Zweig’s pre-war "world of yesterday“ of the early 20th century than to today a hundred years later. However, it has much in common with funeral films. Zweig maintained a special regard and feeling of awe towards these things and believed that through these abandoned objects and locations it was possible to find the essence of becoming or being an artist-genius of thought. It is as if the eternal spirit of the work was conserved in the emptiness of studies. The difference between the physical objectivity of the monument and the eternity of spirit become an optical illusion. If we consider films of the funerals to be void of news objectivity, let us think of the white lock of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair (snipped on his deathbed) in Zweig's collection. In the appearance of objectivity an illusion of eternity manifests itself.

„And those will be emotions. How I am sad, I am devastated, I am chivalrous, and I am abandoned.“

Emotions

Personally, for whatever reason I have Škvorecký’s The Cowards intrinsically linked to the topic of "Czech funeral". That association is not very straightforward, but rather unusual, but not everyone will make the connection from readings this piece of work. There is no funeral in The Cowards. It is not an event in the story, but it is a recurring theme of imagination. The main hero, Danny Smiřický, imagines his own death, the pathos of his will and how the girl he desires, Irena, mourns over his coffin. This whole idea of the ​​plot stems from his platonic love for her - "to heroically die" because he wants "Irena to be impressed." In an ingenious twist of the micro drama of imagination, however, Danny gets emotional over his own fictional funeral and turns it into a new image in which conversely he mourns at the funeral of Irene. The idea of funerals in Cowards is an ironic sump of unfulfilled desires - after a great love, heroism, compassion, it is twisted into the image of pettiness, which cowardly and out of hurt, consuming ambition is unable to transcend itself not only in a daydream but also in reality. The longing for one’s own funeral therefore encompasses something of the Czech weaknesses, as well as the desire to feel like the grieving. In piety and solemnity a foolish hope of appreciation and compassion is borne.

The section Czech Funeral of the Jihlava IDFF will feature film footage and television recordings of funerals of Czech intellectuals of the 20th century. It will primarily showcase "the eternal spirit of the nation" in the entire scope of the meaning of this phrase. It will be an opportunity to reflect on what kind of relationship we have with our intellectual elites, but also how the event of death itself and the burial of personalities leads us to a reassessment of their legacy while always taking a new look at the meaning of our history. Superficially, there is a variety of images of a procession with a coffin, a gathering around a grave, solemn speeches, then various interpretations of the national anthem and the proclamation, "the poet died", or "we will stay true". At second glance, it can lead to reflecting on what actually survived. What is the eternal message from our writers and thinkers, and does it help us understand our history better? While watching the footage, we will witness that in spite of the tragic event of a funeral, nothing really ended. Eternity will be celebrated as a soothing landscape, as a reading of wisdom and teaching, left to us by the deceased in his works.Če





more articles from a section:  Theme

1.21Like the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice Lovejoy
1.21Every human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako Fujioka
1.21Never stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo Benzi
1.21Nest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter Hames
1.21Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf Möller
2.20It comes right from the bellyIn this personal essay, a Danish sound designer Peter Albrechtsen remembers one of the world's greatest and most unique modern film composers, Jóhann Jóhannsson. This article was written in 2018, shortly after the Jóhannsson´s death, but has never been published.
1.20There’s more than one feminismA reflection on women documentarians inspired by Barbora Baronová’s book Women on WomenMartin Šrajer
1+2.19Emerging Czech female documentariansIs there a new tide of emerging female documentarians in Czech cinema? What’s fascinating about the work of Czech female filmmakers like Johana Ožvold, Greta Stocklassa or Viera Čákany?Will Tizard
1.18Exprmntl.cz Through Eyes of American Journalist Daniel WalberAmerican freelance critic Daniel Walber focuses on a bunch of Czech experimental movies which were screened at the 21st Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival in the Fascinations: Exprmntl.cz section.Daniel Walber
2.17Why Series SuckCritical essay about the phenomenon Quality TVHanjo Berressem, Nadine Boljkovac

starší články

f2.15DOK.REVUE
29. 10. 2015


from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoySportPandemic as an opportunityJi.hlava's Emerging Producers discuss the opportunity that can emerge from crisisSteve RickinsonInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková