Closely Watched DVDs

A guide to Czech cinema on DVD

Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea

Filed under: DVD Reviews, Polák, Jindřich — Michael at 9:16 pm on Monday, September 18, 2006


Zítra vstanu a opařím se čajem

1977, colour, 95 mins

  • Director: Jindřich Polák
  • Producer: Jan Šuster
  • Screenplay: Jindřich Polák, Miloš Macourek, based on the short story by Josef Nesvadba
  • Photography: Jan Kališ
  • Editor: Zdeněk Stehlík
  • Design: Milan Nejedlý
  • Music: Karel Svoboda

  • Cast:
    Petr Kostka (Jan Bureš / Karel Bureš); Jiří Sovák (Klaus Abard); Vladimír Menšík (Kraus); Vlastimil Brodský (Engineer Bauer); Marie Rosůlková (Mrs Whiteová); Otto Šimánek (White); Valerie Chmelová (Helena); Slávka Budínová (Mrs Kroupová); Josef Větrovec (Kroupa); Zuzana Ondrouchová (Eva); František Vicena (Hitler); Horst Giese (Goebbels); Jan Sedliský (Himmler); Marie Drahokoupilová (Markéta); Josef Bláha (Rousek); František Peterka (Chief Pilot Robert Nol); Ota Sklenčka (Doctor Kryl); Jiří Lábus (Technician); Jan Pohan, Karel Hábl, Miloš Vavruška (SS officers); Jiří Lír; Viktor Maurer; Miroslav Moravec; Jitka Zelenohorská (Universum staff); Petr Nárožný (chauffeur); Josef Šebek (VB member); Jan Přeučil (SS doctor); Ladislav Šimek (doctor); Pavel Spálený, Zdeněk Hodr, Gustav Opočenský, Svatopluk Beneš (old Nazis); Vladimír Hrabánek (car hire officer); Elena Strupková (florist

  • Crew: Adolf Böhm (sound); Theodor Pištěk II (costumes); Jan Vild, Rudolf Mos (associate producers); Zdena Pavlátová, Lada Vacková (second unit directors); Libuše Váňová (dramaturge); Jiří Mrázek, Zbyšek Svoboda (technical advisers); Jiří Kučera (stills photography); Jan Kališ, Milan Nejedlý, Jiří Rumler (special effects); Barrandov Film Studios (production company)

The Film

This is unimaginable today, but on Saturday 16 January 1982, BBC2 showed an ultra-obscure subtitled Czech film in an early enough slot (9.35pm) to garner a decent-sized audience - “decent-sized” equating to “many times larger than BBC4’s wildest dreams”, given that Britain had only three television channels at the time (for the record, it was up against Match of the Day on BBC1, and the small-screen premiere of Capricorn One on ITV, a somewhat sci-fi heavy night). The British cult reputation of Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself With Tea stems almost entirely from that screening, since apart from a brief London Film Festival outing in 1978 it was never distributed in Britain either theatrically or on video, and consequently doesn’t appear in any of the standard reference books. This led to such widespread ignorance that I once saw a writer citing it as an example of an impenetrable arthouse film, purely because of its title.

In actual fact, it’s a comedy. And a very funny one, for the most part, albeit not without some of the self-conscious wackiness that seems to pervade a great many mainstream Czech comedies - though it has more than enough inspired moments and genuinely smart ideas to compensate. Chief among them is its time-bending premise, which recalls that of Back to the Future Part II and the recent low-budget US indie effort Primer, though this is merely an accident of viewing order: the Czech film was made many years earlier.

Assuming I’ve got the plot straight, it runs broadly along these lines. A group of elderly Nazis has survived into the 1990s (thanks to anti-ageing pills of unspecified provenance), and is therefore in a position to take advantage of the miraculous invention of the Universum company - which offers time travel to school parties and rich American tourists, on condition that they are passive observers throughout (they’re not even allowed to leave the craft, which lands in the specified era after an initial blast into orbit). The Nazis, led by Klaus Abard (Jiří Sovák), plan to disobey this cardinal rule by landing in Germany on December 8, 1944, with the aim of offering Hitler and his associates a hydrogen bomb that their associates have purloined from the Americans - the idea being that Hitler will shatter his opposition with a single blow, and the Nazis’ dream of a thousand-year Reich will become a reality.

To this end, Abard and his associates bribe pilot Karel Bureš (Petr Kostka), who is up to his eyeballs in debt and quite prepared to turn a blind eye to the true purpose of their scheme. However, on the morning of the mission, Karel chokes to death on a bread roll before the horrified eyes of his brother Jan - who, being an identical twin (and, happily, also a trained pilot), ends up impersonating Karel (largely because he fancies his girlfriend) and flying instead. This naturally causes complications for Abard and co., not least after they end up in Nazi Germany in 1941 and find a triumphalist Hitler in no mood to take their offer seriously. So far so straightforward, but once the mission has gone pear-shaped, Jan tries to put things right (in the “thwarting their evil plan” sense as opposed to Karel’s “help them succeed” one) by going backwards and forwards in time, on each occasion landing fractionally in advance of events depicted earlier in the film. He then attempts to influence them in the desired direction - but not always entirely successfully…

It is to director Jindřich Polák and co-writer Miloš Macourek’s great credit that none of this is anything like as confusing on screen as it was to synopsise. They make frequent use of memorable visual cues to aid orientation (not least the tea-scalding motif of the title), assuming that our own sense of history will be stronger than that of the crudely sterotyped rich American tourist Patrick (the name of the equally moronic robot in Polak’s earlier sci-fi effort Icarus XB-1), who professes ignorance of Waterloo and only lights up when he wonders whether he’s misheard ‘Watergate’.

The budget didn’t stretch to time-trips outside Nazi Germany, but we get an impression of what the other tours are like from a series of outlandish costumes sported by stewardesses, ranging from a Cleopatra outfit for ancient Egypt to the Raquel Welch fur bikini treatment for the stone age. Talking of visual wit, the opening credits are superb - they’re set against a backdrop of cruelly manipulated footage of the real Hitler, making him appear to dance rhythmically, smooth his hair repeatedly and obsessively and generally make a tit of himself, often in reverse motion. Not only is this laugh-out-loud funny in itself, it also neatly encapsulates the film’s theme and subject in a single short sequence. Saul Bass it most definitely isn’t, but it follows his principles.

The performances are broad but effective - Petr Kostka particularly impressive as the two Bureš brothers, having to portray not just each (very different) twin but also Jan pretending to be Karel and not quite hitting his marks. And although it’s somewhat jarring to hear Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler et al speaking Czech rather than German, the relevant actors are no slouches in the lookalike department - František Vicena’s Hitler being especially convincing.

For all its cult reputation, I can’t make any great claims for this film being any kind of lost classic, but it’s certainly bonkers enough to justify all the fond memories. And it also joins that select group of time-travel films that addresses the paradox at the heart of its subject head on - most, like The Terminator, prefer to skim over gaping logical holes in the hope that audiences will be too thrilled by the all-stops-out action to notice. If Polák’s earlier Icarus XB-1 has more to offer posterity, Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself With Tea is far stronger in terms of intentional laughs - quite apart from possessing one of the cinema’s all-time-great titles. And for this alone it was well worth reviving.


The DVD

Distribution: Centrum českého videa (Czech Republic), PAL, no region code

Picture: As with the same label’s treatment of Jiri Menzel’s My Sweet Little Village, this transfer is only just acceptable. The print has seen a great many better days, with most frames betraying some spots and scratches, and there are also vertical tramlines and momentary horizontal bars caused by encoding errors (I checked the offending shots out on my laptop as well as my domestic player to make sure it was the disc at fault). The colours, too, are both faded and rather pasty-looking (at times creating the not unpleasing but presumably unintentional impression of a colourised black-and-white film). The framing is 4:3, but this was standard practice in 1970s Czechoslovakia and there is no evidence of pan-and-scan cropping. It’s never unwatchable, and given this film’s rarity one is grateful to have the chance to see it at all, but compared with the deluxe treatment Filmexport Home Video gave to Jindřich Polák’s earlier sci-fi effort Icarus XB-1, this is very disappointing.

Sound: Two soundtracks are on offer, the original mono and a Dolby 5.1 remix. Frankly, there’s little apparent difference - with the surround mix, I don’t recall hearing anything from the rear speakers or the subwoofer, though the slightly wider front soundstage made me prefer it to the mono track. Sound quality is acceptable, bearing in mind that there’s no evidence that the original recording would have been particularly outstanding.

Subtitles: The English subtitles provide a comprehensive translation, although clearly not one written by a native speaker. That said, lines like “I’ve told you at least a hundred times to stop these doings of yours!” are rather endearingly in sync with the film’s overall eccentricity.

Extras: Aside from the usual sponsors’ messages, there are just three extras, only one of which will be much use to non-Czech speakers. This consists of 23 black and white stills presented in a rather fetching pulsing red circle, and is accompanied by soundtrack music. Czech-language filmographies are provided for Petr Kostka, Jiří Sovák, Vladimír Menšík, Vlastimil Brodský and Jindřich Polák, and there are interviews with lead actor Petr Kostka and costume designer Theodor Pištěk, each running just under five minutes.


Links

11 Comments »

19

Comment by Gary Couzens

September 20, 2006 @ 8:02 pm

doesn’t appear in any of the standard reference books

That does depend on how you define “standard reference book”. Peter Nicholls clearly saw that TV showing because he wrote the entry on the film in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2nd ed., 1993) which he co-edited with John Clute. That’s a book which certainly is a standard reference work on the SF genre, written and visual.

20

Comment by Michael

September 20, 2006 @ 9:18 pm

Just to clarify, by “standard reference works”, I mean Halliwell’s, Time Out, Leonard Maltin et al - not genre-specific ones.

Or indeed country-specific, as it is of course in Václav Březina’s Lexikon českého filmu, the Czech equivalent of Halliwell’s - though he’s not very keen on it, giving it a mere 40%. (Icarus XB-1 gets the same lukewarm endorsement - by way of comparison, the other three features I’ve reviewed to date all get a perfect 100%, and I suspect Trnka’s The Hand would do too if he covered shorts).

That said, it wasn’t in Phil Hardy’s Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction (Aurum) - or at least not in my mid-1980s edition. Which was a surprise because Hardy’s book is normally very thorough in covering non-Western entries.

22

Comment by Andy

October 7, 2006 @ 1:23 am

I realise that the transfer is not as good as we have come to expect but it is a great deal better than some I have seen (the original DVDs of the BBC comedy Ripping Yarns, for example). When I first watched the DVD I was at my mother’s and her TV is washed out when you watch DVD or video so I was pleasantly surprised at how colourful it was on my computer (I don’t have a TV). While I agree that it may not be a film buff’s all time favourite it really does rank up there among mine, and it is one of only a handful of films that I remember watching that literally left me aching from laughter. I was almost shocked at how well I remembered this film after seeing it once, a quarter of a century ago. Frightening that, ain’t it.

51

Comment by colinr0380

October 26, 2006 @ 7:53 pm

Wow, it makes me wish that television showed these types of films these days. Lukily I managed to see the tail end of the Channel 4 and BBC2’s output from around 1994 to 1999 (the BBC100 season, the World Cinema Sunday night films), before unavailable in my area (without subscribing to Sky) digital channels took over and limited my discoveries to DVD.

123

Comment by Pal

November 6, 2006 @ 10:52 pm

Another great review. The DD5.1 sound is very much mono, indeed; however, there are some full-surround effects as well, albeit only during the rocket take offs.

Comment by Drew

January 26, 2007 @ 11:18 am

It is truly the funniest film I have ever, ever seen. Oddly enough, I think it was the night in 1982 when Jocky Wilson won the World Darts Championship - that was shown on BBC2 after it. I might be wrong, but I’ve never been able to disassociate the two memories!

Comment by Ivan Pope

January 31, 2007 @ 5:47 pm

Amazing. I actually saw this film at the time and have vaguely looked out for it over the years. My memory of it is totally imperfect and I had no idea it was a ‘cult’ film. To me it was just a very strange film that I once saw and always wanted to see again. Amazing.

Comment by dave

February 7, 2007 @ 3:33 pm

where in england can i obtain a copy

Comment by Michael

February 7, 2007 @ 3:39 pm

Aside from that BBC2 screening, it’s never been distributed in the UK in any form. If you want a copy of the DVD, you’ll have to import it from the Czech Republic.

Of the three links I supplied at the bottom of the review, the first is my regular supplier, and their site is at least partly in English.

Comment by Richard Awkward

October 1, 2007 @ 9:20 pm

How weird to learn exactly what you were doing on a Saturday night 25 years ago. I have always kept half an eye on things like Tartan Video’s catalogues in the hope that this quite brilliantly weird (to my 25-years-younger self, at least) movie might become available.

Many years ago, while on an Interrail journey around southern Bohemia I got talking to some old Czech bloke and I ended up talking to him about this film and gave me its original Czech title. Even then I was unable to track down a copy.

I don’t care how ropey this print is, you should have seen some of the bootleg Doctor Who tapes I used to watch back in the 80s.

Overjoyed to have finally tracked it down.

Pingback by Closely observered time machines at Earthprime.co.uk

October 27, 2007 @ 3:09 pm

[…] At 9:35 pm on Saturday 16th January, to be precise… and, unimaginably today, on BBC 2 up aganst ‘Match of the Day.’ (As related in this review, for one.) My brother and I had our own black & white TV and were not that interested in football, so we watched the whole thing. […]

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