Archive for the 'Jindřich Polák' Category

Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea

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)

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.

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

Picture: As with the same label’s treatment of Jiří 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.


Posted on 28th October 2007
Under: Reviews, Jindřich Polák, Czechoslovakia | 11 Comments »

Icarus XB-1 / Voyage to the End of the Universe

Ikarie XB 1
1963, black and white, 87 mins

  • Director: Jindřich Polák
  • Producer: Rudolf Wolf
  • Screenplay: Pavel Juráček, Jindřich Polák
  • Story: Pavel Juráček, Jindřich Polák
  • Photography: Jan Kališ
  • Editor: Josef Dobřichovský
  • Design: Jan Zázvorka
  • Music: Zdeněk Liška
  • Cast: Zdeněk Štěpánek (Vladimír Abajev); František Smolík (Antony Hopkins); Dana Medřická (Nina Kirová); Irena Kačírková (Brigita); Radovan Lukavský (MacDonald); Otto Lackovič (Michal); Miroslav Macháček (Marcel Bernard); Rudolf Deyl (Ervin Herold); Martin Ťapák (Petr Kubeš); Jiří Vršťala (Erik Svenson); Jaroslav Mareš (Milek Wertbowski); Marcela Martínková (Štefa); Jozef Adamovič (Zdeněk Lorenc); Jaroslav Rozsíval (doctor); Svatava Hubeňáková (MacDonald’s wife); Růžena Urbanová; Jan Cmíral; Vjačeslav Irmanov
  • Crew: Saša Rašilov, Jr (second cameraman); Oldřich Hubáček (camera assistant); Václav Pohl (lighting); Jan Kališ, Milan Nejedlý, Jiří Hlupý, Pavel Nečesal, Karel Císařovský, František Žemlička (special photographic effects); Miroslav Pešan (stills photography); Jaromír Svoboda (sound); Bohumír Brunclík, Jaromír Svoboda (sound effects); Film Symphony Orchestra conducted by František Belfín (music performed by); František Halmazna (choreography); Ester Krumbachová, Jan Skalický (costume design); Zdena Šnajdarová (costumes); Rudolf Hammer (make-up); František Klema, Karel Holek, Libuše Švejdová (make-up assistants); Karel Lukáš (set designer); Bohumil Dudař (assistant designer); Hynek Bočan (assistant director); Jiří Růžička (director’s assistant); Eva Mičulková (script supervisor); Helena Lehovcová, Růžena Hejsková (assistant editors); Ludmila Tikovská, František Jaderník (associate producers); Ferdinand Zelenka, Eliška Doubková (assistants to the producer); Milan Ledvina, Rudolf Pešek, Vladimír Guth, Milan Morávek, Jan Hospodář, Milan Kauders (professional advisers); Barrandov Film Studios (production company)

In many ways the missing link between Forbidden Planet and 2001: A Space Odyssey (and Star Trek), Icarus XB-1 is a fascinating sci-fi curio. For decades this was only available to English-speaking viewers in the form of Voyage to the End of the Universe, one of American International Pictures’ notorious hatchet jobs, heavily cut, dubbed (and partially retranslated) into English and with a nonsensical new ending that junks one of the film’s main themes in favour of a crass Planet of the Apes-style shock twist. (The fact that it predated that film by four or five years is the only mitigating factor, but that won’t cut much ice with today’s audiences).

Thankfully, the original is now back in circulation, and reveals itself to be an unusually thoughtful and intelligent genre entry - badly dated in parts (and further unintentional amusement comes via a leading character called Anthony Hopkins and a deadly gas trademarked as ‘Tigger Fun’), but that’s true of virtually everything else from its era. And it’s especially easy to make allowances when the film’s strengths are so clear.

Set in the 22nd century, it depicts various events that happens to the spaceship of the title as its occupants attempt to find life in the Alpha Centauri solar system. The early part of the film concentrates on life on board, initially letting us get to know the forty-strong crew during a birthday celebration, during which they dance, socialise and occasionally conspire. We are shown glimpses of their day-to-day lives as they eat, exercise and even shower together, alongside imaginative touches such as packets of cigarette-style tubes which, when sniffed, appear to evoke memories of life on Earth. A shipboard romance even leads to a pregnancy-and-birth subplot, highly unusual for the time (so much so that it was apparently excised from the US version in its entirety).

The dramatic action moves up a notch when they discover an apparently deserted UFO-style manned satellite cryptically named Tornado. Successfully breaking in, astronauts Peter and Ervin (Martin Ťapák and Rudolf Deyl) discover a room full of dead bodies, perfectly preserved and seemingly killed instantly without any warning, as they’re frozen in mid-action. They find evidence that it’s a 1987 (!) expedition and also of what happened, though I won’t post any spoilers here. The second major set-piece involves an encounter with what is presumably a black hole (called a “dark star” in the subtitles here), which has an adverse affect on the Icarus’ crew in terms of provoking both fatigue and radiation sickness - in one case, Michael (Otto Lackovič) goes mad and tries to return to Earth, threatening the other crew members and jeopardising the future of their mission.

The set-up is so similar to that of Star Trek that one can’t help wondering whether Gene Roddenberry saw it beforehand. Stanley Kubrick certainly did when researching special-effects technology prior to making 2001, and some of Icarus XB-1’s design and conceptual ideas found their way into his film - the spacesuits are very similar, as is the interior lighting, hexagonal corridors, videophone calls to loved ones, and the overarching theme of searching for unspecified (and never directly depicted) alien intelligence beyond the further reaches of our solar system.

Also familiar from Kubrick’s film (and Star Trek) is the notion of international collaboration - the various characters have Czech, Russian, British/American, Scandinavian and French names. True, they’re also resoundingly monoracial, something that Star Trek would correct (though not 2001), but this is understandable, as early 1960s Czechoslovakia wouldn’t have been anybody’s idea of a rainbow nation. Lest this make Icarus XB-1 sound like a wholly innocent victim of others’ borrowings, it should be noted that it also rips off Forbidden Planet via a blatantly Robby-styled robot cutely named Patrick which has a faintly disturbing habit of assuming that if a crew member isn’t moving, he must be dead, and repeating this allegation mechanically until told to shut up.

Director Jindřich Polák (who would go on to helm the cult favourite Nazi time-travel comedy Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself With Tea in 1977) does a fine job of blending incidental wit with overarching seriousness. The sequence exploring the shadowy interior of the Tornado is genuinely creepy (especially when its dead pilot is disturbed and a chunk of his long-decomposed flesh floats away from his exposed skull), and Polák also makes a brave if not entirely convincing stab at a Spielbergian sense of wonder at the end (albeit when Spielberg was still in short trousers).

The special effects are somewhat creaky now, but would have looked close to state-of-the-art back in 1963, taking full advantage of the Barrandov Studios’ renowned facilities. Already imaginative sets (the black-and-white cinematography is particularly alive to their various textures) are enhanced by an inventive use of rear projection screens that must have taken no small effort to assemble and synchronise. The music is by the great Zdeněk Liška (Czechoslovakia’s Bernard Herrmann, best known in the West for his many collaborations with Jan Švankmajer), which alternates lush orchestral colourings with chirruping electronics and bizarre dance rhythms with more than a hint of Juan Garcia Esquivel’s then-contemporaneous space-age bachelor pad soundtracks.

I was expecting more overt political content, though it’s easy to see why the Czechoslovak Communist administration of the time had no problems with the implication of a glorious multinational socialist future (explicitly contrasted with the fate of the Tornado, brought down by its excessive reliance on nuclear weaponry), a notion carried through to the end with its theme of spontaneous intergalactic co-operation. Truth be told, this aspect of the film is weaker than the individual set-pieces, and the film as a whole is a definite notch below Forbidden Planet and 2001 in terms of overall achievement - but Icarus XB-1 is still a very welcome rediscovery.

DVD Distribution: Filmexport Home Video (Czech Republic), PAL, no region code.

Picture: Thankfully, the DVD preserves the original 2.35:1 Scope aspect ratio, and is anamorphically enhanced. The print is in good rather than great condition - there are quite a few spots and scratches (especially towards the end), but nothing seriously distracting. The texture is somewhat grainy, but this may well have been characteristic of the original. Contrast is strong without being excessive, which particularly benefits the set design and exterior special-effects shots. A full-scale restoration would doubtless improve matters, but this will certainly do to be going on with. DVDFreak offers screengrabs here.

Sound: The sound is the original mono, and has been well preserved - there are a few minor audio glitches, but I have no difficulty believing that these are inherent in the original materials, which otherwise sound exactly as you’d expect an early-1960s film to sound.

Subtitles: In common with every other release I’ve seen on this label, the English subtitles are white, easy to read, and generally flawless aside from one or two idiomatic slip-ups. Onscreen text (such as credits) is also translated.

Extras: Although the disc comes with a really impressive set of extras (especially considering the film’s age), most will be useless to non-Czech speakers. So instead of listing them in menu order, I’ll highlight the English-friendly ones first, starting with three short clips (totalling five minutes) from the American International Pictures version of the film (Voyage to the End of the Universe) illustrating how much it deviated from the Czech original. Firstly, there’s the hilarious title sequence, retaining all the names in the credits but Anglicising the vast majority - so it’s now directed by ‘Jack Pollack’, was written in collaboration with ‘Paul Jurist’ and has music by ‘Danny List’, though my favourite was the way costume designer (and key New Wave figure) Ester Krumbachová became plain ‘Esther Smith’, as though off for a dirty weekend. The second clip shows the confrontation between Michael and MacDonald about three-quarters of the way through, but is most interesting for the way it shows how the US version uses voiceover to add additional plot points or smooth over the cuts. And finally there’s the alternate ending, where the “white planet” turns out to be the Earth (illustrated via aerial stock footage of New York). The clips are all in English, with no subtitle option (not even Czech).

Non-Czech speakers can also appreciate the wittily-designed stills gallery, which involves 42 images (mostly from the film, though there are a couple of behind-the-scenes shots towards the end) in an appropriately retro brushed aluminium frame with sliding metal panels revealing each successive image. This runs just under three-and-a-half minutes, and there’s also a smaller gallery of publicity materials, animated as if floating through space. Each is accompanied by extracts from Zdeněk Liška’s score: electronic for the first, orchestral for the second.

As for the Czech-only extras, these include: a half-hour lecture on the film by historian Pavel Taussig; a 35-minute documentary interspersing copious clips with interviews with Hynek Bočan (assistant director), Radovan Lukavský (Macdonald), Zuzana Poláková (presumably the director’s wife or daughter: he died in 2003) and the sci-fi writer Ondřej Neff (former editor-in-chief of Ikarie magazine, named after this film); text biographies/filmographies of leading cast and crew members; a bibliography of references to the film; the usual raft of sponsors and media partner ads and trailers common to Filmexport releases.

There’s also a DVD-ROM section, which is worth exploring as although most of it consists of Czech and German magazine articles, there’s also a reproduction of the original English press notes, including a full (and detailed) synopsis and biographies of the major players.


Posted on 28th October 2007
Under: Reviews, Jindřich Polák, Czechoslovakia | 5 Comments »

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