Monday, October 03, 2022

Po horách, po dolách / [Over Mountains, Over Valleys]

Karel Plicka: Po horách, po dolách / [Over Mountains, Over Valleys] (CS 1930). From.: Slovenský filmový ústav, Bratislava.

PO HORÁCH, PO DOLÁCH [Per monti e per valli] (CS 1930)
Karel Plicka; DCP, 101'
prod: Matica slovenská.
dist: Slovensko-film, Bratislava.
uscita/rel: 13.3.1930.
copia/copy: DCP, 101’ (da/from 35 mm, 1842 m, 16 fps); did./titles: SVK.
fonte/source: Slovenský filmový ústav, Bratislava.
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM) 2022: Venezia 90/Venice 90
Grand piano: Günter Buchwald announced + Frank Bockius alla batteria + Romano Todesco.
Viewed with e-subtitles in English and Italian at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 3 Oct 2022

Rastislav Steranka, Federico Striuli (GCM 2022):

When I saw a Slovak village for the very first time, I already imagined what it would look like on film. It was its pure, picturesque, at that time still indeterminate artistic charm that captivated me.”  – Karel Plicka

"Karel Plicka (1894–1987) was a folklorist and ethnographer of the Slovak Matica (Matica slovenská), a national cultural and scientific organization established in 1863 and revived in 1919 with the mission of developing and strengthening Slovak patriotism and awakening the national consciousness of Slovaks at home and abroad. Considered a founder of Slovak film education and filmmaking, Plicka began as a still photographer, recording the vanishing cultural traditions of the Slovakian countryside. But already his photographs showed that he possessed a strong poetic vision of the world, with a purposeful effort to find the harmonious counterpart of folksongs in his images. In 1926 he acquired his first motion-picture camera and began to familiarize himself with filmmaking, first shooting short segments as a way of chronicling what he saw, which he later edited into longer films, always with an ethnographic aim. Over Mountains, Over Valleys is a further elaboration on themes from his previous film, Za slovenským ľudom (About the Slovak Folk, 1928), and in many respects it marks his return to familiar places, this time with new equipment and experiences."

"The film’s title, Over Mountains, Over Valleys, is borrowed from the lyrics of a folksong: “Got a horse named Fako, who carries me comfortably, over mountains, over valleys, over cold dew in the mornings.” The similarity between the film and the song is reflected in both title and content. The dramaturgical intention of the film was ethnographical documentation, with a broader geographical framework to explore cultural phenomena. Plicka’s main aim was to record classical forms of traditional folk culture before they vanished for good. The film’s structure consists of sequenced thematic units containing brief profiles of distinctive Slovak villages. The contents of each sequence are not a variation of schematic models; in depicting each of the villages, he strives for a thematic uniqueness. The greater part of the film consists of children’s games set against the backdrop of the picturesque architecture of the village of Čičmany, the landscape of the Upper Hron region in Heľpa, and the majestic scenery of the Belianske Tatras mountain range in Ždiar. The depiction of youth, movement, demonstrations of physical strength, ingenuity, dexterity, and the immediate atmosphere of the children’s games that we see here were interests to which Plicka would constantly return in his films."

"In Plicka’s work, his sensitivity to light, effective compositional layout, and lyricism are hallmarks of his style. His “moving” photography grew out of still photography, and indeed, the camera is largely static, with only occasional pans. It places the characters on the horizon, or shoots them from below, monumentalizing them. The form (image) is subordinated to the content (ethnographic documentation). Separate scenes build towards thematic sequences without any motivational continuity or dramaturgical concept. The image is mostly a mosaic of separate sequences connected by an external framework (e.g., the theme of the village), rather than by the internal motivation of the action. The whole has neither a subject nor a smooth narrative flow, instead forming a composition of loosely assigned units. Within the composition, as he shifts from ethnographic fact to artistic structure, a synthesis of documentary and poetry occurs, creating a cinematic symphony."

Venice 1932 

"Non-fiction films made up a considerable part of the first Venice International Film Exhibition programme. The Czechoslovakian ethnographic film Po horách, po dolách, by director Karel Plicka, was screened on the 5th evening, Wednesday 10 August, to a packed audience. Despite this, no contemporary account about the reception of the movie seems to exist, and even the text by Mario Gromo mistakenly published in the 1992 book Venezia 1932: il cinema diventa arte actually refers to Zem spieva (The Earth Sings), another movie by Plicka (for information about this film, see La Stampa, Thursday, 23 August 1934). However, because Czechoslovakia participated at Venice with four titles two years later (among which was Zem spieva), it’s possible to presume that Po horách, po dolách was also in fact met with generally positive reactions."

The print 

"The film will be presented in a digital copy, as the only surviving acetate duplicate negative didn’t retain all of the original picture information from the nitrate from perforation to perforation, the so-called “full-gate 35 mm”. Working with the dupe negative, the laboratories copied first a portion of the so-called “Academy 35 mm frame” and then the missing portion to the audio track. Partial shifts and overlaps also occurred due to the incorrect position of the picture starts. The reason why the laboratories’ copying process was so elaborate was probably due to the fact that they didn’t have full-gate 35 mm equipment; they thus strove to preserve as much of the picture area as possible, taking this shortcoming into account. Thanks to digital technology, we were able to partially reconstruct the picture, and thus provide the viewer with the opportunity to see a result comparable to the original nitrate print." Rastislav Steranka, Federico Striuli (GCM 2022)

AA: Maximum overdrive in Karel Plicka's ethnographic film, a celebration of Slovak village life on the Tatra mountains, non-narrative, displaying collector mania and anthology madness in showcasing work traditions, folk customs, types, practices, costumes, games, dances and pranks of all kinds. Unhinged Flahertyism soon turns tiresome, but when it goes on and on, it becomes a joke, if not a catalogue aria.

The laconic English intertitles are funny. "Brigands twisting". "Jump on a stump". "One lifts the other". "Pulling tomcats". "Poaching game".

The visual quality is variable in the duped print. There are appealing, expressive portrait shots of the people of the mountains. The sense of the sublime in the landscape footage is not as exalted as in Bergfilm classics, but this more laid back attitude is pleasing in its own way. The gorgeous cloud and mist foundations evoke the recent achievements of Olivier Assayas in Clouds of Sils Maria and its film-within-the film, Das Wolkenphänomen von Maloja.

The trio of musicians did not find a proper rhythm to the catalogue method at first, but by the section of the dances they had found an exhilarating approach. Some of the dances are fabulous, and so was the music.

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