An excerpt from the booklet essay by Jonathan Owen

By the time he made Beauty and the Beast, director Juraj Herz (1934-2018) had already established himself as Czechoslovak cinema’s master of the macabre. Born in the Slovak town of Kežmarok to Jewish parents, the young Herz survived the real horror of the Holocaust as a prisoner of the Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen camps – an experience that surely informed his work both explicitly and implicitly. Herz’s route into cinema was a circuitous one that included the study of photography at Bratislava’s School of Applied Arts, puppetry training at the theatre faculty of Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts, acting and directing at the Semafor Theatre, and finally work as an assistant director (and bit-part player) to both Zbyněk Brynych and Ján Kadár at Barrandov Studios. This hands-on directing education – ‘Brynych and Kadár were my professors’, Herz later wrote – set him apart from his New Wave contemporaries who had studied at the FAMU film school.


Herz began the 1970s with two remarkable films whose sensibilities, as Štěpan Hulík puts it, ‘remain…quite untouched’ by normalisation – the sombre Oil Lamps (Petrolejové lampy, 1971) and the delirious Morgiana (1972), both works steeped in melodrama and in decadent, fin de siècle ambience. Neither film, though, went unscathed by normalisation censorship and Herz was banned from directing at Barrandov after the ‘sadomasochistic’ Morgiana. This ban was revoked on condition that Herz make a film set in ‘a working-class environment’; Herz responded with a musical comedy, Porcelain Girls aka Girls from a Porcelain Factory (Holky z porcelánu, 1974). This was followed by a similarly unassuming comic crime film, A Girl Fit to Be Killed (Holka na zabití, 1975), and then by the tragic family drama A Day for My Love (Den pro mou lásku, 1976), another contemporary-set and less distinctively ‘Herzian’ film but one on which he returned to an expressive, ‘poetic’ visual style. All too aware of the dangers of ‘standing still’, Herz did the rounds of Barrandov’s script development groups, asking if there was any (non-political) project he could make. Salvation came from the group for children’s films headed by Ota Hofman, which offered Herz Hofman’s own script for Beauty and the Beast.

Herz was initially unenthusiastic about the offer: why repeat the material that Jean Cocteau had filmed so famously and superlatively in his 1946 La Belle et la Bête? A further discouragement was the fact that Hofman’s script – an adaptation of a 1970 theatrical version of the story by poet František Hrubín – had already been filmed a few years earlier by director Antonín Moskalyk for Czechoslovak Television. It was only upon re-watching Cocteau’s film that Herz realised another approach to the material was possible: not so stylised, as in Cocteau, but more raw and ‘realistic’. Hrubín’s theatrical source, which had made the Beast a more violent and internally conflicted figure than in other versions of the story, had already laid some ground for Herz’s harsh reimagining. Undoubtedly the most arresting differentiating aspect of Herz’s version, though, is the director’s own inspired decision to transform the Beast’s appearance from its more familiar leonine or bear-like form into an unsightly bird-headed creature. Herz chose this form became the bird seemed a more alien being, one less likely to suggest the possibility of communication than the traditional mammalian form; this change thereby heightens a theme perhaps inherent to Beauty and the Beast in all its variants: the confrontation between human and ‘other’. In another clear signalling of revisionist intent, Herz changed the story’s customary title (even though English translations of the film’s title have simply changed it back), and Kráska a zvíře – ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – became the more primal and fearsome 'Panna a netvor' – ‘The Virgin and the Monster’.


Jonathan Owen's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.

Disc Info

Czecxhoslovakia, 1978
Beauty and the Beast:
91 minutes
Special features: 9 mins
Sound: 2.0 Dual Mono LPCM (48k/24-bit)
Original aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Language: Czech
Subtitles: English

Blu-ray: BD25 / 1080 / 24fps Region ABC (Region Free)

Blu-Ray: £19.99
Release Date: 26 July 2021


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