An excerpt from the booklet essay by Jonathan Owen

In an offhanded start to his directing career, Forman began shooting a ‘silent documentary’ on the pop-literary cabaret of the Semafor Theatre, which resulted in Audition (Konkurs, 1963), a medium-length account of the auditions for a new Semafor singer. This film is a controlled, modified version of cinéma vérité: the audition process was held purposely for the film, and the unknowing contestants’ ‘real’ auditions are framed by a slim fictional narrative. The film thus already highlights Forman’s interest in capturing authentic behaviour and his embrace of those performers who may not look (or sound) like conventional stars but whose faces fascinate with their uniqueness, vivacity or guileless openness. Equally characteristically, it is a study of youth and naivety, of dreams unsupported by adequate talent, and it is filmed with a combination of tender sympathy and amused, clear-eyed observation. But many at the time considered the film ‘cruel and cynical’, in what would become a critical habit of negatively misreading Forman’s stance towards his subjects.

Not long enough for solo exhibition, Audition was supplemented by a short film, If Only They Ain’t Had Them Bands (Kdyby ty muziky nebyly) and the two were released together in 1963. But Black Peter, initiated later, appeared in cinemas several months before the supplemented Audition. Black Peter proved popular domestically and internationally, beating Godard’s Contempt (Le Mépris, 1963) and Antonioni’s Red Desert (Il desserto rosso, 1964) to first prize at the Locarno Film Festival. Forman expanded on this success with A Blonde in Love (Lásky jedné plavovlásky, 1965), which remains one of his most acclaimed and fondly regarded works, and The Fireman’s Ball (Hoří, má panenko, 1967). These three features show an increasing sophistication in which Forman exerts an ever greater mastery in shaping and interweaving the seemingly improvised, free-flowing situations. His practice was to use mainly non-actors, arresting presences who nonetheless belong utterly to the stories’ everyday environments, and, though a script would be written, Forman would withhold it from his performers, instead guiding them through their parts and developing the dialogue collaboratively on set. The storylines derived from real situations Forman had encountered: behind the absurd premise and touching story of A Blonde in Love stood a real textile town in which the women vastly outnumbered the men, and a real girl who had turned up in Prague, heavy suitcase in hand, looking for a man she had met.

As Forman evolved a loose stock company of favourite actors (a tendency he would repeat in his American career), so did he work with regular collaborators behind the camera. The distinguished cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček photographed nearly all of Forman’s films, from Audition until late into the American work with Valmont (1989) (though Jan Němeček, who took on the cinematography duties for Black Peter, must be credited for replicating Forman and Ondříček’s trademark, a naturalism-enhancing visual register of long-lens shots and long takes). It is also essential to mention the ubiquitous contributions of Ivan Passer and Jaroslav Papoušek, who provided script collaboration and other assistance. Papoušek also wrote the source novella for Black Peter, which initiated his association and friendship with Forman. The extent to which Forman’s sensibility was a quantity shared by these three great and like-minded friends can be gauged from the films Passer and Papoušek would direct independently.


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

Disc Info

Czechoslovakia, 1963
Length / Feature
(Blu-ray/24fps): 90 minutes
(DVD/25fps): 87 minutes
Length / Special features:
49 minutes
Blu-ray: 2.0 Mono LPCM (48k/24-bit)
DVD: 2.0 Mono
Black and white
Original aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Language: Czech

Blu-ray: BD50 / 1080 / 24fps / Region ABC
DVD: PAL / DVD9 / Region 0

Blu-Ray: £19.99
DVD: £12.99
Release Date: 09 July 2018


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