StarÉ Povesti CeskÉ - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

(Old Czech Legends)

Czechoslovakia, 1953

Director: Jiří Trnka

Production: Puppet Film Prague; color, animated puppets, 35mm; length: 2,480 meters. Released September 1953, Prague. Filmed 1953.

Producers: Vladimír Janovský, Vojen Masník, and Jaroslav Možiš; story: Jiří Trnka and Milos Kratochvíl; screenplay: Jiří Trnka and Jiří Brdečka, from the book by Alois Jirásek; photography: Ludvík Hájek and Emanuel Franek; editor: Helena Lebdušková; sound: Emanuel Formánek, Emil Poledník and Josef Zavadil; music: Václav Trojan; consultants: Rudolf Turek and Albert Pek; animation: Břetislav Pojar, Bohuslav Srámek, Zdeněk Hrabě, Stanislav Látal, Jan Karpaš, Josef Kluge, and František Braun.

Cast: ( Voices ) Ružena Nasková; Václav Vydra, Sr.; Karel Höger; Zdeněk Stěpánek; Eduard Kohout.

Awards: Venice Film Festival, Silver Medal from the president of the Festival, Lion of St. Mark, and Honorable Mention for Short Films, 1953; Locarno Festival, Prize of the Swiss Film Press, 1953.



Boček, Jaroslav, Jiří Trnka, Artist and Puppet Master , Prague, 1963.

Benešová, Marie, Jiří Trnka , Prague, 1970.

Liehm, Mira and Antonin, The Most Important Art: East European Film After 1945 , Berkeley, 1977.

Habova, Milada, and Jitka Vysekalova, editors, Czechoslovak Cinema , Prague, 1982.


Brož, J., "The Puppet Film as Art," in Film Culture (New York), no. 5–6, 1955.

Brož, J., "An Interview with the Puppet-Film Director, Jiří Trnka," in Film (London), January-February 1956.

Orna, Bernard, "Trnka's Little Men," in Films and Filming (London), November 1956.

Polt, Harriet, "The Czechoslovak Animated Film" in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1964.

Boček, Jaroslav, in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 5, 1965.

"Trnkaland," in Newsweek (New York), March 1966.

Fiala, Miloš, in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 4, 1970.

Schepelern, P., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), Summer 1978.

* * *

After exhausting work on a long puppet film, Bajaja , Trnka gathered his creative strength for another ambitious enterprise, to transpose into the form of a puppet movie the "Legends of Old Bohemia," a collection of narratives about the oldest period of Czech history, in which history is mixed with mythology. It was not a simple task and doubts appeared from the very beginning. However, Trnka was convinced that puppets were most suitable for expressing the magic as well as the solemnity of old stories and myths. From the book by Alois Jirásek, who had shaped these legends according to old chronicles and records (the book was published in 1894), he selected six stories: the arrival of First Father (Patriarch) Czech in the territory of contemporary Bohemia; the legend about the strong Bivoj; the legend of Prłemysl the Ploughman, founder of the royal dynasty of Prłemyslites reigning in Bohemia until the 15th century; the story of the Young Women's War; about Horymír who stood up to defend the farmers' labor; and the legend of the Lucko War which is won by Cestmír, a hero of the people. Trnka did not restrict himself exclusively to Jirásek's conception; while planning the screenplay, he took into consideration the most recent archaeological research which helped him interpret the probable material and cultural conditions of life in those days. However, Jirásek's text, together with the archaeological research, was, for Trnka, merely a foundation on which he built a structure according to his own imagination and invention.

From the point of view of Trnka's creative career, Old Czech Legends represents a fundamental metamorphosis in his work. This change was manifested most expressively in the puppets themselves. In comparison with Spalícłek , The Emperor's Nightingale , and Bajaja , whose common trait was fragility and charm, the puppets in the Legends are monumentally dramatic and tragic, more individualized; their countenance expresses their character, the inner essence of the represented person. Another radical innovation was the breaking of unity between the music and the picture because, in this film, Trnka's puppets speak for the first time. Václav Trojan's music does not lose its importance but it is incorporated into the overall sound design including dialogue and sound effects.

The stories in Old Czech Legends combine to form a total composition. The majestic arrival of Patriarch Czech is followed by the struggle of Bivoj with a wild boar; the epic about Prłemysl has lyrical passages, the Young Women's War a capricious, almost erotic mood. The dramatic narrative about Horymír is remarkable for its crowd scenes and its conclusion in which Horymír jumps over the Moldau River. The most remarkable is probably the last episode of the Legends, the narrative about the cowardly Duke Neklan, who must be replaced in the war by a people's hero, Cestmír. The characterization of Neklan pushes the puppet movie to its farthest limits in expressing psychological attitudes. In his monograph about Trnka, Jaroslav Boček describes it as an extraordinary study of cowardice which we can only rarely find even in a movie with human actors. The second part of the story—Cestmír's battle with the Lukanians—is remarkable from another point of view. Trnka used from 70 to 100 puppets in battle scenes. Control of such a multitude of inanimate actors was, from the artistic and technical standpoint, an unusually demanding task, unthinkable in a puppet movie until then. Moreover, Trnka found, jointly with his animators, the precise shade of dramatic mood and rhythm, so that the movements of the crowd were harmonious.

The Legends occupy an important place in Trnka's extensive work. Trnka discovered here a new style of puppet movie, characterized by a transition from lyricism to drama and by the depiction of an individualized, psychologically conditioned hero. That this new style had the potential for further development was demonstrated by Trnka's subsequent puppet movies The Good Soldier Svejk and The Dream of the Night of St. John .

—B. Urgosíková

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