February 28, 1911|
Hradec Králové, Austria-Hungary
September 15, 2011 (aged 100)|
Prague, Czech Republic
Otakar Vávra was a Czech film director, screenwriter and pedagogue.
Vávra attended universities in Brno and Prague, where he studied architecture. During 1929-30, while still a student, he participated in the making of a handful of documentaries and wrote movie scripts. In 1931, he produced the experimental films The Light Penetrates the Dark (Světlo proniká tmou, 1931), followed by We Live in Prague (Žijeme v Praze, 1934), and November (Listopad, 1935).
His first feature film was 1938's Cech panen Kutnohorských, starring Zorka Janů, sister of legendary Czech actress Lída Baarová. Janů also played in Vávra's films Podvod s Rubensem and Pacientka Dr. Hegela, both from 1940. Baarová starred in Vávra's films Panenství (1937), Maskovaná milenka (1939), Dívka v modrém (1939), and Turbína (1941).
After the Communists came to power in 1948, Vávra adapted quickly to the new political climate and produced films praising the current regime and supporting the new, official interpretation of the past.
In the 1950s he produced the "Hussite Trilogy", one of his most famous works, consisting of Jan Hus (1954), Jan Žižka (1955) and Proti všem (Against All Odds, 1957).
In the 1950s, Otakar Vávra, together with a group of fellow Czech film directors, established the Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU), where he taught for over five decades. Among his students were several directors of the 1960s Czechoslovak New Wave, including Miloš Forman, Jiří Menzel, Věra Chytilová, and Emir Kusturica.
When the government became more liberal in the 1960s, Vávra's cinema entered into his most prolific period, directing Zlatá reneta (1965), Kladivo na čarodějnice (1969), and later Komediant (1984). Vávra's most acclaimed work, Romance pro křídlovku (1966), is a black-and-white film based on a poem by Czech lyrical poet František Hrubín and concerns an ill-fated summer romance between two young lovers of different backgrounds.
When the Communists fell from power in 1989, state subsidies for the film industry were dropped and Vávra's plans for an historical epic titled Evropa tančila valčík had to be scaled down.
He directed fifty-two feature films.
Světlo proniká tmou (The Light Penetrates the Dark)
dir. Otakar Vávra and František Pilát, 35mm, 4 min, 1931. Download (WEBM)
This short experimental film focuses on Zdeněk Pešánek's first public kinetic sculpture, created for the power station on Jindřišská street in Prague. For a period of eight years it issued beams of light from the outside wall of a transformer station at Prague's power utility before its destruction in 1939. Though genuine, these shots seem abstract to us. They are a rhythmically assembled ode to the light-creating devices and phenomena of electricity. Light arcs, coils, bulbs and various luminous elements support the alternation of positive and negative film images, creating an impressive universe of light and shade. In the 1920s, Pešánek had obtained financial support for his work with electric kinetic light art. In the 1930s, he was the first sculptor to use neon lights. He built several kinetic light pianos, and published a book titled Kinetismus in 1941.
Žijeme v Praze (We Live in Prague)
dir. Otakar Vávra, 13 min, 362 m, b&w, 1934. Download (WEBM)
Cinematography: Jaroslav Tuzar. Music: E. F. Burian.
Film essay from the streets of Prague.
dir. Otakar Vávra, 520 m, b&w, 1935. Download (WEBM)
Two lovers, after a couple of years, meet by chance again.