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Puppets and Fairy Tales

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At the occasion of the Universal and International Exhibition in Brussels
englische Erstausgabe

"From Matĕj Kopecký to Jiří Trnka

The puppet film and the puppet theatre are, of course, entirely different branches of art, but they have common roots in the three-hundred-year-old tradition of Czech puppetry. One-hundred-and-fifty years ago the once-celebrated Czech culture faced annihilation. The Hapsburg dynasty had strangled Czech spiritual life, and the popular puppeteers were, except for books, the only medium which spoke to the Czech village people in the Czech tongue. They have therefore earned our veneration, and are ranked among the revivalists of the Czech nation, who created the first, really national, Czech theatre. One name receives our gratitude for the debt we owe all: Matĕj Kopecký symbolises for us the Czech puppeteer revivalists and has become the patron of their successors today. Since the beginning of the twentieth century the puppet theatre has been an art form for the education of the young. Puppet plays used to be and still are played at home, at school and in club rooms. Tens of thousands of amateurs give performances for their own pleasure and for the entertainment of children. From their ranks have sprung some of the best professional artists, such as the late National Artist Josef Skupa, State Prize Winner Jan Malík or Skupa’s pupil Hon- oured Artist and State Prize Winner Jiři Trnka. Every year a festival of the best amateur companies is held at Chrudim. Puppet-lovers have their own journal and young professional artists receive their training in the Puppetry Department of the Academy of Dramatic Art. The international puppetry organisation, UNIMA, has its headquarters in Czechoslovakia. Since 1949 regional professional theatres have sprung up throughout Czechoslovakia. Today there are thirteen of them. Some of them, like the Spejbl and Hurvinek Theatre, are known all over the world.

The Puppet film made its appearance in Czechoslovakia after the Second World War. There are now three studios in existence: the Prague Studio under the leadership of Jiři Trnka and the two Gottwaldov Studios, one directed by Hermína Týrlova and the other by Karel Zeman. Nearly 20 films by Trnka demonstrate not only his great and individual talent but also his wide range of subject matter and treatment: from the gentle irony of "The Song of the Prairie" or "The Story of the Double Bass" and the lyrical beauty of "The Czech Year" or "The Emperor’s Nightingale"` to the burning pathos of "Old Czech Legends". Hermína Tyrlové addresses the youngest cinemagoers. She selects uncomplicated plots and weaves them into a simple dramatic structure presented in a form comprehensible to children. Karel Zeman is famous not only as the author of the satirical films featuring Mr. Prokouk, but also as a pioneer in the field of trick photography. His film "A Journey into the Primeval Age" aroused great interest wherever it was shown. Today the pupils and assistants of these experienced masters are creating their own films. Trnka’s school has produced the gifted Břetislav Pojar whose films, "A Drop Too Much" and "The Little Umbrella" have won acclaim. Miloš Makovec, a director of feature films, has attracted attention with his film "The Lost Sentry". The fact that 50 films have been produced during twelve years of existence is in itself a cause for congratulations, but the 40 prizes awarded to productions by the Czechoslovak puppet film industry are an even more eloquent testimony to success of its work."

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