Vortrag im Collegium Carolinum am 29.9.2014

29.09.2014 (16:00)

This paper explores the production and reception of Czech feature films about the socialist past since 1989. In recent decades, visual media have become an increasingly important source for learning about the past. Numerous blockbusting feature films such as Kolja (Svěrák 1996), Pelišky (Hřebejk 1999) and Občanský průkaz (Trojan 2010) have offered a 'reel history' of the Czech socialist past. Their success has provoked debates over the relation of film to written history, nostalgia and the process of coming to terms with the past. This paper scrutinizes the production of Czech history films and the ensuing history-cultural debates. It begins with an analysis of the economic conditions for the production of 'reel history' in an increasingly transnational film industry. It is argued that the production of history films rarely correlates with any post-socialist 'zeitgeist'. Next, the paper discusses the development over time of the focus and themes of the history films dealing with the socialist past. Critical attention is given to the idea of post-socialist nostalgia and the concept of retro cinema. Through historical reception studies of Czech cinema it is demonstrated how the term ‘retro’ developed from an unfamiliar adjective to a typical genre moniker. Finally, the paper considers the characteristics of the films described as 'retro' and discusses the multiple decoding strategies these films invite. It shows how the same films can simultaneously encourage nostalgic indulgence and historical reflection. Thus, the paper argues that the Czech post-socialist cinematic productions set in the socialist past have often been polysemic cultural products allowing for diverse interpretations of past and present. As such, they merit much more scholarly attention than they have hitherto received.

Sune Bechmann Pedersen is a PhD-candidate in History at Lund University. His specialization is the history of Czech and German post-Communist cinema and the filmic appropriation of the recent past as 'reel history'. The research project "'Reel Socialism': Making Sense of the Communist Past in Czech and German Cinema since 1989" compares the role the Communist past has played in the two film cultures after the fall of Communism. His publications include 'The Negotiation of Collective Identities in German Cinema after Unification' in Studies in Eastern European Cinema (2012) and 'Treading New Paths: Czech and German Postcommunist Road Movies' in Lars Kristensen (ed.) Postcommunist Film - Russia, Eastern Europe and World Culture: Moving Images of Postcommunism (Routledge, 2012). Bechmann Pedersen received an MA in history with distinction in 2009 from University College London, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, and was a visiting fellow at the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology 2013-14. His next research project carries the tentative title 'Eastern Escapes: Scandinavian Tourists in Communist Europe, 1950-1990' and will explore the politics behind Eastern Europe's emergence as a popular destination for Scandinavian tourism.

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