Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Karadjordje

Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Karadjordje

Article excerpt

There is almost always romance in any story of the finding of a lost film, but few such stories can be more romantic than that of Karadjordje (or, to give it its full title, The Life and Deeds of the Immortal Duke Karadjordje). The first Serbian feature film, almost certainly the first Balkan feature film, made in 1911, Karadjordje matched its novelty with its subject matter. The film portrayed the life of the eponymous national hero - the resistance leader of the early 1800s who turned the tide after three and a half centuries of Turkish rule and laid the foundations of a Serbian nation. In spite of huge popularity and obvious historical significance, however, the film vanished from sight at the end of the 1920s, and, like so many important silent films,was considered thoroughly lost for seventy years... Then, in July 2003, a print was found in the Filmarchiv Austria, among the effects of Ignaz Reinthale (Rantauer) the former proprietor of a cinema in Osijek who came to Austria with his films when the FirstWorld War brought about the dissolution of the Habsburg Empire. The film was rediscovered just in time to be screened to mark the 200th anniversary of the original Karadjordje's uprising.

The DVD shares this find with the world. At its heart is a faithful rendition of the print that turned up in Vienna. Not yet in any sense a restoration, the transferred print is known to be shorter than the original film. It also shows the traces of occasionally significant nitrate deterioration and other blemishes, although the underlying picture quality is excellent. As the found print lacked intertitles, the Jugoslovenska Kinoteka has generated new titles,working from dramatic and biographical sources.

The "extras" on the disc include a 20-minute documentary Karadjordje for the Second Time Among Serbs. This tells the story of the film and of its rediscovery, mainly by using a succession of interviews with film historians Dr Dejan Kosanovíc and Stevan Jovicíc, with Aleksander Erdeljanovic, Radoslav Zelenovíc and Dinko Tucakovíc from the Kinoteka's senior staff, and with Nikolaus Wostry of Filmarchiv Austria. Other extras include digital versions of the exhibition, the book and the poster prepared by the Kinoteka for the (re)presentation of the film in 2004. Although naturally presented in Serbian, the DVD caters well for English speakers, with a separate English-language menu and full subtitling. The DVD does not provide quite all the information one might hope for - I could, for example, find no credit for the music that is used on the film, and no statement as to whether the yellow/sepia tinting of the film was a faithful reflection of the print that had been copied or a selection by the Kinoteka - but it certainly makes it easy to watch Karadjordje and consider its place in the spectrum of film history.

As a national treasure, the film is of course beyond price: effectively a unique example of a potential film industry that barely got started before the wars of the second decade of the 20th Century brought it to a standstill. As an example of pioneer feature film production it has considerable interest. The framework of the film derives from literary precedents - including a stage play and an epic poem - and many scenes, particularly interiors, look "stagey" in the style familiar from much early cinema. On the whole, action is filmed in medium shot, with next to no camera movement and no close-ups. Emotion is represented by grand gestures and frequent tableaux - most memorably by an "Apotheosis of Karadjordje" which has quite understandably been selected by the Kinoteka as the image that represents the film on the poster and the covers of the book and DVD. On occasion, however, the film opens up with exteriors that are dramatic in another sense: our hero has to escape the Turks by crossing a river into Austrian territory, and later returns by another clandestine river crossing; at the crucial Battle of Misar in 1806, Karadjordje and his officers await the impact of Turkish cavalry who charge towards the camera in memorable long shot. …

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