ONE of the big hits in Prague this spring is a movie that was in
production before last fall's "velvet revolution" swept the
Communists from power - but probably would have been consigned to
the vaults had the revolution not taken place.
The film, "Extraordinary Beings" by director Fero Fenio,
symbolically depicts 40 years of totalitarian rule in
Czechoslovakia, including the Soviet-led invasion of 1968 - the
Prague Spring - which crushed the last major wave of Czech
The film's premiere March 22 was a gala event emblematic of the
exuberant liberation of Czechoslovak culture unleashed by the
revolution, many of whose main protagonists, from
playwright-President Vaclav Havel on down, were writers, actors, and
Parliament chairman Alexander Dubcek, the liberal Communist chief
ousted by the 1968 invasion, was the guest of honor at the gala;
outside, various former underground groups staged performances and
an exuberant street theater "happening" included the demolition of a
The repression and controls imposed by the Communists after 1968
in Czechoslovakia created what West German writer Heinrich Boll once
called a "cemetery of culture," and another European writer termed a
"Biafra of the spirit."
It drove many cultural figures into exile, many others into the
underground - or jail. Today, Czechoslovaks are reveling in their
new freedom of expression.
Dozens of new publishing companies have started up since
November. Once-banned books by authors such as Ivan Klims and Milan
Kundera are now on sale.
Once-banned films, such as Karel Kachyna's "The Ear," Jiri
Menzel's "Larks on a String" (recently shown at the Berlin Film
Festival), Evald Schorm's "Seventh Day, Eighth Night," and "The
Joke" by Jaromel Jires, are in the movie houses and on TV.
Plays by once-banned authors - including Mr. Havel himself - are
now in production.
"There was a hunger for this type of culture," says Jiri Rulf,
cultural editor of Lidovy Novine, once Prague's leading underground
newspaper and now one of the major independent dailies.
Everything seems wide open, but the exhilaration is increasingly
tempered by concern for the future as the slashing of subsidies once
provided by the state raises fears that new, free markets may cut
into the quality of new productions and publications.
"There's no money," says Mr. Rulf. "It's the problem of the
entire society, and especially culture. Culture today must be
"Many publishing houses have started up, but only one in 10 will
be able to last more than a year. There's the same problem with
films," he says.
The Communists tightly censored the style and content of books,
movies, plays, and even music. There was little concept of aiming
entertainment at a mass market; except for underground works, people
had to make do with what they were provided.
Only in the last year or two were Czech filmmakers allowed to
touch on controversial subjects such as AIDS and black marketeers,
producing a few films with great popular success.
Ironically, some cultural figures now seem to fear that the end
of political censorship might lead to a form of financial censorship
in which mass market appeal will determine what gets produced. …