An excerpt from the booklet essay by Peter Hames
Often referred to as the manifesto of the Czechoslovak New Wave, Pearls of the Deep (Perličky na dně, 1965) has had little international exposure. Made in the tradition of the portmanteau or omnibus film, it consists of five stories (originally seven), each made by a different film maker. The five directors were Jiří Menzel, Jan Němec, Evald Schorm, Věra Chytilová, and Jaromil Jireš – who were to become key directors of the ‘wave’ with the films they made in the late sixties. With the exception of Menzel, who was making his debut, all of them had made one feature at the time. But there were also two stories that were not included in the film and were ultimately released separately. These marked the debuts of Ivan Passer and Juraj Herz. All seven of the original stories are, however, included on this disc. The only key figure missing from the project, it has been suggested, was Miloš Forman, who at that time was shooting his second feature A Blonde in Love (Láský jedné plavovlásky, 1965).
It is immediately apparent that there is no unity of style or collective voice as each of the episodes can more properly be seen as linked to the directors’ subsequent work. As Jiří Menzel put it in another context, they were all friends from their film school days (with the exception of Herz, who was not a film school graduate). ‘We were all brought up in the same “family”; we all experienced exactly the same influences: the Pioneers, the Hemingway thing, the Kafka thing, the cinéma vérité thing. And the result was that we all ended up being products of the same culture, with a common aim, even though our insides were very specific, entirely different, even from an artistic point of view’. (Menzel, interviewed in Liehm, 1974).
But the film also represents a unity, since all of the stories are based on the work of Bohumil Hrabal, whose work was to become internationally recognised following Menzel’s Oscar-winning adaptation of his Closely Observed Trains (Ostře sledované vlaky, 1966) the following year. The film represents support for and a tribute to Hrabal’s work and, in particular, his collection of stories Pearls of the Deep, which had been a publishing sensation only two years earlier. A defining feature of the film is the fact that Hrabal makes an incidental appearance in each of the episodes and collaborated on all of the screenplays.
Originally trained in law, Hrabal’s experience as a train dispatcher during the Second World War, post-war work at the Kladno iron works, and as a wastepaper baler in Prague gave him a rich insight into everyday life. A small selection of his poems was published unofficially in 1949 and a collection of short stories in 1954 in an edition of 150 copies. As I suggested in an earlier essay, the two aspects of his work that attracted attention were the absence of official ideology and the choice and observation of characters. Typically, they were down-and-outs or outcasts, people from the fringes of society, figures who were not supposed to exist in a perfectly run socialist society. As Igor Hájek once wrote, they were ideally fitted to ‘Hrabal’s unique vision of the world, acutely perceptive of the grotesque and beauty hidden beneath triviality’ (Hájek, 1997).
Peter Hames' complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.
i. Pearls of the Deep, or Five Masterly Apprentices’ Guides to Bohumil Hrabal’s Gift of the Gab by Cerise Howard
ii. Bohumil Hrabal — King of Palaverers
iii. A Friend to the Dissidents
iv. Peter Hames on Věra Chytilová
v. On Evald Schorm