The Charm

Tomas Hodan’s FILM ADVENTURER KAREL ZEMAN is a doc worthy of its subject. Not only fascinating but incredibly charming too — and not just because the film clips themselves are delightful. But enlisting a class of film students to attempt to duplicate Zeman’s tricks, the movie allows us to vicariously enjoy the joy of teamwork and creation and seeing behind the illusion, which does not dispel (or dis-spell) the joy in the magic.

Why was it all so moving? Maybe because it shows us people gathering in the dark to enjoy something they’ve made, which is also a tribute to someone who’s not there.

5 Responses to “The Charm”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    You’ve got the Criterion Zeman set, I assume. That was a delight, as I hadn’t seen Baron Munchausen since college and the time-travel one since the American version had been serialized on a local kiddie show in the early 60s.

    The beauty of Zeman’s work is that it manages to be real and unreal at the same time. Harryhausen’s magic is persuading us his creatures can exist in our world; Zeman’s is persuading us humans can exist in his world.

    A sad moment in one of the Criterion extras is Zeman’s daughter describing his reaction to “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines”. Zeman said something like “How can I compete with that?”, when the truth was he was NEVER competing with big budget practical effects. It would be like Hirschfeld fretting that he couldn’t compete with a photograph.

    Another thing about Zeman and his predecessor Melies. Once you know the tricks, you’re still charmed but have the delusion it’s elementary. Unless you’ve endured enough bad special effects films to know mechanics are barely the half of it. The kids did a credible job, but certainly grasped they had advantages Zeman didn’t — not the least of which was being able to study Zeman.

  2. bensondonald Says:

    One memory of that long-ago college screening. When the astronaut discovers Cyrano and others on the moon, a small boy behind me asked his father if they were androids. Father replied it was a fantasy, and had to try and explain that concept in whispers.

  3. The other thing about Those Magnificent Men is it’s mostly dubious matte lines and real flying, I believe. They even killed somebody making it. No need for Zeman to compete there.

    Weirdly we didn’t immediately follow the doc with a Zeman Verne, but with Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea which really is technically impressive in a near-photorealist way, sort of the anti-Zeman.

  4. “Harryhausen’s magic is persuading us his creatures can exist in our world; Zeman’s is persuading us humans can exist in his world.” Beautifully put. Baron Prasil is simply one of my favourite films. I love how, unlike in Gilliam, the scientist is shownt to rival the fantasist in imagination. I’d also love to know the thinking behind the inclusion of a hobby horse among the horses carrying the Baron’s ship to Earth, an artifice upon artifice.

  5. Prasil is the one I’m most excited to watch in HD, though my TV just ISN’T BIG ENOUGH.

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