For some reason I had a difficult time thinking of a piece of art to refer to for this exercise, so I picked the last film I watched for research purposes. The film is Jiří Trnka’s stop motion film Staré pověsti české loutkový [Old Czech Legends]. This might be an interesting selection because the film doesn’t have subtitles available and I watched it without knowing Czech. I did have some access to what what happening in the film because I have an English translation of Alois Jirásek’s Ancient Bohemian Legends, the book that serves as its primary source (which Trnka also illustrated).
My reaction to the film was very split. I’m absolutely fixated on the quality of the animation and the images in the film, but it has a heavy-handed nationalistic tone, and I know that Trnka was pressured to make the film by the Czech government, and was part of an effort of state instrumentalization of all of Trnka’s work, which caused him to finish his career with the thematically dark short film The Hand, where a potter (dressed as a jester) is forced by a giant hand to only make clay sculptures of itself, and smashes anything else the artist tries to create. Part of why I read Jirásek’s book, and watched Trnka’s film was looking for those nationalist myths of “climbing over a mountain and seeing a land of milk and honey that we shall settle with hard work” embedded in the texts, and overlaying them on the migration of Czech’s to Texas, where they displaced black populations to serve as cheap labor, lured by promises of unclaimed vast tracts of land that mirrored the language used in these myths.
So my knowledge of the history of the work, added with my own cynicism towards mythologized national origin stories, both worked to put distance between me and what I find to be a cinematically beautiful film.