Alive, In The World And Making Movies

Michal Horáček / 1988
Alive, In The World And Making Movies Michal Horáček / 1988 Back

The policemen were throwing snow balls at each other. But their vigilance did not suffer! As soon as he saw our car, the police officer dropped a lump of fresh snow, and he informed us in a clear voice that we should not go any further. From the moment when the Hotel Esplanade in Mariánské Lázně turned into the Winter Palace in the valley of the Alps it is difficult to enter the path leading to its gates.

Our assurance that we are journalists and are expected, was accepted after a while. Having checked us out – over a short-wave radio there was a voice without any objections. The policemen’s faces brightened. They helped us push our car. They saluted. As we learned later, they were here this morning during their own personal time.

We went between columns embellished with the great letters W and P, went up a steep path and entered the year 1919.

The winter of 1919 was obviously the reputable time that my grandfather, whom I did not believe, used to like talking about. I’m sorry, grandpa, for now I’ve seen an extravagant hotel with a facade no older than the houses on the Royal Route. A line of neatly parked snow sleighs. A red plush carpet running down the snow to the front entrance and being eagerly swept by an older man with a new broom. And not far away, there was a wonderful car, more beautiful than the new Škoda car, and now almost equally rare: the silver-gray Minerva travel car, with a large trunk in the back and the head of a goddess wearing a helmet sitting on the car radiator. There weren’t any “no parking” signs but the hotel windows were calling out to us with warmth and hospitable light penetrating the gloomy gusts of intrusive snowflakes. We stepped on the clean red carpet feeling welcome. That is the Alps for you.

And we were welcome. First in Czech, then in German and later also in English. Speaking with an accent from the British islands, Amanda Bragg approached us.

A beauty with lion hair, sporty figure and mother-of-pearl teeth. For the duration of the pseudo late-baroque hotel Esplanade becoming the Winter Palace, she worked as the press secretary for the movie Burning Secrets. An English director Andrew Birkin came to Czechia to film this movie based on Zweig’s novella.

We went back to 1988 With Amanda. Inside the hotel lobby there were about fifty people. Some of them wearing thick winter boots and feather jackets and some of them wearing just t-shirts. Many hid their hair under caps with Burning Secret written on them. Immediately it was obvious that these people were from the movie crew because they were standing around, sitting around, stamping their feet, drinking coffee and being nervous. The wall on the left was covered with the original wooden lining, while on the right, a much later addition – an architect placed an extremely hideous day bar made from polished walnut wood. In the middle of the bar wall there was a sliding door, fitted with a massive padlock – perhaps to make it clear what the management of this interhotel thought about his guests. “Of course, this bar was covered with decoration when we were filming,” said Amanda.

Carol Green, the young and fervently emancipated filmmaker, told us that she was very pleased. “If we had been filming a similar film in Austria, it would have cost us one million dollars more. Or more likely one and half million. And more importantly, locations and places like this wouldn’t have been available to us. The only thing here that could be better is the weather. First there was no snow at all. And now suddenly there is too much.”

It has been snowing a lot today. That’s why there is the delay, the waiting is grueling. A young man named René Kořenář flew through the hall. Facial hair, a winter hat with a bobble on his head, a walkie-talkie in his hand. “We are shooting,” he announces.

“So, here you are,” says the gentleman in a black hat. He’s the baron. He is opening the door for the lady behind the wheel of the Minerva car, who seems to have arrived from somewhere. We the onlookers know that the limousine did not move an inch but the disoriented moviegoers will surely be taken in by the trick without any suspicion. Millions of eyes are hanging on the lady.  Even my eyes are hanging on the legendary face with prominent cheek bones, a face that is fragile and invulnerable at the same time, pale as a star leading the drunks coming back home in the morning. The face of Faye Dunaway.

“Do not be so rude, Edmond!”, the traveler’s contralto admonishes the sickly boy. Meanwhile, he stumbled out of the car and is in the way.

“Cut!” Calls the gray-haired American. Andrew Birkin, tall, skinny, black-haired, with sinking cheeks, remains silent. The role of the bad cop has been taken over by his colleague from across the ocean.

“Excuse me?” I am asking a photojournalist Mirko Zajíc. I think he was saying something.

“That I do not think she is that pretty,” says Mirek. “You think so?” I ask politely. But I say to myself, “this is one of the most beautiful women in the world.”

And one of the naughtiest ones. Some of the many people, who have been filming this story about a flirt in the “Winter Palace” for more than two months might add. But that is being a Superstar – and nothing can be done about that. Moreover, as we have learned from the interviews, started as if to kill the time, being a star is not always that much fun. The accountant in me would rightly ask if it is worth it at all. Sixty-eight pieces of baggage is the absolute necessity and that is travelling light. The hotel suite in the nearby Golf Hotel, where the star is staying, is busy from early morning. They get up at six, then a bath, for breakfast two cups of black coffee, a glass of grapefruit juice and occasional pieces of toast. And then the first round of makeup. After seven o’clock they head towards Esplanade and there is another session with the make-up artists. And that never stops during the whole day.

When there is a moment to spare and the star would feel like skiing – nope! It is not allowed. How much would a sprained ankle cost? The contract does not allow for other hobbies either – from parachute jumping to driving a sports car between Esplanade and Hotel Golf. The car is driven by a professional driver. But even if the contract allowed the star to go skiing on the slope on the opposite hill it would not work. The local bodybuilding club Sandov confirms that the star was very interested but in the end did not find any free time. She worked ten hours a day most of the time, sometimes even until two in the morning.

The food is also a bit complicated. The star is not a militant vegetarian, but she eats only chicken meat and turkey breasts. These come from domestic sources, fruit and vegetables are imported from Germany. Once in a while, the staff is shocked by an unusual request: the actress orders fried cheese from the room service… When her seven-year-old son arrives, he lives in a separate suite with his governess. And it goes without saying that his mother does not have too much time for him. And then – the hordes of journalists! There are the local journalists of course, but also Frenchmen, a gentleman from an Austrian TV station, even one woman from California, who has been waiting for her chance for weeks. Another nuisance are photojournalists.  They frequently ruin takes, they are in the way, and they are loud. They would drive a person who needs to concentrate insane. Well, let them trigger the camera shutter if there is no other way. Tell them. Are they looking yet? You know what? I will cover my face with a scarf and turn my back at them.

“No, not that pretty,” Mirek Zajíc said and put his camera down.

And what can we find out from the printed media, including those nicely provided by the Kino magazine? When was Faye Dunaway born? It says in 1943. Ha, ha! We have different information. The birthday Faye Dunaway celebrated on January 15th in Marianske Lázně on the day of her arrival was not forty-five. But forty-seven!

I’m sorry, pretty lady. Life is not easy for journalists either.

“So, here you are!” Says the baron. He speaks English with a foreign accent. When he is not the baron, he will answer to the name Klaus Maria Brandauer. He politely offers his arm to a pale female driver, closes the limousine door, he reminds me of someone. Please do not crumple your issue of the film magazine Mladý Svět, my heavy-metal loving friends and friends of lower central European gentry – he reminds me of Karel Gott.  A far as his enthusiasm for being able to do exactly what he is doing now is concerned.

“Cut!” Calls out the gray-haired commander. The congregation gives a mysterious sigh but the actor does not let it affect his mood. Klaus Maria Brandauer, who spends long minutes even entire films looking almost motionlessly in the camera and does his “acting from inside”, is in real life fidgety. He twitches, walks back and forth, stretches and curls his fingers, adjusts the side of his hat. Around him there is a slight, but unmistakable shudder of delight that he is alive, in the world and making movies. One would say that this actor, after many years of being treated unfairly, of disappointed expectations and ungrateful small roles, has just learnt that the mighty film ruler proclaimed him an international star. But, as we all know, that happened a long time ago.

“Everybody go away!” the American supervisor yells. “I said, go to hell!”

Klaus Maria Brandauer taps his index finger joint three times on the gray fender of the Minerva.

“Let’s roll,” René Kořenář says into his walkie-talkie.

“So, here you are.” The Baron says gently, and he approaches the car for the seventh time to help the fateful woman.

The snow is falling and everything comes to a halt again. They are sitting – two stars in their dressing rooms, fifty other people in the hotel lobby. A lobby where years ago a future renowned music composer Petr Hapka used to play in a bar band, and he used to apply bad glue on his fake mustache so that at least the short-sighted people would not realize that he was only sixteen years old. The sitting droop their shoulders, René Kořenář is the only one still running and jumping over the cables. Not even Korok and Sagar would have been able to run so many kilometers and jump in their races in their glory days as much as this nimble boy. “Why are you doing this?”, I ask him. “Not for the money,” he calls and disappears. Why then? Perhaps because he is alive, in the world and making movies. He is one of about twelve people who have come to be known as the Czech Crew.

Another member of this team is a girl whom Faye Dunaway addresses as Marianna. She works as an interpreter – though a passing observer would rather consider her a proverbial dogs body.  She speaks American English with such perfect vocabulary and pronunciation that I still do not want to believe that her surname is Kolářová.

It is written in the fate of small nations that the umbilical cord of their contact with the great world must also be formed with the help of foreign language experts.  However, there will never be enough experts like Anna Kolářová.  Especially when one remembers the press conference with Herbie Hancock where the interpreter translated the jazzman’s answer to the question “What did you know about Czechoslovakia before you came here?” as “I knew your baseball players.” Hancock actually said: “I knew your bass players,” but the translator did not mind going on with the misinformation of the journalists until the end. Yes, knowledge of languages is a must for us, but we are far from it being a normal and expected thing.

One of the people who not only knows but can also deal with such situations is the man who could find and motivate people like René Kořenář and Anna Maria Kolářová to join his team. He is a hefty authoritative man of massive built. Looks like a bulldozer and his name is Jan Kadlec.

The bulldozer Kadlec leads the way for a group known as “production of foreign film commissions”. It is part of the Barrandov film studios and in cooperation with Filmexport, they produce commissions mostly for our partners from the foreign exchange area. I wanted to bring up the following information at the end, but I couldn’t hold it anymore and I’ll tell you now: the above mentioned team have been able to do something almost unbelievable at this time. They “made” one US dollar for CSK 4.20.

“Are we going to shoot or not?” Asks Faye Dunaway. It has been almost a minute since the news that the blizzard outside stopped came and she walked down the stairs.

She’s wearing a mink coat as the driver of the Minerva. When she is not in front of the camera, she wears one extra coat. A beaver coat. Amanda Bragg tells us that the film required a total of fourteen such fur coats as the appropriate clothing for its main character. That is the Alps for you.

“Are we going to shoot or not?” Urges a loud voice. “Ron, are we?” But the knowledgeable Ron is not to be found within hearing distance.

“Klaus! Klaus – what is happening?”

The man who is shortly going to turn into the baron, however, is as much a protagonist of the film as is the woman arriving with the still limousine. The role of the aristocrat must wait; it is now imperative to assume the role of the star. “They don’t tell us, do they?” He will mutter as if he was a man crudely bullied by his peers.  “Just some twittering. Like chickens in a henhouse.” That’s not getting us anywhere. A dialogue that was not in the script sparked in the air. The story inside the story, the role inside the role. Who is the bigger star? We will see.

Another member of the “Czech crew” is a Slovak Miro Voštiar. He acts as an assistant director and he is in charge of an interesting task: he offers Czechoslovak actors to foreign filmmakers. After he studies the scripts he will make his initial choice: the chosen candidates will first be presented on video and then the shortlisted ones will come later in person. The artistic side of his profession is constantly intertwined with the organizational one: not only must he know suitable types of actors but also their timetables. And above all he needs to make sure they are available. Which considering all their work in theaters, in films, dabbing, television and radio is not easy. In the case of the Burning Secrets, Miro Voštiar presented to Andrew Birkin such a selection of actors for supporting roles, that the director had an idea of making a “second layer” in the film which had not been originally there.

Jan Kadlec’s team has turned professional and has learnt to specialize since the first hard foreign currency contracts were entrusted to them. But that does not mean that he is not subject to change and fresh faces: the team is mostly made up of young people. Requirements: knowledge of languages, expertise in the field. And good physical condition. It turns out that the production team work even 16 hours a day. In tense situations even twenty hours. Reward: making movies.

“Do not be so rude, Edmond!” One of the most beautiful women of the planet has told off one of the least healthy boys seen this spring in Mariánské Lázně for the tenth time. Her assistants took off her winter boots just a moment ago to uncover her purple shoes, which are unsuitable for the snow but perfect for the red carpet.

Another inside story: the twelve-year-old sickly looking boy has no previous filming experience. Director Birkin spends a lot of time on him. But he does not have too much experience with feature films either. He has won a British Academy award but that was for a short film. He has been known specially as a screenwriter, e.g. The Name of the Rose, which was also on in our cinemas.

There are only three main characters in the script of Birkin’s directorial debut Burning Secrets. Their changing relationships create the whole story. There’s the baron and the boy’s mother, but everything revolves around the boy. Both in and out of the movie: the child is the sun around which the director and both adult protagonists orbit. Everyone with their own agendas.

“What did you say?” The boy asks.

“Do not be so rude, Edmond.”

Not only is it snowing again it is also getting late. The atmosphere in the hall resembles agony. Since it’s been like this the whole filming day and maybe almost the whole filmmaking life. I can only ask: When you’re alive and in the world, why would you want to make films?

The Czech crew have special, peculiar work that is not easy to find. From time to time they go abroad. That’s about all the appeal there is. For someone it is too little, for others apparently it is irresistible. Like Tomáš Gabriss, a thirty-one-year-old man, with a strange special ability: photographic memory. This walking encyclopedia of information is not just Jan Kadlec’s deputy but he is his partner. To foreign filmmakers, there is always at least one of them present – Jan Kadlec or Tomas Gabriss – and “the boss of production” is personally there to take care of business.

It is almost impossible for both of them to be on the same location at the same time. As a matter of fact, the team do not take care only about one film, but in recent years usually about two or three at one time. This “attention” includes countless lists of smaller and very tricky problems. The metaphorical swords of production cut off these dragon heads without any rest, but the heads grow back. Problems will be as long as there is work to be done. In this case foreign contracts. And nowadays, Kadlec’s group has on average five per year.

Czechoslovakia offers a lot to foreign filmmakers. A unique collection of preserved historical monuments. Miloš Forman said, “There is no other place in the world where you can go with a camera a hundred meters or turn it around one hundred and eighty degrees, while still believing that you are in the eighteenth century.” Prague was Vienna in Amadeus, Dresden in the Slaughterhouse number 5. , Old Warsaw and Berlin at Rosa Luxemburg. Architect Karel Vacek found for the movie Golden Shoes scenery from France (Karlovy Vary), Vienna (Theater in Vinohrady), Edinburgh (Liberec) and even from New York City from the time of beautiful epochs (Slaný, Municipal House in Prague) all in Bohemia.  For a saga of the Fugger house, starting in the Gothic period, Karel Vacek prepared in Jindřichův Hradec a street called “Behind a black Kitchen”, for a movie asking for a Hamburg style shed made of red bricks he found Hlávka’s maternity hospital and a boiler room in Karlov.

The film, which brought us a dollar for four crowns twenty, was called All Quiet at the Western Front. But we must add that it was an exceptional movie. The usual “price” ranges between 4.50CSK and 5.50 CSK – but for one German mark. The priority is not being cheap and undercut the price but to offer something that is interesting economically for both sides. And so build a perspective long-term cooperation. Filmexport builds this successful international cooperation not unsurprisingly on personal contacts. Their job is not only to secure the contracts, but to negotiate the price and the contractual terms. Filmexport is responsible for its partner’s creditworthiness: that’s why they search for both banking and “office” information. They do not work on credit, everything is paid cash on delivery of their work. The average return is fifty times shorter than is usual in our foreign trade. The contribution to our state budget is over fifty million crowns annually.

Filmexport is handed good cards for this great game. It can offer our cultural heritage and also modern expertise and creative ability of our people. That is true about Jan Kadlec’s team and similarly about others: Jan Balzer and his people received recognition for the production of Amadeus and other films, in the film Yentl with Barbara Streisand the lead production role was performed by Karel Škop’s people. Architect Jindřich Goetz, very experienced Charles Černý and young Jiří Matolin also earned respect of the film world.

We have already learned how to make business like professionals. And we have something to look forward to because we do not export uranium, lumber from the forest, or human blood. “Our partners only take a piece of enlightened celluloid film,” says Jan Mešek, Director of Filmexport. Without using raw resources, we sell “clean work”, human skills. If only we could do that in other areas.

Even a film that brings us coveted foreign currency and puts us on the map of the world because of renowned personalities does not linger in heavenly vacuum. When this special art was in its infancy and a director wanted to shoot a scene in the middle of a field, someone went to talk to a farmer, gave him a beer and that was it. Today the list of confirmations and permissions makes a layman stare blankly with astonishment. It is no wonder that there are two people in Jan Kadlec’s team to do just that – getting permissions and stamps. These people usually do not even know what is happening on the location. They are barely aware of an actor who has a cold or that the electricity supply has been interrupted.

These tamers of wild bureaucracy are experts on the realm of confusing directives, rules, decrees and exceptions to these. The proof of this being mysterious and cancerous realm in its expansion is offered by the world around movies but also inside moviemaking. Barrandov seasoned veterans emotionally recall that in 1949 two men were in charge of payroll for all employees. Unlike their colleagues today they did not do this only twice a month, but every week. And they also managed billing. And they also found some time to get a drink or two. The current department is full of administrators who are not in charge of billing (there is another department just for that.), they do not drink at work, and still they hardly have time to strech their backs.

It’s getting darker. The new broom, which was so good, is leaning against the hotel facade like a loitering good-for-nothing. But why not to enjoy a moment of deserved rest? Even the red carpet has already been rolled up. The extravagantly lovely Minerva is shining in the twilight. It is the picture of the carefree prosperity born in the jazz age. The end of the Gatsby era was also its ending.

The policemen are no longer throwing snow balls at each other, they are sipping hot tea in the room of the hotel telephonist.

Their readiness and vigilance can take a break. There won’t be any intruders disrupting the quiet in the gates of the Winter Palace by running their car engines. But the work is far from over for Faye Dunaway, Klaus Maria Brandauer and for all three national crews.  While outside the limousine is being skillfully covered with a special waterproof cloth, the cameras are being moved into the building.

Faye Dunaway leaves for one of those countless hotel suites that her life’s journey brings her to when she sets out for a long evening. Her son will not be there, only a bunch of screenplays of other films and texts for next day.

If she wants some comfy food she will ask for fried cheese.

The people from production are not going to bed any time soon because a specific shot needs to be filmed somewhere else in the morning. Where there three or four cars would normally do for the film stars there needs to be an entire motorcade of cars. Stars expect to have their caravans ready on site as agreed in their contract. Nicely heated and with running hot water. Such a truck weighs five and a half tons, the snow is falling and the roads around Mariánské Lázně are disappearing under the fresh blanket. The production will spend the night by pondering on how to get the snow plows set out in time.

Written by Michal Horáček / 1988