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75 years after the release of EROTIKON, I had a chance to see it in a
modern cinema in Wroclaw (Poland). The wonderful experience was
intensified by the live background music played by the members of
Prague Archa theater. It was a lovely return to the end of silent era,
the year 1929. The film EROTIKON, made by Gustav Machaty, caused
controversy among the audiences of that time. What particularly shocked
them was the way the director showed love scenes. Some admired it, some
condemned it and, as a result, it was underrated and lost for years.
Fortunately, the copy was found in the 1980s and restored for today's
audience who can admire the genius of Machaty.
EROTIKON, like many silent movies, does not offer much action. The content of the movie is, from today's perspective, quite naive. It is a story of complicated love affairs of George (Olaf Fjord) and his number of women. But, astonishingly, love is not showed as sweetly as in other movies of that time. Some love scenes are, indeed, very open and without taboo (Machaty's way of showing sex was mostly revealed in EXTASE (1933).
There are three most memorable moments in this movie:
- a love scene between George and Andrea (Ita Rina). It is in no way vulgar but it is directed towards her face in ecstasy for most of the time. That is probably the thing that shocked the audiences.
- a scene of playing chess. The thrilling atmosphere is really extraordinary. In very few thrillers nowadays will you find an equally well made scene! WONDERFUL!
- a considerable number of funny slogans throughout the movie. Some are dated but still funny in a way.
For anyone who likes European cinema and for whom film is art in itself, no matter of when it was made, Erotikon is a must to see. It was a great work of the Czech cinema. Partly thanks to this movie, I do believe that silent films may still be highly entertaining. Of course in an entirely different way. They require INTERPRETATION rather than AUTOMATIC WATCHING! Lilian Gish (1893-1993), a famous silent movie star, said once when asked about film art that "silent movies were well on their way to developing into an entirely new art; it was not just pantomime but something wonderfully expressive." After seeing EROTIKON, one may infer the same.
'Erotikon (1929)' was released just as the arrival of "talkies" was
stifling (at least temporarily) the artistry out of cinema, and it's
one of the most lusciously-photographed films of its era. Czech
director Gustav Machatý blends melodrama with unexpectedly graceful
visual flourishes that communicate emotions as well as actions. In
moments of stress, and particularly when photographing the vigorous
movement of trains (symbolising a fast-paced society that values
fleeting sexual encounters over long-term commitments), he uses a
frenetic hand-held camera to marvellous effect. Just watch how Machatý
contrasts the slow, sensual bliss of the heroine's first sexual
encounter with the grotesque prolonged agony of child-birth. In both
sequences, the camera is moving, capturing the numbing euphoria of the
moment, but the overall emotional mood of each scene is quite
Following this beautifully-emotive opening act, 'Erotikon' begins to more closely resemble a romantic melodrama in the vein of, say, Milestone's 'The Garden of Eden (1928).' There's not only a romantic triangle, but a veritable polygon of competing affections: Andrea (Ita Rina) shuns a noble gentleman in favour of the man who (presumably) took her virginity, who himself is juggling a married mistress. Machatý, like F.W. Murnau, places particular emphasis on the human face, beautifully capturing the subtle inflections of suspicion, anger and desire that so unmistakably speak louder than words. Andrea finds herself in the upper- class social scene, which carries the faint stench of sleaze; it's an environment that encourages disloyalty by its own shallowness and superficiality. The corruptive sexual indiscretion of Machatý's upper- class reminded me of Jean Renoir, particularly 'The Rules of the Game (1939)' and 'Elena and Her Men (1956).'
I just stumbled across Seduction on an obscure Roku channel (Pub-D-Hub)
under its title EROTIKON, and was really wowed by the gorgeous
cinematography, subtle and complex acting and effective visual
storytelling. And that last one is especially important because the
inter-titles on this print were in the original Czech, and therefore
completely alien to me.
The leads were both richly complex people, evolving over the course of the brisk hour and a half from seemingly shallow types (virgin and callow seducer) into rich, fully rounded characters.
A great exercise in visual storytelling!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Machaty went on to direct "Ekstase", which is a pretty good movie with
a theme similar to "Erotikon" but which is probably more popular
because there is a scene in which a plump Hedy Lammar runs through the
Nobody is naked here but the air is heavy with sexual tension. A wealthy, smooth man (Olaf Fjord) is stuck overnight in the house of a railroad worker, manages to seduce his host's daughter (Ita Rina), and blithely takes off on the morning train. He's left a little souvenir behind. Rina is pregnant and after she goes through the agony of childbirth she's shunned by the village and travels aimlessly to the city.
She hitches a ride with a wagon driver. The driver gets drunk and tries to rape her, while Machaty cuts several times to a shot of the horses' heads as they plod philosophically along. The weak and desolate young lady is saved by another, older rich man (Pistek) who is stabbed almost to death in the process. The couple fall in love and are married.
Then at a piano store they run into Fjord, who is now gallivanting around with someone else's wife. Rina introduces him as an old friend and invites him on a trip. The old glandular glow is still there and Rina's husband senses it. Fjord is cavalier about the whole business but would still like to spend an hour or two alone with Rina, after he dumps his current blond floozy, an achievement that turns out to be more difficult than he'd thought.
It begins to get a little turgid, I know, and begins to sound a little like the "women's pictures" with Joan Crawford or someone that came out of Hollywood in the 30s and 40s. It's held together, though, by two things.
One is Ita Rina. I suppose Fjord must be considered handsome. With his painted lips and darkened eyes he looks too much like Dracula, but he DOES have two horny women mooning over him. But Ita Rina is different. She's a beauty by any metric. Here eyes are slanted and large. When she's excited, the irises are surrounded entirely by the whites. I can't do that. I just tried it in the mirror. And her nose is exquisite. It begins between her eyebrows, disregarding the usual need for a glabella, and cleaves her features in two. That nose is magnetic, exactly the right size for nibbling.
The other feature that lends some verve to these melodramatic goings on is the arty direction by Machaty. Half of what we see seems to stand for something else. The husband and the boy friend have a friendly game of chess, with Rina seated behind her new husband, obviously rooting for the devilish and pheromonal Fjord. Now, if a director can make something interesting of a five-minute chess game in a silent movie, my hat is off to him. At another point, he's got the camera fixed to the cow catcher of a locomotive, aimed rearward to catch the spinning iron wheels. At the end, he's got the camera fixed to one of those steel shafts that goes UP AND DOWN as the wheels rotate. It's dizzying, I'll tell you.
Some of the parts available on YouTube lack English subtitles, and this may be a problem for some people who aren't familiar with the language. Well, I don't speak Czech but I am a skilled linguist and could follow the events without confusion, even though Czech is the only language in the world that is written and spoken using consonants almost exclusively. No one could miss a simple conversational exchange like:
"Janaczeck dvorjak vrchlicky michna z otradovic krllvck?"
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