Some time ago, several Czech newspapers and magazines started including film DVDs in their editions, following the example of various foreign publications.Earlier this year, the daily Lidove Noviny released ‘The Shop on the Main Street’, the first Czechoslovak Academy Award winning movie that I have since seen many times over. A brilliant psychological study, shot in 1965, the film is set in a small Slovak town during the Second World War and offers a thrilling yet chillingly calm view of the Holocaust. Another Czech newspaper, Mlada Fronta Dnes, has started releasing a series of movies by the director Jan Hrebjek, including such hits as Musime si pomahat, or ’Divided We Fall’ and Pelisky, or ‘Cosy Dens’.
Most recently, the tabloid Aha in close cooperation with public broadcaster Czech TV has blessed film aficionados across the couontry with one of the most brilliant jewels of communist film propaganda - a 1970s TV series entitled 'The Thirty Cases of Major Zeman'.
The series follows the fortunes of a young communist policeman who eventually becomes the head of the Prague police office of criminal investigation. Being one of the most sinister examples of propaganda ever shot, the series was filmed between 1974 and 1979 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the foundation of ‘new police corps’ after the war. The word ‘new’ really stands for ‘communist-controlled’. Every one of the 30 cases – happening successively in each year after 1945 – illustrates an event that really happened. And this is precisely when communist apparatchiks commenced their work, distorting historical truth in an unparalleled manner. Six episodes of the Major Zeman series have been released so far, set between 1945 and 1951. In one of them young police officer Zeman supports the communist coup of 1948, while in another one, named ‘Strach’, or ‘Fear’, the ardent public servant investigates an anti-communist resistance group. Its members murder an innocent civilian and an unarmed policeman to show what kind of ‘bloodthirsty beasts’ those anti-communists were. This particular case is a take on the famous Masin brothers who shot their way out of Czechoslovakia.
After the fall of communism, The Thirty Cases of Major Zeman was first shown by the private TV Prima, after the owner of another Czech private TV station, Vladimir Zelezny, for years rejected his viewers’ demands to air the series. In 1999, the public Czech TV aired Major Zeman as well but this time, each episode was followed by a round table discussion where historians and other experts set the facts straight.
No such thing is included in the DVD releases of the Major Zeman, and they also lack English subtitles, otherwise a common feature of this kind of film treat. This I consider to be a more serious flaw of the project since we cannot share these ‘masterpieces’ with our foreign friends.
Anyway, I have to make sure to get up early the next dozen Sundays or so not to miss two particular episodes that have developed a cult following: one showing the band the Plastic People of the Universe shooting up, then killing a pilot when kidnapping a plane. The other episode not to be missed gave me nightmares for years after I saw it as a child. It is about a father going mad and slaughtering most of his family with an axe.
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