Born in Hungary, achieving international fame in Germany, and concluding his tragically short life in the USA, László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) was an artist from interwar central Europe who is still recognised as one of the most significant innovators of modernism worldwide. Working across different media – painting, graphic design, photography, film, sculpture – he produced a multifaceted oeuvre that was, nevertheless, centred firmly on his key concerns: light and movement in modern art, the new artistic avenues opened up by modern technology, and the complex tensions of modern life. The artwork examined in this article, Dynamic of the Metropolis, was a seminal work that summed up the early years of his career. It combined his avant-garde inspirations, his interest in Constructivism and typography, with his attraction to modern technologies such as photography and film. It also elucidated issues that preoccupied him from the early 1920s: the tensions between modern humanity and the natural environment, between technology and the biological limitations of humans.
In 1934, two Czechoslovak films were sent to the Venice Film Festival. The first was Gustav Machatý’s Extase from 1933, which not only brought its protagonist, the young Hedy Lamarr, to fame, but also caused outrage for its explicit presentation of female sexuality. The second film was altogether different: it had no stars, no dramatic narrative arc, no great love story. It was not even a box office success, though critics lauded its artistic value as a ‘film poem’ that, as museum director Josef Polák claimed in the Prague daily Lidové noviny, exemplified ‘what cinema could be when the moving shadows are not simply a commodity’: The Earth Sings (Zem spieva, 1933), written and directed by Karel Plicka (1894–1987), interwar Czechoslovakia’s most influential artist-ethnographer.
Session 4 of our online seminar series National Histories, Imperial Memories: Representing the Past in Interwar Central Europe will take place at
18.00 CET on 30 November 2021
on Zoom, featuring papers by
Heidi Cook (Truman State University, Kirksville)
Bohdan Shumylovych (Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv and Center for Urban History, Lviv)
Nóra Veszprémi (Masaryk University, Brno – CRAACE)
Moderator: Julia Secklehner (Masaryk University, Brno – CRAACE)
Session 1 of our online seminar series National Histories, Imperial Memories: Representing the Past in Interwar Central Europe will take place at
18.00 CET on 21 September 2021
on Zoom, featuring papers by
Robert Dassanowsky (University of Colorado)
Béla Rásky (Wiesenthal Institute, Vienna)
In 2019, a new version of Extase, the fabled 1933 movie by Gustav Machatý, won a prize for the best digitally restored movie at the Venice Film Festival. The aim was a faithful restauration of the Czech version, shown at the film festival in 1934. The movie’s rich history is full of scandals, outrage, censorship and Hollywood myths. The gossip focuses on young movie star Hedy Lamarr (then still named Hedy Kiesler), her nude scenes and the supposedly first female orgasm on screen (in a non-pornographic movie). Her illustrious persona and the scandals led to the emergence of an immense body of literature. However, it is the film’s aesthetic and its progressive story about a woman finding her sexual freedom that provides the film’s anchor in the often-forgotten realm of cinematic innovation in Central Europe between the wars. Machatý followed in the steps of filmmakers such as Fritz Lang, F. W. Pabst, or Sergej Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, while expressly tackling the question of female identity. The article follows the narrative of the film and tries to assess the often ambiguous nature of Machatý’s ideas towards emancipation and his pictorial language.