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Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report: "Daisies" (Vera Chytilova, 1966)

What, you've never seen Vera Chytilova's 1966 Daisies, a touchstone of the Czech New Wave that could perhaps best be described as a feminist, psychedelic, surreal Eastern European answer film to Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? Jonathan Rosenbaum is typically right on the money when he calls it "one of the most exhilarating stylistic and psychedelic eruptions of the '60s."

The picture has not been inordinately difficult to see, but right now is a particularly good time to discover, or revisit it, on home video. It's been available on a North American Region 1 disc from Facets since 2002. The movie's visual bedazzlement is such that it often plays as an earthbound version of the "Jupiter And Beyond The Infinite" segment of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, what with its contantly shifting color filters, animated flash-frames, and all manner of other visual effects enlivening and commenting on the varied anarchic escapades of the film's heroines, Marie I (Jitka Cerhova, the brunette) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanova, the strawberry blonde). It all registered—it couldn't help but do so.  The new Region 2 UK DVD of the film, from the exemplary label Second Run (which has made it a big part of its mission to rescue from obscurity and restore to original beauty a bevy of Eastern European masterpieces) is a massive improvement in every respect—sound, subtitles, and most of all, visuals. At the risk of coming off a bit didactic, allow me to guide you through some selective comparisons of screen grabs. The first set is directly below; the top frame from the Facets disc. If you're looking at it on its own it doesn't look half bad.

But the Second Run frame directly below shows a dramatic difference in the color values. Not to come on like a detergent commercial, but the sheet and particularly the pillows in the Second Run version are white, as they ought to be, while those in the Facets are a dingy yellow. This visual slander might lead viewers of the film to believe that Marie I and Marie II are slovenly in their keeping of linen, while the truer Second Run version demonstrates that the two are in fact exemplary housekeepers in this respect.

The next two grabs are from a little later in the same sequence (if, indeed, the very fast-moving film can be said to be made up of sequences at all; it goes by in such an odd rush that the conventional categories of dramaturgy don't seem suited to it at all), in which, via optical effects, Marie I loses her head and threatens to divest Marie II of same. Note, in the top screen grab from the Facets edition, the pixellation of Marie II's bra. It's possibly an artifact of the special effect itself, but it really stands out here in a way it ought not. Note the crispness and clarity of the second grab, from the Second Run edition.

This next set shows a really obvious contrast. Karbonova is equally lovely in each, mind you, but still. The top grab, from the Facets disc, is diffuse and dark. It's almost as if the telecine transfer was made using a dim bulb. The bottom, from the Second Run, has much better clarity and detail, and a far better definition of the background. The background which is fairly crucial to the scene as a whole.

Not to go all DVD Beaver on you, but I was really struck by how marvelous this new version looks. The disc also comes with a good complement of supplements: an essay by Peter Hames, an informative albeit slightly-too-arty documentary on Chytilova, who's still active as a filmmaker, and a trailer.

Here I was thinking I’d found a little gem, one that was bafflingly unmentioned anywhere on the intertubes…what a great film this is – saw it a week ago at the Girls 24/7 festival in Melbourne, knowing nothing about it, and came out stunned. A completely light and playful film, without a second of counterfeit profundity. There’s political subtext there, sure, but the film is never burdened with allegory. And the dedication at the end certainly frames the whole thing perfectly. …oh, and Cerhova’s completely adorable.
Sorry to double dip, but a quick follow up…the Rosenbaum mention above made me revisit his Personal Canon at the end of Essential Cinema, where I notice he lists not only Daisies but an earlier Chytilova film called About Something Else (or, as imdb has it listed, Something Different, which has a somewhat appropriately Pythonesque ring to it). Has anyone other than Rosenbaum seen this earlier film? It doesn’t seem to available on DVD, unless I’m looking in the wrong places…
I wonder if it’s a student short or something? I always thought Daisies was her first feature. “Everybody said, ’Don’t do it, you’ll break your neck!’ I said, ‘But I WANT to break my neck…’”
Daisies was Chytilova’s second feature, after a 1963 film known variously as Another Way of Life, Something Different, About Something Else and Bitter Laurels – or O necem jinem in the original. Sadly, it doesn’t appear to be out on DVD even in the Czech Republic. There are also at least two pre-Daisies shorts, 1962’s wonderfully-titled A Bagful of Fleas, and her episode in the 1965 anthology Pearls of the Deep, which badly needs a decent DVD (the Facets is unwatchable, and the Czech edition, while vastly superior presentationally, has no subtitles).
I saw Daisies a couple of weeks ago and was blown away by it. It felt like, aha! This is the film I’ve been waiting to see! I think it’s almost perfect. I can’t wait to watch the restored Second Run version. Thanks for this article, Glenn!
I know it’s a misinterpretation to call this a “women’s lib” film, but I don’t care. I love seeing these two go apeshit and do bad things.
My memory might be fooling me, but I’m fairly sure the Second Run version actually looked superior to the version shown at Ghent Film Festival 2008. I loved the second viewing even more, either way.
If you haven’t seen another Czech film Rosenbaum praises, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, check it out. The Second Run blows the Facets transfer away.

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