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Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report: "The Party And The Guests" (Jan Nemec, 1966)

They keep you doped up with religion, and sex, and TV
And you think you're so clever and classless and free...
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see...
A working class hero is something to be...
A working class hero is something to be..

—John Lennon, "Working Class Hero," 1970

There are no working class heroes in Jan Nemec's 1966 film, made when Lennon's consciousness of world political demands and such was in what you might call an inchoate stage. And class isn't really a factor as far as the bucolic goings-on in the beginning of the film are concerned. The various gathered couples drinking wine and eating fruit and cake are...well, "bourgeois" is such an overused term. They seem stolid, solid, reasonably comfortable middle-class types, not overly put-upon or fussy. Menschen in Sonntag, one might have termed them in another time, another place. Enjoying a reasonably grand day out. And into the scene comes strolling a fellow named Rudolf.

So confident his stride and grin! But far from carefree. He's got some things on his mind. His skinny-tied cohorts get the guests organized, the better to begin the next phase of the party. But Rudolf wants the guests to make sure that they understand just who they owe their good time to, and who can make it stop—like that. You think that you're in charge of your comings and goings, of your leisure time. Rudolf is here, for whatever reason, to make you understand that you are not. As in, maybe, this lyric:

 

Don't rock and roll
Don't rock and roll 
Don't rock and roll
No
Don't rock and roll no
Don't rock and roll no
Don't rock and roll 
No no no no no no no no...
Now rock and roll now 
Now rock and roll now
Now rock and roll now
Now now now now now now
Hey...
Kids...
Hey...kids
Hey... kids...

—Pylon, "Stop It,"

One of the guests can't quite accept that he's been, well, doped up; he dares to step out of a box, and is roughed up for his trouble. And it is at this point that the "actual" host appears. Chairs and tables are set up, for a banquet. And the host, in his benevolence, chides Rudolf for his impertinence, apologizes to the guests. Not to long after that, he announces to the crowd that he's adopted Rudolf as his son. Huh?

And now the territory becomes clearer, particularly for those of us who've read a good deal of Kafka, seen a good number of Cold War-themed films, that sort of thing. The bureaucracy of authoritarianism has so many levels and so many corners. You may first be confronted by an unctuous would-be tough-guy. Who will then deliver you to an equally unctuous but more seemingly benevolent superior. At which point you will be relieved. Well, you'll think, this fellow clearly understands what's going on, we'll have this taken care of soon enough and then I'll be on my way. What you fail to understand is that this is the way, this is the only way, this will always be the way. You'll get it, eventually. Or not. There will always be the dope to go back to.

Near the end of the film a gun is brought out, but it does not go off, and I suppose we ought to be relieved. The search dog, though...he never does stop barking before the end credits come up. I can still hear him. A thoroughly spare allegory—it's not even 70 minutes long—Nemec's film had the distinction of being banned "forever" in Czechoslovakia upon its completion. Nemec protested that his film was not a specific attack on his country's communist regime but insisted that his depiction of authoritarianism could apply anywhere; "only the clothes would be different." One sees what he means, looking at it today. The film is both absolutely of its time and constantly prophetic.

The excellent Second Run Region 2 UK DVD features a wonderful transfer of the film, an extensive essay by Michael Brooke, and a video appreciation of the film from Peter Hames.

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