14 September 2014

DVD Review - The Jester's Tale (1964)

Fantasy, Comedy
Second Run DVD
DVD Release Date:
15th September 2014 (UK)
Karel Zeman
Petr Kostka, Emília Vásáryová, Miroslav Holub,
Buy:A Jester's Tale [DVD]

It’s not hard to see why Karel Zeman is often called “the Czech Méliès” but filmmakers have always been innovators and dreamers. Zeman once said, quite beautifully and poetically, "I'm looking for terra incognita, a land on which no filmmaker has set foot, a planet where no director has planted his conquest, a world that exists in fairy tales". It’s no wonder then that his films all exist in bygone eras and fantastical lands, and even in many cases look like they could have been made at the turn of the century.

Second Run can proudly claim to be the first company in the English-speaking world to release any feature length films by this true master. They have released A Jester’s Tale, which is “pseudo-historical” film, according to Zeman himself. It tells a fantastical story set during the 30 Years War during the 16th century. The protagonist Petr ends up being forced to join the army of the local count, but escapes and joins up with the rival army of the Marquess. Out of pure dumb luck he and his friend Matey survivee a battle, after whice Petr takes up the guise of Marquess. He is initially imprisoned but when the tide turns he becomes the honoured guest of the house.

Zeman’s films are some of the most beautiful to ever be made. He used a combination of animation (normally made out of paper), live action and matte paintings to die for. The Jester’s Tale is a darkly comedic anti-war film, which shows his great wit and imagination. The influence on western cinema of Zeman is quite profound; his brilliant film Baron Prášil inspired Terry Gilliam to make his own and equally fantastically The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Tim Burton considers him one of his idols, along with equally fantastical filmmakers like The Quay Brothers and Wes Anderson.

Second Run has done a great service to English-speaking fans of fantastical cinema by releasin The Jester’s Tale. I hope this is the start of a long line of Zeman’s work to be released by Second Run, a fitting recognition alongside the recent opening of a museum in Prague dedicated to his pioneering work.


Ian Schultz

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