9 August 2018

SECOND RUN FILMS PRESENTS: MILOS FORMAN'S DEBUT FEATURE 'BLACK PETER.' (1964) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.




BLACK PETER. (1964) WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY MILOS FORMAN. ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: IVAN PASSER.
STARRING LADISLAV JAKIM, PAVLA MARTINKOVA-NOVOTNA, JAN VOSTRCIL, BOZENA MATUSKOVA AND VLADIMIR PUCHOLT.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is Milos Forman's debut feature film and one of the films, incidentally, that kicked off the Czech New Wave era of cinema that coincided with the French and English and other New Wave movements. The New Wave directors suddenly started making films about real people and their thoughts, feelings and problems, and the regular folks lapped it up.

BLACK PETER is what you might call a coming-of-age movie, although usually that phrase irritates me no end with its ponciness. A young sixteen-year-old lad called Peter- why the movie is called BLACK PETER I'm not altogether clear- is dipping his toe in the waters of adulthood by taking up his first job, a job in a supermarket.

You'd expect him to be stocking shelves at his tender age but no, apparently he's going to be the store detective and spy on the customers, the customers in whom the manager has 'complete faith' and in whom he 'believes one hundred percent,' but 'some of them will from time to time steal something.' That's where Peter comes in.

Peter proves spectacularly ineffective as a store detective, leading to one or two humorous scenes. The film critics of course equate Peter's spying on the customers with the totalitarian government of the day's spying on everybody with their informers and such-like, but that's the bloody critics for you. They'll never admit that sometimes a cigar is just a flippin' cigar.

Peter is also courting Pavla, a beautiful young woman his own age with hair cropped boyishly short like a little pixie so as not to draw attention away from her huge blowjob lips. The actress who plays Pavla, who is incidentally also called Pavla, that is to say, Pavla Martinkova-Novotna, confides in the interviewer in one of the extra features that Milos Forman always favoured the actresses with the big Mick Jagger lips. 

She's very wisely kept her own smackers looking amazing and, indeed, she looks fantastic overall for what I'm assuming is by now a woman in her seventies. She knows how to dress too, in jeans, expensive loafers and a shirt looking much younger than her years. The good posture and the confidence that comes with knowing you're still beautiful doesn't harm her either.

Sadly, the lacking-in-confidence Peter is no better a lover than he is a store detective, and we already know that he's no great shakes at that. He worships the ground Pavla walks on and clearly fantasises about her body and about having sex with her (he even spies on her as she's getting changed into her swimming costume in one of those beach hut thingies), but Pavla doesn't seem to return his avid interest.

In poise and confidence, she's streets ahead of poor Peter. That's the way it nearly always is with teenage girls and boys though, so that's nothing new. Girls mature faster, that's a known fact, whereas sometimes blokes don't mature at all, lol. 

Sure I know some lads in their forties who still haven't attained what I'd call proper maturity. Overgrown schoolboys, the lot of 'em. Still need their Mammies to blow on their porridge for them. Mind you, Irish Mammies often do so much for their sons (whom apparently they favour over their daughters) that there's no need for the lads to ever grow up and stand on their own two feet. As an Irish Mammy myself, I acknowledge the truth of this sad fact.

Anyway, Peter and Pavla sunbathe and go boating together, they go out dancing on a Saturday night together and he walks her home afterwards, and all he gets in return is the bum's rush. She basically holds out a little hope then snatches it away, the uppity little madam...!

She's the kind of uber-self-possessed young lady that will immediately take up with another guy, someone to whom Peter, who's good-looking enough but not terribly charismatic, will automatically feel inferior. A guy with a car, maybe, or someone with a glamorous job, as unlike Peter's in the downmarket supermarket as it's possible to get. A motorcycle courier with a leather jacket and a spare helmet, maybe.

All human life is there at that dance on the Saturday night. It's the 'Sixties and, even in this little unsophisticated Czech village, the girls are all wearing what I call those Bouffant Peggy hairdos and dresses. Except for Pavla, of course, with her stylish, boyish crop that she knows she can carry off because she's got a pretty face.

Everyone is doing the twist again the way they had done the previous summer (a SIMPSONS joke there), and the young 'uns are all dancing energetically to pop songs and rock 'n' roll records while the old folks look on in bemusement and wonder what the hell is happening to the younger generation. I can't say I blame 'em, frankly. Tsk tsk. This kind of feckless gyrating and letting loose is merely a prologue to a million different kinds of immorality.

Peter's acquaintance of short standing, Cenda, steals the show in the dance-hall scene when he has a go at Peter for his half-hearted greeting of Cenda, leading to the hilarious 'Ahoj' scene. Cenda also gets utterly pissed at the dance, completely blows it with a girl who shows interest in him and then makes a fool of himself with his boss, who's also at the dance. Awkward...!

Nowadays of course your boss would only need to peep at your piccies on Instagram in order to gauge what outrageous level of drunkenness and degradation you attained last night, but Cenda is unlucky enough- or stupid enough- to fall asleep on his actual boss, after first demanding to know if said boss 'thinks he's ugly...!' Well, that about takes the prize for the surefirest route to getting your ass fired.

Cenda features in the final scenes as well, when he comes round to Peter's house and Peter's Dad asks him his occupation. When Cenda reveals that he's a mason (a stonemason, not a freemason!), Peter's Dad tells him to hold out his hands to Peter to show Peter what a real working man's hands are supposed to look like...!

Peter's parents, especially his Dad, are my two favourite characters by miles. Mum is only seen in her pinny in the kitchen, cooking meals for her husband and son and baking endless cakes and asking Peter a million questions about his day, none of which he wants to answer.

The Dad is a real character. He's a musician and a bandleader which means that he's a creative person but you'd never guess it to look at him. He looks like a greengrocer. He loves Peter, as does Peter's mother, but I think he maybe thinks that Peter is something of a disappointment to them. Something of a wimp, maybe, and ineffectual in his job, even after only one day.

He spends hours trying to explain to Peter how the world works and how he'd do things differently to how Peter is doing them- everything Peter does is wrong, of course- while Peter sits there nodding and saying very little but it's obvious he's completely tuned out. He could be picturing a kickline of donkeys doing the can-can in his mind for all we know. Just like every father-son conversation ever so, lol.

There's a very funny bit where Dad awkwardly broaches the subject of a book on the facts of life that he thinks Peter should read- WHAT EVERY MAN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT HIS BODY- and Peter glances at it and just mumbles: 'Already read it.'

You can kind of empathise with the Dad and the way he's worried about Peter's future. After all, Dad's generation lived through the war. They- the Czechs- were occupied by Germany and it was even worse for you if you were a Czech Jew. Hitler and his Nazis scooped up and killed about a quarter of a million Czech Jews who'd been resident in Czechoslovakia before the war. The occupation by the Germans didn't end until the war did.

This was Dad's generation. Dad's- and Mum's- generation had privations and suffering and worry and food shortages and God knows what else. They were right in the thick of it there. 
Dad and his contemporaries just had to be men about it. What does Peter's generation have? The obscenity that is rock 'n' roll music and an aversion to work, which is what Dad really means when he's comparing Cenda's work-roughened hands to Peter's.

He clearly thinks that Peter's generation, and maybe Peter himself, is work-shy. Maybe a lot of European or American men who'd lived through the war were shocked when they saw their sons quiffing up their hair like Elvis and listening to rock 'n' roll. Maybe they even thought their sons were sissies just because they had it easier than their Dads, through no fault of their own. It wasn't the sons' fault, but maybe the Dads couldn't help feeling aggrieved nonetheless.

Who knows? This film is as much about the yawning generation gap as it is about the blossoming- and withering- of teenage romance. Certainly Peter's Dad is a much more interesting and likeable character than the pouting, posing big-lipped Pavla. She'll only lead to heartache for poor Peter.

And speaking of big lips, Forman's assistant director here, Ivan Passer, directed his own contribution to the Czech New Wave movement when he made the excellent INTIMATE
LIGHTING about a group of jobbing musicians. He cast a smiley big-lipped bobbed-haired young lady in the leading female role. That's all I'm saying. If you're a broad with big lips, watch out for those Czech directors. They've got their eye on you...

BLACK PETER is available to buy now on Blu-Ray and DVD from SECOND RUN FILMS.



AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

 You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com










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