Česká centra, Czech Centres

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29 Mar 2009 00:00 - 00:00

Erotikon + live accompaniment

A special screening of restored avant-garde film classic by Gustav Machaty (1929), accompanied by a newly composed score by Jan Klusak and performed by a live quintet conducted by Mario Klemens.

Sun 29 March / 3 pm

Barbican Centre, London EC2

Info: 020 7638 8891


Erotikon, the landmark in Czech cinema is exploring the moral consequences of a night of unbridled passion between a Prague playboy who stays the night after missing a train, and a provincial stationmaster's daughter who becomes pregnant. Abandoned by the philanderer, she marries another man, but still dreams of the passion she experienced with her former lover. 


„The scene in which a girl succumbs to her seducer in heavy rain and in which we see in detail a drop of water slide slowly down the window is expressed with great effectiveness .“ 
Roberto Paolella


Although silent it superbly explores the consequences of a missed train and one night’s love at a provincial railway station with a minimum of intertitles. Machatý’s masterful use of cinematic language provides a provocative look into the inner world of his characters as well as creating a benchmark in the development of erotic photography.  The project was a truly international one, with Slovenian Ita Rina as the seduced beauty and Norwegian actor Olaf Fjord as her seducer.It should also be noted that one  of the set designers was Alexander Hackenschmied  (Maya Deren, Alexander Hackenschmied; Meshes of the Afternoon, 1943)


„Out of this almost banal subject what’s interests you is Machaty’s sensitivity to social contrasts, his depiction of a particular environment and his boldness in developing scenes with erotic character...“
George Sadoul

Restored after discovery of a first distribution copy which included footage previously snipped out by censors and distrubutors by the Czech National Film Archive, Erotikon is the forerunner to director Gustav Machatý's Ecstasy, (which starred the young Hedy Lamarr) and a landmark in European silent film.


Although Machaty’s film career spans over forty years and includes cooperation with D.W. Griffith and Erich von Stroheim in Hollywood, his reputation rests principally on the remarkable work he did in Czechoslovakia from 1929 to 1933. Apart from the notorious Ecstasy, he created Erotikon and From Saturday to Sunday – three of the most striking portrayals of women in love in European cinema. Exhibiting great assurance, invention and a strong visual style, they established Machatý as a director of international renown and enabled him to pursue a career in Austria, Italy and the United States.


Erotikon (Gustav Machaty, Czechoslovakia 1929, 85 mins, silent. With Ita Rina, Oleg Fjord Luiji Serventi). Screened a s a part of Barbican’s Silent Film & Live Music Series.

Accompanied by conductor Mario Klemens and members of the Prague Symphony Orchestra performing music by composer Jan Klusak.

Presented in collaboration with the Barbican Centre, National Film Archive Prague, French Institute Prague and Musee du Louvre.




A camera tracks a naked woman through the trees and she bathes in a lake in longshot. Hedy Lamarr’s famous debut sent shock waves around the world. Extasy (Extase,1932) was sold to nearly thirty countries and banned in four (including USA and Britain). Its story tells of an attractive young woman (Hedy Kiesler, later Lamarr) who, trapped in a marriage to a boring and inconsiderate husband, runs away and begins an affair with another man. It was not just nudity and eroticism that aroused the censor’s wrath, but also the films questioning of the sanctity of marriage. The title “secretly I and Bill were married”  was eventually sufficient to remove US opposition.



The film made Czech director Gustav Machatý famous, but an abortive Hollywood career left him with the reputation of being a one film director. Yet The Kreutzer Sonata (Kreutzerova sonáta, 1926), Erotikon (1929), From Saturday to Sunday (Ze soboty na neděli, 1931) and Extasy won him a prize for best direction in the world’s first competitive festival at Venice in 1934.


The films in his informal trilogy of Erotikon, From Saturday to Sunday and Extasy are all concerned with triangle relations but also portray their heroines, whether surviving pregnancy and abandonment, unwanted attentions, or repressive husbands, in positive terms. The simple plots and international casts were, of course, an attempt to reach wide audiences and it was the visual qualities of his films that Machatý sought to be artistically innovative. He makes an intense use of close ups and deliberately searches for objects with symbolic meaning.  At times, for instance, in the final sequence of Extasy, the film verges on visual abstraction. Many of his collaborators were active in the Czech avant garde. Vítězslav Nezval, the poet and, later, co-founder of the Czech Surrealist movement, collaborated on the scripts of both Erotikon and From Saturday to Sunday. Alexandr Hackensmied (Alexander Hammid), who made the avant garde Aimless Walk (Bezúčelná procházka, 1930), and later co-directed Meshes in the Afternoon (1943) with Maya Deren, worked on all three, as scene designer and art director, artistic collaborator, and assistant director.

From Saturday to Sunday

The power of Machatý’s work becomes particularly apparent in the newly reconstructed  print of Erotikon, which has the advantage of a specially composed score performed live with musicians from the Czech Symphony Orchestra. The music by one of the Czech Republic’s leading composers Jan Klusák, provides a remarkably supple and sympathetic accompaniment. Klusák had previously composed for films as various as Evald Schorm’s Return of the Prodigal Son (Návrat ztraceného syna, 1966), Jan Němec’s Martyrs of Love (Mučedníci lásky, 1966) and Jan Švankmajers Dimensions of dialogue (Možnosti dialogu, 1982). His first score for silent film was for the reconstructed version of Henri Fescourt’s 1928 Monte-Cristo.


Peter Hames


See part of Erotikon on You Tube here

The Sound of Silents
An interview with film composer Jan Klusák
Author: Peter Hames

Press release


30 Kensington Palace Gardens
W8 4QY London
United Kingdom


29 Mar 2009 00:00 - 00:00


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