In his book The Czechoslovak New Wave, Peter Hames asserts that to understand Czechoslovak cinema, one must understand the “Czechoslovak experience.” I bring up this point to emphasize a problem that was brought up several times at Friday night’s screening of Daisies: Can we understand Daisies without understanding the film’s historical and political context? What I mean by this question is whether or not the film restricted by either “national” or cultural specificity. And, if so, how do “we” (as American viewers) approach it from our ideological vantage point—specifically in terms of its role as a feminist film? But this is a large problematic and a loaded question, which undoubtedly cannot be fully explored in this post. Rather, my analysis will focus on a press release for the American premiere of Daisies that I found during my research in the Museum of Modern Art archives in New York City [FIG. 1]. In particular, I will analyze this document in an attempt to form an understanding of how Daisies was marketed to American audiences, and how this effects our present reception of the film.
Alice Lovejoy, in her introduction to Friday night’s screening of Daisies, began by speaking of the film’s historical context within the movement of the Czechoslovak New Wave. With this in mind, I want give a brief history of the movement and its role in garnering international attention for Czechoslovak film. Until the 1960s, with the exception of the animated and puppet films of Jiří Trnka, Czechoslovak cinema received limited international attention (Hames 1). This changed in the early 1960s, when a period of de-Stalinization – socialism with a human face” in Czechoslovakia brought greater political and social freedoms, allowing the development and creative growth for what became internationally known as the ‘Czechoslovak Film Miracle’ or the ‘Czechoslovak New Wave.’ The Czechoslovak New Wave filmmakers consist of mostly FAMU (Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague—the Nation film school) students—the best-known being Miloš Forman, Ivan Passer, and Vera Chytilová—and their films quickly won the attention of festivals, filling programs and winning awards. In 1965, Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos’s The Shop on Main Street (Obchod na korze, 1965) became the first Czechoslovak film to win the Academy Award for best foreign picture, and it was soon followed in 1967 with Jiří Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains (Ostře sledované vlaky, 1966).
Here, I want turn to close read the press release, which, I think, suggests the political and feminist implications of Daisies without explicitly saying as much (the goal of the one-sheet was to sell the film). The one-sheet press release from Arthur H. Canton Company is dated October 13, 1967, and is titled in all capital letters: “ “DAISIES” TO BEGIN AMERICAN PREMIERE WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 25th AT 34TH STREET EAST THEATER.” Significantly, it notes that the American premiere of Daises was at the Lincoln Center Festival of Czechoslovak Cinema at the Museum of Modern Art the previous summer (1967). This festival featured many Czechoslovak New Wave films (many presented by Carlo Ponti), which had previously been “banned for export,” but it does not explain why they were banned, or that these films were available as the result of new freedoms made possible by a shifting political climate – “socialism with a human face.” The press release begins by characterizing Chytilová’s Daises as “one of the most off-beat of the new wave of Czechoslovak films.” And goes on to describe Chytilová as “one of Czechoslovakia’s most promising young film talents, [who] also collaborated on the screenplay.” This seems to imply that Daisies was “one of the most talked-about films at the festival” at least in part because a female filmmaker made it. Note the language used: there are no pronouns to designate gender. Further, “Its unusual theme, which focuses on the wild antics and chance pick-ups of two young girls who claim complete irreverence of the moralities accepted by a world they don’t like, is augmented by its innovated use of color and photography.” In not-so- many words, the press release tells us that the “wild antics of young girls” is not a usual theme found in films. Still, it is interesting that the press release does not mention Daisies’ lack of a traditional narrative and disjointed visual style. Is the wording of the press release merely a “gentle” sales technique—a way of avoiding labeling Daisies a “political art house film made by a woman?” – Or is there something more to this? I ask: can these oversights be attributed to the national and cultural specificity of the film?
Written by University of Minnesota student Kendra Tillberry.
The profoundness of the film Daisies is most evident in the scene where the two female protagonists question their existence in relation to others. The two women were in the field making quirky sounds and the gardener does not notice the women. The next scenes show the women walking down the street gnawing on cornhusks and ignored by a group of bicyclists. Both women are disturbed by the fact that they were not noticed and could not understand why they were invisible in these two instances. This begs the question of who are we or what is our identity if we are not compared or recognized by another. The women later go back to the road and notice their cornhusks scattered throughout, proving that they were indeed there and do exist, even if the other people did not notice them. Do people really exist if no one notices them? It is important to note that everyone who passed by the women and did not notice them were men. This parallels to the notion of the gaze from a male to a female and how that gaze can be a source of empowerment to women. Women can feel empowered by this gaze because they have a sense of power over the men who are longing for their bodies. While the gaze can also be marginalizing and objectifying, it is worth noting that these women seem deeply troubled by the fact that they did not receive any acknowledgement. These women are highly sexualized throughout the movie and perhaps are more adapted to receiving the objectifying gaze from their male counterparts. Thus, the lack of any acknowledgement is likely to be a rare occurrence for these young women. This relates to feminism in that it questions how people should perceive women. Is it safer to be noticed or does it feel safer to be invisible in society?
Another central aspect of Daisies is the concept of good girls gone bad. At the beginning of the film, one claims that she is a virgin. There is an underlying theme of the sacredness of virginity evident in many different cultures. The notions of virginity in the film are problematized and paralleled in one of the last scenes where the women put the plates back together despite their brokenness. Virginity is had and then it is lost. When plates are broken, they will never be what they were originally. In the scene where the girls are attempting to be good again and are fixing everything they had previously broken, they ask themselves are we happy. The plates are broken but these young women are seemingly careless about the mess and destruction they have made. The two central questions of the film were do we exist or who decides and dictates our existence, and what allows for happiness to prevail. The happiness question relates to feminism in that women do not often define happiness or women are unable to control their happiness. But also, this idea that the sexually pure woman with the whole plate can be as happy or unhappy as the women who have acted against society with broken plates. Happiness is questioned in beautiful ways throughout the film and is intimately connected with the concept of existence, and the politics behind the definition of these words.Written by University of Minnesota student Denise Johnson
My initial reaction to Daisies was filled with a lot of confusion and questions. This is my first exposure to movies that deal with the ideas of feminism. The first question that popped into my head was what in the world does this film have to do with the movement of feminism in Czechoslovakia at the time and globally. I realized right there and then that the answer to that question and many more to come, would probably take me the entire film series three week course to get an idea. I was slightly annoyed with the two Maries because prior to this screening it was the first time I saw characters that played such an absurd role throughout an entire movie. I was not used to that. But then again I learned quickly that there would be a lot of firsts. The one thing that impressed me about the two Maries is the fact that they didn’t have any acting background. I asked Alice Lovejoy who was leading the discussion why Věra Chytilová used non-actors and her response surprised me. Daisies wasn’t the first film in which Chytilová used non-actors. The majority of her work involved working with non-actors. I think this was impressive at the time as it required a lot of trust and bravery on the director’s part. Overall, this was a wonderful experience. Since I didn’t have any feminist film background, I observed attentively and greatly appreciated how knowledgeable the audiences were. I look forward to many more films and expanding my understanding of this literary feminist film communityWritten by U of M student Youa Vang
This film was very different than what I was used to. The beginning scene showed the two Maries sitting in their bathing suits, speaking in a robotic tone deciding what to do with their lives. As the world went bad, they decided to go bad too. By over consuming and cheating older men to buy them good expensive food, to eating and destroying all the food on the table set out (for communist leaders?), they decided at the end to make everything better again. To make up for the bad they have done, it ended with a chandelier falling on them.
This was my first time ever seeing a film like this. I have no background in women cinema or film art whatsoever. I thought it was weird although I tried to be open about this form of art. I tried to understand what was going on and about half way through, I still didn’t get it.
I’m glad there were program notes for me to read. After reading through it, I had a little understanding of what was going on. The Q&A helped me understand it a little more also.