EROTIKON – EROTICON (1929)
Director: Gustav Machatý
Script: Gustav Machatý, Vítěszlav Nezval
Music: Erno Kostal , Jan Klusák
Cinematography: Václav Vích
Cast: Karel Schleichert , Ita Rina , Olaf Fjord ,
Theodor Pištěk , Charlotte Susa
Not a lot is known about director Gustav Machatý’s past, as a lot of interviews he gave after becoming a director were embellished by himself. Born at the start of the 20th century, Machatý played piano for silent films and was an actor in films as a teenager in Prague. In 1919 he directed his first film, TEDDY BY KOUŘIL (TEDDY WOULD HAVE SMOKED), before leaving for the United States. Machatý claims to have assisted directors D. W. Griffith and Erich von Stroheim, though he is only credited for Erich von Stroheim’s FOOLISH WIVES (1922). Returning to Czechslovakia, Machatý directed KREUTZEROVA SONÁTA (1926), and later the film is he most known for, EXTASE (ECSTASY 1932). Following this, he returned to the United States for the remainder of his career. EXTASE is the film that got Machatý recognition from international audiences, though it was mostly for its erotic content. However, there is a deeper current running through EXTASE despite its erotic content. Underneath this runs the affecting narrative of the wife who has escaped her marriage and found her ‘spark’ again. EXTASE plays out more like a silent film directed by Nagisa Ōshima’s 愛のコリーダ (IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, 1976). EXTASE isn’t the first time Machatý explored this theme; he did so in EROTIKON filmed three years earlier in 1929.
EROTIKON begins with George Sydney (Olaf Fjord) missing his connecting train and left stranded in the rain. He befriends the stationmaster (Karel Schleichert) and allows him to stay while he leaves to work the night shift. George is left alone with the stationmaster’s daughter, Andrea (Ita Rina), and George tries and succeeds at seducing Andrea. The next morning, Andrea is aware that George will be leaving without plans to return, but sees him off to the station. Andrea realizes she is pregnant and decides to hide it by living with her aunt, though later has a miscarriage. Meanwhile, Georg is back home and seducing another woman who is married. Andrea writes to Georg but before anything can come of it, Andrea raped by a man as she returns home from her aunt’s. She is saved by Hilbert (Theodor Pištěk), who is stabbed in the fight, and they go to the hospital. Hilbert is in need of a blood transfusion and Andrea volunteers to save him, returning the favor. When he wakes, the doctor tells him that his wife saved his life and Andrea and Hilbert fall in love. Andrea, now a socialite, is shopping for a piano with her husband when they run into George. Though she hides her relationship, George and Hilbert become friends, which George uses to get close to Andrea again. George and Andrea secretly rekindle their affair, and when Andrea decides to leave George, she learns that he is just a womanizer when his old girlfriend and husband return to the picture. Andrea returns to her husband Hilbert and they continue their relationship, while George is shot by the jealous husband of his other girlfriend.
While EROTIKON’s plot may appear melodramatic, the small-town poor girl seduced by a socialite city-dweller, the bulk of what is great in the film is Andrea’s experiences. The unaccredited writer, Czech surrealist poet Vítěszlav Nezval, helped Machatý to create an atmosphere that is steeped in emotion. Avant-garde artist Alexander Hackenschmied, who did the art direction for EROTIKON, also assisted this. All of this leaves EROTIKON with less of a dramaturgy and more of a focus on emotion through imagery, with many shots composed of close-ups of the body and symbolic imagery. This is what makes Machatý’s film unique, in that it has us experience Andrea through her emotions that are vividly displayed through all characteristics in the film.
Unfortunately, the film is in poor shape and in need of a newer restoration. The original soundtrack for the film is also lost and a new score was made in a 1993 restoration that is based on the German sound version of the film. EROTIKON is a skillfully unique silent for Czech cinema, and took on themes that were too taboo for Hollywood as it attempted to scale back what it considered immoral content. Machatý tackles that content though with maturity and a desire to explore it from a different perspective, a style that is replicated for years to come. It is definitely worth seeking out these and the other two films Machatý did with both Vítěszlav Nezval and Alexander Hackenschmied.
EROTIKON is available as a region free, pal, and English friendly DVD from Film Export.