- Archive and the Boundaries of "Institutional Polymorphism"
BY ALICE LOVEJOY
Indiana University Press, 2015
Alice Lovejoy's deeply researched and engagingly written book tells the story of the relatively little-known Czechoslovak Army Film studio, from its inception in 1929 to its Soviet normalization in 1969. The book recognizes the studio's peculiar position—a state-funded institution with its internal autonomy—as ideal for training filmmakers to create films whose formal innovation and sociopolitical critique paralleled the Czechoslovak New Wave. Many of the most prominent male filmmakers of the celebrated Czechoslovak New Wave (1962–69), in fact, worked for Czechoslovak Army Film in the 1950s and 1960s. Lovejoy's book offers more than a mere history of a governmental institution on the fringes of culture. It contributes to Czechoslovak film history and offers a new reading of its experimental cinema.
This contribution owes much to Lovejoy's meticulous gathering and analysis of materials from many archives (including those of the Administrative Archive of the Czech Army, the Czech National Film Archive, the Army Film Archive, the Czech Central Military Archive's Ministry of Defense collection, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive). Lovejoy also draws upon press sources, interviews, and many relevant scholarly works on media, cultural history, and politics. As the reader learns from the book's concluding section, the author was invested in countering the post-1989 Czech narrative that continued [End Page 179] to view the rediscovered films of the Army Film studio instrumentally, that is, as yet another example of productions sponsored by the totalitarian regime. After the Velvet Revolution, the majority of approaches to the communist past were by default invested in a feverish condemnation of the former Czechoslovak communist government's role in supporting organizations such as the Army. In contrast to this onesided disapproval, Lovejoy explores the productions of the Army Film studio as "complex formal, political, and social objects," which, she argues, were "the very product of their institutional charge" (203). Lovejoy's "archive fever" manifests through her careful approach and sophisticated attention in exploring the studio's internal practices and discourses, its institutional context, and the political arrangements surrounding its emergence and development. The archive, she claims, reveals the "complexity" (203) that is at the center of Army Film's history. Instead of reducing the documents and films in the archives to pieces of "incriminating" evidence, the archive "troubles and refines established concepts, categories, and frameworks" (204). Her book counterbalances the reductive and condemning interpretations of governmental forces by revealing them as critical for Czechoslovak film history.
The book focuses on an institution, the Army Film studio itself, but it also explores the relationship between the forms of the studio's productions and "their social, political, and discursive context" (7). Through this dual focus, Lovejoy generates an innovative reading of Czechoslovak film history and suggests revisions to the arguments made by Josef Škvorecký, Antonín Leihm, and Peter Hames, authors of the authoritative texts on the Czechoslovak New Wave. The revisions Lovejoy suggests can be summarized in these three points—first, the form of military films, their innovative aesthetics, and specific topics, represented "an evolution, not a break, from socialist realism"; second, Czechoslovak cinematic socialist realism "built on a range of domestic and international practices and discourses," while also reflecting the Soviet model; and, third, the studio's history that Lovejoy reconstructs in detail by using the wealth of archival material represents evidence of "the critical role that state institutions played in the development of the 'Czechoslovak film miracle'" (12). The history of "a government institution of nonfiction film," as displayed in Lovejoy's book, represents not "incriminating" but rather "exonerating" [End Page 180] evidence for the role Czechoslovak governmental forces, in synergy with the public sphere, played in the development of the Czechoslovak New Wave.
the army film studio in double exposure
The structure of the book is well conceived. Framed by a brief and informative introduction and a coda, the book's five chapters are organized chronologically. They trace the studio as "a space of production" (9), from its emergence during...