Army Film and the Avant Garde

Army Film and the Avant Garde

Cinema and Experiment in the Czechoslovak Military
Alice Osborne Lovejoy
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 12/29/2014
ISBN: 978-0-253-01493-1
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Honorable Mention, 2016 USC Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies

Co-winner, 2017 MLA Scaglione Prize in Slavic Languages and Literatures

During the 1968 Prague Spring and the Soviet-led invasion and occupation that followed, Czechoslovakia's Army Film studio was responsible for some of the most politically subversive and aesthetically innovative films of the period. Although the studio is remembered primarily as a producer of propaganda and training films, some notable New Wave directors began their careers there, making films that considerably enrich the history of that movement. Alice Lovejoy examines the institutional and governmental roots of postwar Czechoslovak cinema and provides evidence that links the Army Film studio to Czechoslovakia’s art cinema. By tracing the studio's unique institutional dimensions and production culture, Lovejoy explores the ways in which the "military avant-garde" engaged in dialogue with a range of global film practices and cultures. (The print version of the book includes a DVD featuring 16 short films produced by the Czechoslovak Ministry of Defense. The additional media files are not available on the eBook.)

Author Bio

Alice Lovejoy is McKnight Land-Grant Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature and the Moving Image Studies program at the University of Minnesota.


“Alice Lovejoy's richly detailed study of Czechoslovakia's Army Film studio and its films demonstrates that experimentalism and cultural resistance can thrive in seemingly improbable places. Filled with surprises for readers who thought they knew their Czech film history, this insightful book refutes many received ideas about Eastern European cultural politics during the Cold War and sketches a complex and nuanced relationship between artists and the socialist state.”
 — Rick Prelinger, UC Santa Cruz

“Avant-garde army films? It sounds like a fantasy from an updated Good Soldier Sveik! Film historian Alice Lovejoy discovered that the energy of the prewar Czech Avant-garde survived the Soviet take-over in the Czech army film unit, where young artists and ideological misfits figured out how to fulfill their military service while producing visually stunning short films that helped create the Czech New Wave of the 1960’s. Lovejoy restores these sometimes funny, sometimes poignant and always innovative films to their proper place in film history, while explaining the unique cultural politics that allowed them to blossom beneath the noses of the Stalinist government.”
 — Tom Gunning, author of The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity

“Alice Lovejoy’s revelatory study of the cinema culture wrought by the Czechoslovak Army Film studio is a cause for celebration among both cinephiles and media scholars. Her book demonstrates that rich bodies of work are still to be rediscovered, and that creative, complex film work has flourished in circumstances we have previously neglected to examine. Her DVD greatly enriches the book’s impact.  Lovejoy’s curatorial enterprise brings these fascinating films to us for fresh examination. Seeing these artful army films nearly half a century later opens our eyes to work that requires us to reassess what we thought we knew about documentary, new waves, and world cinema itself.”
 — Dan Streible, New York University

“Lucidly organized, deeply researched, and excellently written, this book brings into view an entire dimension of Czech film that has hitherto been invisible.”
 — John Kenneth MacKay, author of Inscription and Modernity: From Wordsworth to Mandelstam

“A fine work of scholarship. . . . Highly recommended.”
 — Choice

“Much like the subversive moving images she chronicles in Army Film and the Avant Garde, her work itself upends and complicates received wisdom what we think we know about government-sponsored film and Eastern European cinema—rescuing the untold story of Army Films from the dustbin of history and deftly rewriting film scholarship in the process. Summer 2015”
 — Film Quarterly

“[A] well-researched, analytically perceptive, and engagingly written book.”
 — Slavic Review

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Table of Contents

Note on Translation
1. A Deep and Fruitful Tradition: Jií Jeníek, The Film Group, and Cinema Culture of the 1930s
2. All of Film is an Experiment: Postwar Documentary, Postwar Reconstruction
3. The Crooked Mirror: Pedagogy and Art in Army Instructional Films
4. Every Young Man: Reinventing Army Film
5. A Military Avant Garde: Documentary and the Prague Spring
Appendix: Companion DVD Contents