Thursday, June 20, 2013

DonT Stop [2012]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CSFB* listing
FDb* listing

DonT Stop (2012) [IMDb] [CSFD]* [FDb]* (written and directed by Richard Řeřicha [IMDB] [CSFD]*[FDb]*) is a contemporary Czech/Slovak "nostalgia piece" about growing up loving rock and roll (specifically the punk rock of the style of The Clash) in the 1980s in still Soviet Bloc/Communist Czechoslovakia.  The film played recently at Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center as part of the 2013 Czech That Film series sponsored by the Czech Republic's Diplomatic Mission in the United States (along with Prague's Staropramen Beer ;-)

Since the 1950s/60s when Rock and Roll took the world by storm, it has been opposed by "traditional authority" pretty much across the world.  Witness films like Footloose [1984] [2011], Oliver Stone's The Doors [1991] and Pirate Radio [2009] or the current controversy regarding the Russian feminist punk rock group named Pussy Riot (more on that controversy almost necessarily below ;-).

In the Soviet Bloc, however, paranoia on the part of the authorities regarding the inherent improvisational freedom present in the rock and roll phenomenon was taken onto another level altogether.  The arrests, trials and convictions of the members of a Czech psychedelic rock group The Plastic People of the Universe in 1976 actually led to the birth to the Charter '77 dissident movement in Czechoslovakia.  The Charter '77 document, cowritten by Czech dissident playwright and future President of post-Communist Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic, Václav Havel, was signed by Czech and Slovak artists, intellectuals and _religious figures_ (including Catholic priest and after Communism's fall, Catholic Bishop, Václav Malý*), called on the Communist authorities to recognize and respect the right to free expression along with other fundamental human rights.

It is then in this context, that of the still Communist era in Czechoslovakia, when/where being a member of a rock band wouldn't necessarily just get one in trouble with one's own parents but could conceivably land one in jail ... ;-) that the story of this film plays out.  Yet the story is also about much more than that.  It's above all, a reminiscence (colored of course by time ;-) of what it is/was like to be young:

So late 30-something and (rather respectable looking) Miki (played by Pavel Řezníček [CSFD]*[FDb]*) finds himself stuck in traffic in Prague today.  Putting a tape into the tape-deck in his care, he gets transported back to 1983 ... when as a moody/unsure 17/18 year-old guitar playing and not particularly studious high schooler (played by Patrik Děrgel [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]*) with a similarly nice/still unsure of herself girlfriend named Pavla (played by Viola Cernodrinská [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]*) he had met a far more "together"/confident/"rebelious" drummer (with a spiked, colored Mohawk haircut) his same age named Dejvid (played by Lukáš Reichl [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]*).   

Now a key to understanding the film: Could a 17 or 18-year-old high schooler in Communist-era Prague of 1983 sport a spiked, colored Mohawk?  Dejvid seemed to live in a "tough-looking working class neighborhood," his mother (played by Stanislava Jachnická [CSFD]*[FDb]*) seemed to be "an artist," and Dejvid didn't seem to care what the authorities thought.  (One of the Czech reviewers of the film indicated that folks like Dejvid did exist at the time, but that he like most other high schoolers of the time would have avoided them like the plague, looking at them as being as troubled as the fet'aci (drug addicts) hanging around train stations of alleys today).  So while Dejvid's character was possible, it would seem that the presentation of his character in the film is "colored" by today's Miki (30-40 something, stuck in traffic) reminiscence of him... (He remembers Dejvid as being, above all, young and rebelious ... whether or not he actually wore an alternatively neon-green, blue, or orange spiked Mohawk really becomes beside the point ...

Miki and Dejvid shared a love of western (rock) music of the time, specifically that of the British rock group, The Clash.  Now that's entirely probable.  I had cousins at the time in Czechoslovakia who were fans of groups like Pink Floyd and The Clash.  I remember in those years an older cousin of mine in Prague proudly playing for my sister and I (visiting from the States) his album copy of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (the record and cover, with the prism and all were authentic). Records like this were not necessarily super easy to find, but they definitely weren't impossible to find either.

Pretty soon, the two, Dejvid and Miki decide to "put a band together."  This becomes, of course, every bit as "epic" a project (especially in one's memories) as those portrayed in The Blues Brothers [1980] or The Commitments [1991] with, of course, elements particular to Prague of that time.  (And the challenges that the two young Czech "rockers" faced was not just dealing "with Communists" but also and above all with family and neighbors):

Miki has to bring his 8 year old sister (played by Monika Svadbová [FDb]*) along to one of their first practices.  She, of course, doesn't understand why they have to "play so loud" ;-), but she kinda likes what they do with her hair (Dejvid's mother, again or an artistic bent, had some hairspray at home.  And so to entertain the 8 year old after she started to get bored, Dejvid comes up with the idea doing something "weird and cool" with her hair.

Then there's a neighbor of Dejvid's (played by Leoš Noha [FDb]*)  who becomes tired of the incessant banging coming out of David's flat.  So he comes up to his flat, bangs on the door and tells him: "Look, you spoiled worthless punk, I actually work for a living, working the graveyard shift. So if you keep banging those drums up in your apartment while I'm trying to sleep, the authorities are the least that you're going to be worried about..."

Needless to say, Miki's parents (played by Jiří Štrébl [CSFD]*[FDb]* and Klára Pollertová–Trojanová [CSFD]*[FDb]*) aren't particularly thrilled with Miki's new friend particularly since Miki's grades were lousy and then they get really pissed off when Miki comes back with his little sister and her hair's sticking out in all directions ;-).

Miki's sensible girlfriend Pavla (played by Viola Cernodrinská [IMDb] [CSFD]*[FDb]*) puts up, at least for a while, with Miki's quest of putting together at band, but begins to remind him "You seem to be thinking mostly about yourself.  What about us...?"

Still things soon start to come together:  Dejvid comes across another, older, neighbor with a garage (and the "old guy" also proves to be hard of hearing ;-).  And they start finding other guys for the band.  There's Viktor (played by Jakub Zedníček [IMDb][CSFD]*[FDb]*) a leather-jacketed basist who also rides a motorcycle and wants to go by the stage name "Vicious."   Then there's Marty (played by Jiří Kocman [IMDb][CSFD]*[FDb]*) a hanger-on who finally convinces Dejvid and Miki that he could be their manager.  Finally there's Inža (played by Oliver Cox [IMDb][CSFD]*[FDb]*) a second, rhythm guitarist, who's kind of a nerd, but he makes his own amps ...

They practice in the neighbor's garage and get reasonably good as a "garage band."  Meanwhile their "manager" hits around a few leads and actually gets them a "gig" down at a club Kladno-way (Kladno being a big industrial town to the west of Prague).

The "gig" proves to be every bit as "Epic" [TM] as they (still teenagers after all ...) would have dreamed.  Marty had gotten them the gig by partly misrepresenting them.  So when they get out on stage, the people in the dance hall expect something very different from what they play (again, shades of the first gig in the The Blues Brothers [1980] ... ;-)  It all ends in a lot of broken glass and a big fight.  (That is, really, really awesome ... ;-) Since the police (even in a Communist/totalitarian country....) can't be everywhere, they manage to get away...

They do get into some (minor) trouble with the law.  Miki's parents, of course, get pissed.  Then the group starts to break-up.  Dejvid and Viktor (aka Vicious) really start to despise/make-fun-of the more nerdy Inža.  Paula gets increasingly frustrated with Miki ("I don't know you anymore ...")  Dejvid finds a "really cool replacement" for Inža who's named Kalič (played by Richard Fiala [FDb]*).  Miki starts to see Kalič as just one big drug-addict who's just bringing Dejvid and the rest of the group down.  So ...

... eventually Miki parts ways with Dejvid, Vicious and Kalič, reconnects with his girlfriend Pavla who helps him pass his Chemistry test (that he had flunked before the end of school the previous year) and Miki even reconciles with his dad.

In other words, Miki's "walk on the darkside" came to an end ... but now, 25 years later, findhing himself "stuck in traffic" ... WHAT MEMORIES THEY MADE ... ;-)  What a lovely little story! ;-) ;-)

Yet, rock and roll, continues to make controversy and make news.  Perhaps the most famous controversy of recent years was that caused by the Russian feminist punk-rock group named Pussy Riot who, in 2012, chose to crash the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, attempt to play a song called "Punk Prayer" and were promptly stopped by church security officials.  By evening they turned the event into a music video called "Punk Prayer - Mother of God Chase Putin Away."  The Russian Orthodox Church was aghast and Putin's government using cover provided by the Russian Orthodox Church took the opportunity to make examples of them.  The members of the punk rock group were sentenced to 2 years in prison for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred."

Someone in my position has to ask: Was any of this really necessary?  The group could have made the very same video OUTSIDE of the very same church (Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior) to make the same point without any of the resulting repercussions. 

Then to be honest, no one put a gun to any authority's head to respond to Pussy Riot's provocation in the manner that Putin's government did.  One thinks only of a similar stunt performed by Sinéad O'Connor on a Saturday Night Live performance in 1992 the United States, when at the end of her performance on live TV she tore-up a picture of Pope John Paul II saying "Fight the Real Enemy."  She embarrassed the show.  Something like 4,000 complaints were made to the F.C.C. about it afterwards.  But nothing happened.  Nothing needed to happen except that Ms O'Conner simply embarrassed herself ... and Pope John Paul II now Blessed John Paul II will be canonized as Saint John Paul II later this year.  And life, almost immediately after she tore up that picture on t.v. ... went happily on.  Anybody listening ...?

Closer to the ground, it would seem to me that Catholicism has had the least trouble with accepting and even at times blessing "rock and roll" than other religions.  Perhaps this is because the Catholic Church sees itself as a universal Church extending across all space and time.  So "rock and roll" is seen as simply "another cultural expression," one among many, that have existed across time.  Hence in The Commitments [1991], set in Dublin of the 1980s, the group's first "gig" is actually at a local parish function and they receive the blessing of the local priest.  Then, at the current parish where I am stationed, Annunciata in Chicago, our parish business manager (basically my age) was part of a local rock band when he was in his 20s.  Where did he used to play?  Often parish festivals.  And our parish's annual Annunciata Fest is, by and large, a neighborhood music festival.

There's no reason to fight if we don't really want to ... and "rock" is, as this film reminds us, often simply about celebrating (and later remembering) "being young."  So smile and enjoy the music ... ;-)

* Czech language links presently are most easily translated using google's chrome browser

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