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At the end of WWII, most of Eastern and Central Europe’s countries were being occupied by the soviet army.

History and Backround of Communism

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Although many of the differences between the former laws of the Kingdom of Hungary, the Slovak’s home, and the rest of the Habsburg monarchy where the Czechs lived lingered after the creation of Czecho-Slovakia, the whole country’s legal system, including its statutes applicable to film, was gradually made more, although not completely, uniform. Throughout its existence, both before and after World War II, Czechoslovakia never had one official language. The army did not have a single language of command, either. From the start, Slovak was the language used and taught in Slovakia and Czech in Moravia and Bohemia, but both languages were equally legal in the whole country, including in the central government. Moreover, there was no inter-teaching of the two languages. That made Czechoslovakia different from other poly-lingual European countries, like Belgium and Switzerland where the school curriculum always contains classes in another official language of the country. The Slovak and Czech languages are quite close, perhaps more so than Norwegian and Swedish or Danish, and the Slovak and Czech population simply learned to understand, but not speak the other language of the country through exposure, mainly in the media. That applied to film as well, although most films were made in Czech in Prague during this period. While the Slovaks and Czechs understood each other’s language, only those who moved to the other part of the country sometimes learned to speak it as well. But Slovak actors in a Czech film normally spoke Czech and there were a few Czech actors who spoke Slovak in a Slovak-themed film.

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In line with the traditions of Central European monarchies, politics was one of the reasons for censorship. Among banned titles were King Ludwig II, which depicted a story that was too similar to the life and mysterious death of Ludwig II of Bavaria, and a film that was offensive to the prime minister of Hungary. However, the Kingdom did not follow suit when the rest of the Habsburg monarchy introduced formal film censorship in 1912. Included in its provisions was a requirement that licenses to open movie theaters be issued to individuals and institutions that would guarantee a respectable use of the profits; the intent of this provision was to support charities and various associations. Budapest adopted the law in April 1918, half a year before the defeat and collapse of Austria-Hungary and the founding of Czecho-Slovakia. The law empowered censors to ban films offending patriotic interests, public order and morality, etc. Children under 16 were allowed to see only movies designated as suitable for them and only when accompanied by an adult.

 

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Despite a variety of problems, Czecho-Slovakia proved to be more democratic than the former Kingdom and the whole Habsburg monarchy. But the new freedom, which benefited other forms of Slovak culture, proved even more difficult for Slovak film than the post-communist period after 1989. The film industry developed in Prague, which had been an important German-Czech cultural center, a university town, and the capital of the German “Holy Roman” Empire’s Kingdom of Bohemia for centuries, attracting business and artistic talent. By comparison, Slovakia’s new capital and largest city Bratislava was much smaller; moreover, it was only forty miles from the Habsburg monarchy’s large, vibrant, and influential capital of Vienna. Given that artists and entrepreneurs flocked to it from all over the monarchy, Vienna created a degree of artistic brain-drain in its immediate vicinity.


Legal power to regulate what movies were screened was invested in the hands of local authorities by a law from 1901, which required traveling movie entrepreneurs to obtain permits for their shows. On the whole, a license was issued to anyone who applied for it. Local bans and complaints surfaced for a variety of reasons, including some that are familiar today: a city councilor at Košice worried that worthless caper films had a bad influence on boys, while dramas about sex corrupted girls because such films extinguished their sense of morality and made them vulnerable to unconscionable seducers. In 1912, a priest and principal of a Roman Catholic boys’ school in Nitra threatened his students with bad grades in behavior if they went to the movies, even if accompanied by their parents; his ban extended to traditional theater performances, as well. Censorship was also exercised by the authorities in Budapest, the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, who had the power to ban individual titles from being shown anywhere in that province of the Habsburg monarchy, including the Slovak counties.


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Movies proved successful. The number of movie theaters in the predominantly Slovak counties reached about 100 by the end of World War I, and two schools—the Mining Academy in Banská Štiavnica and a high school in Lučenec—had already used film as a teaching aid. Traveling entrepreneurs purchased a print of each film they screened. With the establishment of permanent movie theaters, film distributors appeared, as well as a kind of “film exchange” where copies of film were traded like on the stock market. The advent of copyright problems and foreign competition was heralded in 1913 in the Kingdom with the first published complaint about illegal importation of foreign films, especially from France. As elsewhere in Central Europe, French films dominated the market.

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Attendance at traditional theater performances dropped after the introduction of motion pictures. Theater directors appealed to the authorities to prohibit movie shows during the staging time of regular plays. In 1901, the Ministry of the Interior (in charge of the police and the local government in Central Europe) issued a decree meeting their demands. The Deputy County Chief of Nitra went so far as to ban movie shows during the entire theater season, but local movie-theater operators successfully appealed his decision. For a time, film producers thought they could benefit from a symbiosis of film and theater in “cinema-sketches”; actors would play on the stage, then the story would be picked up on the screen with the same actors, and the conclusion would be played by live actors again. One such cinema-sketch, The Košice Promenade on the Screen (1909), depicted night-life in Košice: walking on Main Street in one’s Sunday best was a common pastime before the advent of TV and mass entertainment. It was among the few early motion pictures linked with Slovak territory. The limited production of cinema-sketches did not survive World War I and did not continue after the creation of Czecho-Slovakia (later renamed Czechoslovakia) in 1918.

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During World War II, Slovakia was a separate country allied with Berlin and was sandwiched between the enormously expanded Germany (which absorbed the Czech-speaking part of the former Czecho-Slovakia) and Hungary. It retained its legal system from the previous Czecho-Slovakia, but censorship regarding film became harsher. A massive, but eventually failed pro-democratic uprising in August-October 1944, which acquired the largest territorial control of all resistance movements in Central and Western Europe, became a frequent theme in Slovak filmmaking and other arts after the end of World War II, but was mostly shunned by the Czechs. When the deportation of the Jews to German extermination camps was picked up as a theme in The Shop on Main Street (Obchod na korze; dir. Jan Kadár and Elmar Klos, 1965), it earned Slovak and Czechoslovak film its first Oscar.