Jan Kapr’s Codes
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Jan Kapr’s Codes
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How to turn the dissonance of life into the harmony of being?

Writer/Director: Lucie Králová
Director of Photography: Tomáš Stanek, Adam Olha, Petr Příkaský
Editor: Adam Brothánek
Sound: Richard Müller
Story Editing by: Jan Gogola jr.
Music Supervision: Michaela Vyoralová
Producer: DOCUFilm Praha, Czech Television, Mindset Pictures

The film investigates JAN KAPR (1914 – 1988), a genius composer, innovator and experimenter, almost unknown in Czechia. During the 1950s he rises to fame thanks to his propaganda songs to such an extent that he – as the only Czech composer – is granted an award by Stalin himself. In August 1968, he demonstratively returns Stalin’s award, and writes an open letter to his friend Šostakovič, expressing his disappointment about the invasion. What follows is a lifetime ban on his work. At the same time, he records his life and himself through short sketches on 8 mm films. This material, which has never been published, is brought to life in a fascinating reconstruction of life after death; where the memory of film, the times, as well as Kapr’s music intersects with a story gaining mythological dimensions. The narrative is framed by the birth of the world premiere of Kapr’s composition, Testimonianze for 4 solo instruments and light, performed in 2018, 50 years after its inception.

Although he ranks among the top composers of ‘new music’, received a number of significant foreign awards (e.g. London Olympics prize, UNESCO award) and his compositions were played many times on leading stages in Czech Republic and around the world, Kapr was gradually “erased” from the public awareness by the state power after 1968. The documentary film tells Kapr’s ambivalent yet powerful story through a distinctive film language drawing on Kapr’s visual talent and playful stylization of his unique film pieces. It’s not just a ‘portrait of the artist’, but above all it is an exploration of the possibilities of a film language in relation to archive material. In connection with Kapr’s search for ‘a new language of music’, the film explores innovative ways of working with archived material and provides a more comprehensive view.

The film presents Kapr as a character driven by constant tension between dissonance and harmony, and, who is going through a major personal, creative and political development (e.g. a promising representative in gymnastics, Kapr opts for music at the age of 16, when gymnastic rings break on him, and he becomes disabled for life). This continuous transformation is an essential component of the film narrative, which presents each phase of Kapr’s life chronologically and frames the whole film. Selected scenes of Kapr’s life give rise to a libretto, a unifying and playful principle of the film, holding together various elements and layers. The libretto will také the form of the spoken word (especially thanks to the usage of the rich sound archive of Kapr’s voice, stories of his daughter and other contemporaries) but also sung passages (e.g. sung samples from secret police archives). The sheet music will be created by music composer Petra Gavlasová, in the spirit of Kapr’s composition principles.

Thanks to the magical power of film, which preserves the living even after their death, Kapr’s originally silent films come to life with the sound track of his own compositions, his voice and the voice of his loved ones, and gains new meanings and context. Thus, one could say that Kapr posthumously ‘adds sound’ to his originally silent and private films with his own music and voice. Viewers should slowly come to the realization that the film they are watching is a composition (similar to a musical composition), which reflects the principles and techniques Kapr himself used for composing his own work (e.g. he explains his principle of ‘coding’ on the audio recordings). In this multi-layered narrative, which uses Kapr’s private films, as well as material recorded after the event, we cover not only everyday moments and the composer’s peculiar humor but also contemporary social somersaults and borderline situations. Furthermore, we sink deeper and deeper into Kapr’s inner world as well as his time.

The film thus becomes a sort of a case study of a human being in a system (the then cultural and musical environments), of his actions and life strategies, which become apparent only through the resulting composition and through linking Kapr’s amateur shots.