Criterion actually packs on quite a bit of material here, first starting with three short films by Jireš. Uncle is the first one, and it’s a fairly humourous 6-minute short made in 1959. In it a burglar breaks into a home only to find himself in a little boy’s room. The boy awakens and to avoid the parents possibly coming in he tells the boy he is his uncle, which then forces him to play with the boy for a bit. In its very short time it has some really funny moments and a couple of touching moments, and despite maybe some dreamlike qualities to it (how the burglar comes in makes the boy think he flew in) it’s very different from Valerie stylistically.
The other two films, Footprints and The Hall of Lost Footsteps (both from 1960 and running about 12-minutes), show more clearly the building of Jireš’ style, leading to Valerie. Of the two Footprints is the more straightforward narratively, centering around an escaped Russian convict who ends up hiding with a local family, an officer seeming to be in pursuit. But The Hall of Lost Footsteps is the more abstract. The title apparently referring to a railway station concourse, the film uses one as a launching point to reflect on the past war and its atrocities (a Jewish man reflects on the German concentration camps, gruesome stock footage used as his memories) and the looming doom of a possible nuclear holocaust suggested through headlines and footage of tests. Through all of this, though, people live out their lives and the film listens in on the various conversations occurring on the concourse, with us only getting snippets and not a complete picture. The editing style of this one is more fragmented, closer to what we get with Valerie.
All three films still present damage and restoration leaves a teeny bit to be desired, though things could be far worse. All three films are at least presented in 1080p/24hz, and the transfers themselves are clean and filmic. They’re all great inclusions and they do help in preparing for what Valerie and Her Week of Wonders has to offer.
Resurrecting the Avant-Garde is a 16-minute interview with film historian Peter Hames. He talks about the film and the surprises it has to offer, almost like he’s prepping the viewer for it, and then talks a bit about the symbolism and Gothic elements found within. There’s a little about the novel on which the film is based, suggesting that the film actually sticks pretty close to it, and then he talks a bit about Jireš’ other work, the Czech New Wave, and how it ended with the Soviet invasion. Though I would have hoped for a commentary this feature still works as a decent primer for the film and its stylistic choices, as well as a quick overview of Jireš’ films.
Criterion then includes two interviews from 2006 (I assume for another DVD edition) featuring actors Jaroslava Schallerová and Jan Klusák. Schallerová basically just goes over getting the role and the general experience of making the film over the summer holiday. Klusák’s proves to be more interesting since he considers the film the worst experience of his life, asked to do things by the director that weren’t in the script (he figures they were left out of the script because he wouldn’t have signed on if they were there). He mentions he was actually supposed to score the film though dropped out of that simply because the experience exhausted him. A rather frank and intriguing interview. Both run about 6-minutes each.
Criterion then devotes space to The Valerie Project score, which is of course presented as an alternate track for the film. Accompanying this is More Than a Soundtrack: The Valerie Project, which is a 15-minute interview with Joseph A. Gervasi and Greg Weeks. The two just give a general overview on the collaboration and why they chose to write an alternate score for the film. They talk about the film’s imagery and how they used it to influence their music, pointing out some sequences where their score interprets certain sequences differently than the original score. They then talk about the performances and how awful it was traveling with the instruments and rather large band. We’re also treated to some footage from the screenings. It’s an interesting and rather unique venture, and I’m pleased that Criterion felt the need to include the actual track while also offering some history and context on it.
The insert then includes an essay by Jana Prikryl, who first tries to simplify the plot and then goes into a little more detail about the Czech film industry after the Soviet invasion, and where officials saw Jireš in it (despite the fact Soviet officials hated Valerie they apparently thought he would be a good director to make “accessible” mainstream fair).
I still think a commentary would have been appropriate but as it stands the supplements are still all pretty good, even giving one a better understanding of the film and what it’s seeking to accomplish. 8/10