Milos Forman just turned 75, so I figured it's a good time to look back at where his career started.

Black Peter was Forman's first feature length film, and while I don't think its the best of his ensemble pieces (in my opinion that is Taking Off), it has a lot of things to say for it.

The film follows a young man, who just got a job at a supermarket. Of course its a commie supermarket, so people are allowed to check out on their own and they are expected not to steal anything. Peter's job is to make sure they really don't. He is comically bad at his job, and ends up following some guy all day who he thinks has stolen something, but ends up being the boss' friend.

The middle part of the movie involves him courting this pretty young girl. He is not very good at courting her, and he's always being harassed by a young drunk workman. His romance does not go so well, and he goes back to work without getting another date.

At work the next day, he lets someone get away with theft, he tells his father later, who gives him a long lecture, then the young workman (no longer drunk) comes in to return some money he borrowed the day before. The father praises the workman's work ethic, and continues his rant.

The last little bit is quite tricky. The workman watches the lecture, and when his friend asks him if he is ready to go, the workman says "wait this is just getting good." The father response, "Do you know what you're talking about! Do you have any idea idea at all!" The father then raises his hands over his head in a look of angry resignation, and goes into a freeze frame. Peter looks up at him in surprise, and you get another shot of the freeze frame.

The first thing that should be noted is that VladimĂ­r Pucholt, who plays the workman, is really freakin' funny in this movie (as he is in most movies he is in). The second thing that should be noted is the ending, which deserves longer discussion.

Freeze frames are something of a cliché of the 60s new wave movement. The first official 'New Wave' movie, Truffaut's 400 Blows, used the freeze frame to invoke the unknown fate of the child after that moment (of course if we've watched the 4 sequels we know that the youth gets into all sorts of crazy hi-jinx as he grows up... which really ruins the effect). The freeze frame is often use in a vaguely similar fashion in other New Wave films, often instead of showing what decision the main character makes at a turning point a freeze frame leaves the character and the audience suspended to "think about it."

Forman uses the freeze frame very differently. First of all it is the parent, not the child who is freeze framed, second of all, the freeze frame is interrupted by the curious youth.

There are so many ways you could 'read' this image, its worth playing around with. The film has the father do something really 'surprising,' it has him freeze in mid-motion, while its tempting to read this as a sign of impotence, frustration, I think a lot more can be done with the idea of a role reversal - one doesn't know what the future holds for the parents. What is really nice about this idea is that the future of the parents is in much deeper peril than Forman could have known at the time of making the film. The father has probably lived through the Austrian empire, the republic, the Nazis, the communists, and of course the Russians would invade only a few years after this film was made. The father depicts this lesson for the son by turning into a freeze frame.

"Do you even understand?" The world is much more complicated then all this, ideas invade the real world. Cinema invades human life. Countries invade countries. Moments last sometimes.

Buy Black Peter

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