Bohumil Vesely Gallery

 

The on-line collections called BOHUMIL VESELÝ’S GALLERY OF FAMOUS MEN AND WOMEN and BOHUMIL VESELÝ’S GALLERY OF FILMMAKERS consist of an exceptional series of 785 portrait-style film segments that capture famous figures of Czechoslovak public life from the first sixty years of the 20th century. The original footage was filmed and compiled from archive materials by Bohumil Veselý, a remarkable person who dedicated his life to film collecting and amateur film production. As an expert on film prehistory, he collected records associated with first films, photographs, old film apparatuses, various music boxes, and other mechanical curios. But most of all, he became the first Czech systematic collector of films, who, thanks to his private activities and contacts, also learnt to use a range of special preservation and restoration techniques.

For twenty-two years, Bohumil Veselý filmed important personalities, both well-known and lesser-known, on the courtyard balcony of his flat at 38 Školská Street in Prague’s New Town. In this way he slowly built the foundation for a unique collection of film portraits. Veselý’s gallery depicts writers, painters, musicians, dancers, actors, filmmakers, politicians, scientists from all fields, inventors, and innovators as well as individuals who were “just” remarkable for one reason or another. Disabled since early childhood, Bohumil Veselý found it difficult to move around and rarely left his home. Nevertheless, he sometimes complemented the footage he shot on his courtyard balcony with material from the home or work environment of the portrayed person. When lacking his own footage, he often resorted to selecting archival footage from the contemporary weekly newsreels produced by Aktualita or Krátký film (Short Film) and, in the case of film actors and actresses, using excerpts from live-action films.

Veselý filmed most of the portraits on the above-mentioned courtyard balcony of his flat, using an amateur camera. Due to the high cost of film material, the segments last, on average, 15 to 20 seconds. The size and content of the segments were restricted by the limited space of the balcony, which made any noticeable camera action impossible. This resulted in the short, silent, photography-like nature of his shots – the subject enters the balcony, turns to the camera and poses by the railing before the camera zooms in for a close-up of the face or to capture a simple action characteristic of the person’s profession. Some visitors brought with them artefacts related to their job, such as statuettes, books, plants, drawings, manuscripts, or, in the case of musicians, instruments and scores. They would often come with their family, friends or colleagues. Musicians would play their instruments, while actors and dancers performed excerpts from their parts.

A total of seventy-seven segments encompass portraits of Czech film professionals from the first half of the 20 th century – pioneers of Czech cinema, mostly from behind the scenes of the film industry, including screenwriters, journalists and technical personnel, cinema owners and owners of film rental companies, who posed in front of Bohumil Veselý’s camera lens. Because of its content and scope, Bohumil Veselý’s Gallery of Famous Men and Women is an endeavour of extraordinary documentary and archival value.

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