Čaroděj OZ (“Wizard OZ”, real name: Lubomír Drožď) is a representative of the Czechoslovak underground scene. He is known under this and other pseudonyms (Blumfeld S.M., Homeless & Hungry, Řehoř Samsa and others) as a filmmaker, journalist, writer, essayist and a translator.
He was born in 1955 in Prague to a family who had traditionally been involved in film production. In 1960s and 1970s, his mother worked as the manager of the Vesna Cinema in Prague’s Strašnice and her grandfather used to run a travelling cinema. In 1970, he started studying at grammar school. After three years, he left to study painting at the Secondary School of Applied Arts in Žižkov. After graduation, he was repeatedly not admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts and the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design. After two unsuccessful attempts to emigrate and a voluntary stay at a mental asylum in Bohnice in order to obtain a discharge from the army, he settled down in 1977 in a cottage in the region close to Bezděz castle. He was voluntarily unemployed for several years, and later he made living reading meteorological data or as a map plotter for the Geological Institute. At that time, he started expressing his dissent with the regime as a writer and a journalist. He started publishing his own samizdat magazines Opium pro Lid (Opium for the People), Jen pro Blázny (For Madmen Only), Sado-Maso (Sadism and Masochism) and translations of psychedelic-themed books. In 1985, at the request of Egon Bondy, he became one of the editors of the Vokno magazine and in 1990 he became its editor-in-chief. He published his articles in magazines such as Mana, Baraka, Salon, Živel, Prostor revue, A2 and others. He translates books from English, writes essays and collections of stories (Polykači ohně [Fire Eaters], Živel 2001; Peep Show, Petrov, 2001). In 2004, he started working on the treatment and later on the script for the film Tři sezóny v pekle (Three Seasons in Hell, 2009), which was inspired by the youth of Egon Bondy which was co-written and directed by Tomáš Mašín. In 2013, he finished his extensive novel Perplex – 1989/1489.
From 1979 to 1985, Čaroděj and a group of friends (including Vladimír Gaar, Pavel Veselý, Tomáš Mazal, Irena Gosmanová) made feature and music films using the 8mm format. The first of them was Popis jednoho zápasu (Description of a Struggle, 1979, lost), a loop from a found family footage accompanied with a reading. He started to prepare his own first feature film in 1980, cooperating with the cameraman and editor Vladimír Gaar (nicknamed “Mr Karra” in the films) and protagonist Pavel Veselý (“Pablo de Sax”). Later, he started to operate the camera and edit his films himself. Finished works were accompanied with music, spoken commentary or other texts played on a tape recorder during the film. Especially in the first years, he made films spontaneously and based on improvisation – the shooting started when a camera was available together with a sufficient number of actors. The shooting usually took only a single day and it was based on several sketched ideas – everything else was just a matter of spontaneous action. In the case of his later films, Čaroděj arranged the production and cast beforehand, however, he preferred improvisation to written scripts. In the course of five years, his films became increasingly more sophisticated, culminating in the film 1984 and in the almost an hour-long, road movie Easy Rider OZ which was shot in the course of three years. In addition to a number of feature films, he is also an author of music videos (for his own band Hyeny and for Precedens: Chladnu, chladneš [I Get Cold, You Get Cold]; Co nám zbejvá [What is Left to Do?], Plastic People: Ruka [Hand]; Z kouta do kouta [From Corner to Corner]. The last film, based on Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, remained unfinished after the author’s camera was stolen in 1985. After 1986, the films were screened only sporadically. Some of them were converted to the video format in 1980s and became a part of the Vokno video magazine. Most of his work was digitally restored in 2012 by the Center of Audiovisual Studies at FAMU.
The topic of Čaroděj’s films is mainly the absurd situation of a man and his desire to be free, which is also fulfilled through play, i.e. filmmaking itself. Equally distinct is the unique anti-consumerism, which did not reduce itself only to a critique of socialist reality, but it was a more general reference to the manipulating mechanisms in any society. To a considerable extent, this attitude is sceptical to culture as it is. There is also a purely personal aspect to the films. Locations, props, and even the cast illustrate the circumstances of the shooting, although these films are not intended as autobiographical. One of the examples is the Blahoslavený uklizeč (The Blessed Cleaner, 1980), set in the author’s garden, in a hole dug for a swimming pool. The props are items found in the house, the actors are friends who arrived on a weekend visit. A year later, the location – the hole that has already been tiled – appears in the film Dreams of a Toilet Attendant (1980) and again in the film Nirvana (1982), where the pool is covered with boards and a black sheet. The protagonists of Čaroděj’s films were also portrayed in their professions – for example, the protagonist of the film The Blessed Cleaner, Pablo de Sax actually worked as a cleaner. Some films also document the social events of the period, such as the Strahov Spartakiad, First May celebrations in Julius Fučík Park of Culture and Leisure, or a military oath on the Old Town Square in Prague.
Due to the fact that the used narrow film formats did not allow for sound processing, Čaroděj added the soundtrack during the screening. Thus, each screening became, to a considerable extent, a sort of a performance. The recordings were played from tapes containing dialogue, noises or music. It was usually a double-track recording played by the author on the spot or proportionally adjusted according to the film image. The image and the sound were synchronised using a sign agreed with the projector operator, some recordings even include instructions on when to start the screening of the image. In addition, there were also written instructions including notes on the dramatic use of sound. Some films featured an intro, or a pre-recorded spoken introduction, whose length sometimes exceeded the length of the film itself. Much of the soundtrack consisted of author’s favourite recordings from his own collection (Patti Smith, Joy Division, The Cure, Gang of Four, Cabaret Voltaire and others), in some cases, the music was written specifically for the film (the bands Hyeny and Ovoce & Zelenina). Čaroděj recorded the remarkable sound effects illegally at the Barrandov film studios, where a friend of his worked as a cleaner. The recording made using an Asyz synthesizer (used in the past also by Zdeněk Liška), became a welcome source of effects for several following films.
Creative films were also shot by a number of other authors in Čaroděj’s circle of friends, among them Vladimír Gaar, Tomáš Mazal, Pavel Veselý, Jan Patrik Krásný or Irena Gosmanová. From 1979 to 85, this informal group that consisted of ten to fifteen members, made several dozen films outside the official mainstream as well as amateur cinematography. Čaroděj’s group can be traced back to parties associated with home screenings of family films in late 1970s. These parties later became film festivals that took place each year in various flats both in Prague and outside Prague. The members of the group established their own creative teams and production studios (Čarodějné filmy pro lid; Studio Mravných filmů, Pelc a Tyrolka, Pigi films, Jen pro blázny films; Crazy Video System; OZ comp.; Dejvické studio kinematografické; Nekonečné films/movies; Studio Aquarius; Pneumatický knedlík and many others), their own films festivals (Filmový festival nepracujících [1979, 1981], Zlaté Brýle [1980-1985]), audience and awards (Zlaté brýle – the Best Film, Zlatý Sürrek – the Most Surrealist Film, Zlatý Bruxelles – the Best Koan [Note – Koan was the genre of a visual lyric narrative poem], Plastický chrup – the Best Photography, Nová šlépěj – innovative means of expression). Later, films produced by the group were screened across Czechoslovakia, using various channels, mainly at home screenings. The activities of the film community are documented in the samizdat anthology Meliés (Vladimír Gaar, 1983), several film synopses and reports from underground screenings also appeared in various editions of the samizdat magazine Vokno between 1981 and 1987.
Text: Alexandra Moralesová, Martin Blažíček
Latest update: 19. 2. 2013