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Cinemagoers Should ‘…learn from progressive movies, again and again’. Cinemagoing in Czechoslovakia, 1949–1952

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Towards a Comparative Economic History of Cinema, 1930–1970

Part of the book series: Frontiers in Economic History ((FEH))

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The chapter presents research findings on film popularity in Czechoslovakia during the period of late Stalinism. It also reflects upon methodological difficulties of using the POPSTAT Index in a central command economy. Nationally derived statistics set a context in which ideology and shortages were crucial features. These are supplemented by POPSTAT statistics for the city of Brno in 1952 based upon advertised film programmes. While national attendance figures corroborate these, they need to be carefully contextualised. This is because film programmes were required to meet ideological and commercial objectives.

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  1. 1.

    ‘Cinefication’ refers to screenings throughout the state. The term originates in the USSR in the 1920s when, along with ‘electrification’ or ‘radiofication’, it established a vocabulary intended to indicate the promises of revolutionary change through modern technologies.

  2. 2.

    The Brno regional director Bohuslav Hammer at a meeting of cinema managers, 28 January 1949. Krajský filmový podnik, G 604, Moravský zemský archiv Brno (hereafter MZA, KFP, G604).

  3. 3.

    Černík (1952, p. 60).

  4. 4.

    Regional conference for district of Brno, 28 November 1950. MZA, KFP, G604, file 15.

  5. 5.

    Skopal (2012, p. 81).

  6. 6.

    Applebaum (2013). See Chapter 13 ‘Homo sovieticus’.

  7. 7.

    Krakovský (2015), ‘Building the Idea of The Common Good in People’s Democracies: A Case Study of Communist Czechoslovakia in the 1950s’ Cahiers du Monde russe, Vol. 56, No. 2/3, pp. 345–370.

  8. 8.

    Kornai János (2008): From Socialism to Capitalism, Eight Essays, p. 3.

  9. 9.

    Bringing together Czech film industry-based statistics and business records in the form of a trade journal, Jiří Havelka published his first book in 1935 covering the period 1929–1934. With the intention of providing a service to Czechoslovak film industry both for the domestic and international business, he produced Yearbooks from that time onward until the early 1970s. The data used in this Chapter are drawn from the Czech part of the country. Statistics for the Slovak part are published in separate tables.

  10. 10.

    Kuča (2000, p. 177).

  11. 11.

    See Václav Novák, Historie brněnských kinematografů 1896-1981. Unpublished manuscript. Archiv města Brna (Brno City Archives, hereafter AMB), f. T68.

  12. 12.

    See Szczepanik (2016, pp. 64–65).

  13. 13.

    Skopal (2014, p. 104).

  14. 14.

    Havelka (1970, p. 220).

  15. 15.

    Šmída (1954, p. 9).

  16. 16.

    See letter from MIO to Ministry of Finance—reaction to a letter from 9 July 1952, and minutes from a meeting organized by MI, 18 July 1952. NA, MIO, dodatky, k. 127.

  17. 17.

    Kaplan (2007, pp. 92–95).

  18. 18.

    Šmída (1985, p. 154).

  19. 19.

    District administration of the ČSF, report on fulfilling the attendance plan in the period January 1, 1953—September 30, 1953. AMB, B 1/30.

  20. 20.

    Skopal (2014, p. 104).

  21. 21.

    Hollywood and Western productions constituted more than 50% share of the screenings and 55.6% of the total attendance (Skopal, 2014, p. 104). See also Bláhová (2009). On the post-war film shortage in Czechoslovakia see Mareš (1991, 1994).

  22. 22.

    National Archives, Prague (herafter NA), Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, culture and publicity department, file 660—Central film distribution, minutes from a meeting, 1946–1948.

  23. 23.

    Filmová kartotéka (1949, pp. 3–4).

  24. 24.

    On The Soviet film famine see Knight (2018).

  25. 25.

    NA, f. 19/7 KSČ – Ústřední výbor 1945–1989, oddělení kulturně-propagační a ideologické, arch. j. 666. Jiří Málek’s report on film distribution in 1949 and its results, addressed to meeting of Board for culture, 28 January 1949.

  26. 26.

    Rudé právo (1950, pp. 1, 3).

  27. 27.

    Rather than discriminating on the ‘quality’ of the seats, the highest price was applied to all the seats.

  28. 28.

    Skopal (2014), Nesveda (1958, p. 80).

  29. 29.

    Havelka (1970, 1972), Prommer (1999), Vincendeau (1995).

  30. 30.

    Havelka (1972, p. 342).

  31. 31.

    Havelka (1970, p. 202; 1972, p. 296).

  32. 32.

    Havelka (1970, p. 228; 1973, p. 240).

  33. 33.

    See Havelka (1970, p. 228; 1972, p. 342).

  34. 34.

    Garncarz (2020).

  35. 35.

    There is some evidence from oral history sources that attendance for two-part movies presented in one screening were counted twice. But we do not have clear proof of the practice, nor are we are able to quantify how many screenings presented both parts of those movies in one show.

  36. 36.

    Kuča (2000, p. 184).

  37. 37.

    Čásek were a version of Čas cinemas – Čas screened 35 mm prints, while Čásek, 16 mm.

  38. 38.

    Accordingly, the devaluation lowered cinema admission prices from 20–4 Kčs, 15–3 Kčs, 10–2 Kčs and 5–1 Kčs (Havelka, 1972).

  39. 39.

    The cinema classification implicit in Table 5 differs from the years of 1945-1948, when only five cinemas were regarded as first-class. While these continued to premiere new films, they were obliged to charge the same price as the six cinemas which newly entered the first-class category. The much flatter pricing structure was designed to encourage cinemagoing among the population.

  40. 40.

    Here the distinction between released—first screened—and produced is significant, in that all films were subject to ideological scrutiny which took time, and film imports also required import licences to be granted, another time costing procedure. Source from Havelka, the years refer to the first screenings in Czechoslovakia—from the point when films started generating income.

  41. 41.

    These results differ markedly from the top-ranking results established for Cracow in the next chapter, which was dominated by international films, particularly those from France.

  42. 42.

    MZA, KFP, G604, file 77.

  43. 43.

    Filmový přehled (1952, p. 2).

  44. 44.

    Kavka (1952, p. 13), Lidová demokracie (1952, p. 13).

  45. 45.

    These were organized every five years between 1955 and 1985 (see Roubal, 2020).

  46. 46.

    Roubal (2020, p. 18). Roubal refers to the term eigensinn that was influentially coined by German historian Alf Lüdtke and applied to state-socialist societies by Thomas Lindenberger. The term in Lindenberger’s use means “individuals’ capacity to “make sense” of their behavior and their attitudes within relationships of authority in ways that are non “programmed” or anticipated by the ideological framework or the political function that the powers to be have invested in this relationship.” See, e.g., Lindenberger (2010, p. 4).

  47. 47.

    Filmový přehled (1952, p. 6).

  48. 48.

    Filmový přehled (1952, p. 3).

  49. 49.

    NFA, Filmová rada 1949–53, R9/AI/4P/9K.

  50. 50.

    Jeřábek (2000, p. 223).

  51. 51.

    Szczepanik (2016, pp. 75–90).



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Skopal, P., Porubčanská, T., Sedgwick, J. (2022). Cinemagoers Should ‘…learn from progressive movies, again and again’. Cinemagoing in Czechoslovakia, 1949–1952. In: Sedgwick, J. (eds) Towards a Comparative Economic History of Cinema, 1930–1970. Frontiers in Economic History . Springer, Cham.

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