Obituary of Jiri Weiss, Czech Director
- Obituary of Jiri Weiss
New York Times
6 Jun 2004
June 6, 2004
Jiri Weiss, Czech Director Who Shaped Postwar Cinema, Dies at 91
By LILY KOPPEL
Jiri Weiss, a central figure of Czechoslovakia's postwar cinema, died on
April 9 in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 91 and had lived for the last two
decades in Los Angeles.
His death was announced by his wife, Katerina Weiss.
Mr. Weiss wrote and directed more than 20 feature films, many of them war
dramas told in the context of ordinary lives and drawing on his own
experience in the war. His films, which won many international awards, also
blended fairy tales, novels and the satire of the Czech New Wave.
When the Germans invaded in 1939, Mr. Weiss fled from Prague and went to
Paris and then London, where he worked for the British Crown Film Unit. In
London, he documented the war in "The Rape of Czechoslovakia" (1939) and
produced fiction films, "John Smith Wakes Up" (1941) and "Before the Raid"
A member of the Communist party, he returned to his county in 1945 and
stayed to make many successful films under political and artistic
constraints. "When it was impossible to make good movies, he made a movie
about a dog," said the director Ivan Passer of Mr. Weiss's popular
children's film, "Punta and the Four-Leaf Clover" (1955).
His first feature film, "Stolen Frontier" (1947) told the story of the
members of a Czech frontier village during the war. "The Wolf Trap" won the
critics' prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1957, and for "Romeo and
Juliet and Darkness" (1960), he won the Grand Prix at the San Sebastian and
Taormina film festivals.
"Romeo" tells the story of a young Jewish girl who is sent to her death in a
concentration camp by her neighbors.
Also highly acclaimed were "The Golden Fern" (1963), "Ninety Degrees in the
Shade" (1965), an English-language film, and "Murder Czech Style" (1967), a
dark comedy about a foolish clerk who is cuckolded by the woman he loves.
Mr. Weiss taught at FAMU, the Film Academy in Prague, and influenced a
younger generation of directors who led the Czech New Wave, like Vojtech
Jasny, later a mentor of Milos Forman.
When the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, Mr. Weiss again fled,
living in Rome and England before relocating to the United States. He lived
in New York and then moved to Los Angeles.
He also taught film courses at Hunter College in New York and at the
University of California, Santa Barbara. He published a book of memoirs,
"The White Mercedes."
In 1990, he directed the French-German film "Martha and I," with Marianne
Sagebrecht and Michael Piccoli, which was voted most popular at the San
Francisco International Film Festival in 1991.
Mr. Weiss was born on March 29, 1913, in Prague into a German Jewish
community. He graduated from Charles University and abandoned his law
studies for journalism and then for documentary filmmaking.
Besides his wife, of Los Angeles, his survivors include a daughter, Jirina
Bila of Prague; a son, Jiri Weiss Jr. of San Francisco; and three
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