Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Prague - Where old puns go to die

Another of my older pieces ... this one from 2006 ...

Huw phoned today from Prague. He’s there making a Christmas commercial for one of the bigger UK DIY chains. But, and this is the weird part, he’s filming in what amounts to a Nazi bunker. The Barrandov Film Studios are some of the largest in Europe. It was built in 1931 and, at one time, employed 300 staff to aid film production. Up to eighty films a year were made and the studios had just had begun to attract foreign producers when war broke out.

During the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Nazis significantly increased the size of the facility, adding three large interconnecting stages with more than 37,000 square feet of shooting space. Many Nazi propaganda films, including many that tried to put a positive spin on concentration camps, were shot there. After the war, the studios were nationalised – much to the disgust of the Havel Family who had owned them before the occupation (and who had cooperated with the Nazis). In a fit of pique, Miloš Havel attempted to blow the studio up. He failed but killed 30 workers in the trying. He fled to West Germany and was granted political asylum. These days the studios are in constant use for commercial shoots and, in recent years, a number of Hollywood films have been made there including Mission Impossible, The Bourne Identity, Blade II, Alien Vs Predator and Hellboy.

Most bizarre is the fact that that most Jewish of films – Yentl (starring Barbra Streisand) - was filmed there … on a soundstage that was once used in an attempt to hide the Holocaust. And, at the risk of resurrecting a very old and very bad joke, Huw did tell me that to reach the lighting gantry (nearly a hundred feet up – it really is a huge space), he had to use lifts made by … you guessed it, Schindler. Schindlers Lifts.

You couldn’t make it up.

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