The Plastic People of the Universe

"OK"

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The Plastic People of the Universe Review


What looks like a silly title is actually a compelling story of musical passion against governmental odds. While The Plastic People of the Universe is mostly a talking-head video about the Czech rock and roll band formed in 1968, the description of various oppressive measures that the regime took to silence the band's lyrical rebellion is certainly a journey worth hearing about.

Propelling the oral history into the past are a few choice comments from such famed influential American musicians as Lou Reed. These excerpted discussions surpass the normal "They're great!" jargon, becoming a sincere testament of flattery and mutual admiration bridging the divergent cultures. On the one hand, Czech nationals wax about the positive images of overseas talent encouraging their voices to rise. On the flipside, U.S. citizens may have been thrown in jail for various "acts against the state" throughout history, but the majority of this pales in comparison to the physical repercussions of singing angry lyrics in an occupied territory.

Akin to McCarthyism in the United States, anyone with the remotest connection to the Plastic People was arrested, their homes burned and their names blacklisted. And yet, living in an increasingly desperate, claustrophobic society, it's understandable that a fan base was willing to walk right into that kind of danger. If it meant a taste of freedom, or finding an environment in which it was safe to be honest, it was worth the risk.

Unfortunately, the documentary follows the pattern of confining itself with redundancy, having dialogue that is more interesting than the images attached to it. When the same speaker is suddenly placed in front of a different background, it's as if director Jana Chytlova isn't sure how to keep the film visually stimulating. But, of course, because this is subtitled, you have no choice but to watch the screen. Also, though the pain endured is narrated in such a way as to be graphically sympathetic, how much consistent depression can an audience be expected to endure without losing focus?

The most fascinating themes besides the dire circumstances are the various forms of rebellion discussed. There's an admission that, had things been more organized, there might have been progress in Czechoslovakia sooner. This hindsight serves to bring another fine dimension to the mix; how can you possibly plan for lengths you would never expect a human, much less ruling body, to inflict for innocently expressing yourself?

As far as watching bands go, it is always engaging to watch musicians play for the love of music, and to respect them for sticking with it unconscious of the possible rewards of popularity or fame. For this Chytlova is able to pay respectful homage through weaving together various pieces of footage.

Aka Milan Hlavsa a Plastic People of the Universe.


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