The career of Art Nouveau pioneer Alfons Mucha is explored in the new film Mucha: The Story of an Artist who Created a Style (Svět podle Muchy), coming out in Prague on April 30, to coincide with the 160th anniversary of the artist’s birth.
Mucha is known for his advertising posters for French actress Sarah Bernhardt, and to the generation that grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, for the colorful cover on packs of JOB brand cigarette papers.
But at the height of his fame in France, he left to create his 20 painting picture cycle The Slav Epic (Slovanská epopej), which took almost 20 years to complete. Ownership of the paintings has been the subject of several legal battles. The paintings drew record crowds when it was shown in Japan.
The public can now get its first look at Roman Vávra’s documentary as the trailer has been released. The film has already been presented to distributors, television and international film festivals at the European Film Market Berlinale 2020.
“The film treats Alfons Mucha’s life in a whole new context. In addition to portraying his personality historically, he also observes his great influence on hippies and contemporary artists who were inspired by his legacy. I think this overlap was one of the reasons the filmmakers chose the Berlinale,” producer Ondřej Beránek said in Berlin.
Alfons Mucha’s great-granddaughter, British activist Tamsin Omond Mucha, attended the Berlin screening. “I liked the movie a lot, and I even discovered a few things I didn’t know about my great-grandfather,” she said.
The film, which combines documentary techniques with animation, is the most comprehensive look at the Czech painter in decades. “Our film will present the life of Alfons Mucha, and show the development of the creative contradiction between fame and his own desire,” Beránek said in a press release.
The film, which makes use of unpublished correspondence and diaries, goes beyond being a standard biography. “It is a stylized film with documentary features, combining pure documentary with animation, supported by the simultaneous use of expressive film means,” Vávra said.
Mucha died in 1939, and his work was condemned first by the Nazis, who occupied Bohemia during Workld War II, for its promotion of Slavic ideals. After the war, the communist regime condemned his work for being bourgeois.
“Alfons’ journal which he wrote on small leaflets at the end of his life, which were never published due to his death and the subsequent historical turbulence, served us to tell the story. At the instigation of Alfons’ widow, Marie, their son Jiří Mucha began to assemble the notes almost 20 years later,” Vavra said.
“The storyline is based on Jiří’s inner dialogue with his father in the creative process of creating his father’s biography, pictorially accompanied by his work on the book and everyday situations in Jiří’s home, including lively parties that were reminiscent of Alfons’ famous salons in France and America. It shows the father’s and son’s searches for a wife to be their lifelong inspiration,” Vávra added.
Screenwriter Markéta Sára Valnohová said the film’s impact comes from contradictions between Mucha’s life and work. “Mucha was one of the first art-world celebrities to come from the new idea of ‘pop culture.’ His individual style influenced many artists and is still has an impact. This can be seen mainly in street art, psychedelic rock posters, and Japanese manga. Mucha’s legacy is truly phenomenal, yet practically unknown to the general public,” Valnohová said.
Contemporary artists influenced by Mucha and seen in the film include Stanley Mouse, who designed posters for Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix; American artist Mear One, famous for his street art; and Japanese illustrator Yoshitaka Amano.
Filming took place in the spring and summer of 2019 in the Czech Republic, in France, Japan and the United States. One location in Prague was an apartment at Hradčanské náměstí, where Alfons’ son Jiří Mucha lived for many years. Some screenings of the film will be English-friendly, with either subtitles of English dubbing.
In Prague, Mucha’s work can be seen as part of the décor in Obecní dům and on a stained glass window at St Vitus’ Cathedral. There is also a Mucha Museum, run by the Mucha Foundation, at Panská 7 in Prague 1. The artist’s granddaughter, Jarmila Mucha Plocková, has a shop at Maiselova 5 in Prague 1, with items inspired by her grandfather’s style.
There is an easy way to get a piece of Mucha’s art. He designed Czechoslovak stamps and banknotes in the First Republic. His 10 Kčs, 50 Kčs, 100 Kčs and 500 Kčs notes and various denomination stamps can often be found in shops for collectors, though they are a bit pricey compared to other notes and stamps from the same era. In addition, he designed a state coat of arms that was in use until 1961 on government forms. And JOB cigarette papers are still available with his iconic cover design.