Monday, 5 July 2010


In the mid-nineteenth century, German entrepreneur Michael Thonet invented a process using steam to bend light wooden components into elegant shapes which were then glued together to form... well, café furniture. Curve-backed chairs and bentwood hat-stands like this one became the order of the day and rapidly spread from Central Europe across the coffee-drinking world.

There's nothing special about this one in Shakespeare's - it's certainly no antique - but it does call to mind two very important Czech films in which hat-stands (věšáky) feature.

In Jiři Menzel's 1966 Oscar-winning 'Closely Observed Trains', there's a scene in a photographer's studio when young Miloš comes tantalizingly close to his first kiss, only to have the romance tragicomically shattered by an exploding shell. He and his girl escape, but the studio is wrecked. As the camera pans across, we see that a sole item of dust-covered furniture has survived: a white hat-stand, standing - ironically erect - among the ruins.

A 'hommage' to that famous scene appears in the excellent 'Musime si Pomáhat' (Divided We Fall, nominated for an Academy Award in 2001). Right at the end, as the sympathetic hero Josef Cízek walks through the rubble of a war-torn Czech city, he seems to see the ghosts of those who have not been so lucky, waving and smiling to him from a café table sitting incongruously in the middle of the street. Next to them, as if to complete the picture, is the same white hat-stand. A theatrical prop, maybe, but also a powerful symbol - in both films - of survival against all odds.

Both movies should be available, with English subtitles, from the usual sources.


Jilly said...

Your research always astounds me and fascinating indeed. And I love the photo.

Alex Went said...

Hey Jilly, thanks! I spent Friday afternoon in Shakes - because it'll be closing soon - and got various pictures, inc. hat-stand. It was Vrata's friend Jiři, from Canada, told me about Thonet. And of course I had to mention my two favourite Czech films. Try to see them, if you haven't already :)

tapirgal said...

Wow, lovely hat rack and shadows :)

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