10:29 pm

Jára Cimrman lezící, spící

The Globe Bookstore, an English-language bookstore and café in Prague, recently started a (free) Sunday evening movie series in which they show "classic" Czech movies subtitled in English.

A few weeks ago, they showed Postriziny, which was charming, although much of the humor was seemingly lost in translation. (After the movie, the Czech waitresses were surprised and a little disappointed that the English-speaking customers failed to appreciate how funny it had been.)

This week’s movie was Jára Cimrman lezící, spící, about that great Czech polymath, Jára Cimrman. The movie presents key episodes from his life:

  • His parents brought him up as a girl, so that he could wear his older sister’s hand-me downs.
  • His tampering with Marconi’s telegraph lines prompted him to suggest to Marconi that he try transmitting wirelessly, thereby prompting the invention of the radio. He improved upon Eiffel’s prototype for the Eiffel tower by splaying the supports which Eiffel originally had straight and perpendicular to the ground. He suggested to Chekhov that "Two Sisters" sounded a little skimpy.
  • In his own career as an inventor, he always showed up to the Patent Office just a little late. He presented the telephone just after Alexander Graham Bell had showed up; similarly, Edison got in with the electric light bulb (and various other electrical devices) just before he did. Alfred Nobel was sitting in the Patent Office at the very instant that Cimrman discovered dynamite.
  • His career as a tutor to the children of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, was cut short when he was caught trying to use the Duke’s double to force the Emperor to grant further recognition to the Czech nation.
  • His career as a school teacher, replacing his recently deceased sister, came to an end when he went off to war, and he was never seen again. Or was he…?

Cimrman is a great hero to the Czechs, and the movie makes it clear why. I just wished I understood Czech better: I’m sure I missed a great deal.

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