Friday, March 17, 2006

From the lobby of the Hotel Ozone

I don’t know if the old Vagabond Theater still exists on Wilshire Boulevard in L.A., near MacArthur Park in downtown. Back in the 1970s, they’d occasionally run sci-fi film fests, screening a few dozen movies over a month-long period, changing the double-bill every couple of days. The movie listings were always distributed on poster-sized sheets, and I’d have one tacked on a wall in my dorm room, with all the movies I was dying to see circled in black marking pen. One time, an obscure Czechoslovak film titled The End of August at the Hotel Ozone was listed on the Vagabond’s program. A few of us hardcore sci-fi and movie buffs at school had heard it was “something special,” and we were anxious to see it. But shortly before the movie was scheduled, it was pulled and replaced with something like Colossus: The Forbin Project. Drat! I kept an eye out for another screening, but the Czech film remained unseen. For 30 years. Until this week.

Last Saturday, browsing through the Netflix list of new DVD releases, up popped The End of August at the Hotel Ozone. Egad! I quickly moved it to the top of my queue. I watched it Wednesday night. Better late than never, I suppose.

Hotel Ozone was written by Pavel Jurácek and directed by Jan Schmidt in 1967. It’s a short black and white movie that features a very small cast and contains very little dialogue. The story is spare. A couple of decades after a nuclear holocaust, a small group of near-feral Eastern Bloc girls, led by an older woman, forage the devastated landscape, searching for canned food, kerosene, and animals, which they brutally kill for fun. Eventually, they discover an old man living alone in an abandoned hotel — the first man they’ve ever seen. He possesses an old gramophone with only one record, a recording of “Roll Out the Barrel.” The old guy sees the gramophone as his only link to the old, pre-nuke world. The girls see it as a god-like object. They want to take it from him. He won’t give it to them. Things do not end nicely.

The End of August at the Hotel Ozone features some haunting images, particularly those in an old church and the final moments at the hotel. And I suspect that if I’d seen this movie in the ’70s, as I’d first intended, before I’d ever seen post-apocalyptic films like Road Warrior or A Boy and His Dog or 28 Days Later, it would have floored me. Now it’s just a cinematic curiosity from the old Soviet Bloc. But I suppose for that reason, it’s worth a look.


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