B&W, 1964, 90m.
Directed by Milos Forman
Starring Ladislav Jakim, Pavla Martinkova, Jan Vostrcil, VladimĂ­r Pucholt
Second Run (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Facets (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

By Black Peterthe time of his death in 2018, director Black PeterMilos Forman had been firmly entrenched as the greatest success story to come out of the Czech New Wave including several homegrown classics and multiple Oscar-winning international hits. Though he first made a splash on the art house scene with his 1965 classic, Loves of a Blonde, that was actually his second narrative feature film. The first, Black Peter (CernĂ˝ Petr), is a delightful slice of life look at adolescent life during the ascension of rock and roll as well as a sly commentary on the cultural divide during the Prague Spring.

When young Peter (Jakim) shows up for work one morning at a grocery store, he's instructed by the much older manager in the demands of his job spying on the customers to avoid shoplifting. He isn't persecuting anyone, he's told, but rather teaching the public about the downside of stealing. His assignment goes awry quickly when he ends up wandering off the job after spying the first thief, an old pensioner, which earns an outraged reaction from his father (Vostrcil). From there Peter bounces to an afternoon swimming with potential girlfriend Pavla (Martinkova) and rival/wannabe firefighter Cenda (Pucholt), followed by a memorable teen dance hall evening and another reckoning waiting at home.

Small in scale but fascinating in execution, Black Peter is a concise, enjoyable snapshot of aimless youth in a country at a crossroads. The main titles announce the attitude right off the bat with a familiar march and a cover of "The Nutcracker" that transforms Black Peterinto a bouncy pop number, a nice touch that carries through to the standout dance hall sequence and other musical interludes like a folk song Black Peterperformed in a restaurant. The scenes between Peter and his father are obviously the dramatic meat of the story, filmed from angles that have the parent lecturing over the boy's shoulder almost directly to the audience and making them feel as nervous. The humorous bits work nicely as well, including a changing room scene before the swim that foreshadows where teen sex comedies would be heading decades later.

Barely released in English-speaking territories years after its Czech bow and Golden Sail win at the Locarno International Film Festival, Black Peter fared very poorly in its initial release on DVD from Facets courtesy of a murky green print and burned-in subtitles. A much-improved Czech DVD from 2005 was less accessible but features optional English subtitles (and a host of extras, albeit none English friendly). The 2018 releases from Second Run as separate Blu-ray and DVD editions feature a sterling new 4K restoration of the film from the Czech National Film Archive, easily besting past versions and continuing the label's impressive track record with high-definition releases. As the opening disclaimer points out, some in-camera defects have been left intact here for the sake of authenticity and to present the film as it would have been seen by first-run audiences. Black PeterThe new English subtitles are nicely written and feature a few very British colloquialisms Black Peter("He's such a ponce"). The film can also be played with a new audio commentary by Michael Brooke, who offers an incredibly researched and very fast-paced sprint through the significant players, the soundtrack, Forman's influence of filmmakers like Ken Loach, the state of Czech social mores at the time, Forman's anxiety during the production, the participation of Ivan Passer, and loads more. He also explains the meaning of the film's title, which posed some translation issues when it made the rounds for English audiences, and notes how the changing scene was even spiced up with inserts for Italian audiences. Robert Fischer's "Life As It Is" (31m22s) is the first in a multi-part examination of Forman's films with the director chatting in a session from 2000 about his entry into moviemaking through film school and what amounted to a home movie, leading to documentary work (even more musical elements here) and his segue to his sharp debut with this film. Though unadvertised, the disc also features a new 2018 interview with Martinkova (15m58s), recorded in the middle of a giant ice rink, about meeting Forman at age 13 at a hockey match, finding authenticity in the dramatic scenes against more seasoned actors, and singing that little Othello song, which she reprises here. A reissue trailer is also included, and the packaging comes with a liner notes booklet featuring a new essay by Jonathan Owen about Forman and the film's place in Czech cinema.

Reviewed on August 12, 2018.