Court recognises descendant’s rights to film Golem

Visitors to the Czech capital will likely have come across the legend of the Prague Golem – the famous man-like creature - created by Rabbi Yehuda Loew in the 16th century. The most popular depiction of the character is as a burly clay giant, designed by the late sculptor Jaroslav Horejc for the 1950s film The Emperor’s Baker/The Baker’s Emperor. On Tuesday, a Prague court recognised his descendant’s claim to the film version, meaning that anyone else using the character will have to pay for the rights.

Golem in 'The Emperor’s Baker/The Baker’s Emperor'
The legend of the Prague Golem created by Rabbi Loew, the Maharal of Prague, is known to most in the Czech Republic and many abroad and it is no wonder why: the character has been depicted countless times in literature and the visual arts. But the version that the Czechs have taken to the most is that of the clay giant depicted in the 1950s film The Emperor’s Baker/The Baker’s Emperor, which starred Czech comic legend Jan Werich. The Golem in that film was designed by sculptor Jaroslav Horejc, who designed him as a burly creature far removed from earlier representations: eyes without a face, bands of iron holding together a cracked chest, inhuman strength. Arno Pařík is a specialist at Prague’s Jewish Museum.

“This is arguably the most popular and influential version of the Golem: it goes together better with modern times and especially modern technologies. It is interesting that this was the first time that the Golem was shown as a giant, inhuman figure. Always before, whether in early films or cinema of the 1930s, drawings or other visual representation in art, the Golem was always represented as a human figure.”

On Tuesday, following a five-year legal battle, Prague’s Municipal Court recognised Dagmar Dományová (Horejc’s daughter) as the holder of the rights to the film version, saying that there were elements in the design that confirmed this Golem was the intellectual property of the sculptor, and it ruled that Prague’s Wax Museum, which has featured two of the figures on its premises, would have to pay 50,000 crowns in damages. Mrs Dományová has already appealed the decision, as she had asked for twice that amount. But as of Tuesday the message is clear: anyone using the film figure will do well to secure the rights.

Not surprisingly, many are unhappy with the ruling, as it means they will either have to pay or simply give up on the film version of Golem. One Prague restaurant, which had featured the burly character on walls, china, and tablecloths, redesigned their entire venue in anticipation of the decision. Meanwhile, two more legal cases are waiting against firms either producing Golem knickknacks or featuring the figure in their logo. The Prague Golem - as a figure in legend, literature and art – belongs to all, but the film version which the Czechs are arguably most fond of, does not.