Ladislav Rychman, director of legendary Czech film musical, dies aged 84

Ladislav Rychman, photo: CTK

The sad news was announced earlier this week that film director Ladislav Rychman had died at age 84 leaving behind a rich film and TV legacy. Rychman's best-known work is without doubts the 1964 Czech cult film musical "Starci na chmelu" or "The Hop Pickers".

Ladislav Rychman,  photo: CTK
Ladislav Rychman was born in Prague in 1922. Having survived a Nazi concentration camp, after the war he began studies at Charles University's Faculty of Arts as well as the FAMU film school but didn't finish either. While acting and working as a programme director in a Prague theatre he was learning about the film business from his experienced colleagues Borivoj Zeman and Elmar Klos. Rychman made his film debut in 1950 and continued working for the big and small screen up until the mid-1990s.

His cinematic career reached its peak in 1964 when his film musical "The Hop Pickers" also known in English as "The Hop Side Story" became an instant hit, thanks in part to catchy tunes by Jiri Bazant, Jiri Malasek and Vlastimil Hala. Written by screenwriter Vratislav Blazek, the romantic story is set on a hop farm where high school students are helping out as seasonal workers. A couple fall in love and are eventually expelled from school for breach of conduct. Film critic Vojtech Rynda says this Czech film legend bears comparison with Western productions of that era.

'Starci na chmelu'
"It definitely became part of Czech pop-culture in a way that Western or Hollywood musicals became part of American pop-culture because the songs from this film are still popular. The main actor, Vladimir Pucholt, is one of the most popular young Czech actors ever. He quit acting at an early age but remains very well-known as this young boy both in 'Starci na chmelu' and one of Milos Forman's films. So it definitely made a mark in Czech culture and I think it is the most famous Czech musical ever, which says a lot."

Rychman also worked for Czechoslovak Television where as early as in 1958 he came up with a concept of so-called "staged songs" - which were nothing other than music videos. That genre was then simultaneously evolving in other countries but only became a mainstream format in the 1980s. Film critic Vojtech Rynda.

'Starci na chmelu'
"I think there is hardly any connection between Czech music videos nowadays and Rychman's effort back in 1958. Back then it was a one-off improvised event, it was basically a filler for a New Year's Eve television programme. So we can hardly call him an inventor or a revolutionary figure in this genre, but it's nice to look back and see that there was someone who out of the blue created something that wasn't that common back then."

After "Starci na chmelu" Ladislav Rychman went on to shoot a few other very popular films but none of them achieved the fame of his first film musical. A multitalented filmmaker, Ladislav Rychman tried almost everything there was in the business, from shorts and documentaries to music videos, TV commercials, feature films and TV dramas. As he said in one newspaper interview: "I was curious to try out everything."