Kostnice (The Ossuary) 1970 by Jan Švankmajer, 1970

December 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Year: 1970
Music: Zdenek Liska

Kostnice Sedlec is a small Roman Catholic chapel, located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints (Czech: Hřbitovní kostel Všech Svatých) in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. The ossuary is estimated to contain the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people, many of whom have had their bones artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for the chapel.

During the Black Death in the mid 14th century, and after the Hussite Wars in the early 15th century, many thousands were buried there and the cemetery had to be greatly enlarged.

Around 1400 a Gothic church was built in the center of the cemetery with a vaulted upper level and a lower chapel to be used as an ossuary for the mass graves unearthed during construction, or simply slated for demolition to make room for new burials. After 1511 the task of exhuming skeletons and stacking their bones in the chapel was, according to legend, given to a half-blind monk of the order.

In 1970, the centenary of Rint’s contributions, Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer was commissioned to document the ossuary. The result was a 10 minute long frantic-cut film of skeletal images overdubbed with an actual tour-guide’s neutral voice narration. This version was initially banned by the Czech Communist authorities for alleged subversion, and the soundtrack was replaced by a brief spoken introduction and a jazz arrangement by Zdeněk Liška of the poem “Comment dessiner le portrait d’un oiseau” (“How to Draw the Portrait of a Bird”) by Jacques Prévert. Since the Velvet Revolution, the original tour guide soundtrack has been made available.

Official website (cz, en, de)

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