Essay by Petra Dominkova and Vaclav Kofron The Extinct Globe and the Found Glove

Petra Dominková and Václav Kofro?

Even the most ordinary things might be enriched by a mystery, particularly if they serve humanity. These things are not just mysterious and magical; they have other peculiarities engraved on them by the everydayness of human life. And they often have their own memory. It is not just incidental that one of the possible metaphors of a memory is a movie.

Movies can encapsulate the memory of a human being, but what is more, they can encapsulate the memory of humanity as a whole. Jirí Bárta (1948) tried to do it in 1982 not by a documentary, not by a feature, but by an animated movie The Extinct World of Gloves. In this movie Bárta wanted to show, as he himself claims, “a metaphor for the extinction of human civilization.” He decided to focus on the history of the 20th century and adopted an interesting method of showing the parallel between the history of mankind and the history of cinema, both being mankind’s invention.

The film is unique mainly due to its “casting.” The performance of (animated) actors and actresses is replaced by a performance of different kinds of gloves. The garment that we are used to wearing in various situations (to warm us, to protect us, to beautify us) is promoted to a “human being”, with each glove in the movie representing a person. The gloves come from different historical periods and even show different social positions. They can make love, eat, run and paint. They can even do a striptease, shoot, kill and die.

Each of the six episodes included in the movie covers a particular epoch not just in the history of cinema but also in the history of mankind.

The movie begins with a slapstick comedy, followed by a romance; the third episode is a clear allusion to Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel’s movie Un Chien andalou – one glove slices the moon in half with a razor that resembles the human eye. It gives us the first undeniable chronological clue: Un Chien andalou was made in 1929. The war that follows thus has to be the Second World War, a war that fiercely struck Europe. No wonder this episode is the most gloomy – just a few glove-soldiers (and glove-civilians?) return from the battlefield and many glove-women weep and cry. The fifth episode depicts an opulent high society party featuring an orgy. This most colorful episode might evoke the “golden” 1960s in cinema and in society alike. In the last episode, some of the protagonists from the previous episodes reunite. We see a science fiction world after an unspecified disaster. There are no more police as in the first episode; instead, gangsters have taken control of the city. There are no more women in love as in the second episode; instead, a lone striptease dancer tries to titillate an audience. There is no more opulent orgy as in the fifth episode; just empty, dirty plates remain at the table. Although the mood resembles the war episode, there is still some hope – the white glove protagonist from the first episode enters a flying saucer (which is, in fact, a movie reel container) and flies away.

Jirí Bárta is without doubt one of the most successful contemporary animators. He has always been interested in topics that contain an element of magic, mystery, or mythology. Apart from The Extinct World of Gloves we can count among his highlights The Pied Piper (1985) based on a legend about a man who tries to expel the evil from a city. Considering his credits and the enormous number of prizes that his films have been awarded throughout the world it is surprising he was not offered funding to make the movie Golem, another feature that he has been preparing for almost 20 years.

But maybe this bears symbolic significance for the sleeping Golem…

© Petra Dominkova and Vaclav Kofron 2006

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