Alexander Hackenschmied


Alexander Hackenschmied (1907-2004) began his career in the culturally thriving Czechoslovakia of between the two World Wars, making one of the first Czech avant-garde films in 1930. After his emigration to the USA, where he abbreviated Hackenschmied to Hammid, he made together with Maya Deren several films which strongly influenced the American film avant-garde. Neither his name(s) nor his work are especially well-known, a situation the HYPERKINO edition of his films aims to amend.




Alexander Hackenschmied was born on the 17th of December 1907 as an illegitimate child in Linz (then part of the Habsburg Empire, today in Austria). Shortly afterwards he moved with his parents (Božena Šmahelová and František X. Hackenschmied) to Bohemia. His childhood, studies and early work are connected with Prague, and specifically Karlín, a worker’s district.




At the age of 12 he got his first camera (a Voigtländer 6x4 cm) and started taking photographs. He studied Architecture and Art History, but he did not finish university starting instead to work with Czech film directors as an art director (e.g. with G. Machatý).




As a writer he contributed to the journal Pestrý týden and published in some other magazines and cultural sections of Czech newspapers (mostly film reviews). Some of his longer texts about film as an independent art are published in the book Cinema All the Time: An Anthology of Czech Film Theory and Criticism, 1908-1939 [1].

In 1930 he made BEZÚČELNÁ PROCHÁZKA / AIMLESS WALK, which was shown in the Prague theatre Kotva in November of the same year, together with other avant-garde films chosen by Hackenschmied. 1932 he made the film NA PRAŽSKÉM HRADĚ / THE PRAGUE CASTLE and in 1932/33 he collaborated on ZEM SPIEVA / THE EARTH IS SINGING with K. Plicka.




In the 1930s Hackenschmied worked for the Film Studio in Zlín (Filmové Ateliéry Baťových závodů: FAB), founded by Jan A. Bat’a in 1936. Bat’a was hiring young filmmakers and artists to develop modern non-fiction film, primarily for advertising. While employed there, Hackenschmied cooperated on numerous advertising films, one of the most famous was directed by Elmar Klos in 1937, SILNICE ZPÍVÁ / THE HIGHWAY SINGS, showing tires in motion (another product of Bat’a’s). He had the opportunity to travel to Paris (1936) and to the USA (1939). One of journeys for Bat’a took him to India where he shot film material for a documentary, later edited by E. Klos. It was while in India that Hackenschmied’s lifelong interest in Buddhism began.




In 1938 he shot together with the American director Herbert Kline CRISIS / KRIZE. This documentary film reflected the political situation in the Sudeten in the year of the Munich Agreement which led to the destruction of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 (a goal explicitly outlined by Hitler in Mein Kampf). When the film premiered in the end of March 1939 in New York, Hackenschmied had already left the country. One of the critics titled in The New York World Telegram: "Timely Film Shown on Munich 'Betrayal'. 'The Crisis' Tells Story of Tragedy in Czechoslovakia's Dismemberment at Hands of Europe's Great Powers". On the 15th of March 1939 the Nazi occupied the “rest of Czechoslovakia”. Hackenschmied went first to Paris and then London where he – again with Kline - completed LIGHTS OUT IN EUROPE (1939-40) with footage from Poland and Danzig.




In 1939 Hackenschmied arrived in the USA, becoming a US Citizen in 1942 changing his name to Alexander Hammid. It was here that he met the dancer, choreographer and poet Maya Deren (born as Eleanora Derenkovskaia in Kiev). The films they made together in the forties were meant to play a seminal role in the development of American experimental cinema. These films, made by two European immigrants outside the American movie industry provided or (re)introduced an aesthetic model of cinema as art.




Deren subsequently became a filmmaker in her own right. It seems that in MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943) for the first time Hammid closely worked with a female partner who not only proved to be his equal but also gave his superb command of film technique a new direction. Deren filled Hammid’s somewhat detached visual world with passionate emotionality; it was probably her who contributed the melodramatic motifs from surrealist art (the artificial hand picking up an artificial flower, the enigmatic mirror-faced figure or the magrittesque knife in a loaf of bread).




Although the film was shot in “Hollywood” as the opening credits ironically state, the experimental MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON was very far from everything the Hollywood studios were standing for (the short film was in fact not shot in a studio but a private house in the Hollywood Hills).




Hammid and Deren were married in 1942 but the marriage did not last very long. They made a few more films together, including AT LAND (1944) and THE PRIVATE LIFE OF A CAT (1946). In September 1947, the year when Deren presented MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943) at the Cannes Film Festival and was awarded the Grand Prix Internationale (in the category of 16mm Film, Experimental Class), they were divorced.




In 1948, Hammid married photographer Hella Heyman (who had worked with Deren as a cinematographer, for example in AT LAND). They had two children, Julia and Tino.




He worked for the Office of War Information and for the United Nations making documentaries, including THE VALLEY OF THE TENNESSEE (1944) and A BETTER TOMORROW (1945). Some films were commissioned by private institutions (e.g. a film about Princeton University in 1947). In the 1950s he concentrated on social documentaries, like ANGRY BOY (1950 for the Mental Health Film Board and State of Michigan) and MARRIAGE TODAY (1950, a “social guidance” for young couples). Many of his films of that period have been considered as ephemeral but are being given more attention recently as potent documents of their time. Some also carry his distinct handwriting. 1960s he directed films on musicians like Pablo Casals and Yasha Heifetz.




After his first film (shot on his own in the outskirts of Prague in 1930) Hammid mostly worked in teams. He often did not insist on being credited properly even when he considerably contributed to the concept and even the directing of the film. In his later career he worked with Francis Thompson for over 25 years, producing numerous documentaries. In 1964, Hammid co-directed the documentary TO BE ALIVE! (1964, as Alexander Hackenschmied) which was shown at the New York World's Fair in 1964 and won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 1965. He also worked on the IMAX format film TO FLY (1976, a documentary on the history of flight produced for the Smithsonian Institution).




During his years with Francis Thompson, Inc. A. Hammid was involved with several other early IMAX films. Speaking at Francis Thompson’s memorial service in 2004, Graham Ferguson, owner of the Imax Corp. recalled how he had wanted Hammid and Thompson to make the first commercial IMAX films because of their extensive work in earlier large-scale multi-screen films.




After the war Hammid went back to Czechoslovakia only once. After 1989 many Czech filmmakers visited him in New York, though.




Alexander Hackenschmied / Sasha Hammid died on the 26th of July 2004 in Manhattan.








N. Drůbková / E. Sargeant / A. Šlingerová

[1] Petr Szczepanik – Jaroslav Anděl (eds.): Cinema All the Time: An Anthology of Czech Film Theory and Criticism, 1908-1939.Praha: NFA, 2008.












  • Hackenschmied, Alexander: K prvnímu představení filmové avantgardy v Praze v kinu Kotva <The first screening of avant-garde films in Prague at the Kotva Cinema>. In: Pestrý týden, no. 47, 22.11.1930.


  • Trans. by I. Bergerova and T. Valasek. In: Film Culture N67/68/69 n/a, 1979, 242-4.




  • Hackenschmied, Alexander: Alexander Hackenschmied, od fotografie k filmu : výbor autorských textů <Alexandr Hackenschmied, From Photography to Film: A Selection of the Author's Texts>. Prague 2004.




  • Hammid, Alexander: Dopisy z cest <Letters From Journeys> In: Iluminace: časopis pro teorii, historii a estetiku filmu 12, no. 1, 2000, p. 107-131.




  • Hackenschmied, Alexander: Film and music. Trans. by K. Santar from Cinema Quarterly N1:152-5 (Spring 1933). In: Film Culture N67/68/69 n/a, 1979, p. 238-41.




  • Hackenschmied, A.: The Forgotten Village: a report on the filming in Mexico. Trans. by I. Bergerova and T. Valasek from "Kino" N16 (Apr 18, 1947). In: Film Culture, N67/68/69 n/a, 1979, p. 244-9.




  • Steinbeck, J., Harvan Kline, R., Hackenschmied, A.: The Forgotten Village, New York 1941.








  • Adams, S. P.: Modernist Montage. The Obscurity of Vision in Cinema and Literature. New York 1990.




  • Adams, S.P.: The Avant-Garde Film. A Reader of Theory and Criticism. New York 1978.




  • Adams, S. P.: Visionary Film. The American Avantgarde. New York 1979.




  • Anděl, Jaroslav: Alexandr Hackenschmied. Torst, Prague 2000.




  • Aventinské trio : Ladislav E. Berka, Alexander Hackenschmied, Jiří Lehovec : fotografie 30. let : katalog výstavy <The Trio of Aventinum : Ladislav E. Berka, Alexander Hackenschmied, Jiří Lehovec : The Photography of thirties: An exhibition catalogue>. Moravská galerie, Brno 1989.




  • Beneš, Marian: Alexandr Hackenschmied : jednota mezi čočkou kamery a zrakem diváka v kruhu vzájemného dorozumění a citu <The Unity Between the Camera Objective and the Eye of the Viewer in the Circle of Bilateral Understanding and Sense>, Prague 2001. [manuscript, 1 CD-ROM]




  • Birgus, Vladimír, Mlčoch, Jan: Akt v české fotografii <The nude in Czech photograph>. KANT, Prague 2000.




  • Brandlmeier, Th.: Entdeckung in Augsburg: Alexander Hammid. In: EPD Film. 10.7. 1993, p.16-17.




  • Bregant, Michal: Avantgardní tendence v českém filmu. In: Ivan Klimeš (ed.): Filmový sborník historický 3. Prague 1992, p. 162.




  • Bregant, Michal: K dopisům Alexandra Hammida <On the Letters of Alexander Hammid>. In: Iluminace: časopis pro teorii, historii a estetiku filmu 12, no. 1, 2000, p. 103-105.




  • Brož, Jaroslav: Alexander Hackenschmied. Československý filmový ústav, Prague 1973.




  • Buckland, Michael K.: The Kinamo movie camera, Emanuel Goldberg and Joris Ivens
    Film History: An International Journal 20, no. 1, 2008.




  • Chuchma, J.: "Hackenschmied zahájil ambiciózní edici" <An Ambitious Edition Was Started with Hackenschmied>. Mladá Fronta Dnes 18.8.2000, p. 16.




  • Cieslar, Jiří: Bezúčelná procházka (A. Hackenschmied, M. Kudlacek) <Aimless Walk (A. Hackenschmied, M. Kudlacek)>. In: Cieslar, J. 2003: Kočky na Atalantě. AMU, Prague 2003, p. 281-286.




  • Česká fotografická avantgarda 1918-1948 <Czech photographic avant-garde 1918-1948>. Prague 1999.




  • Dilas, V.: Meshing with Lynch. In: Sight and Sound, NS 7 (1997), N10, 72.




  • Dluhosch, Eric, Svácha Rostislav (ed.): Karel Teige: L'Enfant Terrible of the Czech Modernist Avant-Garde. MIT, Cambridge 1999.


  • Donald, J., Friedberg, A., Marcus, L.: Close Up 1927-1933. Cinema and Modernism. London 1998.




  • Dufek, A.: Maya Derenová na snímcích A. Hackenschmieda <Maya Deren on the Photographs by A. Hackenschmied>. In: Film a doba : čtvrtletník pro filmovou a televizní kulturu 46, no. 3, 2000, p. 167.




  • Fabe, M.: Maya Deren's fatal attraction: A psychoanalytic reading of "Meshes of the Afternoon" with a psycho-biographical afterword. In: Women’s Studies 25 (1996), N2, 137-152.




  • Geller, Th. L.: The Personal Cinema of Maya Deren: Meshes of the Afternoon and Its Critical Reception in the History of the Avant-Garde. In: Biography, Volume 29, N1, Winter (2006), 140-158.




  • Haller, R.: Alexander Hammid: An Interview. In: Field of Vision, no. 4, 5.7.1978, p. 14-16.




  • Horak, J. Chr. (Ed.): Lovers of Cinema: The First American Film Avant-Garde 1919-1945. Wisconsin 1995.



  • Jackson, R.: The Modernist Poetics and Experimental Film Practice of Maya Deren (1917-1961). Lewiston 2002.




  • Jícha, M.: IMAX / OMNIMAX [manuscript]. Prague 1993.


  • Kaláb, Fratišek (Ed.): BLOK o filmu <BLOK about Cinema>. Brno 1947.




  • Kuhn, A.: Meshes of the afternoon. In: Monthly Film Bulletin, Volume LV N653 (June 1988), p. 186-187.




  • Mrázková, Daniela, Remeš, Vladimír: Cesty československé fotografie: Vyprávění o historii československé fotografie prostřednictvím životních a tvůrčích osudů vybraných osobností a mezních vývojových okamžiků <Ways of the Czech Photography> Mladá fronta, Prague 1989.




  • Nabokov, Vladimir: Despaire. Random House, Inc, New York 1989.




  • Omasta, Michael (Ed.): Tribute to Sasha: Das filmische Werk von Alexander Hammid: Regie, Kamera, Schnitt und Kritiken, Wien 2002.




  • Perlmutter, R. Memories, dreams, screens. In: Quarterly Review of Film and Video 22, N2. (April-June 2005), p. 125-134.




  • Schröder N.: Slavní filmoví režiséři : 50 nejvýznamnějších režisérů od Chaplina až po Almodóvara <Famous Film Directors: 50 greatest directors from Chaplin to Almodovar>. Trans. from German by Jitka Kňourková. Prague 2004.




  • Sklenářová, Šárka: Okno do nového světa: drobná studie setkání Alexandra Hammida a Mayi Deren <A Window to a New World: A Short Essay Regarding Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren>. Prague 2002. [manuscript]




  • Studie o významném dokumentaristovi <A Study on an Important Documentary Filmmaker>. In: Film a doba 29, no. 5, 1983, p. 285-286.




  • Szczepanik, Petr: Die Avantgarde im Dienste von Handel und Industrie. Die Baťa-Werke und die praktische Nutzung des tschechischen filmischen Modernismus der 30er Jahre. In: Das magische Auge. Zur tschechischen Filmavantgarde der 20er – 40er Jahre. Schüren 2006.




  • Šrych, Josef: Rozmluva s Alexandrem Hammidem <A Conversation with A. Hammid>. In: Kino 2, no. 37, 1947, p. 734.




  • Štoll, Martin, Matějů, Martin: Praha dokumentární <Prague in Documents>. Malá Skála, Prague 2006.




  • Tabery, Karel: Filmová publicistika Otakara Štorcha-Mariena <Film Reviews by Otakar Storch-Marien>. Univerzita Palackého, Olomouc 2004, p. 69-71, 76-77, 77-78, 82, 91-92.




  • Valasek, Thomas E.: Alexander Hammid: A Survey of his Film-Making Career. In: Film Culture N67, 1979, p. 250-322.




  • Voráč, Jiří: Český film v exilu : kapitoly z dějin po roce 1968 <Czech film in exile. Chapters from the history after 1968>. Brno 2004.




  • Warwick, M.: At land. In: Monthly Film Bulletin, Volume LV N653 (June 1988), p. 185-186.



  • Zimmer, D.E.: Epilogue for the book: V. Nabokov, Verzweiflung, Ges. Werke 3 (Frühe Romane). Reinbek 1997.




  • Alexander Hackenschmied (1907 - 2004 ), autor: Jitka Mladkova, Sendung auf Radio Praha 30.07.2004.




  • Brakhage lectures Maya Deren, R. Rossellini, A. Hammid, Art Institute of Chicago, 1976 (sound recording, cassette)




  • Chudí lidé <Poor people>. Camera and direction Alexander Hackenschmied. In: České experimentální a dokumentární filmy. [videorecording]




  • Deník z New Yorku. 1993. <Diary from New York>. Scenario and direction Jaromil Jireš [videorecording, cassette, length 35 min].




  • Na Pražském hradě <Prague Castle> . Camera and direction Alexander Hackenschmied. In: České experimentální a dokumentární filmy. [videorecording].




  • Řeka života a smrti < The River of Life and Death>. Camera and direction Alexander Hackenschmied. In: České experimentální a dokumentární filmy. [videorecording]

“Bezúčelná procházka” / “Aimless Walk” (1930): A. Hackenschmied’s “Film Study” of a Tram Ride to the Outskirts of Prague – Libeň
Natascha Drubek
In: In: Bohemia 52,1: J. Toman und M. Nekula (ed.): “Prague as Represented Space”, Bohemia 2012 Bohemia 52,1, p. 76-107
“aimless walk” Although “Bezúčelná procházka” is only 8 Minutes long, it is rather complex. In the article I examine it from three different perspectives. Firstly I analyze it as a film about a city, thereby locating “Bezúčelná procházka” in the context of other city films before 1930, namely the “city symphonies”. Secondly, I discuss the complex construction of point of view in this film, connected to direction and movement. Finally, I examine the motif of the doppelgänger. We will see that, as a visual study of Prague in the year 1930, “Bezúčelná procházka” not only creates something unprecedented in Czech cinema, but is also able to reflect and transcend international avant-garde poetics. I argue that the film is able to achieve this by doing justice to the profound cultural topography of “Old Prague” by ignoring it completely on the visible surface, but letting its dark legends ferment the “aimless walk” through the barren landscape of the city’s (post-) industrial outskirts.
(Natasa Drubkova, 26. 10. 2012 19:09)