27 September 2017

Jan Tříska (1936-2017)

Last Monday, 25 September 2017, Czech actor Jan Tříska (1936-2017) died, more than a day after falling from Prague's iconic Charles Bridge. After an impressive career in the European cinema, he was forced to leave Communist Czechoslovakia and emigrated to California. There he appeared in such films as The Karate Kid Part III (1989) and Milos Forman's The People vs Larry Flynt (1996), but he later did his most interesting film work in the Czech Republic, such as in Jan Svankmayer’s macabre, bizarre animation film Sílení/Lunacy (2005). Tříska was 80.

Jan Triska (1936-2017)
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, no. 3147, 1968.

A half-wild creature from the African jungle

Jan Triska or Jan Tříska was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), in 1936.

From 1957 on, he performed numerous roles in both the Czech theatre and cinema. He made his film debut in the lead role of the Czech comedy Váhavý strelec/The Hesitant Marksman (Ivo Toman, 1957) with Jaroslav Marvan. With Marvan, he also appeared in the romantic drama Pet z miliónu/Five Out of a Million (Zbynek Brynych, 1959).

In the following years, he mostly played small or supporting roles in Czech films, such as in Tarzanova smrt/The Death of Tarzan (Jaroslav Balík, 1963), a dark comedy about a half-wild creature from the African jungle, which has been identified as a heir of the noble family, set in Germany in the 1930s.

Other example are the comedy Komedie s Klikou/Comedy Around a Door Handle (Václav Krska, 1964), and the war drama Hvezda zvaná Pelynek/A Star Named Wormwood (Martin Fric, 1965), both starring Jirina Bohdalová. Triska also played a small part in the West-German film Das Haus in der Karpfengasse/The House in Karp Lane (Kurt Hoffmann, 1965), starring Jana Brejchová. The film won five German Film Awards.

Triska starred as an acrobat in the circus drama Lidé z maringotek/Life on Wheels (Martin Fric, 1966) and appeared in a leading role in the crime film Martin a cervené sklícko/A New Case for Master Detective Martin (Milan Vosmik, 1967), featuring Jaroslav Vízner. He also played a jewel robber in the crime film Hra bez pravidel/Jewel Robbers are Hunted (Jindrich Polák, 1967) , and a murder suspect in the thriller Ctyri v kruhu/Four in a Circle (Milos Makovec, 1968).

From then he also often worked for TV. In 1970, he co-starred in the fantasy Radúz a Mahulena/Radúz and Mahulena (Petr Weigl, 1970), with Magda Vásáryová, and in the comedy-fantasy Lucie a zazraky/Lucie and the Miracles (Ota Koval, 1970). He co-starred with Jana Brejchova in the screwball comedy Slecna Golem/Miss Golem (Jaroslav Balík, 1972), and had a supporting part in the East-German romantic drama Wie füttert man einen Esel/How to feed a Donkey (Roland Oehme, 1974) with Manfred Krug.

Tříska also played supporting parts in Jiri Menzel’s comedy-drama Na samote u lesa/Seclusion Near a Forest (1976), the award winning West-German film Der Mädchenkrieg/Maiden's War (Alf Brustellin, Bernhard Sinkel, 1977) and the East-German satire Ein irrer Duft von frischem Heu/A Terrific Scent of Fresh Hay (Roland Oehme, Karl-Heinz Lotz, 1977).

Jan Triska (1936-2017)
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 2696, 1966. Publicity still for Pet miliónu svedku/Five Million Witnesses (Eva Sadková, 1965).

The assassin of Larry Flynt

Jan Tříska left Czechoslovakia in 1977 after signing a human rights manifesto inspired by his close friend, dissident playwright Václav Havel. He emigrated to the United States via Cyprus. He settled in Los Angeles and found work in his fellow Czech Miloš Forman's film Ragtime (1981), in which he played a small role as a special reporter.

That year, he also played Karl Radek in Warren Beatty’s Oscar winner Reds (1981). Other small parts followed in well-known films as the thriller The Osterman Weekend (Sam Peckinpah, 1983) starring Rutger Hauer, and 2010 (Peter Hyams, 1984), the sequel to Stanley Kubrick's 1968 science fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

His most notable Hollywood part was probably that of Milos, the loyal butler and personal assistant to Mr. Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), in The Karate Kid Part III (John G. Avildsen, 1989), starring Ralph Macchio. Tříska’s films were banned from Czechoslovakian cinemas and TV screens until the fall of communism in 1989.

After the anti-communist Velvet Revolution led by Havel, Tříska regularly returned home to appear in stage productions and films. He took a lead role in the comedy Obecná skola/The Elementary School (Jan Sverák, 1991), which was nominated for an Academy Award. He was again remarkable as the assassin of Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson) in The People vs. Larry Flynt (Milos Forman, 1996).

Tříska also appeared on television, in popular series such as Quantum Leap (1990) and Highlander: The Series (1999), and in the TV film Andersonville (John Frankenheimer, 1996). On stage, he starred as the Devil in a New York Public Theater adaptation of The Master and Margarita. His later films include Hollywood productions such as Apt Pupil (Bryan Singer, 1998) with Ian McKellen, Ronin (John Frankenheimer, 1998), starring Robert De Niro, and Cahoots (Dirk Benedict, 2001).

From then on, he found his most interesting work in the Czech Republic, such as in the award winning drama Rok dábla/Year of the Devil (Petr Zelenka, 2002) with pop star Jaromir Nohavica, the romantic drama Zelary (Ondrej Trojan, 2003) and the comedy drama Horem pádem/Up and Down (Jan Hrebejk, 2004).

Tříska starred as a mysterious Marquis in Sílení/Lunacy (2005), Jan Svankmajer’s award winning animation film based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe and texts by Marquis De Sade. Craig Butler at AllMovie: “In the lead role, Pavel Liska is quite good; with his haunted, hangdog eyes, he conveys quite well the tortured, confused soul of his character. Even better is Jan Triska as the Marquis; his eyes sparkle with a devilish gleam that is both repellent and mesmerizing, and his braying cackle reveals as much about him as any of the dialogue he spouts."

Most recently, Triska appeared as a grandfather in Po strnisti bos/Barefoot (Jan Sverák, 2017) about a small boy, who is forced to move out of Prague during World War 2 to a small village of Slavonice where he meets the rest of his family. IMDb announces at the moment of writing still a new project in pre-production Na Strese (2018), to be directed by Jirí Mádl. Triska was due to begin work on the new Czech film last Monday. The project has now been postponed.

Prague theatre director Jan Hrušínský confirmed Tříska’s death on Monday. The actor died in Prague’s military hospital overnight due to injuries from the fall on Saturday, the circumstances of which remain unclear. Two passengers on a nearby boat rescued him from the Vltava river, after which he was resuscitated and hospitalised in serious condition. Prior to his identity being revealed, Prague firefighters tweeted that he had jumped from the bridge.

Jan Tříska had two daughters, Karla and Jana, with actress Karla Chadimová, and also had a grandson named Augustin.

Czech trailer for Obecná skola/The Elementary School (1991). Sorry, no subtitles. Source: Jan Svěrák (YouTube).

Trailer for Šílení/Lunacy (2005). Source: Zeitgeist Films (YouTube).

Sources: Craig Butler (AllMovie), Radio Praha,  The Guardian, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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