In 1968, Czechoslovakia was placed under communist control, leading to the complete ban of all Western culture – most notably music. Inspired by The Velvet Underground and The Cure, Vinyl Generation documents the story of the hidden counterculture of a Cold War Eastern Europe. Despite secret police, heavy censorship, and the threat of prison for listening to rock n’ roll, bootleggers bring freedom to the masses, one record at a time.
Vinyl Generation looks to the former communist reign in Czechoslovakia primarily through the eyes of former vinyl bootleggers Otto M. Urban and Ondrej Struma. Starting with the country’s occupation and going through 2016, wherein the nation is free, the film displays art scenes, activism, and hidden venues while discussing the freedom of music. Director Keith Jones highlights a direct comparison between the artistic movements in modern Czechoslovakia and the counterculture that inspired them through every scene.
“Despite…the threat of prison…bootleggers bring freedom to the masses, one record at a time.”
Vinyl Generation opens with music smugglers showing how they would sneak records over the border. From there, Jones brings the viewers into the drab bars and secret street corners that kept vinyl alive. The filmmaker does not waste a second of the enticing premise of illegal music throughout this documentary. The movie displays how art, music, and activism are all interconnected and how all are equally suppressed under the communist regime.
As an avid music fan and record collector, the story of Vinyl Generation was utterly fascinating. I hung onto every word in every interview about illegal music magazines, underground concerts, and post-Cold War gigs by Frank Zappa and Lou Reed. It’s a film that appreciates the value of art and is told by those who celebrated it when doing so could mean their life.
Despite the positives the motion picture boasts, it often gets tangled in the influence of the Czech punk movement, neglecting a discussion of the actual movement. The documentary shines most when it spotlights music contrabandists as they tell their stories of dodging secret police. However, sometimes the film falls short when activists indifferently discuss the next generation carrying on the movement’s legacy. There are moments where the message Jones is aiming for becomes muddy. This does not necessarily mean it’s a bad film; it just needs more dissection than the premise would suggest. Even with some shortcomings, Vinyl Generation is an insightful documentary for vinyl enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
"…an insightful documentary for vinyl enthusiasts and history buffs alike."