Impressions of Herbert von Karajan was the first substantial film biography to be made of Karajan during his lifetime. Commissioned by Unitel in part to give further exposure to a number of the operatic and orchestral films which the company had made with him, the film was written and directed by Vojtěch Jasný. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1925, Jasný is perhaps best known for his comic fantasy Až přijde kocour (The Cassandra Cat) about a village whose innermost secrets are revealed after the arrival of a travelling circus accompanied by a mysterious cat.
Jasný’s film, with its Hitchcock-like opening of screaming gulls over the River Salzach in a grey winter landscape, does not set out to over-glamorise Karajan. Nor does its narrative follow any particular theme or chronology. It does, however, provide a succinct overview of Karajan’s many activities and interests, whilst at the same time introducing us to the conductor’s family and to a number of his long-standing professional associates. Among these are stage designers Günther Schneider-Siemssen (b. 1926) and Georges Wakhevitch (1907–1984), his urbane manager and former assistant at the Vienna State Opera, ex-movie actor André von Mattoni (1900–1985) and Wolfgang Stresemann (1904–1998), who was Intendant of the Berliner Philharmoniker during the years 1959–78 and again in 1984–85.
Karajan was a born educator. That is touched on in Impressions, as is his lifelong addiction to high-speed locomotion, including the jet aircraft which he flew as much for the mental skills and disciplines they instilled as for their glamour and convenience. Jasný also includes surprise footage of Karajan – a man who rarely looked back – visiting the house outside Aachen where he lived with his first wife, operetta singer Elmy Holgerloef, in happy rural seclusion in the late 1930s.