Jan Švankmajer with Crystal Globe in the 2009 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
September 4, 1934 |
Jan Švankmajer (Czech: [ˈjan ˈʃvaŋkmajɛr]; born 4 September 1934) is a Czech filmmaker and artist whose work spans several media. He is a self-labeled surrealist known for his surreal animations and features, which have greatly influenced other artists such as Terry Gilliam, the Brothers Quay, and many others.
Life and career 
Jan Švankmajer was born in Prague. An early influence on his later artistic development was a puppet theatre he was given for Christmas as a child. He studied at the College of Applied Arts in Prague and later in the Department of Puppetry at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts. He contributed to Emil Radok's film Doktor Faust in 1958 and then began working for Prague's Semafor Theatre where he founded the Theatre of Masks. He then moved on to the Laterna Magika multimedia theatre, where he renewed his association with Radok. This theatrical experience is reflected in Švankmajer's first film The Last Trick, which was released in 1964. Under the influence of theoretician Vratislav Effenberger Švankmajer moved from the mannerism of his early work to classic surrealism, first manifested in his film The Garden (1968), and joined the Czechoslovakian Surrealist Group.
He was married to Eva Švankmajerová, an internationally known surrealist painter, ceramicist, and writer until her death in October 2005. Švankmajerová collaborated on several of her husband's movies, including Alice, Faust, and Otesánek. They had two children, Veronika (b. 1963) and Václav (b. 1975, an animator).
Švankmajer has gained a reputation over several decades for his distinctive use of stop-motion technique, and his ability to make surreal, nightmarish, and yet somehow funny pictures. He continues to make films in Prague.
Švankmajer's trademarks include very exaggerated sounds, often creating a very strange effect in all eating scenes. He often uses fast-motion sequences when people walk or interact. His movies often involve inanimate objects being brought to life through stop-motion. Many of his films also include clay objects in stop-motion, otherwise known as clay animation. Food is a favourite subject and medium.
Stop-motion features in most of his work, though recently his feature films have included much more live action sequences than animation.
Many of his movies, like the short film Down to the Cellar, are made from a child's perspective, while at the same time often having a truly disturbing and even aggressive nature. In 1972 the communist authorities banned him from making films, and many of his later films were suppressed. He was almost unknown in the West until the early 1980s. Writing in The New York Times, Andrew Johnston praised Svankmajer's artistry, stating "while his films are rife with cultural and scientific allusions, his unusual imagery possesses an accessibility that feels anchored in the shared language of the subconscious, making his films equally rewarding to the culturally hyperliterate and to those who simply enjoy visual stimulation."
Today Švankmajer is one of the most celebrated animators in the world. Among his best known works are the feature films Alice (1988), Faust (1994), Conspirators of Pleasure (1996), Little Otik (2000) and Lunacy (2005), a surreal comic horror based on two works of Edgar Allan Poe and the life of Marquis de Sade. The two stories by Poe, "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" and "The Premature Burial", provide Lunacy its thematic focus, whereas the life of Marquis de Sade provides the film's blasphemy. Also famous (and much imitated) is the short Dimensions of Dialogue (1982), selected by Terry Gilliam as one of the ten best animated films of all time. His films have been called "as emotionally haunting as Kafka's stories. His latest film is Surviving Life from 2010.
His next project is called Insects (Hmyz). It has a projected budget of 40 million CZK and a preliminary release set to 2015. The film will be based on the play Pictures from the Insects' Life by Karel Čapek, which Švankmajer describes as following: "This Čapek´s play is a very misanthropic, and I always liked it — bugs behave as a human beings, and people behave as insects. It also reminds one a lot of Franz Kafka and his famous Metamorphosis."
Feature-length films 
|Year||English title||Original title||Source material|
|1988||Alice||Něco z Alenky||Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll|
|1994||Faust||Lekce Faust||The Faust legend (including traditional Czech puppet show versions), Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, and Goethe's Faust.|
|1996||Conspirators of Pleasure||Spiklenci slasti||Original story|
|2000||Little Otik||Otesánek||Otesánek by Karel Jaromír Erben|
|2005||Lunacy||Šílení||"The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" and "The Premature Burial" by Edgar Allan Poe|
|2010||Surviving Life||Přežít svůj život||Original story|
|2015||Insects||Hmyz||Pictures from the Insects' Life by Karel Čapek and Josef Čapek|
Short films 
|Year||English title||Original title||Notes|
|1964||The Last Trick||Poslední trik pana Schwarcewalldea a pana Edgara|
|1965||Johann Sebastian Bach: Fantasy in G minor||Johann Sebastian Bach: Fantasia G-moll|
|1965||A Game with Stones||Spiel mit Steinen|
|1966||Punch and Judy||Rakvičkárna||Also known as The Coffin Factory and The Lych House|
|1967||Historia Naturae (Suita)|
|1968||Picnic with Weissmann||Picknick mit Weissmann|
|1969||A Quiet Week in the House||Tichý týden v domě|
|1970||Don Juan||Don Šajn|
|1970||The Ossuary||Kostnice||About the Sedlec Ossuary|
|1971||Jabberwocky||Žvahlav aneb šatičky slaměného Huberta||Based on "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll|
|1972||Leonardo's Diary||Leonardův deník|
|1973-79||Castle of Otranto||Otrantský zámek||Based on "Castle of Otranto" by Horace Walpole|
|1980||The Fall of the House of Usher||Zánik domu Usherů||Based on "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe|
|1982||Dimensions of Dialogue||Možnosti dialogu|
|1983||Down to the Cellar||Do pivnice|
|1983||The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope||Kyvadlo, jáma a naděje||Based on "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe and "A Torture by Hope" by Auguste Villiers de L'Isle-Adam|
|1988||Virile Games||Mužné hry||Also known as The Male Game|
|1988||Another Kind of Love||Music video for Hugh Cornwell|
|1988||Meat Love||Zamilované maso|
|1989||Darkness/Light/Darkness||Tma, světlo, tma|
|1989||Animated Self-Portraits||Portmanteau film by 27 filmmakers|
|1990||The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia||Konec stalinismu v Čechách|
Animation and gadgets 
|Year||English title||Original title||Director|
|1978||Dinner for Adele||Adéla ještě nevečeřela||Oldřich Lipský|
|1981||The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians||Tajemství hradu v Karpatech||Oldřich Lipský|
|1982||Ferat Vampire||Upír z Feratu||Juraj Herz|
|1984||Three Veterans||Tři veteráni||Oldřich Lipský|
See also 
- Jiří Trnka, Czech animator and puppeteer
- Karel Zeman, Czech animator and filmmaker
- Jiří Barta, Czech stop-motion animator
- Ladislaw Starewich, Polish animator and puppeteer
- List of stop motion films
- Solomon, Charles (1991-07-19). "Brooding Cartoons From Jan Svankmajer". LA Times. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
- Jan Švankmajer: The Complete Short Films. BFI Booklet.
- New York Times ,July 01, 2001
- Gilliam, Terry (April 27, 2001). "Terry Gilliam Picks the Ten Best Animated Films of All Time". London: The Guardian.
- "CineMart selection 2011". filmfestivalrotterdam.com. Rotterdam International Film Festival. Retrieved 2010-12-17.
- Zemanová, Irena (2011-05-06). "Švankmajer in Preproduction on Čapek´s Insects". Film New Europe. Retrieved 2011-05-06.
Further reading 
- Peter Hames: Dark Alchemy: The Films of Jan Svankmajer, Praeger Paperback, 1995, ISBN 0-275-95299-1. Second updated edition published in 2007, ISBN 1-905674-45-7. Peter Hames is an expert on history of Central European cinema.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Jan Švankmajer|
- Jan Švankmajer at the Internet Movie Database
- The Animation of Jan Svankmajer at Keyframe - the Animation Resource
- Overview of his work
- (Polish) Jan Švankmajer - PL
- On Svankmajer's Faust
- The Works of Jan Svankmajer
- Downing the Folk-Festive: Menacing Meals in the Films of Jan Svankmajer
- Czech Animation, priv. blog
- An article and filmography on Svankmajer