Jan Švankmajer

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Jan Švankmajer
Jan Svankmajer Crystal Globe.jpg
Born (1934-09-04) 4 September 1934 (age 80)
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Occupation Film director
Spouse(s) Eva Švankmajerová

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 animations and features, which have greatly influenced other artists such as Terry Gilliam, the Brothers Quay, and many others.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Jan Švankmajer was born in Prague from a German Bohemian descent, but has assimilated into Czech. 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.[2]

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 claymation. Food is a favourite subject and medium. Švankmajer also uses pixilation in many of his films, including Food (1992) and Conspirators of Pleasure (1996).

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."[3]

Thoroughfare in Knovíz, Kladno District, Czech Republic. The former cinema building on the right: Jan Švankmajer's studio

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.[4] His films have been called "as emotionally haunting as Kafka's stories."[5] His latest film is Surviving Life from 2010.

His next project is called Insects (Hmyz).[6] 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."[7]

On 27 July 2013 he received the Innovation & Creativity Prize by Circolino dei Films, an independent Italian cultural organization.

On 10 July 2014, he received the 2014 FIAF Award during a special ceremony of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Filmography[edit]

Feature-length films[edit]

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[edit]

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
1966 Et Cetera
1967 Historia Naturae (Suita)
1968 The Garden Zahrada
1968 The Flat Byt Available on the Little Otik DVD
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 Flora
1989 Animated Self-Portraits Portmanteau film by 27 filmmakers
1990 The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia Konec stalinismu v Čechách
1992 Food Jídlo

Animation and gadgets[edit]

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
1983 Visitors Návštěvníci Jindřich Polák
1984 Three Veterans Tři veteráni Oldřich Lipský

Books[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Solomon, Charles (1991-07-19). "Brooding Cartoons From Jan Svankmajer". LA Times. Retrieved 2010-08-24. 
  2. ^ Jan Švankmajer: The Complete Short Films. BFI Booklet.
  3. ^ New York Times ,1 July 2001
  4. ^ Gilliam, Terry (27 April 2001). "Terry Gilliam Picks the Ten Best Animated Films of All Time". London: The Guardian. 
  5. ^ Nytimes
  6. ^ "CineMart selection 2011". filmfestivalrotterdam.com. Rotterdam International Film Festival. Retrieved 2010-12-17. 
  7. ^ Zemanová, Irena (2011-05-06). "Švankmajer in Preproduction on Čapek´s Insects". Film New Europe. Retrieved 2011-05-06. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.
  • Evašvankmajerjan / Anima Animus Animation, Arbor vitae, 1998, ISBN 80-901964-4-6 (exhibition catalogue, texts by Jan Švankmajer and Eva Švankmajerová)
  • Bertrand Schmitt, František Dryje (eds): Jan Švankmajer. Dimensions of Dialogue / Between Film and Fine Art, Arbor vitae, 2012, ISBN 978-80-7467-016-9. Czech version Jan Švankmajer. Možnosti dialogu. Mezi filmem a výtvarnou tvorbou, ISBN 978-80-7467-015-2.

External links[edit]