Short Film Saturday: Jan Švankmajer

Yet again I’d prefer to introduce you to an animator through one quick example of his style rather than a barrage. Should you enjoy it there are many examples of his works on Youtube and elsewhere on the web.

Below you will find some biographical information on Švankmajer, which accompanies the YouTube video:

Švankmajer (born 4 September 1934 in Prague) is a Czech surrealist artist. His work spans several media. He is known for his surreal animations and features, which have greatly influenced other artists such as Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, The Brothers Quay and many others.

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 is still making films in Prague at the time of writing.

Švankmajer’s trademarks include very exaggerated sounds, often creating a very strange effect in all eating scenes. He often uses very sped-up sequences when people walk and interact. His movies often involve inanimate objects coming alive and being brought to life through stop-motion. Food is a favourite subject and medium. Stop-motion features in most of his work, though his feature films also include live action to varying degrees.

A lot 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 banned. He was almost unknown in the West until the early 1980s.

Today he is one of the most celebrated animators in the world. His best known works are probably the feature films Alice (1988), Faust (1994), Conspirators of Pleasure (1996), Little Otik (2000) and Lunacy (2005), a surreal comic horror based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe and the Marquis de Sade. Also famous (and much imitated) is the short Dimensions of Dialogue (1982), which shows Arcimboldo-like heads gradually reducing each other to bland copies (“exhaustive discussion”); a clay man and woman who dissolve into one another sexually, then quarrel and reduce themselves to a frenzied, boiling pulp (“passionate discourse”); and two elderly clay heads who extrude various objects on their tongues (toothbrush and toothpaste; shoe and shoelaces, etc.) and use them in every possible combination, sane or otherwise (“factual conversation”). His films have been called “as emotionally haunting as Kafka’s stories[1].”

He was married to Eva Švankmajerová, an internationally known surrealist painter, ceramicist and writer until her death in October of 2005. She collaborated on several of his movies including Faust, Otesánek and Alice. They had two children, Veronika and Václav

Advertisements

Review- Hop

Hop (Universal)

Hop is a funny and entertaining enough film that tries to assert itself as the go-to movie for the Easter holiday and for lack of any real competition, at least for the moment, it just may get to be that. In the end though I wish that considering the likelihood they’d take that mantle by default they tried a little harder to create more of their own inventions. Many of the affectations of the story are merely transposed from Christmas traditions and modified to fit Easter motifs. There certainly were other twists like chicks working in the factory and being underlings such that an egg sleigh with chicks flying it rings kind of hollow.

While it is an enjoyable journey and the ending is ultimately satisfying there’s also a bit of a cop out on the frame. If you think about it the film has to have the resolution it does but it just begs the question why create the frame in the first place? Why not just save that information and have it come as a surprise? It’s a case where simpler would work better.

What does work in this film is firstly the overall plot conceived by Carlos (Hank Azaria) a chick in the factory to try and usurp power. It works both dramatically and comedically thanks to Hank Azaria who is one of the best voice over actors currently working, due in large part to the fact that you don’t automatically know it’s Azaria voicing a role when you hear it.

Truth be told the same must be said for Russell Brand’s portrayal of E.B. I’d seen the preview probably a trabillion times and hadn’t figured out it was him. Thankfully, Brand allows the situations to create the comedy and just plays the character and is rather straight about it much of the time as well so it ends up being a choice that works.

In terms of the live action performances James Marsden turns in good portrayal of an unfortunately named character (Fred O’Hare). This name made even more frustrating by the fact that some of the family scenes were the better jokes and ideas are in the film. Many of these scenes were stolen by Gary Cole, who is hilarious as always.

What really stands out in the film is the animation work, more so on E.B than on the Pink Berets but particularly the combination of it and live action elements which there hasn’t really been too much of. It’s not necessarily a quantum leap in the subgenre but it’s definitely a most pleasant progression.

Hop is an enjoyable and passable way to kill some time even for an adult like me, which is not that much different than a kid, though kids may like it quite a bit more than I did.

6/10

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards

I decided that I would not write during what portion of the red carpet I did watch as attention must be paid. Overall, while in the end there was nothing that will likely go down as a historic Oscar look. It was one of the better looking overall displays I can remember.

I don’t know when this half-hour pre-show started (it wasn’t that long ago). I never really cared for it and it’s a little superfluous and just makes the show end later. Why does it still happen?

Begnini’s celebration is my least favorite acceptance moment. For the record.

You gotta love Steven Spielberg. Wiping the producer’s forehead and giving him water is classic.

Like the opening montage of best picture nominees. Why not the end shot from Inception?

Great opening with Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Great joke in the opening about James ‘appealing to a younger demographic.’ Glad to see the families get introduced.

Tom Hanks presents as Gone with the Windand Titanic get mentioned. Art Direction and Cinematography mentioned early in the show is a nice change. This was not a category I was looking for an upset in Alice in Wonderland takes Art Direction. Shocked.

First, applause of the night upon hearing Wally Pfister’s name called for Cinematography. Very well deserved award. Loved his speech in regards to Nolan.

Another pleasant surprise and the first standing ovation of the night as Kirk Douglas is introduced.

Douglas’s shtick may go down as one of the moments of this year. Also, I have to see Animal Kingdom. It has been decided.

I stand corrected Leo’s speech.

“I’m Banksy”
-Justin Timberlake

Awesomely amazing line.

I said it previously I would be rather happy if The Lost Thing got animated short. Congratulations.

Toy Story 3 wins Best Animated Feature. I knew that already.

Didn’t really like that Screenplay got the short shrift in terms of presentation. No excerpts or anything. Surprised but gladdened by the win for The King’s Speech. I also think that winners should realize there are 23 other winners who all deserve their time to do their thanks and shouldn’t risk taking some time from others.

I want to see In a Better World but am a little surprised it won. It’s the 3rd Danish winner and surprisingly the first since 1959.

Am I the only conspiracy theorist who thinks clips are based on one’s chances of winning? That was not the best scene for Mark Ruffalo at all.

Best part of Bale’s speech was his saying he’d dropped the F-bomb enough already. Oscar-winner or not he’s had plenty of other wonderful and worthy performances not the least of which is the one that launched his career many years ago, Empire of the Sun. All roads lad to Spielberg.

I’ll bet the theme from E.T. has been played at the Oscars every year since 1982. It always makes the closing medley.

OK, so does Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch winning mean that the trend away from composers towards current/former recording artists is going to stick?

First, winner I was extremely geeked about in a while. Sound mixing goes to Inception. And there goes another sweep in the sound categories. I wish I had stats for it but I bet it happens a lot. I have also enjoyed how everyone is thanking Chris Nolan first, almost as if they are trying to subtly point out his being snubbed for Best Director.

I really wish that more time would be spent on the technical awards maybe a special after the earlier presentation. Some really awesome technology gets kind of glossed over.

I need to look into the other Make-Up nominee that I hadn’t heard of, The Way Back. Looks sweet.

Leave it to President Obama to have the best choice as best Oscar-winning song. I’m a little tired of these categories that flex their nominations between three and five. Pick a size. Really, only four songs were nominated? Why? The process is intricate but music is where you can add to your appeal if you’re looking to boost ratings. I was floored when “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” won that scored high enough to be nominated and win but yet this year songs by Eddie Vedder, Alanis Morissette and Justin Bieber didn’t?

Kudos to Luke Matheny not only on the win but on plugging all the nominees who are iTunes. They were great.

The best, most entertaining part of the night was the musical montage.

Inside Job wins and now I never want to talk about Banksy again.

Billy Crystal comes on for a bit. Always glad to see him back.

Inception wins visual effects and stops Alice’s unthinkable streak.

Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr. should do something together that’s not as “Holmesy” that was pretty funny stuff.

Listening to the other nominees actually got me rooting for Randy Newman for the first time in years. Some sleepy stuff in there.

Complete and utter failure this year in the “In Memoriam” montage. Firstly, with the lives singing people who were shown didn’t get their due applause like they did in previous years and first the SAG Award show excluded Corey Haim and now the Oscars did too. I assure you he is missed by many film fans and is exclusion is a joke.

Tom Hooper wins for The King’s Speech. Dare they split it?

Best story told by a winner tonight has to be Hooper’s tale about how his mom found out about the play and said “Tom, I just found your next film.”

They were at it again. Kevin Brownlow is a man who has more than earned his Life Achievement award. For all intents and purposes he pioneered preservation and restoration of films and brought many silent films back from the dead. Here is a link to Kevin Spacey’s speech about him at the Governor’s Ball.

I also found it a little humorous that they said Jean-Luc Godard was sorry he couldn’t be there.

This congratulatory intro to lead acting categories is also making it take a lot longer than it has to.

It looks like there’ll be no surprises in the acting categories.

Congratulations to Colin Firth for his win. It’s his first but it shouldn’t be. If you haven’t seen A Single Man you most definitely should. It’s good to know that some people do get their due.

Listing the previous winners and nominees in the Best Picture category is a great way to lead off the Best Picture montage.

The King’s Speech wins Best Picture and now I can rest comfortably.

The finale was a fanastic and needed addition to the show. It was either ending on a jubilant note or a down one based on where my rooting interest were. if they keep this up it’ll be a fantastic close every year. Great job, P.S. 22.

Mini-Review- The Academy Award Nominated Short Films, Live Action

This past weekend there was a screening of the live action short films that are nominated for an Academy Award. I have decided that since overall the category is so strong that I would include a still image from each. These are films that deserve to get their recognition beyond just the five minutes of the Oscar broadcast that they occupy. So these screenings arranged by Shorts International and the theatres that screen them are to be commended. They are a bit long but there has to be some way to include the documentary shorts in a broader way next year, here’s hoping.

As for the films like I said I was resoundingly impressed with the strength of the field but I most definitely have a favorite.

The Confession

Lewis Howlett in The Confession (National Film and Television School)

And here it is. It is so shockingly rare to see a short film that is so layered and plays on so many levels as this one does. There are moments of genuine comedy, horror and drama in this film. It is a beautifully shot and composed film that shows the tragic consequences of the combination of real guilt and “Catholic guilt.” It’s a film I’m not ashamed to say brought me to tears at the end which is a feat that’s unprecedented in my limited experience with shorts.

Wish 143

Oliver Arundale and Dolya Gavanski in Wish 143

What Wish 143 does well is to create a serio-comic tale. It is not a greatly nuanced tale but it works. How well it works is where most of the interpretation comes into play. As I watched it the thought occurred to to me that this is what Holden Caulfield would be like if he was a cancer patient. Specifically, I recall the scene where he hires a prostitute and all he really wants is company. That’s a bit of an oversimplification but gives you the gist of this tale as it is centered around a young man seeking to lose his virginity in the time he has left.

Na Wewe

Floris Kubwimana in Na Wewe (A PRIVATE VIEW)

This a simple tale that subtly demonstrates the stupidity of genocidal tendencies. It concerns a bus traveling through Burundi in 1994 at a time where the Hutus and Tutsis were at war. The passengers are all taken off and then questioned regarding their background. There are a few great twists and good jokes in the tale as well as moments of drama. Furthermore a pretty good original (to me anyway) song to end it and underscore the message of the film.

The Crush

Olga Wehrly and Oran Creagh in The Crush (2010)

This is a pretty funny, dramatically well-executed and honest portrayal of a boy’s crush on his teacher. It’s deceptively simple as it does have a few surprises in store. It can be easily be described as the most charming and charmingly told of the short film nominees and it also deals with a universally relatable concept, most of us have has a teacher who fits this mold and it’s not only a wish-fulfillment tale but also concludes rather logically.

God of Love

Tim Matheny and Christopher Hirsh in God of Love (2010)

The funniest of the nominees, this is the fantastical tale of a modern-day cupid. It’s told in such a way, however, that it reminds you both a little of Magical Realism but also of the Early-Career whimsy of Woody Allen such that it is also a very entertaining entry.

In conclusion, I would not be disappointed in any of these films being given the Oscar but I do think that The Confession is the most special film of the group.

Weird Wednesday #1- Jan Svankmajer

Once again, I am aware of what day it actually is for this week anyway I will likely be late with these themes as I get my footing with them: as things progress I may stagger them.

Here we go.

Weird Wednesday

Weird Wednesday is one of the blankest canvases I am likely to give myself as a cinematic theme. After all the word weird despite its connotation merely means outside the norm and many things can fall into that category.

Yesterday, I chose to watch most of the films on the collection of Jan Svankmajer short films called The Ossuary and Other Tales.

I have been familiar with Svankmajer for quite some time but haven’t seen him in a long time. Milos Forman astutely asserts that “Disney + Buñuel= Svankmajer.” He is an artist that seamlessly goes from puppetry to stop-motion to conventional animation to live action and every way in between.

The Films

The Last Trick

This first tale, if it is the first one you watch in your version of the collection. Is likely to be your litmus test as to whether or not you like Svankmajer. There is a seamless and effortless surrealism to his narratives that provokes thought and seeks to make no explanation. While deceptively simple there are many conclusions that can be drawn from watching this dialogue-free short.

Historia Naturae

Despite how ponderous some of his films may be and how odd they are I’ve always felt a certain kinship with Svankmajer and this proves I’m not crazy. Below you will see both his film where skeletons and illustrations of animals are made to do different dances through the edit. And below that a project I did in an editing class in college which I made with no prior knowledge to Svankmajer’s film. There is a certain similarity. Mine is set to a samba which is a dance he does not include but his waltz is fabulous.

Johann Sebastian Bach

One of his pieces that cuts to the music. Very well done.

Don Juan

A shocking and horrific version of the tale told with puppets.

The Garden

A brilliant and fascinating surrealist live-action film about a man who has unusual gardening practices to say the least.

The Castle of Otranto

A wondrous mockumentary that splices live-action in with an animated story. The live action purports to report on the events that inspired Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the animation tells the story within the book in painstaking detail.

The Ossuary

A kaleiodoscopic tour of the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic.

I will finish these films today. These films are available to stream on Netflix to stream.