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

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Short Film Saturday: Jirí Barta

Rather than another marathon I will give you one example of the work of Jirí Barta. If you enjoy it an entire collection of his shorts is available on YouTube (at the moment). Below is the description found on Vimeo. Enjoy!

”Laid-off old mannequins spend their cracked and broken lives in an old, abandoned warehouse. New mannequins are brought to the warehouse. They are old as well, but from a younger generation. The two groups must live together, but it’s not easy at all.” written by Anon, taken from IMDB

Jirí Barta- Klub odlozenych (The Club of The Laid Off) (1989) from off the text on Vimeo.

Short Film Saturday: Guy Maddin

On occasion on these posts I think it would make sense to feature a filmmaker who excels in the short film form. Therefore, I figure who better to start with than Guy Maddin.

This is not to say Maddin’s feature work isn’t brilliant, it certainly is. I have not yet seen all of it but I started with Brand Upon the Brain and didn’t expect that to be exceeded and then it was by My Winnipeg. For my reaction to a few other features go here.

Yet I’d have to say I almost prefer his short works because they can be that much more explosive and consistently brilliant and for those unfamiliar with Maddin it is here that you can get a sense for his style and see if its to your liking before investing your time and potentially money in them.

So below you will find many of Maddin’s short films culled from many locations about the internets enjoy! Before proceeding please note that quite a few of these films are NSFW (Not Safe for Work) and Parental guidance is suggested. Also, since I found so many this post also constitutes a Make Your Own Film Festival entry which is a series I’ll add to quite a bit soon.

The Heart of the World

Sombra Dolorosa

Spanky: To The Pier and Back

Zookeeper Workbook

Fuseboy

Sissy Boy Slap Party

The previous films I first viewed thanks to a blog post by Roger Ebert. The film below is available on The National Film Board’s (Canada) site.

http://media1.nfb.ca/medias/flash/ONFflvplayer-gama.swf

Now here are some I found through YouTube searches:

It’s My Mother’s Birthday Today

Hospital Fragment

Fancy, Fancy Being Rich

Odilon Redon or The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Moves Towards Infinity

Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair

A Trip to the Orphanage

Odin’s Shield Maiden

Short Film Saturday: Dym (Smoke)

Short films are an artform in and of themselves. Sadly, there are rarely avenues for these films to be displayed. While the platform I can offer is not a large one I do hope that by featuring short films on the weekend you’ll be encouraged to look for more that you do like or perhaps even work on your own. I will try to get these up on Saturday morning, which may be the ideal time to catch a short film: It’s a relaxed time and you’re in search of some entertainment but your attention span may not be as long as it will be later in the day.

The first film I am deciding to highlight is one called Smoke. It’s a film that was actually brought to my attention via an email from the film’s director. I’m sorry it took me so long to profile it here, however, I am glad he brought it to my attention as it truly is quite special.

The film is constructed in a stream-of-consciousness montage that is incited by the turning on of a tape recorder. What words are being spoken on the tape, or to it for that matter (if any), are left for the audience to divine as we don’t hear them. The images are rather surreal and at times completely disconnected and at others only connected by the common motif: smoke, be it in one form or another. While some images are Kubrickesque the film possesses a voice of it’s own that speaks to you in visual fragments seeking your input and associations to determine meaning. I’ve seen the film twice now and had two distinct, but both positive reactions to it.

Before I belabor it too long watch it for yourself:

Thankful for World Cinema- The Annunciation

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

The Annunciation

Péter Bocsor and Júlia Mérö in The Annunciation (Hungarofilm)

If you’re ready for a mind-bending account that is likely to be one of the most bizarre film-watching experiences you’ve ever had then The Annunciation is for you. One thing that shows you almost off the bat that this is a challenging film is that as the story changes location the subtitles include location cards, which are not dictated by the film itself.

However, owing that the shift in locations and time period are due to the fact that it is a dream should make it an easier watch. This existential tale of Adam and Eve is still ripe with multiple meanings and answers that can be gleaned from the text of it.

Another thing that should be noted that all the characters, save for circus performers near the end, are played by children. If you have a problem with child actors I feel sorry for you but I also then do not recommend this film to you because they are dealing with very real material, extraordinarily challenging material that they dive headlong into and perform spectacularly.

The things that can be observed as Lucifer sends Adam and Eve through time in similarly dystopian plots are truly fascinating. However, though the film may seem like it’s hellbent on nihilism it ends on a wondrous of hope and sardonic comedy.

It’s a classic of absurdism and dreamlike cinema, cinema in general, which deserves a wider audience.

10/10

Thankful for World Cinema- Last Year at Marienbad

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

Last Year at Marienbad

Delphine Seyrig and Giorgio Albertazzi in Last Year at Marienbad (Concinor)

If there is a film that can be said to define the French New Wave it may well be Last Year at Marienbad. A film directed by Alain Resnais (Night and Fog) which deals heavily with memory, or more precisely the accuracy of memory and what is reality. It is a film that moves along dreamlike with many incremental repetitions of phrases, with fractured snatches of conversations creating whole thoughts and at times surrealistically staged scenes.

It is a film that engages the viewer that dares him to follow this Byzantine structure and try to get out the other end, and if he does get out the other end will he have his head on straight when he gets there? It is a fact that film is not a disposable medium and many, if not all films, welcome a second viewing. This film insists on several. It is very likely that every time you’ll walk away from the film with a new piece of information you never considered before. This film is a complex abstract masterpiece that makes Inception look like finger-painting by comparison.

Consider that you examine two characters, their relationship and how much they really know one another and they are never given proper names, in fact, no one is: the three main players are referred to as A, X and M. Most of the rest are referred to as “Une personnage de l’hôtel.”

Which brings to mind another point: The camera pans around this hotel and its surroundings a great deal. Sometimes in conjunction with voice-over sometimes running contrary to the scene. The Baroque architecture of the edifice is quite startling and the hotel becomes a character in the tale in and of itself. As the discussions in which M is trying to convince A they did meet often begin with him stating where in the hotel they were.

It is a fascinating and mind-bending film which has no equal or parallel, an infinitely rewarding experience you’ll want to revisit over and over again.

10/10

61 Days of Halloween: All the Colors of the Dark

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

All the Colors of the Dark

All the Colors of the Dark (Shriek Show)

This is the kind of film that proves an axiom that is even more true of the giallo subgenre than it is of the horror as a whole. While some may disagree on the percentage the premise is this: only 10% of horror films are good, honestly and truly good.

The giallo subgenre has many trappings which make this equation at times even harder. This film follows the basic rules: there is a female protagonist, a secret buried in the past that if unearthed may lead to the identity of the killer which is a mystery.

This one just fails to work in many instances. One reason is that the web of conspirators against our lead is far too large. While it is good that a seemingly innocuous plot point may have cleared things up you wonder why the caller was so arcane and why the lead wasn’t curious enough.

The set up does work well. There is even some disturbing dream imagery that throws you off the scent a bit too much. However, the whole film becomes far too concerned with blurring the line between dream and reality. It makes you wonder if Fellini ever secretly regretted opening 8 1/2 in a dream though he can’t be held accountable for this kind of hackneyed use of a dream beginning.

The cinematography at times gets quite clumsy even for the surrealistic effect that is sought.

While the involvement of a cult in this story is interesting it is typically a move that ends up being a trap. For every positive scene that is introduced due to this aspect there is another which is less desirable that can come in to play because its hard to swallow how any are in this particular cult.

This film not only has dreams but it would appear visions which eventually are so exploited that they lose all effectiveness.

5/10