Thursday, April 7, 2011

Animation Timeline - Jan Švankmajer

Fig. 1 Jan Švankmajer Portrait (2009)

Jan Švankmajer (1934 - Present) is one of the great Czech filmmakers and surrealist artist. He is known for his surreal animations and features with the use of several different media. He made his first film in 1964 and has gained a reputation as one of the world's foremost animators. Švankmajer had gone on to be a great influence on other filmmakers/animators such as Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, and the Brothers Quay.  

Fig. 2 Dimensions of Dialogue (1983) Passionate Dialogue Film Still

Stylistically, Švankmajer’s films are full of richness and are diversity in the use technique. With the use of Live-action, puppets, collage, drawn animation, montage, clay and object stop-motion animation mingle together throughout his work. His brilliant use of clay motion is shown best in his 1982 film "Dimensions of Dialogue" divided into several different animations.  The first section, dealing with ‘Exhaustive Dialogue,’ shows us three different human heads eating, digesting and regurgitating each other. The second section deals with ‘Passionate Dialogue’ featuring two human figures molded in clay, a man and a woman. Finally the third section is ‘Factual Dialogue’ Here we have two male heads, molded in clay, facing each other. Each opens their mouth and offers an object which the other compliments with an object of their own. "There’s a wealth of ideas running through this 12 minute short film but even if these are of no interest to you Dimensions of Dialogue is simply a sublime showcase of the possibilities of stop-motion animation." (Eason, 2010)

Fig. 3 Dimensions of Dialogue (1983) Exhaustive Dialogue Film Still

Svankmajer has moved further away from his roots in animation towards live-action filmmaking. But his films still remain as strikingly surreal and uncannily inventive as ever. In 1987 Svankmajer completed his first feature film, ALICE, a characteristically witty and subversive adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Švankmajer combines live action with stop-motion animation to create a startling effect for the audience. Švankmajer is a major artist in the surrealist movement, who has inspired many film directors, including Tim Burton. Who would go on to direct his own version of the story Alice in Wonderland years later. Compared to Burton’s version whose film was directed at a family audience, Jan Švankmajer’s himself takes the story back to its twisted roots, with a surreal interpretation of the novel ever to have been made into a film.“The movie is unabashedly indulgent in many of Švankmajer’s recurring themes (visible in nearly all of his short and feature films), such as his obsession with routine and his dismissive observations of the process of eating. The act of eating always seems to be a fruitless exercise in self-preservation (since the food ends up exiting us anyway), and the food itself is usually fraught with hidden dangers (nails, bugs, and magic that makes Alice change in size).” (Heilman, 2002)

While a majority of his films are animated, Švankmajer refuses to be called an animated filmmaker. “"Animators tend to construct a closed world for themselves, like pigeon fanciers or rabbit breeders." Švankmajer stated in an interview, "I never call myself an animated filmmaker because I am interested not in animation techniques or creating a complete illusion, but in bringing life to everyday objects."” (Jackson.1997) Švankmajer has done exactly what he has said and has brought everyday objects to life in his films, which can be seen as symbols and interpreted in many ways.

List of Illusrtations 

Figure. 1 Švankmajer, Jan (2009) Jan Švankmajer Portrait. (Accessed on 02/04/2011)
Figure. 2 Švankmajer, Jan (1983) Dimensions of Dialogue - Passionate Dialogue Still. (Accessed on 02/04/2011)
Figure. 3 Švankmajer, Jan (1983) Dimensions of Dialogue - Exhaustive Dialogue Still. (Accessed on 02/04/2011)


Jackson, Wendy (1997) The Surrealist Conspirator: An Interview With Jan Svankmajer. (Accessed on 02/04/2011)
Heilman, Jeremy (2002) Alice (Jan Svankmajer) 1988. (Accessed on 02/04/2011)
Eason, Jack (2010) Dimensions of Dialogue. (Accessed on 02/04/2011) 


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