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Jan Švankmajer (1934 - )

Related: 1934 - Czechia - artists of the grotesque - surrealism in film - experimental film - European cinema - animation film - director

Influenced by: Arcimboldo - Poe - Sade

The Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer, Vol. 2 - The Later Years (2002) - Jan Švankmajer [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Unidentfied still from Svankmajer film

Beethoven by Arcimboldo (1993) - Jan Švankmajer
image sourced here.


Jan Švankmajer is a Czech surrealist artist. His work spans several media. He is better known outside of the Czech Republic for his animations, which have greatly influenced other artists. His two best known works are probably Alice and Faust. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Svankmajer

What is it about Arcimboldo's methods that holds such an irresistible fascination for me?

"Arcimboldo, with his anthropomorphic, cumulative methods, is one of the obsessions for which I am unable to find a satisfactory interpretation. What is it about Arcimboldo's methods that holds such an irresistible fascination for me that I do not even shrink from the imitation I otherwise so despise?" asked Svankmajer in 1994. Arcimboldo is undoubtedly one of the major influences on Svankmajer's work, with overt homages paid in the films A Game With Stones, Historia Naturae (suita) (which "quotes" the original paintings in the background of the credits), The Fall of the House of Usher, Flora (whose subject-matter derives from Arcimboldo's painting Flora) and above all Dimensions of Dialogue, the film whose opening sequence brings three Arcimboldesque heads (made, respectively, from fruit and vegetables, kitchen utensils and artistic materials) to unnerving and unforgettable life. Arcimboldo's influence can also be seen in the collage Vertumnus and Mona Lisa, the etching An Arcimboldesque Head and the busts An Arcimboldesque Head and Beethoven Portrayed by Arcimboldo. --http://www.illumin.co.uk/svank/biog/arcim/arcbio.html [May 2005]

see also: Arcimboldo

The Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer, Vol. 2 - The Later Years (2002) - Jan Švankmajer

The Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer, Vol. 2 - The Later Years (2002) - Jan Švankmajer [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

From the publisher:
For the past forty years, Jan Svankmajer (Alice, Little Otik) has been hailed as one of cinema's most consistently surprising, wildly imaginative and remarkable surrealists of our time. Utilizing a delirious combination of puppets, humans, stop-motion animation and live action, Svankmajer's films conjure up a dreamlike universe that is at once dark, macabre, witty and perversely visceral. This collection of remarkable short works pays tribute to an artist that has mesmerized audiences the world over, inspiring filmmakers from the Brothers Quay to Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam. Volume 2 includes: "Dimensions of Dialogue," "Down to the Cellar," "The Pendlum, the Pit and Hope," "Meat Love," "Flora," "The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia," "Food," BBC Documentary: "Animator of Prague", Selected Svankmajer Poems.

Moznosti dialogu / Dimensions of Dialogue (1982)


  1. Conspirators of Pleasure (1997) - Jan Svankmajer [1DVD, Amazon US]
    Imagine Ophuls' 'La Ronde' remade by a Czech Surrealist, with 'professional expertise' (as the end credits state) from Sacher-Masoch, de Sade, Freud, Bunuel, Ernst and Brauk. After an opening credits montage of 18th century erotic prints, scored to a lovely, kitschy waltz, 'Conspirators of Pleasure' follows five fetishists whose narratives interlock in bizarre ways. -- darragh o'donoghue for Amazon.com

  2. Alice (1988) - Jan Svankmajer [Amazon US]
    This adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland mixes animation and live action to create a dreamlike world, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's simply a kid's film. Young Alice (Kristyna Kohoutová, spoken by Camilla Power) watches a stuffed and mounted rabbit come to life in her playroom and follows it through a magical drawer into a strange world that resembles a 19th-century toy store come to life, with a few specimens from a natural history museum thrown in. Czech animator Jan Svankmajer retains the familiar story elements but tweaks them with bizarre imagery brought to herky-jerky life with his spasmodic style of stop-motion animation. The caterpillar becomes a sock puppet with dentures, while other crazy creatures materialize as creepy skull-headed beings that bleed sawdust. Throughout the tale Svankmajer returns to punctuating close-ups of Alice's lips telling the story, just to remind us that this is a tale told. In the best surrealist tradition Svankmajer uses familiar objects in unfamiliar ways, giving a fantasy quality to the banal (and the not so banal) while tipping the dream logic to the edge of nightmare. While the imagery remains more unsettling than genuinely disturbing, younger children will certainly be happier with Disney's brightly colored animated classic Alice in Wonderland. Older children and adults will better appreciate Svankmajer's sly visual wit and unusual animation style. --Sean Axmaker

  3. Faust (1994) - Ernst Gossner, Jan Svankmajer [Amazon US]
    Are you sick of Hollywood slick 2 hour commercials? I am, So I have started watching the films of European Artists, I say Artists because thats what they are as opposed to Hollywood cash hounds, except for maybe David Lynch, Tim Burton and a few other visionaries. Faust is Svankmeyers version of Goethe's tale of a deal with the devil for answers to the enigmas of the universe. Played out in a surreal marrionette show in some parts, with cool stop motion and claymation, that is way cooler than CGI (Ray Harryhausen anyone?) European cinema's budgets are way lower than USA's but I think that keeps them more handmade like a painting as opposed to a computer made image (advertisement) If you like a film which you have to figure out the mysteries of symbolism, then you will enjoy Faust, its a movie you can watch again and again and see new things. If you are a fan of surreal or visionary cinema like City of Lost Children, Brazil ,Eraserhaed, Dr. Caligari, Santa Sangre, Suspiria, Nightmare before Christmas, etc. thn you will probably dig this., michael j pucciarelli, amazon.com

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