REVIEWED
5/12/07

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Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer: Volume Two
Director: Jan Svankmajer
Year: 2003
TRT: 1:30


Here's the continued collection of Jan Svankmajer's short films. While still most definitely surreal, you can tell he's buckin' to do more than just short films. A proper primer, then, to the mostly live-action films to follow. Still, each and every one of these have some great techniques or memorable qualities to them. While only 7 shorts are presented here, they tend to be a bit longer or much more complex in nature and technique.

Dimensions of Dialogue: 1982 : 12 min : Begins with an amazing found-object kind of portraiture (immediately reminiscent of that old painter dude, a Wikipedia search providing the source as Arcimboldo, you'll see) that sets up a growing battle between various humanities, I guess would kinda describe it, slowly desiccating themselves to become something more and more familiar/mundane. Yet even with the evolution that takes place and ultimate amalgamation of the two, still no peace. The epitome of human nature? Part two goes into an very amazing realistic portrayal of a man and a woman in claymation, still stuck in the same battle. Part three contains two heads, male, of a suspiciously political origin, speaking through objects. Things go awry. Fantastic.

Down to the Cellar: 1982 : 15 min : Much more extensive use of live-action/real-time filmmaking, accenting the strange and surreal with animation. While pretty interesting seeing that it relies on visual information only, it ultimately can be seen as a test short to be expanded in his future feature-length films Alice and Little Otik. This one can be alternately be titled "The Tale of the Lost Potato" or "Never Piss Off a Black Cat."

The Pendulum, The Pit and the Hope: 1983 : 16 min : Again a very literally visual adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's story, translated in a slightly different way. Black and white as appropriate, shot almost entirely in first-person perspective. No dialogue. Captures the story surprisingly well.

Meat Love: 1988 : 1 min : Fan-fucking-tastic. Short but amazingly illustrated. Unsurprisingly, my "alternate" title I wrote down to translate the original slate and/or film was exactly this. Who could have thought a raw steak could actually play coy? Again shows the talents of Svankmajer illustrating strictly through visuals and minor audio cues.

Flora: 1989 : 20 sec : Vege-boy is Doomed, I tell you. DOOOOMMED!

The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia: 1990 : 14 min : While the subtleties (or lack thereof) of change in leadership in the Eastern Bloc countries is somewhat dulled by my drunken American faculties, the art of portrayal carries a significant weight (and significance of political philosophies not completely lost). Great combination of all forms of filmmaking here, combining claymation, photo-illusration, stock film, some occasional real-time footage and a couple of other methods to effectively carry out the narrative. I apologize if sounding redundant here, but that is the skill Svankmajer continues to hone with these short films as time goes by.

Food: 1992 : 17 min : Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner as seen in a fairly dour but truthful light. Must be seen to be truly appreciated, yet another amazing feat of social commentary through bizarre animation.

This guy is fucking insane. He's got to be. That much time spent on stop-motion animation of any variety has have a serious long-term effect on one's mentality. But Svankmayer here pulls off some even more astounding imagery and techniques. While it's no Gumby, Wallace & Gromit, or Jack Skellington, it's great to see the technique used for purposes other than commercial gain. Crazy Czech, Your Head!

Great Scene: Meat Love. Short but...smeat? Quickest relation of story through visuals, but the rest are truly great to see as well.

DVD Notes: Continuing on fine tradition, KimStim in association with Kino, I believe, get a great disc out there of Svankmajer's later short films. Additional medias of selected artwork are included here, falling under Collages, Cabinetry and Image Lexicon (representing some excellent skills and images in all). "In the Cellar" poem with nice audio freakishness even if the poem itself is a bit meh (seems to be the opposite end of the spectrum, really, describing an encounter with abstract combination of words as opposed to an abstract collection of images). Same as the other disc, a brief bio and filmography. Last but certainly not least, something EXTREMELY COOL in the form a 25 minute BBC Documentary on the man titled "Jan Svankmajer: The Animator of Prague," with some good quotes from him personally, particularly around the time of his filming The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia and his particular take on not only the continued importance of the Surrealist form of expression but also on a historical perspective and how it will be perceived many years down the road. Nice brief insight into the man, his ideas, and a creepy watchtower that is supposedly located in Prague.