The Films of Jan Švankmajer

Posted by on May 17 2012 | Motion Pictures

(Faust, Jan Švankmajer, Czech Republic 1994, 97 min., Czech/Latin w/ subtitles)

A childless woman nurses a tree stump into a gargantuan, omnivorous monster. A taxidermic rabbit breaks out of its display case and leads a young girl through a nightmarish wonderland. Marionettes made of raw meat dance to the sounds of a carnival hurdy-gurdy. Welcome to the world of Czech animator Jan Švankmajer, a strange universe where even the most mundane objects can, through expert stop-motion animation and traditional folk puppetry, spring to life to tickle our fancies and trouble our dreams.

Coming of age in repressive, post-WWII Czechoslovakia, Švankmajer began making films in the mid-1960s — animated short subjects with a decidedly surrealist bent (he joined the Czech Surrealist Group in 1970) and enough caustic political commentary for Švankmajer to be banned from making films for most of the 1970s. Švankmajer returned to filmmaking in 1979 and, working closely with his wife, the artist and writer Eva Švankmajerová, began crafting a series of extraordinary films of increasing length and complexity.

Widely hailed as an important latter-day Surrealist, Švankmajer’s influence has been profound and far-reaching, inspiring filmmakers as diverse as Terry Gilliam, the Brothers Quay, and Tim Burton. Throughout May and June, the DrydenTheatre will pay tribute to this master of  the fantastic with a complete retrospective of his feature films, that started with Alice, Švankmajer’s endlessly inventive adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and including Surviving Life, Švankmajer’s most recent feature. A special program of Švankmajer’s innovative short films will round out this close look at a true visionary whose work continues to shock, disturb, and delight.

— Ken Fox, Dryden Theatre Manager

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    Lisa Kribs-LaPierre is the former Manager of Online Engagement at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.

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