Saturday, 9 April 2011

Jan Svankmajer (1934 - )

Originally a theatre director, Jan Svankmajer became interested in film making (and particularly animation) as a result of working with Prague's Lanterna Majika Theatre group on their mixed-media productions (Brooke, 2011).  His films continue this tradition of mixing media, with a range of techniques used from stop motion animation to live action filming, as well as combinations of them.

Fig. 1 Dimensions of Dialogue: Passionate Discourse [Film Still]
Several common themes run through his work, including a dark, cynical outlook (for example, Dimensions of Dialogue embodies the idea that nothing can be created without destruction (Rogers, 2002).  Another recurring feature is the use of marionettes, which appear in many of his works, which can be traced back to a childhood present of a puppet theater.  This led him to attend the Prague College of Applied Arts Department of Puppetry.

Most of his films have taken the form of shorts, although he has directed several feature films, including an adaptation of Lewis Caroll's Alice in Wonderland (Svankmajer has stated that he feels that he is "mentally on the same side of the river" as Caroll (Kral, 1985)

His works often include elements of the uncanny, which, combined with jerky stop-motion animation, produces an unsettling feeling in the audience; this is particularly notable during Factual Conversation, when a clay head extrudes an animal tongue (which, whilst obviously organic, is also obviously dead)
Fig. 2 Dimensions of Dialogue: Factual Conversation [Film Still]
Svankmajer's work has been highly influential, with directors Henry Selick (The Nightmare before Christmas), Tim Burton (Beetlejuice) and Terry Gilliam (Brazil) all crediting him as a strong influence. 

List of Illustrations
Figure 1. Kratky Film Praha (1983) Dimensions of Dialogue [Film Still] [Online] At: (Accessed on 07/04/2011)

Figure 2.  Kratky Film Praha (1983) Dimensions of Dialogue [Film Still] [Online] At: (Accessed on 07/04/2011)
Brooke, M (2011) Jan Svankmajer: Biography In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 07/04/2011)

Kral, P (1985) An Interview with Jan Svankmajer In: Positif  Issue 297

Rogers, P (2002) The Works of Jan Svankmajer In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 08/04/2011)

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