A new purchase. It’s excessive and wasteful to order DVDs from South Korea but when this is the only available option you have no choice. Jiri Barta: Labyrinth of Darkness is a Korean clone of a deleted disc that was originally released in the US by Kino, and which I’d managed to miss when it was still easy to find. The collection gathers all of the Czech animator’s short films from 1978–89 plus his 53-minute masterwork, The Pied Piper (1986), a film whose Expressionist puppets and decor steal the familiar folk tale away from picture-book cuteness and return it to its darker roots. The subtitle “Labyrinth of Darkness” suggests that all the films tend towards horror which isn’t really the case, although anyone disturbed by animated shop mannequins may be unnerved by Club of the Discarded (1989). Barta’s films can be dark but they’re also wry or quirky: The Design (1981) is a wordless fable about the imposition of social uniformity by contemporary architecture, while The Extinct World of Gloves (1982) cleverly uses anthropomorphism to pastiche a range of cinematic genres. Barta is still active today but most of his recent films have been advertising commissions and a child-friendly feature, Toys in the Attic, the marketplace being resistant to animation that’s too strange or personal. I still hope we might one day see his feature-length film of The Golem but there’s been no news about this since a preview was released in 2002:
“Everyone is expecting a fairytale about that legend. Our interpretation is a little bit different, because we start from another point of view, which is Gustav Meyrink’s Golem…It is much more interesting, but I think that this is the reason why we have not moved forward, why the whole project has stopped, why some producers have disappeared, appeared and disappeared again.” (via)
The unavailability of the Kino disc of Barta’s films is part of a worrying trend for those of us who like to own physical copies of scarce films. Many DVDs released ten or more years ago are now deleted and—in the case of my precious Piotr Kamler collection—impossible to find, while the films they contain are of such minority interest there’s little hope of seeing them on blu-ray any time soon. In the hierarchy of cinematic value, feature-length dramas always receive the most attention while documentaries, shorts, animations and experimental films are subject to the greatest neglect. Yes, “everything is now on YouTube” (except when it isn’t), but invariably compromised by low resolution, a lack of subtitles, or blighted by TV watermarks. And everything on YouTube is only there for as long as the uploader maintains their channel or until someone files a copyright complaint; previous posts here are filled with links to videos that are now deleted, so the Koreans are doing everyone a service by keeping Barta’s films in circulation. The same goes for the great René Laloux whose science-fiction features, Time Masters (1982) and Gandahar (1987), are currently available with English subs only from South Korea. The quality of this Jiri Barta disc leaves much to be desired but it’s still better than YouTube.