Karel Zeman


Inspiration (1949).

Karel Zemen (1910–1989) is a filmmaker I’m often telling people about but whose work isn’t easy to see, so it’s good to find that YouTube has gained some clips of his animations and examples of the partly-animated adventure films he made in the Fifties and Sixties. Zeman was yet another great Czech animator, and the YouTube collection includes his most celebrated short, Inspiration, which gives life to glass figurines, an unyielding medium that he moves as expressively as if it were clay or plasticine.


The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1961).

The adventure films are predominantly based on Jules Verne and place live actors into animated settings, many of which are taken directly from (or intended to imitate) the engraved illustrations of the original novels. The animation enabled Zeman to fill his films with dirigibles, submarines and various steam contraptions which would be too expensive to create otherwise. Zeman’s The Fabulous Baron Munchausen took the Gustave Doré illustrations for its visual style which is something this particular Doré enthusiast appreciates, and the film is closer to the spirit of the Raspe novel than the Nazi adaptation of 1943 or Terry Gilliam’s later version. The results are a lot more artificial than the seamless blend of animation and live action attempted by Ray Harryhausen in his own Jules Verne film, Mysterious Island, but the artificiality gives the films a distinctive charm.

A Deadly Invention aka The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958)
The Fabulous World of Jules Verne trailer (1958)
Excerpts from Baron Munchausen (1961)
The Special Effects of Karel Zeman pt. I | pt. II

Previously on { feuilleton }
Zeppelin vs. Pterodactyls
Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films
Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux
Barta’s Golem
The Hetzel editions of Jules Verne

Short films by Walerian Borowczyk


Les Astronautes (1959).

A nice collection of shorts by Walerian Borowczyk (1923–2006) at Ubuweb including this animated piece from 1959 which was co-directed by Chris Marker. The style is immediately reminiscent of that employed by Raoul Servais in Harpya and other films; it’s also not far removed from Terry Gilliam’s animation but it predates both. Also of note is Une Collection Particulière from 1973, a brief but fascinating look at a collection of antique pornographic toys and other adult items from the collection of Pieyre De Mandiargues. And L’Amour Monstre de tous les Temps from 1977 is a portrait of contemporary erotic Surrealist painter Ljuba Popovic at work. Borowczyk spent the Seventies making soft porn features such as Immoral Tales and The Beast, so the subject matter of the later films isn’t so surprising.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux
Monsieur Chat
The Brothers Quay on DVD
Sans Soleil
Barta’s Golem
The art of Ljuba Popovic

Sans Soleil


Chris Marker might be considered the Borges of cinema if that designation didn’t seem limiting, with its implication that literature is superior to cinema, that filmmakers only receive true qualification as artists through comparison to more venerable creators, and so on. Marker, then, is Marker, although who Marker is remains obscure, as this article notes:

Some say his father was an American soldier, others that he (Marker) was a paratrooper in the Second World War. Still others, that he comes to us from an alien planet. Or the future. Throughout his career, he has rarely been interviewed, and even more rarely photographed. It is said that he responds to requests for his photograph with a picture of a cat – his favorite animal.

The possibility that he comes from the future is a compelling conceit when his most famous work, La Jetée, is a very subtle film about time travel (later remade with a huge budget and no subtlety at all by Terry Gilliam as Twelve Monkeys). JG Ballard and others have enthused about La Jetée for years but my favourite Marker film remains Sans Soleil, a meditation on time, memory, travel and culture, blending documentary images with a semi-fictional (?) voice-over narrative that resists easy summary. In this respect it parallels some of Borges’ essays or “ficciones”; like many of Borges’ best works it manages to be both personal and universal, drawing connections which seem obvious until you realise that no one has pointed them out in quite that way before. An equally fascinating companion to Sans Soleil is Marker’s CD-ROM, Immemory, a Mac-only release that’s already out-of-date in software terms (and since Classic stopped working on my Mac even I can’t use it for the time being).

This site presents a critical reading of Sans Soleil as a rather disjointed web experience. And you can read the text of the film here. Needless to say, none of these are very satisfying at all without the accompaniment of Marker’s images.

Paris III: Le Grande Répertoire–Machines de Spectacle


The Grand Palais from Ave du M Gallieni.

The Grand Palais, opposite the Petit-Palais, was built in 1897–1900 by Louvet, Deglane, and Thomas. Its dimensions, covering all area of about 38,000 sq. yds, are imposing. It consists of a large front building, united with a smaller one in the rear by a transverse gallery. The style is composite, but mainly reminiscent of the 17th century. The façade is adorned with a double colonnade, rising to a height of two stories; and there are three monumental entrances in the central pavilion. The sculptures of the central portico, representing the Beauty of Nature, and Minerva and Peace, are by Gasq, Boucher, Verlet, and Lombard. Those to the right represent Sculpture, Painting, Architecture, and Music, and are by Cordonnier, Lefebvre, Carlès, and Labatut. To the left are the Arts of Cambodia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, by Bareau, Suchet, Béguine, and Clausade. On and under the colonnades are friezes of Amoretti, holding the attributes of the arts. At the top are a balustrade, allegorical groups on the abutments, by Sepsses and Greber, and bronze quadrigae, by Récipon. In the middle of the principal building rises a depressed dome. The rear-façade, in the Ave d’Antin, is embellished with colonnades, sculpture, and friezes in polychrome stoneware, made at Sèvres (Ancient and Modern Art).

In 1900 this building is to be used for contemporary and centennial exhibitions. Afterwards it is to be the scene of the annual exhibitions of paintings and sculptures, horse shows, agricultural fairs, and the like. Its destination explains the peculiarities of its internal construction. The roof is glazed, consisting of curved sheets of glass 10 ft. long and 3 ft. wide.

Baedeker’s Paris (1900).

One of the highlights of this trip was a visit to the wonderful Grand Palais to see an exhibition of invented machines that wouldn’t have been out of place in La Cité des Enfants Perdus or a Terry Gilliam film. The slightly run-down but still splendid venue was the perfect setting for rusted contraptions devoted to making loud noises or smashing things to pieces. The exhibition is still running should you have the good fortune to be in Paris up to the 13th of this month.

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