Jan Svankmajer, Director

svankmajer.jpg

As I have always said, my aim is to make Surrealist documentaries. I want to show that our world is imaginative by nature, that you can look at it imaginatively. It has something that escapes the quotidian gaze. And it is possible to reveal it through the technique of animation. Animation thus becomes a sort of new alchemy.

Thus Jan Svankmajer whose production company, Athanor, is named after the furnace used by medieval alchemists. Jan Svankmajer, Director (2009) is an hour-long documentary by Martin Sulík, one of several films from Golden Sixties, a Czech television series about film directors. Svankmajer has been the subject of several documentaries following his rise to international prominence, one of which, Les Chimeres des Svankmajer (2001), may be found on the BFI’s DVD set of the complete short films. Martin Sulík’s documentary doesn’t cover as much ground as the French film—the focus is on the 1960s—but has an advantage by allowing Svankmajer to talk at length about his work. Topics include his discovery of the usefulness of animation, his approach to filmmaking (and art in general), and peripheral subjects such as the soundtrack music of Zdenek Liska, and the activities of the Prague Surrealist group. (Via MetaFilter.)

Jan Svankmajer, Director: Part one | Part two | Part three | Part four

Previously on { feuilleton }
Don Juan, a film by Jan Svankmajer
The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope
Two sides of Liska
The Torchbearer by Václav Svankmajer

Weekend links 284

molinier.jpg

Les Hanel I by Pierre Molinier. There’s more at The Forbidden Photo-Collages of Pierre Molinier.

• Western anti-hero Josiah Hedges, better known as Edge, was the creation of prolific British author Terry Harknett. The famously violent Edge novels, credited to “George G. Gilman”, were ubiquitous on bookstalls in the 1970s. They were Harknett’s most successful works, and are still collectible today; if you’re interested there are 61 of them to search for. Amazon Originals have just launched Edge as a new TV series although anything for a mass audience is unlikely to retain the exploitative qualities of novels that often sound like pulp precursors of Blood Meridian.

Related: Terry Harknett discusses the creation of the Edge series at Drifter’s Wind; Ben Bridges on Harknett’s career, including a look at the writer’s many other Western and thriller novels; Bill Crider on Edge, Harknett and the British group of Western novelists known as “The Piccadilly Cowboys”.

• Boyd McDonald’s queer-eye film guide, Cruising the Movies: A Sexual Guide to Oldies on TV (1985), has been republished by Semiotext(e) in an expanded edition. Related: True Homosexual Experiences: Boyd McDonald and Straight to Hell by William E. Jones.

• “Zdenek Liska’s music thrived in unrealities,” says David Herter in a lengthy appraisal of the great Czech film composer (whose name would be accented if the coding of this blog would play nicely with diacritics).

• “…a film that plumbs the dark recesses of all our imaginations: dangerous, glorious, absurd, vivid and terrifying by turns.” Charlotte Higgins on her favourite film, The Red Shoes (1948).

Art Forms from the Abyss, a new collection of illustrations by Ernst Haeckel for the report of the HMS Challenger expedition (1872–76). Related: Silentplankton.com

• “The biggest kick I ever get is to find myself pursuing some group of images without knowing why,” says M. John Harrison in conversation with Tim Franklin.

• “Plots didn’t interest him much. They were just pegs on which to hang characters and language.” Barry Day on Raymond Chandler.

• At Dirge Magazine: S. Elizabeth delights in the dark decor of Dellamorte & Co.

• Nabokov scholar Brian Boyd selects his ten favourite Nabokov books.

• Mix of the week: The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. XIII by David Colohan.

Take me to the cosmic vagina: inside Tibet’s secret tantric temple.

• Pour Un Pianiste (1974) by Michèle Bokanowski | 13’05” (1976) by Michèle Bokanowski | Tabou (1992) by Michèle Bokanowski

Don Juan, a film by Jan Svankmajer

svankmajer.jpg

I’ve been reading Thomas Ligotti for the past week so here’s something Ligottian: a short film performed by life-size wooden puppets. Svankmajer’s production from 1969 conveys the Don Juan legend with actors masquerading as traditional Czech marionettes, the proceedings being scored by music from the great Zdenek Liska. No English subtitles on this one so if you don’t speak Czech or Russian you can either relish the mystery or take it as a prompt to buy a DVD. While we’re on the subject of Ligotti, the new Penguin edition of Songs of a Dead Dreamer/Grimscribe is published next week. I recommend it.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope
Two sides of Liska
The Torchbearer by Václav Svankmajer

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, a film by the Brothers Quay

quays1.jpg

A busy week here (for a change) so this is a bit of a lazy choice but there is a Wunderkammer present. The Quays made this in 1984 for a Svankmajer documentary, and it’s still one of my favourites: Svankmajer as subject, lots of Prague references, and wonderful music (borrowed from Svankmajer’s own films) by Zdenek Liska. This is also one of the few films you’ll see with animated characters demonstrating some film animation of their own. Watch it here.

quays2.jpg

Previously on { feuilleton }
More Brothers Quay scarcities
Eurydice…She, So Beloved, a film by the Brothers Quay
Inventorium of Traces, a film by the Brothers Quay
Maska: Stanislaw Lem and the Brothers Quay
Stille Nacht V: Dog Door
Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets
Brothers Quay scarcities
Crossed destinies revisited
Crossed destinies: when the Quays met Calvino
The Brothers Quay on DVD

Ikarie XB 1

ikarie1.jpg

A science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem (The Magellanic Cloud, 1955).

ikarie2.jpg

Illustration by Teodor Rotrekl.

A film by Jindrich Polák, adapted from Lem’s novel by Polák and Pavel Jurácek. (1963).

ikarie3.jpg

A Second Run DVD (2013).

With the exceptions of Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker (both in a league of their own), I’ve never been very enthused about Eastern Bloc science-fiction cinema. If I hadn’t been watching some Czech films recently, and listening to the soundtrack music of Zdenek Liska, I might not have bothered with this one despite its being promoted as a visual influence on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ikarie XB 1 won the Grand Prize at the Trieste International Science Fiction Film Festival in 1963, a tie with Chris Marker’s La Jetée. (Umberto Eco was one of the judges.) Fifty years on, Marker’s film has hardly dated at all while Ikarie XB 1 seems very much of its time. But Polák’s film still has some things going for it, surprisingly so considering the director was more used to making comedies.

Ikarie XB 1 is a spaceship travelling to Alpha Centauri in the year 2163. The DVD subtitles don’t translate the name Ikarie so unless you already know it means “Icarus” there’s no foreshadowing of any possible threat, at least until the opening shots of a deranged crewman stumbling through empty corridors. Many of the scenes which follow seem over-familiar but only because the scenario of space-crew as interstellar family has become such a standard feature of filmed space opera from Star Trek on. The production design is dated, of course, but the film makes great use of black and white in the lighting patterns, on-screen visuals, clothing designs, etc. It’s easy to see why Kubrick thought it was a cut above other SF films of the period, especially with its widescreen compositions. The DVD booklet (and Kim Newman’s interview on the disc) mention Kubrick’s stylistic borrowings; judge for yourself with these screen-grabs. I was hoping the Liska soundtrack might be more electronic than it is. It’s very much a Liska score—at times you can’t help but imagine a Svankmajer puppet lurking round a corner—but with added reverb and spectral organ chords. The latter assist a sequence where two of the crew members explore an apparently derelict space station.

This page reviews the film in some detail (complete with plot spoilers). For the curious, the entire film is a free download at the Internet Archive.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Fiser and Liska
Two sides of Liska
Liska’s Golem
The Cremator by Juraj Herz