Jan Švankmajer  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"Following the Prague Spring of 1968 and his implicit critique of communism in Leonarduv denik (Leonardo 's Diary, 1972), Svankmajer was banned from making animated films for seven years."[1]

Related e



Jan Švankmajer (born 4 September 1934 in Prague) is a Czech surrealist artist and filmmaker. His work spans several media. He is known for his surreal animations such as Dimensions of Dialogue, which have greatly influenced other artists such as Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and The Brothers Quay.

Švankmajer's surrealist orientation is an essential element in almost all his films. He draws from sources dear to many surrealists including Edgar Allan Poe, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Lewis Carroll, Horace Walpole, Faust, and Arcimboldo. He has gained a reputation over several decades for his distinctive use of stop-motion technique, and his ability to make surreal, nightmarish and yet somehow funny pictures.

His trademarks include very exaggerated sounds (with one film dedicated to composer Bach Johann Sebastian Bach: Fantasy in G minor), often creating a very strange effect in all eating scenes, food is a favorite subject and medium. He often uses very sped-up sequences when people walk and interact. His movies often involve inanimate objects coming alive and being brought to life through stop-motion. Stop-motion features in most of his work, though his feature films also include live action to varying degrees.

Many of his films, like the short film Down to the Cellar, are made from a child's perspective, while at the same time often having a truly disturbing and even aggressive nature.

His best known works are probably the feature films Alice (1988), Faust (1994), Conspirators of Pleasure (1996), Otesánek (2000) and Šílení/Lunacy (2005), a surreal comic horror based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe and the Marquis de Sade. Also famous (and much imitated) is the short Dimensions of Dialogue (1982), which shows Arcimboldo-like heads gradually reducing each other to bland copies ("exhaustive discussion"); a clay man and woman who dissolve into one another sexually, then quarrel and reduce themselves to a frenzied, boiling pulp ("passionate discourse"); and two elderly clay heads who extrude various objects on their tongues (toothbrush and toothpaste; shoe and shoelaces, etc.) and use them in every possible combination, sane or otherwise ("factual conversation"). His films have been called "as emotionally haunting as Kafka's stories." (Caryn James, 1994)

He was married to Eva Švankmajerová an internationally known surrealist painter, ceramicist and writer until her death in October of 2005. She collaborated on several of his movies including Faust, Otesánek and Alice.




Arcimboldo is undoubtedly one of the major influences on Svankmajer's work, with overt homages paid in the films A Game With Stones, Historia Naturae (suita) (which "quotes" the original paintings in the background of the credits), The Fall of the House of Usher, Flora (whose subject-matter derives from Arcimboldo's painting Flora[2]) and above all Dimensions of Dialogue, the film whose opening sequence brings three Arcimboldesque heads (made, respectively, from fruit and vegetables, kitchen utensils and artistic materials) to unnerving and unforgettable life. Arcimboldo's influence can also be seen in the collage Vertumnus and Mona Lisa[3], the etching An Arcimboldesque Head and the busts An Arcimboldesque Head and Beethoven Portrayed by Arcimboldo. --text by Michael Brooke [4] [May 2005]


Feature-length films

Short films

List of artworks

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jan Švankmajer" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools