Puppet Theatre

about Jan Švankmajer

Author of cult films and shorts like Alice, Faust, Jabberwocky, Little Otik or Lunacy — a surreal comic horror based on two works of Edgar Allan Poe and the life of Marquis de Sade — Jan Svankmajer is one of the most celebrated animators in the world. Also famous, and much imitated, is the short Dimensions of Dialogue — 1982 —, selected by Terry Gilliam as one of the ten best animated films of all time. It is divided into three sections: Eternal ConversationDialog Věcný — showing Arcimboldo-like heads gradually reducing each other to bland copies, Passionate DiscourseDialog Vášnivý — showing a clay man and woman who dissolve into one another sexually, then quarrel and reduce themselves to a frenzied, boiling pulp, and Exhaustive DiscussionDialog Vyčerpávající — consisting of two elderly clay heads who extrude various objects on their tongues — toothbrush and toothpaste, shoe and shoelaces, etc. — and intertwine them in various combinations.

Born in September 1934, in Prague, his later artistic development seems to have been influenced by a puppet theatre he was given for Christmas as a child. Many of his movies are made from a child’s perspective, while at the same time often having a truly disturbing and even aggressive nature. Jan studied at the College of Applied Arts in Prague and later in the Department of Puppetry at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts. He contributed to Emil Radok’s film Doktor Faust in 1958 and then began working for Prague’s Semafor Theatre where he founded the Theatre of Masks. His films have been called “as emotionally haunting as Kafka’s stories.

Jan 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, often creating a very strange effect in all eating scenes. He often uses fast-motion sequences when people walk or interact. His movies often involve inanimate objects being brought to life through stop motion. Many of his films also include clay objects in stop motion, otherwise known as claymation. Food is a favourite subject and medium. He also uses pixilation in many of his films, including Food and Conspirators of Pleasure.

Jan was married to Eva Švankmajerová, an internationally known surrealist painter, ceramicist, and writer — with whom he had two children and collaborated on several of his movies — until her death in October 2005. Today, Jan continues to make films in Prague.

A Game with Stones
Darkness Light Darkness

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