Monday, 29 March 2010

Animator and Animation Reviews... Jan Svankmajer...

One of the great Czech filmmakers, Jan Svankmajer was born in 1934 in Prague where he still lives. After studying puppetry at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts and working with various puppet theatres, Svankmajer made his first film in 1964. Since then, for over thirty years, Svankmajer has made some of the most memorable and unique animated films ever made, gaining a reputation as one of the world's foremost animators, and influencing filmmakers from Tim Burton to Brothers Quay. His brilliant use of claymation reached its apotheosis with the stunning 1982 film Dimensions of Dialogue. In 1987 he completed his first feature film Alice, with a characteristically witty and subcversive adaptation of Alice in Wonerland. Since then, Svankmajer has moved further away from his roots in animation towards live-action filmmaking, however, his vision remains as strikingly surreal and uncannily inventive as ever.

When i first heard Phil say the name Jan Svankmajer, i wondered where i had recognised it from. The name rang a bell but i wasn't too sure why. After watching Svankmajer's animations i realised that i had seen some of his work before and it was instantly a recognisable style of his. It was in my Media class in college that i saw Svankmajer's animation called 'Food' and i really enjoyed it, the unique narratives and his very stylised stop-motion in particular. It is clear to see that he has used this style throughout his animations.

Phil recommended watching 'Darkness, Light, Darkness' which was another animation by Svankmajer. Again, as in all of his animations i have seen, there was a simple, understandable narrative and he wasn't afraid to show the finger marks in the clay. I think the marks add to the effect of the animation, similar to Wallace and Gromit, and there is something very appealing about the design of Svankmajer's characters/objects. They seem realistic enough, but somehow he gives them exhaggerated personalities. In this animation the exhaggerated personality comes from the body parts ie. the hands, eyes, mouth etc. I also like the fact we are in one room so we don't have too much to focus on, other than what's going on and the beautiful flow of Svankmajer's stop-motion. I'm particularly amazed at the way he is able to smooth everything back into shape after pulling it apart, it seems unnoticeable.

One of the Svankmajer animations we watched in class was 'Dimensions of Dialogue', which featured a few animated shorts. 'Exhaustive Discussion' is the first of the three sections in which Arcimboldo-like heads gradually reduce each other to bland copies. I liked this animation, although i did find it slightly repetitive. In particular, i liked the way all the different objects fitted together to make the heads and the unique way each object reduced the other parts. The second section, 'Passionate Discourse', shows a clay man and woman who dissolve into one another sexually before quarreling with each other. Again this is another masterclass example of Svankmajer's amazing work with clay. As in many of his other animations, we're restricted to the space of one room and this allows us to admire every last detail of Svankmajer's work. Finally, we have 'Factual Conversation' where two elderly clay heads extrude various objects on their tongues and interwine them in various combinations. I found this animation fairly similar to the first short, and similarly it was slightly repetitive. But again, i really enjoyed the visual aesthetic and the beauty of his stop-motion work.

'Meat Love' is another one of Svankmajer's short animations we watched in class. It depicts two slices of steak, personified as two individual beings, that form a romantic relationship where the steaks dance with each other and show passionate love through symbolised sexual intercourse, before their passion is killed when the steaks are placed into a frying pan. This was a fairly short, but amusing animation and it reminded me of many shorts that we see on channels like Nickelodeon and MTV, except those are slightly less explicit. I liked the story line and again, the stop-motion was a masterclass of Svankmajer's skills.

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