Having done the short films of the Quay Brothers proud last year, BFI Video follows up with an equally impressive job on the Quays’ chief mentor, Czech master-animator Jan Švankmajer, with this three-disc set of all 26 of his shorts from 1964 to 1992.
Disturbing, witty, surreal and bewilderingly inventive, Švankmajer’s films take in stop-motion, live action, claymation, cut-outs and ingeniously edited archive footage. Clothes, furniture, puppets, vegetables, rusty screws and raw meat come to life and perform unspeakable mutilations on each other. It’s Lewis Carroll meets Kafka meets Max Ernst.
Among the riches on offer is Jabberwocky (1971), a dry run for Švankmajer’s feature-length Alice (1987) that takes Carroll’s poem into alarming, uncharted territory. Dimensions Of Dialogue (1982) depicts human interaction as cannibalism, with monstrous heads devouring each other. Down Into The Cellar (1983) captures the terrors of childhood, as a small girl descends to a sinister underworld.
Political subtexts are never far from Švankmajer’s work, but The Death Of Stalinism In Bohemia (1990) is explicit, celebrating the collapse of the Soviet system with gleeful contempt.