Short films by Jan Svankmajer, program one | Chicago Reader

Short films by Jan Svankmajer, program one

Trained in puppetry and animation, Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer combines drawings, graphics, cutouts, clay figures, and everyday objects into wry or bleak commentaries on the human condition; this program collects eight shorts made between 1964 and 1972, almost all of them gems of visual association and concise narrative. J.S. Bach: Fantasy in G Major (1965) is sort of a music video in 'Scope whose long tracking shots of walls, bricks, and grilles in a dilapidated room suggest a takeoff on Last Year at Marienbad. In The Last Trick of Mr. Schwarzwald and Mr. Edgar (1964) two masked magicians duel to the death, and in Punch and Judy (1966) the title puppets run amok as they fight over a surprisingly pliant live guinea pig. The Flat (1969), one of Svankmajer's earliest shorts to feature an actor, is a Kafkaesque skit about an everyman frustrated by the morphing objects in his room. And in Jabberwocky (1971) a bountiful wardrobe yields a series of Victorian images that are constantly deconstructed and transformed. The film is much admired (and paved the way for Svankmajer's 1987 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland), but it reveals one of the artist's shortcomings: since his private musings can signify just about anything, the deluge of visual non sequiturs can become wearisome. On the same program: Leonardo's Diary (1972), Et Cetera (1966), and Historia Naturae (Suita) (1967). 82 min.

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