Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films

Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films

DVD Rating: *****

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Read Anton Bitel's film review of Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films

If Svankmajer's short films are all concerned with fetishising objects, then it seems apt that BFI's three-disc collection is itself an object of beauty and wonder to impress any Svankmajer fetishist. Lovingly compiled by Michael Brooke, who was previously behind BFI's equally excellent Quay Brothers: The Short Films 1979-2003, the discs come packaged in an attractive, sleeved digipack, complete with a 56-page illustrated booklet that exhaustively documents the filmmaker and his 26 shorts.

Each disc comes with optional English and Hard of Hearing subtitles. Besides the usual menu for selecting individual short films listed in chronological order, there is also a separate menu that groups the shorts into thematically linked 'programmes' (e.g. 'claymation', 'Gothic literature', 'tactilism'). Disc One comprises the early shorts, from 1964 up until 1972 (after which Svankmajer found himself inconveniently banned from directing for seven years), and Disc Two comprises his later shorts (1979-92).

Copy picture

Disc Three is devoted to 149 minutes of extras. Emil Radok's Johanes Doktor Faust (1958) is the first short film for which Svankmajer received a title credit (as one of several puppeteers), and has had a clear influence on his own marionette shorts Punch And Judy (1966) and Don Juan (1969), as well as on his second feature Faust (1994). There are five brief excerpts from the film Nick Carter In Prague (1977), showing off Svankmajer's unmistakable animation work on a music-loving, man-eating plant named Adela, from the period when Svankmajer was banned from directing his own materials.

The Cabinet Of Jan Svankmajer (1984) is Keith Griffiths' hour-long documentary on Svankmajer made for Channel 4's 'Visions' series. Featuring links animated by the Quay brothers as a tribute to their fellow artist, and a new filmed introduction by the Quays (who claim that pitching the documentary was the easiest way that they could gain access to Svankmajer's short films), the film features interviews with academics and artists who contextualise the Czech animator's works within the history of Czech and French surrealism. Svankmajer himself does not appear on camera, but one quote from him speaks volumes about his approach to his work: "I don't actually animate objects - I coerce their inner life out of them."

Bertrand Schmitt and Michel Leclerc's Les Chimères Des Svankmajer (2001) is another hour-long documentary, catching up with Svankmajer and his collaborator/wife Eva Svankmajerová as they work on the feature Little Otik (2000) and the retrospective exhibition Anima Animus Animation. Featuring extensive interviews with the surrealist couple, the documentary examines their work across many media, as well as their artistic differences. Svankmerova claims still to be 'shocked' by her husband's eroticised experiments in tactilist art and, rather charmingly, we see the pair bicker over the proper arrangement of a phallic tea-set.

A nine-minute excerpt from a Czech TV series from 2001 on the history of painting and sculpture includes interviews with Svankmajer, and shows several examples of his work in collage 'fantasy zoology', as well as paintings by Svankmerová.

Finally there is a trailer for Svankmajer's latest feature, Lunacy (2005).

Reviewed on: 25 Jun 2007
Share this with others on...
Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films packshot
Selection of surrealist shorts gets a polished release from the BFI.
Amazon link

Product Code: BFIVD632

Region: 2

Ratio: 1.33:1 (Fantasy in G Minor and Johanes Doktor Faust are in 2.35:1 Cinemascope)

Sound: Stereo 2.0

Extras: Johanes Doktor Faust, Nick Carter in Prague (excerpts), The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, Les Chimères des Svankmajer, Czech TV interview, Lunacy trailer, 54-page illustrated booklet

Search database: