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29 May 2007 00:00 - 23 Jun 2007 00:00

Jan Svankmajer – Alchemist of the imagination

The first UK retrospective of work by Jan Svankmajer, Czech surrealist and animator coincides with the release of his latest feature-length film Lunacy.


Info: 020 7928 3232




The Czech surrealist Jan Svankmaker has long been prodigiously creative in various media – notably the graphic arts and sculpture – but is best known internationally for his work in film, particularly the area loosely defined as ‘animation’. He is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive voices in world cinema – and, arguably, one of the few living artists working in film to deserve the over-used term ‘genius’.


Drawing on a tradition of surrealism based in Prague – capital of magic and alchemy – that stretches back at least as far as the sixteenth century and Rudolph II’s patronage of the Mannerist painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo – Svankmajer uses an astonishingly rich range of techniques in his films. Live action, puppet theatre, claymation,  stop-motion animation of objects, drawn animation,  cut-outs, re-edited archive footage, Eisensteinian montage, and various combinations of the aforementioned are deployed to create the world according to Svankmajer: a world of stark, basic, primeval impulses, fears and desires. For Svankmaker, with his abiding fascination with Freud, De Sade, Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll and Arcimboldo, ‘civilisation’ is merely a thin veneer of artifice; reality is far more complex, darker, more entrancing and exciting.


Small wonder that many of his early films were banned; Svankmajer is a true subversive, as may be seen in his latest feature Lunacy. His work, at once utterly poetic and unusually forthright, has a visceral force that transcends considerations of ‘taste’. While his (often very funny) films may be disturbing, even shocking, they’re never simply sensationalist; Svankmajer’s sardonic vision of mankind’s innate capacity for cruelty and violence, its lust for power, its masochistic need to be controlled, its obsession with pathetically perverse objects of erotic desire, and its chronic inability tocommunicate in any properly meaningful way – all this is very deeply and sincerely felt. It’s not just Svankmajer’s amazingly fertile imagination that makes his films so special; it’s also his absolute, uncompromising honesty.


Geoff Andrew, Head of Film Programme, BFI Southbank



Preview: Lunacy (Sileni) + Jan Svankmajer in Conversation

Tue 29 May 18:30 NFT1. Tickets £14.75, concs £10.75 (Members pay £1 less)

Czech Rep 2006. Dir Jan Svankmajer. With Pavel Liska, Jan Triska, Anna Geislerová. 118min. EST


As an introduction to our tribute in June, we welcome the great Czech surrealist to BFI Southbank to discuss his work in film and other artforms following a screening of his latest feature Lunacy, which will open in a two-week run here on 1 June. Inspired by De Sade and Poe, the wickedly witty film is a gleefully perverse affair in which a timid youth is whisked off by a seemingly deranged Count to his remote chateau where blasphemous orgies take place – a madhouse from which he may never escape. Live action punctuated by typically grotesque animated interludes provide much politically incorrect food for thought.




Shorts 1: Dazzling Variety

Fri 1 Jun 18:20, Sat 9 Jun 16:00

The Last Trick (Posledni trik pana Schwarcewaldea a pana Edgara Rakvickarna; Cz 1964, 12min); JS Bach: Fantasia in G Minor (JS Bach Fantasia G Moll; Cz 1965, 8min); A Game with Stones (Spiel mit steinen; Aus 1965, 8min); Punch and Judy (Rakvickarna; Cz 1966, 10min); Et Cetera (Cz 1966, 7min); Historia Naturae (Cz 1967, 9min); The Garden (Zahrada; Cz 1968, 19min). EST.


Svankmajer’s earliest shorts find him exploring a dazzling variety of methods: marionettes (The Last Trick; Punch and Judy); photographic montages of natural objects and artefacts edited to music (JS Bach: Fantasia in G Minor); drawn animation (Et Cetera; Historia Naturae); animated objects (A Game with Stones); and more or less ‘realistic’ live action with human actors (The Garden). The subversive spirit of surrealism is constant.




Shorts 2: Games and Rituals

Sat 2 Jun 18:10, Wed 6 Jun 20:50

The Flat (Byt; Cz 1968, 13min); A Quiet Week in the House (Tichy tyden v dome;

Cz 1969, 13min); Picnic with Weismann (Picknick mit Weismann, Aus 1969, 13min); The Ossuary (Kostnice; Cz 1970, 10min); Don Juan (Don Sajn; Cz 1970, 30min); Jabberwocky (Zvahlav aneb Saticky Slameneho Huberta; Cz 1971, 12min). EST.


Further mind-bending diversity, ranging from the unsettling comedy of the partly live-action, partly animated The Flat and A Quiet Week in the House, through the macabre ‘documentary’ The Ossuary, to the puppet opera Don Juan and the extraordinary mixed-media foray into the ritualistic cruelty of children’s games in the masterly Jabberwocky.




Shorts 3: Dark Gems

Sun 3 Jun 15:50, Thu 7 Jun 20:50

Leonardo’s Diary (Leonarduv denik; Cz-It 1972, 10min); The Castle of Otranto (Otrantsky zamek; Cz 1979, 17min); The Fall of the House of Usher (Zanik domu Usheru; Cz 1980, 15min); Dimensions of Dialogue (Moznosti dialogu; Cz 1982, 12min); Down to the Cellar (Do pivnice; Cz 1982, 15min); The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope (Kyvadlo, jama a nadeje; Cz 1983, 15min). EST.


An exquisitely beautiful hymn to Da Vinci’s imagination (Leonardo’s Diary) is just the first of an unbroken series of dark gems, including tributes to Poe (The Fall of the House of Usher and the terrifying The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope, shot with subjective camera), the pubescent nightmare Down to the Cellar, and Dimensions of Dialogue, a superbly animated philosopical triptych testing the limits of human interaction.




Shorts 4: Satirical Invention

Sun 10 Jun 16:00, Fri 15 Jun 18:20

Virile Games (Muzne hry; Cz 1988, 12min); Another Kind of Love (Jina laska; Cz 1988, 4min); Meat Love (Zamilovane maso; USA-UK-Ger 1989, 1min); Darkness-Light-Darkness (Tma, svetlo, tma; Cz 1989, 8min); Flora (USA-Cz 1989, 20min); The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (Konec stalinismu v Cechach; UK 1990, 14min); Food (Jidlo; Cz-UK 1992, 17min). EST.


Svankmajer’s later shorts are generally more openly satirical (the foolishness of football fanaticism in Virile Games), more gleefully grotesque (Food, with its almost painfully hilarious allegory on human consumption), and more explicitly political (The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia). The slyly anarchic humour and the enormously fertile invention that have always been his trademarks remain impressively in command throughout.




I have to admit that I work with actors exactly as I work with inanimate objects. I don’t select my actors as to whether they are famous, or ‘good actors’, rather I select actors who fit in the vision that I have for that particular picture…sometimes I even animate the actors, as I did in Faust.

                                               Jan Svankmajer



Alice Neco z Alenky

Sat 9 Jun 18:20, Thu 14 Jun 20:45

Switz-Cz 1987. 85min. EST. PG


Svankmajer’s wonderful account of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has the curious young heroine (the only human in a film otherwise populated by a literally fantastic array of animated puppets) changing size, turning into her own doll, and taking a journey into a grotesque, cruel dreamworld operating according to its own weird but rigorous logic. A veritable wonderland of startling images and subversive wit.




Faust (Lekce Faust)

Mon 11 Jun 18:20, Sun 17 Jun 20:30

Cz Rep 1994. 96min. EST. 12


A man steps out of the Prague subway, is handed a map, and soon finds himself trapped in a bizarre world inspired by Goethe’s Faust, complete with alchemical spells and encounters with the Devil. Svankmajer’s astonishingly rich blending of live action, claymation, puppet theatre, animation and special effects makes for a profoundly rewarding fable about the conflict between individual impetus and social compromise.




Little Otik (Otesanek)

Sat 16 Jun 20:20, Thu 21 Jun 18:00

Cz Rep-UK-Jap 2000. 132min. EST. 15


A deliciously dark satire on the self-serving side of parental love, this sees a childless couple desperately persuading themselves that a wooden stump the husband has carved to resemble a baby is the real thing; thus encouraged, twiggy ‘Otik’ comes to life, complete with lethally insatiable appetite. Developed from a traditional Czech fairytale according to a nightmarish logic, this is a wickedly subversive black comedy executed with flair.




Conspirators of Pleasure (Spiklenci slasti)

Tue 12 Jun 20:45, Sat 23 Jun 20:40

Cz Rep-Switz-UK 1996. 75min. EST.


Svankmajer’s mainly live action and most consistently comic feature explores the wondrously bizarre erotic fantasies and fetishistic practices of a group of everyday folk in modern Prague: fish, straw, kitchen implements, televisions, dough, fur and other slightly more traditional instruments of passion are brought into imaginative play. A marvellously funny account of the more absurd sadomasochistic aspects of human desire.




The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer

Sun 10 Jun 18:00, Wed 20 Jun 20:30

UK 1984. Dir Keith Griffiths. 54min.


A lucid introduction to Svankmajer’s work, with a generous selection of judiciously chosen clips and a range of commentators and critics locating the Czech film-maker’s work firmly within the historical and aesthetic traditions of surrealism. What makes the film so special are the animated interludes made in tribute to Svankmajer by the Quay Brothers.


+ Les Chimères de Svankmajer

France 2001. Dir Bertrand Schmitt &

Michel Leclerc. 58min. EST.


A more recent assessment of Svankmajer’s work, making extensive and rewarding use of footage shot during the filming of Little Otik. Besides substantial interview material with Svankmajer, the film also demonstrates the importance of collaboration to his creative process, most notably with his late wife Eva Svankmajerova, herself a surrealist of note.






Lunacy Sileni

CR 2006. Dir Jan Svankmajer. With Pavel Liska, Jan Triska, Anna Geislerova. 118min


Inspired by the writings of the Marquis de Sade and Edgar Allan Poe, Jan Svankmajer’s fifth feature is as uncompromising and provocative as its predecessors. It’s an attack on all forms of repression, and a hymn to freedom.


In pursuing his own interests, Svankmajer has always ignored filmic and other fashions. This dark, semi-comic fable is no exception. It tells of a timid youth befriended by a diabolical and deranged Marquis, who takes him first to a remote chateau where blasphemous orgies are common, then to an asylum seemingly run by the inmates. Fear and desire fuel a deeply Freudian narrative that questions traditional notions of sanity and madness, care, cure and cruelty. With its live-action drama regularly punctuated by animated interludes involving raw meat, this skilful blend of horror movie and philosophical allegory is conceptually rigorous and politically subversive.


Fri 1 Jun 14:30,18:15, 20:40

Sat 2 Jun 15:15,17:45, 20:15

Sun 3 Jun 15:10, 17:45, 20:40

Mon 4 Jun 18:10, 20:30

Tue 5 Jun 18:10, 20:30

Wed 6 Jun 18:20

Thu 7 Jun 18:10, 20:40

Fri 8 Jun 14:30,18:10, 20:45

Sat 9 Jun 15:45, 18:10, 20:40

Sun 10 Jun 15:15, 18:10, 20:40

Mon 11 Jun 18:10, 20:30

Tue 12 Jun 18:10, 20:30

Wed 13 Jun 18:10, 20:30

Thu 14 Jun 18:10, 20:40






Inside the Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer

We 13 Jun 18.20 NFT2

Tickets £5, concs £4


The ‘cabinet of curiosities’ or Wunderkammer has played a major role in Jan Svankmajer’s surreaslist art, the juxtaposition of its natural, artificial and scientific objects, evoking poetic and imaginative connections. Dr Suzanne Buchan, Head of the Animation Research Centre at UCCA,  leads a panel of artists and researchers into Svankmajer’s cabinet to shed new light on the irrational objects of his imagination, from their origins in the Mannerist world of Emperor Rudolf II’s Prague, to their dialogue with artists creating alchemical transformations in their work across media.


Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films - DVD

Release date: 25 June 2007

The most comprehensive collection ever assembled of the short films by the legendary Czech animator Jan Svankmajer.  A three-disc set in deluxe packaging, it not only boasts 27 shorts - all the classics plus many UK premieres - but also a whole disc's worth of rare extras, including two full-length documentaries, feature film extracts and interviews.

RRP: £29.99, www.bfi.org.uk/video

BFI DVD press release


The Cinema of Jan Svankmajer: Dark Alchemy

Edited by Peter Hames

Wallflower Press are pleased to announce the forthcoming publication of The Cinema of Jan Svankmajer: Dark Alchemy, edited by Peter Hames. This is a wholly revised and updated second edition of the seminal work on Svankmajer first published in 1995, and includes extended contributions from Michael O'Pray, Roger Cardinal and Frantisek Dryje, as well as exclusive interview material and coverage of the most recent releases. Publication is scheduled for November 2007. For further details please visit www.wallflowerpress.co.uk or email info@wallflowerpress.co.uk.



With all of his films…one can practically taste, smell and feel the settings. His use of exaggerated, hyper-real sound effects and quick, Eisenstein-eque editing accentuate visuals which are already uncanny.

                                                Wendy Jackson




June – September 2007


Arnolfini Bristol - www.arnolfini.org.uk

Glasgow Film Theatre - www.gft.org.uk

Phoenix Arts Leicester - www.phoenix.org.uk

Riverside Studios Hammersmith - www.riversidestudios.co.uk

Dukes Lancaster - www.dukes-lancaster.org/cinema.php

Cambridge Film Festival - www.cambridgefilmtrust.org.uk

Duke Of Yorks Brighton - www.picturehouses.co.uk

Phoenix East Finchley - http://www.phoenixcinema.co.uk

Richmond Filmhouse - www.richmondfilmhouse.co.uk

Chapter Cardiff - www.chapter.org

Cornerhouse Manchester - www.cornerhouse.org/film

Chichester Film Festival - www.chichestercinema.org

IFI Dublin - www.irishfilm.ie

Phoenix Arts Leicester - www.phoenix.org.uk

Edinburgh Filmhouse - www.filmhousecinema.com

Dundee Contemporary Arts - www.dca.org.uk

Tyneside Cinema - www.tynecine.org

Rio Dalston - www.riocinema.ndirect.co.uk

Pictureville, Beadford – www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk







Tue 29 May

Preview: Lunacy + Jan Svankmajer in Conversation - 18:30


Fri 1 Jun

Shorts 1: Dazzling Variety - 18:20

Lunacy - 14:30,18:15, 20:40


Sat 2 Jun

Shorts 2: Games and Rituals - 18:10

Lunacy - 15:15,17:45, 20:15


Sun 3 Jun

Shorts 3: Dark Gems - 15:50

Lunacy - 15:10, 17:45, 20:40


Mon 4 Jun

Lunacy - 18:10, 20:30


Tue 5 Jun

Lunacy - 18:10, 20:30


Wed 6 Jun

Shorts 2: Games and Rituals - 20:50

Lunacy - 18:20


Thu 7 Jun

Shorts 3: Dark Gems - 20:50

Lunacy - 18:10, 20:40


Fri 8 Jun

Lunacy - 14:30,18:10, 20:45


Sat 9 Jun

Shorts 1: Dazzling Variety - 16:00

Lunacy - 15:45, 18:10, 20:40

Alice - 18:20


Sun 10 Jun

Shorts 4: Satirical Invention - 16:00

Lunacy - 15:15, 18:10, 20:40

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer + Les Chimères de Svankmajer - 18:00


Mon 11 Jun

Faust - 18:20

Lunacy - 18:10, 20:30


Tue 12 Jun

Conspirators of Pleasure - 20:45

Lunacy - 18:10, 20:30


Wed 13 Jun

Lunacy - 18:10, 20:30


Thu 14 Jun

Alice - 20:45

Lunacy - 18:10, 20:40


Fri 15 Jun

Shorts 4: Satirical Invention - 18:20


Sat 16 Jun

Little Otik - 20:20


Sun 17 Jun

Faust - 20:30


Wed 20 Jun

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer + Les Chimères de Svankmajer -  20:30


Thu 21 Jun

Little Otik - 18:00


Sat 23 Jun

Conspirators of Pleasure - 20:40


June – September 2007

Jan Svankmajer touring season


Tickets £6.25-£8.60, unless otherwise stated







30 Kensington Palace Gardens
W8 4QY London
United Kingdom


From: 29 May 2007 00:00
To: 23 Jun 2007 00:00


BFI Southbank, Czech Cenhtre

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