Jan Svankmajer is an animator like no other that I know of. Surrealist in style, his artistic work encompasses a broad range of mediums- film, sculpture, painting, graphic design, prose and poetry. His filmic work often involves a combination of animation, puppetry and live action- a challenging style for any filmmaker to use effectively. Svankmajer films are by trademark dark and macabre tales, told not for the sake of aesthetic or technique, but always to serve a very personal purpose, which I will talk about shortly.
In this essay, I will deal mainly with the work that Svankmajer created as an animator. To put it in context, however, I will first give a rough overview of his background and the work for which he is best known.
Svankmajer was born in Czechoslovakia in 1934. His parents were both artistically inclined; his father was a window dresser while his mother was a dressmaker. After studying puppet theatre for four years in Prague, Svankmajer began his career as a director, designer and puppeteer at the State Puppet Theatre in Liberec. During the Early 1960s he collaborated with several different theatre companies in Prague to stage a variety of plays.
In 1964 his interests turned to filmmaking. In this medium he felt that more would be possible technically, and that his work would reach a wider audience. After creating various award-winning short films like The Last Trick, his work underwent a decisive transition from Mannerism to Surrealism in 1968. As a surrealist Svankmajer would create many highly acclaimed films involving animation and live action.
Svankmajer's work became surrounded by political controversy with the making of the film Antonio's Diary (1972). The film was not intended to have political meaning, but the Czech authorities banned him from making films for seven years simply because it contained unauthorised footage depicting everyday Czech life. Dimensions of Dialogue (1982)...