No filmmaker combines live action with stop-motion quite like Jan Švankmajer, and certainly no filmmaker has used that combination to such imaginative and troubling ends. An avowed surrealist who got his start in animation more than half a century ago in his homeland of the former Czechoslovakia, he’s continued to craft his distinctive cinematic experiences however and whenever possible through the decades. His filmography now includes such enduring trips as Dimensions of Dialogue (see below), which no less a visionary than Terry Gilliam calls one of the best animated films of all time; Alice, his dark interpretation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and Little Otik, a modernization of a folktale about a tree stump that turns into a monstrous baby.
But as well as he brings the bizarre to vivid life on screen, he’s always had higher ambitions than that. “Švankmajer is capable of creating dark yet playful worlds that dissect the very core of our society,” says the Indiegogo page now raising the funds for his latest — and last — feature film, Insects. “The civilization we live in has little interest in authentic artistic creation,” laments the filmmaker. “What it needs is well-working advertisement, the iconographic contemporary art, pushing people towards more and more mass consumption. It gets increasingly difficult to fund independent art that scrutinizes the very core of our society. Who would deliberately support their own critics?”
Now, in this age of crowdfunding, you can support one of its most entertaining critics alive yourself. Insects has already succeeded in raising the first phase of its budget, but still has a way to go before it can assure its esteemed creator and his collaborators full artistic freedom (Švankmajer is looking to raise $400,000 in total), so if you’d like to chip in, you can make yourself eligible for such rewards as the first opportunity to download the film, its Blu-Ray edition with an accompanying art book, or even — if you’ve got $15,000 to put toward the cause — “a dinner with Jan Švankmajer at his mansion in Czech Republic and a commented visit to his Kunstkabinet.” Even now, work on Insects, its Indiegogo page assures us, is underway, with Švankmajer “very busy visiting entomological auctions, buying various kinds of bugs, doing rehearsal shots with them and so on.”
If you’d like to learn more about the drama that they’ll ultimately act out, watch the promo video at the top of the post. In it, Švankmajer describes it as set in a pub, after hours, where an amateur theater group has gathered to rehearse The Insect Play by the Čapek brothers. But “as the rehearsal progresses, the characters of the play are born and die with no regard to time,” and the actors “experience frightening transformations.” Švankmajer, who has planned not a direct adaptation of The Insect Play but a more complex work that draws inspiration both from it and The Metamorphosis by his other well-known countryman Franz Kafka, puts the appeal of this story where “bugs behave as human beings, and people behave as insects” simply: “The Čapek brothers’ play is very misanthropic. I’ve always liked that.”
The Mascot, Pioneering Stop Animation Film, by Wladyslaw Starewicz
Dimensions of Dialogue by Jan Svankmajer (1982)
The Best Animated Films of All Time, According to Terry Gilliam
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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
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