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directed by Jan Svankmajer
Czech Republic


The most comprehensive DVD collection ever assembled of all 26 short films by the legendary Czech Surrealist filmmaker-animator Jan Svankmajer is released by the BFI. Technically and conceptually astonishing in their own right, these films are also as remarkable for their philosophical consistency as for their frequently mind-boggling imagery.

Drawing on a tradition of Surrealism based in the capital of magic and alchemy - Prague - Svankmajer uses a range of techniques, combining live action, puppet theatre, stop-motion and drawn animation, claymation, cut-outs, re-edited archive footage and montage....

Compiled by BFI Screenonline's Michael Brooke, who also produced last year's highly acclaimed release Quay Brothers: The Short Films 1979-2003, the DVD collection spans almost 30 years, from The Last Trick (1964) to Food (1992). All the classics are included - Punch and Judy, The Flat, Jabberwocky, Dimensions of Dialogue, Down to the Cellar and both versions of The Ossuary (with the original banned tour-guide soundtrack and the replacement music track), alongside many British video premieres. It even contains the music video made for former Stranglers front man Hugh Cornwell (Another Kind of Love) and two 'Art Breaks' created for MTV.

Excerpt of review from BFI located HERE

DVD Reviews

DVD Review: BFI - Region 2 - PAL

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Region 2 - PAL


Various Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

Audio Czech, French, and English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Subtitles English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: BFI

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - Various

Edition Details:
• Johanes Doktor Faust (17:23)
• Nick Carter in Prague (5:00)
• The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (53:36)
• Les Chimres des Svankmajer (58:18)
• Czech TV Interview (8:58)
• Lunacy trailer

DVD Release Date: May 28th, 2007
Foldout Keepcase in a Cardboard Case



The BFI's "Jan Švankmajer: The Complete Short Films", is by far the most comprehensive and definitive presentation of the Czech surrealist's works that we will ever likely see on home video. I say this not just because the collection contains the director's complete short works, but rather because of the glut of extras that provide a scholarly, but always fresh and entertaining examination of his unique brand of animation. We'll get back to those extras later, but first let's talk about the films. Although I called Švankmajer an animator, I hope that I did not impress the idea that he works in traditional animation mediums like ink, paint, or CGI (to be sure, there are some drawings in his work, though). Instead, Švankmajer is an animator in the sense that he brings things to life. Be they puppets, blocks, stones, vegetables, clay, meat, or even kitchen supplies, Švankmajer infuses them with a spirit that transcends them from the ordinary objects they are into incredible phantasms, acting out a secret life unmeant for us humans. Even in those films which feature actors, the realm of the surreal is still invoked in such a way that what might ordinarily be seen as a mundane excursion into a castle or trip down the Czech Republic's communist past become highly stylized dreamlike excursions into Švankmajer's world. Each one of these films is wholly unique unto itself and a mini-masterpiece.

Most of the films in this release are presented in 4:3 fullscreen (as all fo the caps are), but a few are anamorphically enhanced. The video quality is typically very high in this release with almost no signs of damage or ware on the prints. There were a few instances of what looked to me like staircasing artifacts on some of the earliest films in the set, but this is a minor complaint. Overall the set looks quite lovely indeed, with rich colors and a generally sharp image.

The sound on the shorts is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and sounds pretty good. Some of the films contain dialogue and some just sound effects and/or music. Although I saw another reviewer complain of some minor instances of crackling, his ear must be finer than mine, because I didn't detect any distortions or unwanted background noise on any of the shorts. Since this is a foreign language release, the BFI has included optional English only subtitles for the dialogue that are, as per usual, easily read and unobtrusive.

As I mentioned, at the outset of this review, this package contains a plethora of contextualizing bonus features. First up is a 53 page illustrated booklet that contains essays on all of the films in the collection, a reprinting of a 1986 article by Michael O'Pray on Švankmajer's work, biographies of Švankmajer and his wife Eva Švankmajer (herself a noted surrealist), a chronology of his work not included in this release, and short biogrpahies for the 16 contributors to the extras. Next, there's a pair of films ("Johanes Doktor Faust" and "Nick Carter in Prague") which Švankmajer didn't direct, but worked on. Third, there's a documentary on Švankmajer by the Brothers Quay, which they amusingly admit was created as an excuse to get to see his work that they didn't have access to. Next, there's a 2001 French documentary entitled "Les Chimères des Švankmajer" which takes an in depth look at both of the Švankmajers as they work on the full length film "Little Otik". Next, there's a 2001 interview broadcast on Czech television about his and his wife's place in the history of Czech artistry. Finally, there's a rather wild trailer for his 2005 film "Lunacy".

This is one of the best collections of animation that I have ever come across. I heartily endorse it and cannot imagine my collection without it now. I give this release my highest recommendation and encourage everyone to give his work a look.

 - Brian Montgomery


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