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Surrealism

Essay by   •  May 15, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  1,604 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,295 Views

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"I am a hand with six fingers with webs in between. Instead of fingernails I have petite, sharp, sweet-toothed little tongues with which I lick the world." Jan Švankmajer, Self-portrait, 1999 (2002, 6)

Surrealism was a direct developments from the Dada activities of the 1920's and in 1924 Surrealism adopted many of the Dada concepts. Surrealist explore the inner world of psyche, the realm of fantasy and the unconscious. The works of surrealists feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and most surrealist regard their work as being an artifact.

In this essay I am going to discuss the strategies used by Jan Švankmajer, a Czech surrealist artist and the reaction provoked by him towards the audience.

Jan Švankmajer was born in Prague on 4 September 1934, in 1950 he enrolled at the Institute of Applied Arts in Prague where his roommate gave him a copy of the book 'A World that Smells' by Karel Teige, the founder of the Czech Surrealist group. This was Švankmajer's introduction to the world of surrealism. In 1960 Švankmajer made his debut short film Cislice (1960). The success of this short film spurred Švankmajer on and he was soon making regular streams of award winning, intellectually stimulating and haunting short films that won many awards.

Švankmajer is known for his animations that are renowned for their tactile dimensions. Švankmajer has always demonstrated a natural liking to the "gothic" and in many of his films he interrogated the boundaries of what is regarded as the core themes, ideas and aesthetic look located within the broadly defined generic limits of horror. Švankmajer doesn't use the a-typical approach that mainstream Horror filmmakers use such as "slasher narratives" and "supernatural" stories, instead he returns to the "intrinsic integrity of the form as a symbolic address of the inarticulable and potentially unspeakable fears rooted in our primal identities, now over-socialised in the contemporary world." (Wells, P. 2002)

Švankmajer makes use of the world of puppetry, stop motion animation, object animation, two-dimensional animation and live action. In many films like in Otesánek (Little Otík, 2000) he combines these strategies - here the protagonist is presented through three-dimensional animation while Alžbětka's reading of Erben's story, the Czech fairytale about a childless couple who acquire a baby from an unusual source, is conveyed through two-dimensional animation. The core of the story is presented a live-action.

Otesánek (Little Otík, 2000) is Švankmajer latest film and is likely to reach a broader audience than his previous features because it is based on the Czech Fairytale and because it consists of so many different mediums that were combined to make a complete surrealistic story. Unlike most surrealist artists, Švankmajer's films usually have a semi-structured narrative or some other meaning towards it. This film, like I said, surrounds a childless couple, where the husband, Mr Horák diggs up a tree root that vaguely resembles a child, trims it and presents it to his wife, Mrs Horáková soon starts treating the root as a real child and when Otík comes alive, he begins to develop a veracious appetite and people start to disappear.

This film is a metaphor of eating and previous English titles for the film names it on the theme of gluttony and the original story's apparent warning to children who's eyes are bigger that their mouths. The original themes of cannibalism and ogre are also very much visible in the film. Cannibalism and food for human relations appear in Švankmajer earlier films as Možnosti dialogu (Dimensions of Dialogue, 1982) and Jídlo (Food, 1992). Do pivnice (Down to the Cellar, 1983), in which a girl's fear of going down to the cellar to fetch potatoes represents Švankmajer's childhood terror elaborated through a form of the Red Riding Hood story, this began his life as a collective Surrealist study of fear.

A good example of one of his films that feature puppetry is "Něco z Alenky (Alice / Something from Alice, 1988), inspired by Lewis Carol. In this short animation Alice inhabits the world of puppets and frequently becomes one herself and in 'Lecke Faust' (Faust/Lesson of Faust, 1994) the hero of the story undergoes a similar transformation.

Švankmajer incorporates fear, horror, terror, obscure objects and images and he is known for incorporating famous stories such as Alice in Wonderland and Red Riding Hood in his films. These elements are used to get an instinctive reaction out of an audience by using characters as puppets and children as cannibalistic tree roots. Švankmajer said that surrealism is not an artistic style but a means of investigating and exploring reality "a journey into the depth of the soul." This may explain his lack of interest in art or like he calls it "creation." He attempts to rid his work of decorative or mannerist tendencies and replaces his music with other sounds. His films, like many other Surrealists explore the world of the imagination and claims its force against categories of the commercial world.

Švankmajer searches to find the realities disguised by the philosophy and the conventional in his films. The characters in most of his films can be found all around you. Švankmajer also has no problem finding subjects or ideas for his films since the fall of communism. As he once said: "if

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