Archive for December, 2007

Jerzy Kawalerowicz RIP

Polish director Jerzy Kawalerowicz, best known in Britain for Mother Joan of the Angels (Matka Joanna od aniołów, 1961) and the Oscar-nominated The Pharaoh (Faraon, 1965), died yesterday at the age of 85.

Posted on 28th December 2007
Under: Poland, Obituaries, Jerzy Kawalerowicz | No Comments »

Katyń in English

Hot on the heels of the announcement that Andrzej Wajda’s Katyń will have its international premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, the film’s official website is now bilingual in Polish and English.

It opens in Britain in April - I don’t yet know about other English-speaking countries.

Posted on 18th December 2007
Under: Poland, Andrzej Wajda | 1 Comment »

Skolimowski in New York

I was talking to a colleague only yesterday about how scandalously difficult it was to see films by Jerzy Skolimowski - and with immaculate timing the blog J.B.Spins has drawn my attention to a retrospective at New York’s Anthology Film Archives, running until this Saturday. I can’t go, but if anyone else can take advantage, do - most of these screenings are very rare indeed, and Deep End (1970) is a little masterpiece that badly needs a proper DVD release at the very least.

For those stranded on my side of the Atlantic, Skolimowski’s The Shout (1978) recently popped up on a surprisingly good (and very cheap) British DVD, with a commentary and huge PDF section containing original marketing materials and a massive press book. Mike Sutton reviewed it for DVD Times here, and I’m very happy to endorse his comments.

Posted on 4th December 2007
Under: Poland, Jerzy Skolimowski | 2 Comments »

A Švankmajer timeline

During a routine office spring-clean last week, I came across an elaborate timeline that I drew up earlier this year, setting events in the life and career of Jan Švankmajer against a wider backdrop of Czech history and culture of the time.

It began life as a crib sheet to help those baffled by the historical references in his 1990 film The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (Konec stalinismu v Čechách), but started to grow once I merged it with a timeline that I created many years ago for Illuminations’ old Švankmajer website (currently defunct, but hopefully up for imminent revival when I get a moment to restructure it).

It was originally intended for publication in the booklet accompanying the BFI’s DVD release Jan Švankmajer - The Complete Short Films, but was axed at the last minute to reduce the page count once I was told that it would probably make the booklet too thick to fit in the sleeve (which had already gone into production). But as it was already in a pretty advanced state, I thought I’d preserve it here:

Year Jan Švankmajer Czech History & Culture

1918   Czechoslovakia is founded as a democratic republic, based on the old territories of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, with Tomáš Masaryk as its first President.

1923   Jaroslav Hašek, author of the satirical masterpiece The Good Soldier Švejk, dies on January 3.

1924   Franz Kafka dies on June 3 in a Viennese sanatorium, after leaving instructions to his friend Max Brod to burn his various unpublished writings. Famously, Brod refuses to do so.

1933   The writer Vítězlav Nezval, representing the Czech avant-garde movement Devětsil, travels to Paris to meet André Breton, founder of the French Surrealist movement.

1934 Jan Švankmajer is born in Prague on September 4, to a window-dresser (father) and dressmaker (mother). The Surrealist Group of Czechoslovakia is established, its early members including Nezval, the poet Konstantin Biebl, the stage director Jindřich Honzl, the composer Jaroslav Ježek, the painters Jindřich Štyrský and Toyen (Marie Čermínová), the sculptor Vincenc Makovský and the psychologist Bohuslav Brouk. The writers Karel Teige (another key Devětsil figure) and Jindřich Heisler join a little later.

1935   The Czechoslovak Surrealist Group has its first exhibition, with Breton and fellow Paris-based Surrealists Paul and Jacqueline Eluard as guests of honour.

1938-39   The Czechoslovak Surrealist Group has its second major exhibition, but 1938 is marked by internal ruptures, especially when Nezval expresses his approval of Stalin’s terror in the Soviet Union. He tries to dissolve the group, but its activities continue without him. Meanwhile, German chancellor Adolf Hitler demands the annexation of the Sudetenland, the German-speaking border regions of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. After this is conceded via the Munich Agreement, Wehrmacht troops occupy the Sudetenland in October 1938. By March, Hitler has occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia.

1940 Eva Švankmajerová (née Dvořáková) is born in Kostelec nad Černými lesy. Ousted Czech President Edvard Benes forms a government in exile in London.

1942 Jan Švankmajer is given a puppet theatre for Christmas. Following the death of Jindřich Štyrský in March, the Czechoslovak Surrealist Group (which had been meeting illegally) is temporarily suspended. The assassination of Czech “protector” Reinhard Heydrich leads to widespread reprisals against the Czechs.

1943   Journalist and resistance activist Julius Fučík is beheaded by the Nazis, and posthumously canonised as a Communist martyr. Beneš strikes a deal with the Soviet Union regarding the postwar government of Czechoslovakia.

1945   Prague is liberated by Soviet troops on 9 May. A new government under Beneš includes a Communist element for the first time. The Czech Communist party had genuine popular support, since the previous decade’s events had led to widespread suspicion of both Fascism and liberal democracy.

1946   The Communist Party wins the largest share of the vote in the May general election. Its leader Klement Gottwald becomes Prime Minister.

1947   A major exhibition, International Surrealism, is staged in Prague. Nezval and Honzl declare sympathy with the Communists. Toyen and Heisler emigrate to Paris, leaving Teige as the main Prague-based focal point of Czech Surrealist activities.

1948   The Government’s non-Communist ministers resign in a bid to force elections. These fail, leaving Beneš presiding over an entirely Communist cabinet. He later resigns as President, and is succeeded by Gottwald. Czechoslovakia is now officially a Communist country. Karel Teige is denounced as a ‘Trotskyite degenerate’, and his work is banned .

1950-54 Švankmajer studies at the College of Applied Arts in Prague. His interest in Surrealism begins when a schoolfriend gives him a book by Karel Teige. He discovers Salvador Dalí’s paintings in a Soviet book attacking degenerate bourgeois art. Teige dies on October 1, 1951. Major purges occur in the government, culminating in Stalinist show trials in 1951 and 1952, with eleven former leaders sentenced to death. These include Rudolf Slánský, the party’s former General Secretary. Gottwald himself dies (of natural causes) on March 14 1953, a few days after Stalin.

1954-58 Švankmajer studies at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts (DAMU) at the Department of Puppetry, specialising in puppetry, direction and set design. He immerses himself in Soviet avant-garde theatre and film. After the 1956 cultural thaw in the Soviet Union, he explores the work of other leading Surrealists, including Luis Buñuel, Max Ernst and Joan Miró. His graduation production, King Stag by Carlo Gozzi, uses a combination of puppets, live actors and actors dressed as puppets - a technique revived in the films The Last Trick (Poslední trik pana Schwarzewaldea a pana Edgara, 1964), Don Juan (Don Šajn, 1969) and Faust (Lekce Faust, 1994).  

1957 Švankmajer works with D34 Theatre, where he produces his first adaptation of Don Juan. He then works as a director and designer at the State Puppet Theatre in Liberec. Švankmajer’s individual creative output starts here, with drawings, collages, graphic art and sculptures. Following the death of Gottwald’s successor Antonín Zápotocký, Communist Party leader Antonín Novotný becomes President. He will remain in power for the next ten years, his regime characterised by unbending orthodoxy towards Marxism-Leninism, and consequently resistance to reforms elsewhere in the Eastern bloc.

1958 Švankmajer is hired as a puppeteer (and works in other uncredited roles) on the film Johanes doktor Faust, directed by Emil Radok, where he meets future collaborators including the cinematographer Svatopluk Malý, the composer Zdeněk Liška and the editor Milada Sádková. This is followed by compulsory military service in Mariánské Lázně, during which Švankmajer manages to make a few drawings and gouaches on crumpled paper Director Alfréd Radok (brother of Emil) and designer Josef Svoboda create a performance called Laterna Magika for the World’s Fair in Brussels. Fusing multi-screen projection, other recorded media and immaculately synchronised live performance, it causes a sensation, and quickly finds a permanent home in Prague.

1960 Švankmajer founds the Theatre of Masks, part of the Semafor Theatre in Prague, and stages various plays, including Vítězlav Nezval’s The Story of the Ordinary Soldier and Jiří Mahen’s Shipwrecked in the Circus. During the preparation of his first production, Starched Heads, Švankmajer meets his future wife Eva (though she had already taken a shine to him two years earlier), and they marry in November.  

1962-3 Švankmajer exhibits his drawings and gouaches in the corridors of the Semafor Theatre. The painter Vlastimil Beneš and the sculptor Zbyněk Sekal invite him to join the Maj group. Švankmajer also visits Paris for the first time. After a disagreement with the management of the Semafor Theatre, Švankmajer and the rest of the Theatre of Masks team joins the famous Laterna Magika Theatre in Prague. He works alongside Emil Radok, meeting regularly to write screenplays. The Švankmajers’ daughter Veronika is born in 1963. The earliest films of the movement known as the Czech New Wave begin to be made and shown. Although Švankmajer is a contemporary of many of the directors identified with the movement (Věra Chytilová, Miloš Forman, Jaromil Jireš, Jiří Menzel, Ivan Passer and others), he does not consider his work to be a part of it.

1964 Švankmajer leaves the Laterna Magika to make his first film, The Last Trick (Poslední trik pana Schwarzewaldea a pana Edgara), working collaboration with members of the Black Theatre (including Eva). A slight cultural thaw allows greater freedom of expression, which leads to a revival of interest in Czech literature, art and cinema.

1965 The techniques used to create a series of sculptures are employed in Švankmajer’s second film, an abstract setting of J.S.Bach’s Fantasy in G Minor (J.S.Bach fantasie g-moll). At the invitation of producer A. Hans Puluj, he makes A Game With Stones (Spiel mit Steinem) in Austria. Upon arrival, he is somewhat disconcerted to find that he is expected to make the film almost single-handed. Due to economic stagnation, the Czech government introduces limited economic reforms. The Communist Party also debates the possibility of political reform for the first time. Václav Havel’s absurdist play, The Memorandum (Vyrozumění), satirises the language of bureaucracy, and finds an enthusiastic audience. Jiří Trnka makes his last puppet film The Hand (Ruka), an uncharacteristically direct attack on cultural repression.

1966 Švankmajer’s fourth film, Punch and Judy (aka The Coffin Factory, a more literal translation of Rakvičkárna) is his first self-directed tribute to the Czech puppet theatre, as well as the film in which his highly distinctive, rapid and Eisensteinian editing style can be seen to its best advantage. He also makes Et Cetera. Jan Němec makes the quasi-surrealist allegory of totalitarianism, The Party and the Guests (O slavnosti a hostech), one of the most controversial films of the Czech New Wave. It is shelved for two years, and subsequently “banned forever”. Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos’ Holocaust drama The Shop on the High Street (Obchod na korze) wins the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

1967 Švankmajer makes the film Historia Naturae (suita), dedicating it to the legendary Bohemian emperor Rudolf II. Rudolf influenced the film in many ways: his vast collections of esoteric animals and objects inspired the film’s basic conception, while his court painter was the Italian proto-Surrealist Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Antonín Novotný begins to lose his grip on power, following criticism over his handling of a student protest. Milan Kundera publishes his anti-Stalinist novel The Joke (Žert). Jiří Menzel’s Bohumil Hrabal adaptation Closely Observed Trains (Ostře sledované vlaky) becomes the best-loved film of the Czech New Wave – the following year it will win a second Best Foreign Film Oscar for Czechoslovakia in just three years.

1968 A remarkable quartet of films marks Švankmajer’s decisive transition from Mannerism to Surrealism. He considers The Garden (Zahrada) to be his first Surrealist film, and the three that follow - The Flat (Byt), Picnic with Weissmann (Picknick mit Weissmann) and A Quiet Week in the House (Tichý týden v domě) are all set in a bizarre alternative universe where the human world interacts (often violently) with the hitherto inanimate world of objects. This theme that will recur frequently in his subsequent work. Following the Soviet invasion, the Švankmajers briefly leave Czechoslovakia for Austria, where they are put up by the producer A. Hans Puluj, for whom Švankmajer makes Picnic with Weissmann. In January, the Slovak politician Alexander Dubček becomes First Secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. His first act is to abolishes censorship as the first step in an attempt at democratising socialism. The resulting ‘Prague Spring’ leads to widespread euphoria, which comes to an abrupt halt on August 21st, when Soviet tanks invade Czechoslovakia, fearful of the influence a genuinely democratic and open socialist society might have on the other Warsaw Pact countries. Many leading Czech artists and intellectuals emigrate.

1969 Švankmajer returns to Prague and makes the cryptic A Quiet Week in the House and the medium-length Don Juan (Don Šajn), his longest film to date, and a return to his roots in the world of puppetry and multimedia theatre. Anti-Soviet demonstrations herald a period of repression. In January, student Jan Palach sets himself on fire in Wenceslas Square and dies shortly afterwards. Dubček is replaced by the conservative Gustáv Husák, who begins a process of ‘normalisation’ (i.e. wide-ranging purges). The Czechoslovak Surrealist Group defiantly publishes the first issue of its magazine Analogon, but this remains a one-off for 21 years.

1970 Both the Švankmajers join the Czech Surrealist Group after meeting the writer Vratislav Effenberger, its leading theoretician. The film The Ossuary (Kostnice) is commissioned to mark the centenary of the famous Sedlec ‘bone chapel’, but the resulting film runs into official trouble, with the original soundtrack of a commentary by a Czech tour guide replaced by a Zdeněk Liška score. Švankmajer also creates sets for the Činoherní Klub theatre. Jaromil Jireš’ Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divů), based on a novel by Vítězlav Nezval, is one of the last Czech New Wave titles to receive much international exposure.

1971 Švankmajer makes Jabberwocky (Žvahlav aneb šatičky slaměného Huberta), his first encounter with the universe of Lewis Carroll. He begins experimenting with three-dimensional collage, producing such pieces as The Birth of the Antichrist. Josef Škvorecký and his wife Zdena Salivarová found Sixty Eight Publishers in Toronto, where they publish Czech-language writing that has fallen victim to Husák’s repressive cultural policies.

1972 Švankmajer makes the film Leonardo’s Diary (Leonardův deník). This should have been one of his least contentious projects, but the addition of unscripted and unauthorised vignettes of everyday Czech life leads to a vitriolic denunciation in Czech Communist newspaper Rudé právo and demands for censorship. Švankmajer begins a lengthy series of works in various media on the subject of natural history, culminating in the Švankmajer Encyclopaedia (Svank-Meyers Bilderlexikon), an attempt at cataloguing a bizarre imaginary universe.  

1973 Following attempted interference in the production and casting of The Castle of Otranto (Otrantský zámek) in the wake of criticism over Leonardo’s Diary, Švankmajer angrily resigns from Krátký Film, the backers of most of his previous output. He does not resume directing until 1979, and characterises the intervening period as one where he “was forced to rest from the cinema”. However, he spends the next decade contributing to other Czech films, usually as a production, title or special effects designer. Four films are declared as being “banned forever” by the Czech authorities: Jan Němec’s The Party and the Guests (O slavnosti a hostech, 1966), Miloš Forman’s The Fireman’s Ball (Hoří, má panenko!, 1967), Vojtěch Jasný’s All My Good Countrymen (Všichni dobří rodáci, 1967) and Evald Schorm’s The End of a Priest (Farářův konec, 1968). International interest in Czech cinema has virtually dried up.

1974 Švankmajer begins his tactile experiments, which will have a major influence on both his subsequent work and his whole artistic philosophy. Jan Němec is forced to leave Czechoslovakia following the confiscation of his passport, making him stateless. Many other leading figures in Czech cinema have already emigrated (Forman, Passer) or have been prevented from working (Chytilová, Menzel).

1975 Švankmajer’s son Václav is born. The essay ‘The Future Belongs to Masturbation Machines’ is published in the French anthology La civilisation surrealiste. The ideas introduced in the article will be developed further in the film Conspirators of Pleasure (Spiklenci slasti), twenty years later. He devises a tactile game, The Restorer, with members of the Czechoslovak Surrealist Group. Gustáv Husák becomes Czech President while continuing to serve as Communist Party head. The repressive social and cultural policies continue, though Husák keeps the masses happy by ensuring a good basic standard of living, achieved by returning the country to a full-scale command economy. Václav Havel publishes his ‘Letter to Dr. Gustáv Husák’, an argument against the stifling nature of his regime which is widely circulated.

1976 Jan and Eva Švankmajer begin making ceramics, under the pseudonyms J,E (and E.J.) Kostelec. The erotic collage Physical Education in the Service of Eroticism and Militarism juxtaposes pornographic engravings with the images of the Czech ‘Spartakiada’ large-scale physical education festivals, a theme he will return to in the film The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (Konec stalinismu v Čechách). Věra Chytilová and Jiří Menzel are finally allowed to direct films again, though The Apple Game (Hra o jablko) and Seclusion Near a Forest (Na samotě u lesa) are understandably far more conservative than the films that made their name.

1977-78 The bulk of Švankmajer’s tactile art was created in this period. These include tactile collages, drawings, implements and portraits of his colleagues in the Czech Surrealist Group. He also writes a ‘tactile scenario’, Like the Touch of a Dead Trout, and the study Perversion for the Five Senses. The Charter 77 manifesto is published in West German newspapers, calling for the implementation of human rights agreements already signed by the Czechoslovak government. Several signatories (including Havel, one of the organisers) were subsequently arrested, and many lost their jobs.

1979 Švankmajer finally completes The Castle of Otranto to his original specifications. With other Charter 77 activists, Václav Havel is sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment for dissident activities.

1980 Švankmajer makes The Fall of the House of Usher (Zánik domu Usherů), fusing his tactile experiments with Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story, recounted here entirely through animated objects and surfaces. His tactile experimentation continues with such pieces as The Morphology of Fear.  

1981 Jan and Eva Švankmajer buy a derelict chateau in Horní Staňkov, near the German border, and painstakingly transform it into a Surrealist palace.  

1982 Švankmajer makes Dimensions of Dialogue (Možnosti dialogu), his best known short. Winner of several major international awards, it is not only banned in Czechoslovakia but screened to the ideology commission of the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist Party as an example of what should not be shown. As a result, Švankmajer is forced to make Down to the Cellar (Do pivnice) in Slovakia.  

1983 Švankmajer makes The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope (Kyvadlo, jáma a naděje), his second Poe adaptation. Eva Švankmajerová is responsible for the grotesque designs. He also publishes a samizdat edition (five copies) of the book Touch and Imagination, which describes his tactile experiments. Václav Havel is freed from prison. The government reluctantly allows Miloš Forman to shoot Amadeus in Prague, deciding that the hard currency side of the deal was too important to ignore. The Czechoslovak Surrealist Group stages the exhibition The Domain of Dreams (Sféra snu) in the small town of Sovinec with minimal publicity, to avoid official interference.

1984 Britain’s Channel 4 screens The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer, a documentary by Keith Griffiths with animated sequences by the Quay Brothers that are subsequently compiled as a separate short. The full version is finally reissued as part of the BFI’s Jan Švankmajer: The Complete Short Films DVD set. Griffiths would subsequently become closely involved with Švankmajer’s films, usually as executive producer. The Czechoslovak Surrealist Group devises the anthology Metamorphoses of Humour (Proměny humoru). Milan Kundera publishes The Unbearable Lightness of Being, one of the decade’s best-known Czech novels, though it is banned in Czechoslovakia.

1985-7 Švankmajer makes Alice (Něco z Alenky), his first feature film, based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. He also begins a series of tactile poems. His short films are distributed in Britain for the first time, establishing a fervent cult following. In the wake of Mikhail Gorbachev’s economic and cultural reforms in the Soviet Union, Husák pledges that Czechoslovakia will follow suit. In reality, little is done, either by him or his successor as Communist Party leader, Milouš Jakeš. Vratislav Effenberger, the leading theoretician of the Czechoslovak Surrealist Group, dies on August 10 1986.

1988 Švankmajer makes Virile Games (Mužné hry), the first of his films to deal explicitly with a contemporary issue (football violence). He also makes a music video, promoting Hugh Cornwell’s Another Kind of Love (which reaches number 71 in the British charts) and the first of two “art breaks” for MTV, Meat Love (Zamilované maso). March 25: the first major Czech anti-communist demonstration in Bratislava, involving several thousand Catholics. Further demonstrations follow in Prague on August 21 (the twentieth anniversary of the Soviet invasion) and October 28 (the eightieth anniversary of the establishment of Czechoslovakia).

1989 Švankmajer makes Darkness-Light-Darkness (Tma, světlo, tma), which wins several major international awards. A second MTV “art break” becomes Flora, his shortest film to date. He also contributes to the anthology film Animated Self-Portraits. November: the Czech Communist government collapses in an almost violence-free ‘velvet revolution’. People shake their keys in the air as a symbol of their new-found freedom. Husák and Jakeš resign in December.

1990 Švankmajer issues two correctives to the general post-revolutionary euphoria: his essay ‘To Renounce the Leading Role’ and the film The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (Konec stalinismu v Čechách). The latter is shown by the BBC, with an accompanying documentary. At the Annecy Film Festival, Dimensions of Dialogue is given a special award for the best film ever shown there. Václav Havel is appointed President of Czechoslovakia, and in January the country holds its first democratic elections in decades. The BBC devotes much television airtime in June to Tales From Prague, a season of documentaries, films and other programmes celebrating the vitality of Czech culture. In September, the second issue of the Czechoslovak Surrealist Group’s magazine Analogon finally appears, and it continues to be published quarterly thereafter.

1991 Švankmajer and his regular producer Jaromír Kallista buy an old cinema in the village of Knovíz and establish the Athanor film studio, dedicated to the production of original Czech films.  

1992 With backing from Britain’s Channel Four, Švankmajer makes Food (Jídlo) from a screenplay written some twenty years earlier. The Welsh Arts Council organises the exhibition The Communication of Dreams in Cardiff, the first time Jan and Eva Švankmajer’s non-film work has been exhibited in the UK.  

1993 Švankmajer makes his second feature Faust (Lekce Faust), over a protracted schedule plagued with mysterious and inexplicable accidents, including two suicide attempts by crew members (one successful), cameraman Svatopluk Malý breaking the camera (and five teeth) after tripping on flat ground, and the terminal illness of lead actor Petr Čepek (who died during the week of the film’s Czech premiere). Producer Jaromír Kallista also had his car stolen, and the thief ran over his dog in the process. However, Švankmajer did acknowledge that Faust was unlikely to be directly responsible for all these disasters. On January 1, Czechoslovakia formally splits into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in what is popularly known as the ‘velvet divorce’. Václav Havel is re-elected as President of the Czech Republic and the right-wing Václav Klaus becomes Prime Minister, instituting economic reforms inspired by Margaret Thatcher.

1994 Faust receives its premiere out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Švankmajer begins his Alchemy cycle of decorative cabinets containing alchemical sculptures, inspired in part by the film’s themes. A revised and updated edition of Touch and Imagination (Hmat a imaginace) is published.  

1996 Švankmajer makes Conspirators of Pleasure (Spiklenci slasti), his third feature, a grotesque black comedy about six ‘erotic hobbyists’ in search of the ultimate sexual fantasy. The Marquis de Sade, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Luis Buñuel, Max Ernst, Sigmund Freud and Czech sexologist Bohuslav Brouk are credited as “special consultants” - though the film draws just as much on Švankmajer’s own tactile theories and experiments, as well as the masturbation machines which he created for the Švankmajer Encyclopaedia back in 1972.  

1997 Švankmajer receives the ‘Persistence of Vision’ award at the San Francisco Film Festival for his entire body of work. Over the summer, his fine art can be seen in five Prague exhibitions (as well as the work already on display in his own gallery), many relating to the massive Rudolf II exhibition that had taken over the entire city. He also makes a series of collages (Eros and Thanatos, The Miracle of the Desert, Negative Maldoror) and animated frottages. Václav Klaus’s government collapses following allegations of corruption and criticism of his reforms. The writer Bohumil Hrabal (Closely Observed Trains/Ostře sledované vlaky) dies on February 3 after falling from a window, eerily echoing the fate of some characters in his novels and stories. Jan Svěrák wins the Best Foreign Film Oscar for Kolya (Kolja), the first Czech film to do so since the 1960s. The National Gallery in Prague stages the Czech Surrealist exhibition Through the Eyes of Arcimboldo.

1998 Jan and Eva Švankmajer open their largest joint touring exhibition, Anima Animus Animation. They grant extensive access to filmmakers Bertrand Schmitt and Michel Leclerc for their documentary Les Chimères des Švankmajer (an English-subtitled version of which is included in the BFI’s Jan Švankmajer: The Complete Short Films DVD set). In the autumn, production begins on Švankmajer’s fourth feature Little Otík, based on the traditional Czech fairytale ‘Otesánek’. Václav Havel is re-elected President for a further five-year term. General elections in June produce a minority Social Democrat government under Miloš Zeman. The Czech Surrealist Group has a major exhibition, Invention, Imagination, Interpretation, in Swansea.

1999 Václav Švankmajer makes his directorial debut with the short film Fish 073 (Ryba 073). The Czech Republic joins NATO on March 12.

2000 Little Otik (Otesánek) is completed and premiered. Possibly Švankmajer’s most accessible feature to date, it juxtaposes the story of a childless couple fashioning a ‘baby’ out of wood, and the psychological development of a precocious eight-year-old girl. The fairytale that inspired it is brought to life in Eva Švankmajerová’s cut-out animation.  

2001 The History of Paintings and Sculptures (Příběhy obrazů a soch), Czech Television’s massive 13-part survey of the nation’s visual art, includes a segment on both the Švankmajers. This is subsequently released with English subtitles as an extra on the BFI’s Jan Švankmajer: The Complete Short Films DVD set. A journalists’ strike and the largest street protests since the Velvet Revolution lead to the resignation of Jiří Hodač, director-general of Czech State Television, widely regarded as a government mouthpiece.

2002 Jan and Eva Švankmajer stage the exhibition Mouth To Mouth at the Gothic Annecy Castle in France. The Communist Party achieves its best general election result since the Velvet Revolution, coming third, though the Social Democrats remain in power. Prague suffers a devastating flood in August.

2003 Švankmajer is awarded an honorary doctorate from Prague’s Fine Arts Faculty for his contribution to a wide range of artforms including puppetry and film. Václav Havel comes to the end of his final term as President, and is replaced by Václav Klaus.

2004 Švankmajer’s 70th birthday is marked by a major exhibition, Food, jointly with Eva. It is staged at Prague Castle’s riding stables, transformed into an elaborate labyrinth for the occasion. The Czech Republic joins the European Union on May 1.

2005 Švankmajer completes his fifth feature Lunacy (Šílení), though its Czech premiere in November is overshadowed by the death of Eva Švankmajerová on October 20 after a long illness.  

2006 Švankmajer curates a retrospective of his and Eva’s work at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, Imaginative Eye – Imaginative Hand. Lunacy is the official Czech entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, but fails to make the final shortlist.  

2007 Švankmajer begins work on his sixth feature, Surviving Life (Přežít svůj život). BFI Southbank stages Britain’s first complete retrospective of his work, and the BFI (which has championed Švankmajer’s work since the 1980s) releases the first complete DVD edition of his short films.  

Posted on 2nd December 2007
Under: Animation, Czechoslovakia, Jan Švankmajer, Czech Republic | 3 Comments »

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