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28th May 2007 22:13:00
Posted by Dave Foster

Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films in June

News
BFI Video have announced the UK DVD release of Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films on 25th June 2007 priced at £29.99. Described as “the most comprehensive DVD collection ever assembled of all 26 short films by Czech Surrealist filmmaker-animator Jan Svankmajer", this release from the BFI features nearly eight hours of material, compiled on three discs and packaged in a deluxe digipack with a lavish 54-page illustrated booklet.

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. 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.

Described in the press release as “a truly must-have item for any Svankmajer fan”, the release follows a visit by the director to BFI Southbank on 29 May to discuss his work, after a preview of his latest film Lunacy. Lunacy opens for a two-week run on 1 June, part of a complete Jan Svankmajer retrospective season at BFI Southbank from 1 - 16 June, a selection of which will then go on tour.

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.

The third disc of two-and-a-half hours of extra material includes a bonus short, Johanes Doktor Faust (1958); the original 54-minute version of The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984) with a brand new introduction by the Quay Brothers; the French documentary Les Chimères des Svankmajer (2001); interviews with Jan and Eva Svankmajer and examples of their work in other media. There's also a chance to see some Svankmajer special effects, created for commercial Czech features when he was banned from making his own films. The 54-page booklet includes an introduction to Svankmajer by Michael O'Pray; detailed film notes by Michael Brooke, Simon Field, Michael O'Pray, Julian Petley, A.L. Rees and Philip Strick; notes on the extras and much more.

Extras:

  • Johanes Doktor Faust (d. Emil Radok, 1958) This 16-minute puppet adaptation of the Faust legend contains Svankmajer's first screen credit (as a puppeteer), and was directed by Emil Radok, who became Svankmajer's first great creative mentor at the famous Laterna Magika theatre, where Svankmajer worked in the early 1960s.

  • Nick Carter in Prague (d. Oldrich Lipský, 1977) Five excerpts from a popular Czech comedy-fantasy featuring a Svankmajer-designed man-eating plant with a tongue as distinctive as a signature. He was banned from filmmaking between 1973 and 1979, and worked as a special effects supervisor at Prague's Barrandov studios.

  • The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (d. Keith Griffiths, 1984) The original 54-minute version of this documentary about Svankmajer's short films and creative philosophy, as broadcast by Channel 4 in June 1984, after which 40 minutes of clips and talking heads were jettisoned and the Quay Brothers' animated links recompiled as a 14-minute short (included on their own DVD). Also features a newly-shot 3-minute introduction by the Quays.

  • Les Chimères des Svankmajer (d. Bertrand Schmitt/Michel Leclerc, 2001) 58-minute French documentary about the creative partnership of Jan and Eva Svankmajer. Includes interviews with both artists and their creative collaborators, loads of examples of their work across multiple media, scenes of Svankmajer at work on Little Otik (plus clips from his earlier films, including the first three features), and glimpses of their legendary house.

  • Czech TV Interview (d. Ales Kisil, 2001) 9-minute extract from this massive 13-part Czech TV series about the nation's visual art. Mostly incorporates an interview with Svankmajer, focusing on his fine art, but there's also a short sequence about Eva Svankmajerova's paintings.

  • Lunacy trailer (2005)
    ... Just to ensure that the collection contains footage from all five features.

    The shorts have been digitally remastered and are presented in their original aspect ratios (4:3 with the exception of Svankmajer’s only non 4:3 film, J.S.Bach – Fantasy in G Minor which is presented 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen). We’re also told that everything throughout the set is native PAL (unlike the US releases, which were PAL>NTSC conversions).

    Audio is Dolby 2.0 (a mixture of Czech, French and English dialogue) with optional English and Hard of Hearing subtitles (including extras).

    Artwork (sans BBFC ratings) and menus follow...


    Disc 1 - First Title Selection Menu

    Disc 1 - Second Title Selection Menu

    Disc 2 - First Title Selection Menu

    Disc 2 - Second Title Selection Menu

    Disc 3 - Main Menu

    The Ossuary - Soundtrack Selection Menu

    Discs 1 and 2 have half a dozen themed programmes, which are a halfway house between 'Play All' and selecting individual titles...

    Disc 1 - Programme Menu

    Disc 1 - Sample Programme
    About Dave Foster
    Dave has been loitering the virtual halls of TDF for a decade now and the majority of that time has been spent as Editor of the Home Cinema section (formerly DVDTimes). He doesn't contribute reviews anywhere near as much as he once did (or indeed would like to) but when he does it will invariably be something in the anime or Asian film area.


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