Jan Svankmajer: The Creepiest Alice Nightmare You Never Had

21 Jul


It would be criminal of me to bring up the Quay Brothers and not Jan Svankmajer.

Jan Svankmajer is a Czech film maker, born in 1934 who is also internationally reknowned for his stop motion films. Many people assume he was a major inspiration on the Quay Brothers, and indeed the stylistic similarities are plentiful at first glance, but despite that the Quays did a short film homage to Svankmajer titled The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer , the truth is that they discovered him rather late, after most of their style had already been formulated. Kindred spirits are all they are.

Svankmajer is from Prague which has a long history of puppet theater which was an enormous influence on him. He studied at the College of Applied Arts in Prague and later in the Department of Puppetry at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts. He worked with Semafore Theater and Laterna Magika, two famous Czech  visionary theaters before beginning his film career in 1964.

A few years later Svankmajer embraced surrealism heart and soul and thus began the film work that has made him famous. He made his first surrealistly influenced film The Garden in 1968,  joined the Czechoslovakian Surrealist Group and married Eva Švankmajerová, an internationally known surrealist painter, ceramicist, and writer. Svankmajer and Svankmajerova (in Czech culture when a woman marries she takes her husband’s last name plus the postfix –ova) collaborated on several of his movies, including Alice, Faust, and Otesánek.

Today we will focus on Alice. I don’t think it takes much guesswork to figure out it’s a take on Alice in Wonderland, but with more scissors and creepy dolls.

Allow me to demonstrate:

As long as we’re here we might as well show a bit from Faust, which shows Svankmajer’s puppet, theater and surrealist influences all at once, while being a bit more linear.

Lastly, i cannot recommend highly enough his film Little Otik from 2000. It’s a story, not an experiment in surrealism, so if you really just prefer stories you needn’t worry. The story centers around the modern telling of an old Czech folktale about a couple who raises a log like a child. It’s mostly live action with some of Svankmajer’s stop motion worked with extraordinarily appropriateness. You just have to trust me, it is REALLY, REALLY awesome, and totally worth seeing. Little Otik.

Little Otik. Just go watch it.


Posted by on July 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


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2 responses to “Jan Svankmajer: The Creepiest Alice Nightmare You Never Had

  1. jackhavock

    August 30, 2012 at 5:26 am

    Steampunk, Jan Svankmajer (Alice is my all time favorite film), and weird opera. How can I not love this! I would suggest watching the movie version of “The Tales of Hoffman”, a strange steampunkish opera. It has an automaton and mad scientist and is brilliant!

    Does the Steampunk Opera have any Svankmajer elements?

    • paulms

      August 30, 2012 at 9:54 am

      The Doll(s) will be portrayed by puppets.


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