Svankmajer & the Brothers Quay: wonderfully weird animation

Let’s start the week with some wonderful weirdness (start as you mean to go on, after all). John Cusack, guest blogging on BoingBoing, celebrate the work of the ‘Prague alchemist of film’, Jan Svankmajer, a truly remarkable, artist who has been one of my favourite animators for many years. From Cusack’s post: ” They call Svankmajer a surrealist, but his visions make as much sense to me as escalators or velcro. It’s hyperreality, and after all, it exists because he made it, so there it is —just like styrofoam and Fresca. Absurdism is the logical extension of the truth— or of current trends. Surrealism is true becouse it unearthers the subconscious, the stuff of fever dreams and fractured memory. It exists if one has the guts or madness to bring it to be… ( combine Surrealism and Absurdism and mix it with Dada, you get the Sex Pistols).”

(a clip from Svankmajer’s Alice in Wonderland)

I’ve been in love with the cinema of Svankmajer for a couple of decades – like Cusack I can’t remember where I first saw his work, probably a short piece somewhere, but it got under the skin and into the brain, seeping, trickling, dripping slowly into the subconcious where it lived and moved, casting strange shadows on the screen of the mind… I sought out his feature works in the arthouse cinemas and anywhere else I could find them – and as Cusack notes in his article, one of the wonderful things about today is that you can now find huge amounts of his work easily online through YouTube. When I first found Svankmajer’s works I had to look about arthouse cinemas for a screening or a retrospective at a film fest, now you can go and explore it whenever you want – god, sometimes I love the web… His work is fascinating; often mixing live action with various forms of animation; it can be funny, it can be creepy, it can be downright disturbing, combining the seemingly everyday then watching the unusual, the odd, the downright weird and surreal bleeding through that everyday, a world where logic can melt and flow like a Dali timepiece.

And since I’m on a Svankmajer kick, here’s a clip from Dimensions of Dialogue, which many of you have quite probably seen a bit of without knowing who it was by as it has been used frequently in a number of programmes over the years and spawned countless imitators:

As with all the most interesting artists in any medium I’ve found developing a fascination with one artist has lead me to others that I might never have come across otherwise, which is one of the remarkable qualities of any good art, be it animation, comics, books, music, film, you never take it in isolation, other works you’ve seen feed into your experience of the new work and the new work sparks ideas and images in your imagination that lead you on paths to other works and those lead you to more… Here’s the Brothers Quay (huge admirers of Svankmajer) with their famous Street of Crocodiles:

and part 2:

Considering how easy it is to find some of this work nowaday you owe it yourself to go exploring for more – especially if you love work by people like Tim Burton or Edward Gorey or Neil Gaiman, or you devoured the disturbingly weird old Doom Patrol strips. Go look; if you haven’t seen them before, you’ll thank me later, if you have seen them you’ll be delighted to find it is so simple to rewatch them now. And you’ll have strange dreams…

Going down the rabbit hole

We had one of the top talents in Brit comics in the Edinburgh FPI yesterday in the form of Bryan Talbot, creator of Luther Arkwright. Bryan has spent several years researching and working on his new work Alice In Sunderland, a large, hardback graphic novel with Lewis Carroll’s Alice books at its core, but going off onto all sorts of related tangents which influenced Carroll and his work, from local history in and around Sunderland, folklore, the family history of Carroll and of Alice Liddell’s family and some of Bryan’s own personal life. There can’t be many creators who can work in Lewis Carroll, the Venerable Bede, smugglers, naval heroes, the Jabberwock, mass murder, cholera, the Civil War, white rabbits and the ghost of Sid James and make it all work.

I’ve been dying to read Alice in Sunderland since I interviewed Bryan last summer and I haven’t been disappointed. Sure I am biased since Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are two of my all-time favourite books and have been since I was a boy; as an adult I still adore the sheer dreamlike imagination of them but also came to admire the incredible intellect behind them, Carroll’s astonishing use of immensely clever word play (and number play too, for that matter – check the Annotated Alice to see what I mean). No wonder Alice has been such an incredibly influential work, re-interpreted endlessly in more books, films, animations (despite liberties with the books I do like the old Disney version because of the richness of the animation, but my favourite animated version is by Jan Svankmajer – the Prague Alchemist of Film and one of my favourite animators), songs, games and, of course, comics.

With such a mixture of local history and literature and folklore I think Alice in Sunderland is one of those graphic novels which can easily crossover into the mainstream – if you don’t normally read anything in comics form and assume it is pretty much all capes and tights, ignore your preconceptions and have a look at Alice; there are many different and wandering routes through the rabbit hole and this is one of the more scenic ways. I posted some pictures from the signing on the FPI Flickr stream and also tried shooting a couple of very brief video clips as an experiment to see how it came out: