Jan Svankmajer, Profiles in Directing

Ryan Marshall


Jan Svankmajer, born September 4th, 1934, is best known for his genuinely fantastical adaptations of popular works such as Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking-Glass (1988’s Alice), 1994’s Faust, and his exquisite short works such as “Food” and “Dimensions of Dialogue.” An exceptionally talented multi-media artist whose work spans over half a century, Svankmajer is a true auteur whose trademarks are immediately distinctive: he often incorporates terrifying stop-motion animation into live action environments, and his soundscapes are simply delectable—as those who experience the sensation known as ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) will know all too well.

Before making his first short films in the 1960s, Svankmajer practiced more traditional art forms such as puppetry, sculpture and even theater direction. The aforementioned Alice was his first foray into feature-length filmmaking, and it was an unforgettable one. Six years later, he made Faust (which undoubtedly features some of the director’s finest work), and two years after that came the hilarious Sadean satire Conspirators of Pleasure.

The 2000s saw Svankmajer trying his hand at more conventional narratives that nevertheless retained his signature weirdness and impeccable craftsmanship. Some examples of this are 2000’s Little Otik, about a grieving couple hiding a nasty secret in the form of a man-eating baby made of wood, and Lunacy, wherein a mentally unstable man befriends an elder claiming to be the Marquis De Sade. Svankmajer is currently hard at work on what will ultimately be his seventh and final feature: Insects.

When it comes to phantasmagoria, few are as consistent and accessible (though that is a matter of opinion) as the great Czech animator. His works are at once incredibly endearing, funny, scary, and perceptive in their own strange way. Though it is sad that he will soon retire, he’ll have left behind quite an impressive legacy.


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