Jan Svankmajerpuppets
The Last Trick
Medium: short film
Year: 1964
Writer/director: Jan Svankmajer
Keywords: animation, fantasy, puppets
Country: Czechoslovakia
Language: Czech
Format: 12 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058486/
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 14 March 2013
It's the directorial debut of Jan Svankmajer, Czech surrealist animator and fruitcake. It's also reviewer-proof. It has no plot, no drama and is all about weirdness for its own sake, faintly disturbing juxtaposition and making the audience boggle. All I can do is try to describe what happens.
Firstly, it barely counts as animated film. There's a bit of animation, but it's mostly puppets, sometimes with actors inside them. There are two characters, whom we'll call Mr Edgar and Mr Schwarzwald. They're magicians. They're human from the neck down, but their heads are gigantic scary puppet monster things with crudely painted features. Imagine a life-size Mr Punch. It's a bit like that.
We begin with a title sequence, in which Svankmajer finds creative ways of writing everyone's names for the opening credits. After that, Mr Edgar and Mr Schwarzwald start doing stage tricks.
1. Schwarzwald opens the top of his head, to reveal that instead of brains, he has gears and clockwork. He then drops in a fish and eats it by sticking a handle in his ear and winding the contents of his head. A live beetle crawls out of his earhole, by the way. In this film, men's heads always contain beetles. I'm not sure what Svanmajer's saying with this, but I'd guess something to do with decay, Kafka, compost heaps, acidic commentary on the worth of mankind and other such sentiments. It looks striking, anyway.
2. Edgar reveals that his head contains a violin. It's a real, full-size violin. Did I mention that these guys have big heads? He also has a beetle in his head too, obviously. Anyway, Schwarzwald puts cotton wool in his ears while Edgar makes an animated dog/donkey dance on a washing line. I say "dog/donkey" because it varies.
3. Now there are two violins, plus again the beetle. Schwarzwald grows extra arms like Kali and plays both violins simultaneously, along with a trumpet from the top of his head, plus drums, cymbals and more. Also the painted puppet eyes occasionally move. This is animation in a short film that doesn't have much of it, so it draws attention to itself.
4. Edgar juggles his own Russian doll heads.
5. Schwarzwald pulls a long stick from his ear and makes chairs jump through hoops.
You get the idea. There's not much point in any of it, but it's attention-grabbing. It keeps you watching for twelve minutes, anyway. It ends in a handshake competition that involves dismemberment. I don't know if there's much I can say about this one, except "crumbs" and "gosh". It's proof against conventional forms of criticism. It simply is. It does the dark, peculiar bidding of its creator, Svankmajer. It's nice to know that he started his career as he was going to go on, anyway. To be honest it doesn't really add up to anything, but it's cool and I'll be watching more of these.