Jan Svankmajer
Johann Sebastian Bach: Fantasy in G minor
Medium: short film
Year: 1965
Writer/director: Jan Svankmajer
Keywords: animation
Country: Czechoslovakia
Language: Czech
Format: 10 minutes
Url: www.imdb.com/title/tt0059335
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 17 March 2013
It's a spartan music video for a composer who died in 1750, involving black-and-white close-ups of architecture.
We begin by following a man in a hat and coat. This is live-action, not animation. Svankmajer does almost no animation here, actually, instead mostly doing it as an exercise in editing. Anyway, this bloke we're following goes into a hollow wreck of a building and climbs its stairs. At the top is a church organ, which shouldn't be a surprise since Bach was best known for his work on the organ. Our hero plays it.
What he plays is of course Bach's Fantasy in G minor. The rest of the film is just close-ups of bits of buildings, edited in time to the music so that this progression of still images is dynamic.
To be honest, I'm not sure whether or not Svankmajer's trying to say anything here. It's possible that he has some kind of grand theme going on with all these tumbledown buildings and the way he's arranging his shots of them. It feels like a prison movie. We see lots of locks and chains. Doors are ancient and impassable. Windows are barred. However interspersed with this are occasional snippets of animation in which the stone gets eaten away and grows holes. There's a motif of round apertures. Window grilles fit into this. Random things (e.g. salt and pepper pots) are broken. There are rocks in a letterbox. Someone has carved scratched tallies into a wall. It feels old, cold and forgotten, until of course it starts disintegrating.
The walls crack, then the finale is of doors opening in our faces. It feels almost triumphant. We might perhaps have been walled up in this place for decades, but if so, then now we're free!
However to be honest, I think it's equally likely that Svankmajer just likes looking at walls. The taps, for instance, aren't easy to shoehorn into any overall theme. They're taps. They're kind of cool, if you're a person who likes looking at walls. Does there need to be a reason to include them? Regardless of whether or not there's a deeper meaning, I think Svankmajer's clearly playing with imagery again. He thinks walls are fascinating, especially on delapidated buildings that are probably as old as Bach himself. He wants to show us all the cool things you can see if you look at a wall... and I can get behind that. It's almost fun, in an austere, humourless minimalist way.
One curiosity, though... this was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes and won the Jury Prize for Best Short Film.
Does this film have a plot? No. Characters? No. Any obvious meaning? Not really. It's a Bach music video in black-and-white of Czech stonework and ironmongery in 1965. Maybe a bit long, as with A Game With Stones, but at ten minutes it's perfectly watchable.