I watched "Little Otik" this week, by stop-mo legend Jan Svankmajer, which led me to discover a great site: Alchemist of the Surreal ...tons of interviews, pics, artwork, poetry, etc. Here are some quotes:

"If western animators have tended to emphasise the procreative nature of their work, boosting their ability to give life to objects and drawings, the Czech surrealist film-maker and animator Jan Svankmajer continually reminds us of the technique's deadly flipside, its fascination with destruction and its power to take back the "life" that it gives. Steeped in Prague's alchemical traditions, his magic is a black one, from the murderous puppets of The Last Trick (1964) to the sorcery of his Faust (1994). Although Conspirators of Pleasure only features small bursts of 3-D animation, one level of the film continues to comment on animation's sadism...The use of live actors adds a menacing realism...which would never be possible in the all-cartoon world films of the similarly sadistic Tex Avery."

"There's a lot of misunderstanding about surrealism. People still see it through the prism of certain works of art, by Dali for example; they look at it superficially in terms of aesthetics. But there is no surrealist aesthetics; it's a psychology, a view of the world, which poses new questions about freedom, eroticism, the subconscious, and which attracts a certain sort of people - subversive types. It offers an alternative to the ideology offered by most modern societies, and it's a great adventure; it's tried to return art, which has become representational, aesthetic, commercial, to its level of magic ritual. And that's why I consider myself a surrealist. If art has any purpose, I think it's to liberate... both the artist and the spectator. And if it doesn't liberate, it's just a commodity, an aesthetic game."

"Everything around us has its own life, even inanimate objects, because a life was put into them by people who had contact with it. Now I'm sure you know from your own experience that you touch the same object every time in a slightly different way. It depends on what kind of mood you are in at that time. You can take the same objects into your hand with a great love. At another time you can just throw the object because you were angry. The emotions which are present in us at the moment become part of those objects we touch. Those moments, those emotions, have been printed into them. At the same time it can be said that the object is a testament to all the events that take place in the environments that they are in and have been in, a funeral, crime, murder, wedding. All the events are imprinted in those objects. Therefore I very much prefer old objects to new ones because the new ones don't have any content. The same particular idea relates to my objection to computer animation, because the objects are created artificially and have no content or soul as new objects. I believe that under certain circumstances objects which are charged and contain emotion are able to reveal those emotions. Specifically when people are in a frame of mind or certain sensibility when this communication between their emotional state and the quote unquote emotional state of the object are conveyed. This is the reason that I use very particular objects in my films and it is my wish and intention that the objects will reveal the kind of content and emotions and expressions that I know is in them and that will affect the viewer. That is where I see magic in animation. In that sense you can compare an animator to a shaman ."


herself said...

Interesting perspective on surrealism, that of it being about re-claiming art to ritualistic function, apart from symbolic representation or aesthetic.

But why is it, Jeffery, that so much of "subconscious" "freeing" artworks contain gruesome, crass, brutal, savage, hideous, and repulsive expressions?

Is it that when we reject civilized society, and peel back the constructed facade of human culture, we see the bloody grotesquery of godless sadism uncloaked? Or is that simply all a long list of artists can find within themselves?

I've yet to grasp an appreciation of this, beyond it being a therapeutic dumping ground for the inner uglies.

Ubatuber said...

"But why is it, Jeffery, that so much of "subconscious" "freeing" artworks contain gruesome, crass, brutal, savage, hideous, and repulsive expressions?"

Great point! Though I have seen an abundance of 'free' artwork that isn't gruesome (Impressionism comes to mind), I think maybe its because for most of us, these are the aspects of our humanity that we repress the most? The animal urges...I know for me personally, I tend to internalize all the bad stuff...been bottling things up since birth...drives my wife crazy...so when I get into the 'zone', when I'm disconnected a bit mentally from what I'm working on, when the floodgates open up onto the canvas or screen, its all the muck that spews out...
Also has something to do with childhood I think, with holding onto the inner child, the fear of the dark, the monster under the bed...
There's something to be said about environment too, the city I live in is steeped in old-timey creepiness, so I'm sure thats a factor in my choice of genre...

Darkstrider said...

Yeah, I agree it's largely about repressed instincts. The entertainment industry in mnodern society has created these weird conventions around violence and sexuality and packaged them in this bizarre sugarcoated way... you now, "It's ok, the bullet went straight through my shoulder. Let me cauterize it with my cigar and drink some whiskey and I'll get right back to kicking some ass."

It's what Del Toro "cool stylized violence", and it's rampant all over TV and movies. It desensitizes us to violence, and at the same time it makes violence seem somehow fun.

How poweerful it can be when a director (like Del Toro or Svankmajer) presents some violence or some gruesomeness that ignores the hollywood conventions... something other than the tiny cut under Bruce Willis' eye and instead presents something that's truly shocking. One thing it does is it makes you re-examine the entire spectrum of Hollywood convention. For instance, on Mythbusters they did this whole thing about TV/movie stereotypes, like how cars always explode when they go over a cliff or get shot in the gas tank, and how cops always duck behind a cardoor to be safe from flying bullets. In real life, that just don't work!

And the same is true about violence and goriness. There's the Hollywood conventions, there's the reality (which to must of us in a civilized world is something we never see).

But there's more to it than that. I mean, hoiw dull would it be if fillmmakers couldn't explore issues like violence and goriness? If all we had was Lifetime TV for women? This is the powerful, truly dramatic stuff... it's there in life, it's available to any artist who wants to really fully explore what it is to be human. And when it's explored by a good filmmaker or artist, how powerful it can be!

Or there's the other explanation....That Shelley is just a wimp!

Grant said...

"Many quite popular films are filled with violence. I think the difference between those and my films is that I show the cause and effect of violent activity. It's not a Donald Duck situation where he get a brick in the back of the head and gets up and walks away in the next frame. Mine have violence which keeps Donald Duck in the hospital for six months and creates a trauma which he will remember for the rest of his life." -- Peter Greenaway