Prague Rock: A Smashup of Shorts From a Surrealist Polymath

The desire of objects: The Flat (1969)
photo: Kino International
The desire of objects: The Flat (1969)

The notorious animator of Prague arrives on DVD in force, in more ways than one. This two-disc package contains not only 14 of his most famous shorts, dating from 1965's A Game With Stones to 1992's Food , but also enough amazing buttress to support Svankmajer's nomination as world-class renaissance figure: poems, sculptures, drawings, paintings, ceramics, collages, and cabineted creations fashioned largely from taxidermied animals. He's probably the world's most accomplished artist at play in the fields of détournement, as well as the last surrealist standing, his films influential smash-ups of cultural re-exploration, sociosexual commentary, Czech puppet traditions, food used in ways it shouldn't be, things that shouldn't be food but are, dream frustration, and a crystalline faith in the desire of objects. Of course, "collected" is a misnomer; about half of his shorts are here (leaving room for a Vol. 2), including time-honored faves Punch and Judy (1966); the almost didactic but spectacularly complex Dimensions of Dialogue (1982); The Fall of the House of Usher (1980), arguably the most inventive translation of that oft filmed tale; and Down to the Cellar (1983), one of the most expressive short films ever made, a barely animated anxiety attack about a small girl, an infinite cellar, and a potato bin. There are major pieces I'd never seen, including the 20-second Flora (1989), the mordant burial-party-without-mourners farce Picnic With Weissmann (1969), and most remarkably, A Quiet Week in the House (1969), a drama of voyeurism and process (memorably entailing the secret lives of rusted screws, a perambulating cow's tongue, a windup chicken, and pigs' feet tortured by black wire) that is cut (Gatling gun style) and shot (handheld) like it was made yesterday.

 
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