Jan Svankmajer is Europe's pre-eminant surrealist animator whose body of short & feature length films has been an enormous influence on modern avant garde & the stop-motion animators the world over. His triptych Judlo or Food (1992) consists of three short films, Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, macabre comedies using live actors as though they are stop motion puppets.
A Few Short Films
by Jan Svankmajer
Food: Breakfast features a crabby gent in what appears to be a dive-hotel room for the down & out. He sits down at a little table across from a slack-jawed seemingly entranced gentleman who has worn & faded instructions hanging about his neck on how to to obtain breakfast.
Coins are inserted in the man's mouth, his nose is twisted, & a cafeteria breakfast issues from him. Punching the man in the chin gets a knife & fork to come out of his ears. A kick in the shins causes a napkin to pop up from his pocket.
This whole while the breakfast-source has seemed to be mesmerized or asleep. When the breakfasting gent finishes his meal, he goes into a trance, & the food-despensing gent awakens. He removes the worn instructions & puts them on the other man, then leaves the room.
A third man comes in with coins, & begins the process anew, the original breakfaster now having become the breakfast machine. Outside the door is an endless breadline continuing the process into infinity.
Of the triptyche, Breakfast is by far the best piece & will not even come close to being equalled by the other two parts, though they are certainly more than worthwhile extensions of the amazingly original first part.
The originality of Breakfast as a whole is exceeded by some of its parts, like the view down the interior of the human body, & nothing that startling & clever will be seen in the other segments.
Food: Lunch again features two gents feasting, in a combination of live action & stop motion & even some collage imagery.
The two gents in a cafe eat the bouquet of flowers on their table, then drink the dirty water the flowers were in. The older gent gets most of the flowers & all the water, so the younger eats the vase.
The older then begins to eat the napkins with knife & fork. The younger, not to be outdone, removes his handkerchief from a pocket & eats that.
They then eat their shoes & socks, belt & suspenders, pants, everything they're wearing, even their shorts, which smell bad.
They are at last sitting naked at the table, & so finish off the plates & tablecloth, then begin to eat away at the table & chairs, & last of all the cutlery.
Not yet sated, the older gent then coughs up his cutlery & descends upon the youth. It's a wonderful joky piece of animation over all, but comes off as a rather juvenile jest compared to Breakfast, & the third piece, Dinner, will be even more juvenile.
In Food: Dinner, an ugly fellow not as gross as Mr Creasote in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life pigs out in a cafe, slathering all sorts of sauces on human body parts, nailing a fork to his hand, & digging in.
At a nearby table a woman squeezes lemons on a double-mound of boobies & starts eating them as though there tasty cupcakes. At still another table a man is having a snack of pecker & balls.
Definitely not Svankmajer's best conceived & executed jest, it's a good guess he first thought of it when he was eleven or twelve years old, & by the time he got round to filming it, it was long past time to move on to something better.
Svankmajer's fascination for animating food recurs in many of his films. Meat Love (Zamilovane Maso, 1989) is a minor work, but as with everything by Svankmajer, it's amusing.
Fat slabs of meat come alive with lustful feelings. They turn on the radio for some sexy mood music, role themselves gaily in flour, & leap into the frying pan. And that's pretty much the whole thing.
The ultimate "talking heads" film, Dimensions of Dialogue (Moznosti dialogu, 1982) is another triptyche.
Act I: Exhaustive Discussion begins with a head made of food & a head made of kitchen utensils at odds with one another. It proceeds for some while to show the destruction of food with knives & scissors & utensils of varioius kind.
It's war rather than dialogue, & when the food is overcome, a second utensil-head, of writing implements, turns on the former victor.
All sorts of objects & utensils are reduced to chunks & pieces through manic stop-motion animation.
The heads devour & regurgitate each other into new forms & the new forms eat & regurgitate in a a parable of Evolution until we have clay heads very human looking still continously devouring & regurgitating.
In Act II: Passionate Discourse, the heads have become male & female, fall in love, & develop other clay body parts as needed.
They begin blending into one another through sensual touching, reducing themselves to piles of mashed clay.
They reform themselves as a complete man & woman of clay sitting at a table. On the table between them is what may be their infant or a pet. It exists as a formless but friendly lump of clay.
The couple compete for the lump's attention, then begin treating it cruelly. Soon they are throwing the abused friendly lump at one another until they become angry.
Turning on one another vicioiusly, they begin mutually to destroy one another, easily done since they're just moist clay.
For Act III: Factual Conversation the clay couple are gone but the table remains. A drawer opens & out crawls the clay, turning itself into two heads of middleaged men.
The heads begin spitting out & withdrawing back into their mouths various useful objects, interacting with one another by the physical use of their tongues to manipulate the various objects to potential mutualbenefit.
Although at first it is all done in a friendly beneficial manner, their exchanges become increasingly irrational, & finally destructive.
As animation Dimensions of Dialogue is extremely appealing & fun to watch. If any symbolic meaning is assumed, it's cinical & moralistic, & not Svankmajer at his strongest, since the more obviously tries to preach (as he occasionally tries to do), the more he weakens rather than stengthens his animated films.
A similar claymation work is Darkness/Light/Darkness (Tma/Svetlo/Tma, 1989). A clay hand knocks on the door of a tiny room then enters, goes to the door opposite like Thing from the Addams Family, & lets two eyeballs in. These are attached to the first two fingers & become the hand's eyes. A second hand enters the room, goes to the window, & captures a moth made of ears, sticking them to the sides of its palm.
Now one of the hands can see, the other hand can hear, which would seem to be the rudimentary components of a parable.
A nose knocks at the door, makes piggy sounds, then runs away. Later it returns & the two hands grab the nose & pull it into the room, discovering it is attached to a head without eyes or ears.
The hands take off their own eyes & ears & continue to rebuild the head as tongue & teeth & brain come in at the door. The head seems quite happy now, & the hands attach themselves the neck to serve as feet, until low & behold, who should come to the door but actual feet.
The hands rearrange everyting so now it's a head with hands sticking out the sides of its neck & feet below. But even then there is pounding at the door! It's a pecker & two nuts.
The process continues until a clay man is completed from parts, built or restored by its own clay hands. Alas the room this occurred in is scarsely larger than a little girl's doll house & life is a misery.
Ah, more claymation heads. Another Kind of Love (1988) is a UK/German production of an English language music video, featuring Hugh Cornwell singing the title song.
Ann empty suit of clothes sitting in a chair develops a clay head, hand, feet forming within the clothing. When an androgynous figure is complete, it turns into the singer Hugh Cornwell, but then the clay figure returns as female, continuing odd transformations.
Singer & clay girl at one point appear as two heads on the seats of dancing chairs. Then Hugh's no longer clay but the female figure exudes from out from the wall as a temptress. Shoes are animated with teeth & tongue singing the choral parts.
As the song approaches the end, the singer is himself sucked into the wall in the clay woman's embrace, vanishing except for his coat hanging on a nail.
It's not a bad song & the crazy claymation that goes with it is darned fun, & Svankmajer insures that only perverse meaning can be assumed of the lyrics. Considering that it wasn't wholly his own project, it seems very much a Svankmajer film.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl