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Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Jan Svankmajer "Et Cetera"











Jan Svankmajer’s surreal Et Cetera is one of those movies you either like or, as one reviewer for Amazon puts it, consider “quite dreadful”. It is in three parts. In the first a man use two chairs and a gradually expanding set of wings to learn to fly. In fact the two chairs end up right by each other at the conclusion of this section and a new cycle of endeavour suggests itself. In the second section a man trains an animal to do tricks though as it concludes the two have become virtually indistinguishable, the roles reversed. Finally a man builds a house though quickly realises he has to erase the house walls in order to enter or leave it. This is the theme I presume – the pointless endeavours of man, the cycle of events of history. Et Cetera is one of very many movies by a hugely prolific and distinctive animator. Remember in 1966 Jan was producing this and other movies at a time of Soviet domination and the curtailment of freedoms in Czechoslovakia so it is quite possible to discern all sorts of symbolism in his work. All his films have assumed the status of classics, in part due to some extraordinary later work, and this seven minute early piece does provide an early example of the man who produced the sublime Alice or Faust. The mechanical, rather ugly sounds and the puppet movements of the figures are all his stock in trade, though he does appear to have a wide range of animation techniques at his disposal. I like the textured backgrounds with figures superimposed on ancient maps or texts which presumably add an element of historical perspective to what appears to be a perpetual and ultimately fruitless struggle. Of course, as is my mantra, YouTube gives only a taste of the real thing so if you wish to see Jan's work in all its finery buy Jan Svankmajer - The Complete Short Films, a three DVD collection on sale here in the UK for anything from £16 to £30 - a bargain in any language and it contains more or less everything he has created from The Last Trick in 1964 to a trailer for his 2005 Lunacy. Now it would be lunacy not to purchase at these prices! I have just done so.

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