Svankmajer, Surrealism, and the Sex Pistols: John Cusack

I don't remember when I first experienced the work of Czech artist and animator Jan Švankmajer. Maybe late-night arts programming on cable TV, or an obscure indie film fest. His trippy shorts are dark gems. What I love about being alive right now is that all of this stuff is so freely available, just floating around in the ether like recallable memories. You can just stumble right through his entire body of work online, with so little effort. It's so much easier to find good weird these days.

Take his 1988 live-action/stop-motion animation retelling of Lewis Carrol's Alice, for instance. At the time of its release, the New York Times said his version "unearths the fears that animate dreams and nightmares." There's the crying scene: Alice's desperate clawing, her tears filling up the room, the mouse-man parting her long blonde hair to construct a little camp and a cooking fire right there on her scalp, a hearth on which to heat up his dinner.

Then there's Meat Love, in which vein-sloppy steak slabs court each other and get it on, only to be flour-dipped and pan-fried by a Hand of God before climax.

They call Svankmajer a surrealist, but his visions make as much sense to me as escalators or velcro. It's hyperreality, and after all, it exists because he made it, so there it is —just like styrofoam and Fresca.

Absurdism is the logical extension of the truth— or of current trends. Surrealism is true becouse it unearthers the subconscious, the stuff of fever dreams and fractured memory. It exists if one has the guts or madness to bring it to be… ( combine Surrealism and Absurdism and mix it with Dada, you get the Sex Pistols).


These bits of surrealism ask questions: are the things we consume really creatures that have behavioral patterns, thoughts, and feelings? What is form? Things, like people, shapeshift and evolve. Everything is in a constant state of transformation—atoms are in perpetual motion. Švankmajer's films are a few steps forward or backward or inner or outer away from what is, and toward what may be, a world that exists just out of reach and out of sight.

Sight, and the displacement of normal, are at the heart of one of my other favorites from him: Tma / Svetlo / Tma (Darkness / Light / Darkness). All that desperate groping around, with unidentifiable bits of disembodied flesh. Senses, perception, people-parts, all interchangeable and chaotic. There's always some horrible, viscous, unidentifiable meat thing running around in his films. The man clearly struggles with the carnivorous nature of things.

He's Grade-A weird and trippy.

(RIP, Malcolm McClaren)

ALICE (Neco z Alenky, 1988)