In The sandman, E. T. A. Hoffmann told the story of a man who fell in love with a robot. Freud based his study of the uncanny (das Unheimliche) on this tale, and his writings became essential reading for the surrealists, Švankmajer among them. Puppets, dolls that come to life and humanoid robots that walk the line between animate and inanimate can awaken this sinister sensation in our perception.
Švankmajer started out in puppet theatre, and entered the world of cinema thanks to his teacher Emil Radok; we present the first short film in which Švankmajer was involved, which showed him the creative potential of the cinema in general and editing in particular. Doktor Faust is a little known film but much praised by Švankmajer. It pays tribute to traditional Czech puppets with a representation of Faust (one of Švankmajer’s favourite myths), where the camera learns the tricks of the puppet theatre.
After this initial experience with film, Švankmajer was encouraged to make his first short, The Last Trick, in which the life-size puppet characters use stop-motion animation to compete in a contest of extreme skill. The Brothers Quay, always interested in the state between animate and inanimate, chose to adapt Maska, by Polish science-fiction writer Stanislav Lem, based on a robot puppet that is brought to life. As ever in the twins’ work, a small gesture triggers a mechanism in a world that opens like Pandora’s Box.
- Rozhdestvó obitáteli lesa (The insects’ Christmas), L. Starewitch, 1911, 35 mm, 6 min
- Johanes Doktor Faust, Emil Radok, 1958, video, 19 min
- Poslední trik pana Schwarzewalldea a pana Edgara (The last trick), J. Švankmajer, 1964, 35 mm, 11 min
- It's a Bird, Charley Bowers, 1930, video, 15 min
- Jídlo (Food), J. Švankmajer, 1992, 35 mm, 17 min
- The Comb, Brothers Quay, 1990, 35 mm, 17 min
- Maska, Brothers Quay, 2010, video, 22 min