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Image Entertainment presents
DVD ReviewVolume 2 of the Collected Shorts discs brings us to the core of Svankmajer's work from 1982 to 1992, during which he explored new realms of experimentation and then found himself moving into feature film almost exclusively. The disc contains:
Dimensions of Dialogue
A series of examinations on the subject of communication, including one of Svankmajer's most memorable claymation works, a scene in which two realistic, life-sized characters attempt to get along, but don't.
Down To The Cellar
Astonishingly brilliant live-action short in which Svankmajer takes a simple childhood fear (going into a creepy, dark basement) and turns it into a virtual gauntlet of surreal terrors for a young girl sent to fetch some potatoes.
The Pendulum, The Pit, and Hope
A live-action, first-person-perspective interpretation of the Edgar Allan Poe story The Pit and the Pendulum, in which a man condemned by the Spanish Inquisition attempts to escape his captors and a dungeon of tortures. Absolutely amazing in it's technique and skill. This should be required viewing in all literary courses that teach Poe.
One of Svankmajer's two shorts done for MTV's "Art Break" series. Two steaks enjoy a brief romance before being cooked for dinner.
The other "Art Break" piece, weighing in at a mere 20 seconds, but still quite memorable nonetheless.
The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia
After years of suffering under Communism in Czechoslovakia, Svankmajer (once banned from filmmaking) made a brilliant political short that serves as his commentary on events in Communist Russia. It helps if you're a little familiar with the history of Russia and its influence on the Eastern Bloc.
A hilarious and darkly comic short in which the subjects of Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner are approached with typical Svankmajer sneakiness. The most memorable portion revolves around a pair of mismatched diners who, when unable to receive good service, begin to eat their table instead.
While Svankmajer's brief introduction to a more mainstream audience with his Art Break films made his name a bit more recognizable, his work here still retains all of the qualities that made his earlier films so enjoyable. While the strong political message of The Death of Stalinism... interrupts the flow of his usual realm of surreal fantasy, his overall message still comes across. Despite his obvious sense of humor, there is still a depth of seriousness that's hard to avoid, perhaps best shown in Pit, Pendulum..., which is absolutely chilling. Together with the first volume, this set of film shorts showcases the bulk of what Jan Svankmajer's career has been all about. It, like all his work, must be seen to be truly appreciated.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: In general, there are no major issues with the image quality. While speckles and some negative damage can be seen in the shorts, it is generally a fleeting effect and has no direct bearing on the transfer itself. The one short, however, that does suffer a bit from source-related problems is Down Into the Cellar which has very obvious horizontal scanlines throughout. Perhaps the result of a poor video source, the horizontal lines are very noticeable in some scenes, yet not really much of an issue in others. It doesn't destroy the short, but it is there and should be pointed out.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is 2-channel mono and fits perfectly with what needs to be done with the audio here. As there is little to no dialogue, that isn't an issue. The menagerie of sound effects and bizarre dubbing that makes up the audio world of these shorts is extremely well handled and definitely crisp and clean. A few pops and crackles can be heard in the older films, but it's nothing that takes away from the enjoyment. Perhaps the best audio track is that of The Pendulum, The Pit, and Hope, a pitch-perfect ambient soundtrack that completely immerses you in a dank, mysterious dungeon. Pretty creepy stuff.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 7 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
There's a gallery of Svankmajer's artwork, including his fascinating cabinet installations (many of which are dioramas of fictional animals created by putting together various bones). Most of the artwork was featured on the first volume of the Svankmajer shorts. The keepcase booklet contains some poems by Svankmajer, and on the disc is a poem "presented" in a very theatrical manner with sound effects and music.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsI don't think that Jan Svankmajer's shorts should have been separated onto two discs, but since they were, there's no reason not to pick up both volumes of Collected Shorts. One disc cannot exist without the other, as all of his work needs to truly be experienced in a linked form. Hypnotic, engaging, and sometimes just plain weird fun, his experiments with camera, clay, and puppets are the stuff of dreams (or nightmares). Here is a filmmaker who, though an outright celebrity in his homeland, is barely mentioned in the annals of Western film. Once you've seen his work, you can see just how far his influence has spread.
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