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Kino on Video presents

The Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer (2005)

"Your back pressed against the smooth concrete of a laundromat."- Jan Svankmajer

Stars: Jan Svankmajer
Director: Jan Svankmajer

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some disturbing imagery, mild violence)
Run Time: 02h:52m:00s
Release Date: 2005-06-21
Genre: experimental

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+B-B B-


DVD Review

Jan Svankmajer is that rare breed of experimental artist/filmmaker that has the ability to branch out to a wider cross-section of the world, despite the strange nature of his work. He mainly does this by focusing on subjects that are at least somewhat familiar, instead of just being weird for weird's sake. Many of today's filmmakers, both the surrealists (David Fincher, David Lynch), and even some of the more commercial Hollywood types, cite Svankmajer as a major influence on their work, making his classic short films even more important in the film lore.

Svankmajer's best works are those that are basically interpretations of Edgar Allen Poe's stories and poems. Being a huge fan of Poe, Lewis Carroll, and Franz Kafka pretty much tells you what you're getting from a Svankmajer film, especially the short ones. As far as features go, Svankmajer has made the memorable Little Otik, Alice, and Faust, with his new film, Silené (based on the writings of Poe and the Marquis De Sade) currently in production.

Still, short subjects are his strength, with some of the best being the cult classic Punch and Judy, showing everything from machines and newspaper collages to 19th-century photographs, the claustrophobic underpinnings of a man trapped in a tiny apartment with sponges for walls in The Flat, and what many consider to be his overall best production, Dimensions of Dialogue. This 12-minute piece is simply astonishing, exploring different forms of dialogue using odd heads that eat each other during a strange game.

This wonderful surrealist made his play for the MTV generation (literally) by making a music video for Hugh Cornwell that was shown on the pioneering music video network. He later was hired by MTV to make the short films Flora and Meat Love. Now 71 years old, Jan Svankmajer isn't resting on his laurels, continuing to perfect his art, making new films (including the aforementioned Silené), among others.

In 2003, Image Entertainment released The Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer: Volume 1 and The Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer: Volume 2 on separate, single-DVD releases. Now in the hands of Kino, The Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer are available in one nice, two-disc package. Featuring the same audio and video transfers and the exact same extra features, those who already own the earlier discs will only want to get a hold of this release if you're a die-hard Svankmajer collector. Newcomers to the legendary surrealist will want to get their mitts on this new release immediately.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The same full-frame video transfers that were on the single-disc volumes of Svankmajer shorts are here as well. As these films span from 1965-1992, it's no surprise that the video quality varies greatly from film-to-film. Some of these appear to have been cleaned up quite a bit through the years, but there is still a lot of grain and dirt during many of them. The various colors are nicely rendered for the most part, pretty much running the entire range of the spectrum when analyzing the entire collection.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Czechoslovakianyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital mono mixes don't have any major problems, but are relatively low key, given the inherent nature of this format. Some of the more extreme sound effects don't hold up very well, and are slightly overbearing, but this was the case with the old DVDs too. There's hardly any dialogue at all in most of these films, but when there is speech, it is broadcast with perfect clarity.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Little Otik
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Double alpha
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Selected Artwork - Collection of Jan Svankmajer's works.
  2. "Economical Suicide" A Poem
  3. "In the Cellar" A Poem
Extras Review: The extras in this two-disc set are identical to those in the previously released, separate single discs, including Selected Artwork, which is a collection of still photos, broken up into the following sections: Drawings, Puppets, and Ceramics.

A pair of poems are available, both of which are presented as 90-second clips featuring the text on the screen with background music and a bizarre rotating image.

The documentary, Animator of Prague, also makes a command performance from the previous DVDs. This is still the same insightful, entertaining documentary, featuring more strange footage, which, I guess, goes with the territory.

There's also a trailer for Svankmajer's film Little Otik, a Biographical Sketch, and a Filmography on this set's focus, as well.

Extras Grade: B-

Final Comments

The Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer is the perfect excuse to introduce yourself to one of the world's most renowned and revolutionary filmmakers. This Czech genius has been broadening the minds of international film lovers for decades, with no signs of letting up, even as the years catch up with him. This brilliant collection of his short films is a must-have for any film lover, and a no-brainer of a purchase.

Chuck Aliaga 2005-06-21