His star has always been surrealism and he shot his first puppet film Mr. Schwarcewallde and Mr. Edgar in 1964. The last one comes to the cinemas and is called Insects. Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and a mirror with his illustrations has also been published in Dybbuku, Prague. Jan Švankmajer: This year he will be eighty-four. (Interview of 2018, editor’s note)
RK | Thirty years ago you made your feature debut Something from Alice. You are now returning to the topic with illustrations of Carroll’s book. What makes Alice so timeless?
JS | Carroll Alice is one of the basic books of our civilization, one that we should definitely take with us to a desert island to survive. She has “raised” dozens of generations of atectonic children. I’m no exception. After all, it’s not just a children’s book. On the contrary, it is proof that there is no specific ‘art for children’, that it is merely a commercial fraud. We can guess whether this or that book, picture, film is suitable for children or not. Alice, however, can be read at any age, and it will always be a different book. For me, Alice is timeless with her uncontrolled imagination. All my life I’ve been trying to cope with this inspiration. The films Jabberwocky, Into the Cellar, Something from Alice and finally the illustrations provided me with space. I drew, framed, cut and glued all year 2006 originally for the Japanese edition. Working on the illustrations helped me bridge the emptiness after Eva’s death (Eva’s wife, artist and poet, died on October 20, 2005 - editor’s note). I am glad that they were finally released in the Czech Republic.
RK | Remember when you first met Alice?
JS | Sometimes at the age of eight. Since then, it has become an integral part of my mental morphology.
RK | Your illustrations are closest to the collage. Does the collage have anything more than a movie?
JS | I do not think. A static illustration allows you to stop time. On the contrary, the film brings a dramatic element to the perception. I would compare my illustrations to Alice to dreamy objects.
RK | So did you get inspiration for illustrations mainly from dreams?
JS | That’s not meant to be. It’s not my dream, it’s Alice, Lewis Carroll’s dream. What I meant was that I did not illustrate the direct situations of the story, but a certain condensation of these situations, just as a dreamlike object condenses the latent content of a dream.
RK | Alice was filmed more than ten times. Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, as well as Walt Disney Studio fought her. Is your treatment even a controversy with their interpretations?
JS | Yes, it’s a controversy. All of Alice’s works treat Carroll’s text as if it were a fairy tale. But Carroll’s books about Alice are not fairy tales, they are “records” of dreams. There is a significant difference between a dream and a fairy tale. While the fairy tale hides - the more, the less - educational aspect, the dream is a pure realm of freedom, without a raised index finger. It has a logic that does not respect any rational rules. Moreover, in my film, Carroll’s book was not adapted to film language, but rather frantically and subjectively interpreted as a struggle with my childhood.
JS | I allowed myself to sneak into situations, emotions and idiosyncrasies from my childhood, such as a pantry scene, which is very loosely related to Carroll’s story.
RK | In a few days, your new film Insect will premiere in Rotterdam.
JS | You also used a piece of a play by the brothers Čapek from the life of insects. What exceptional theme did they open with their drama?
I used the plan of the Preyers, the second act of their game, to unfold the story of the amateurs studying the game. Caps is only in the second plan. They suited their misanthropism. In the preface, which is part of the film, I express my opinion very critically.
RK | Are you a misantrope?
JS | Yes.
RK | And why Insects? What does it say about the contemporary world?
JS | Basically, I hold on to the Čapek brothers, who firstly compared humanity to insect swarms. But that’s not much in the movie.
RK | And what is it about?
JS | In the preface I ask the same rhetorical question. And I say, “I don’t know, I wrote the script as I could, in one go, like automatic texts are written. Without moral and rational control. This is the only way to avoid the messianic temptation of great artists to educate, improve, warn, and refine humanity. It is not possible. Read Freud. The only adequate answer to the brutality of life is the cynicism of fantasy, as one Czech cursed poet would say. “
RK | How do you live in today’s Czech Republic?
JS | Probably like an ancient Roman waiting for the fall of the Roman Empire. How can you feel at the end of one civilization cycle, when the new paradigm of society is out of sight? But otherwise thank you for asking.
RK | For half a century, you claim Surrealism. At the same time, you are part of the cultural canon: you have collected a number of prizes, they learn about you in schools. Is it not against each other?
JS | What about me? I’ve lived too long. I should have died in the 1980s. André Breton died in time, so at least he did not live to see his portrait on French postage stamps. But do you think that makes his lyrics less surreal? Or that when Max Ernst was expelled from the group because he received the painting prize at the Venice Biennale, he ceased to be a surrealist and his paintings were surrealistic? So did Bunuel. Is his Oscar-winning Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie less surrealistic than the Golden Age? I’ve struggled with my demons all my life. As a weapon I only had my obsessions, which I caught mostly in my childhood. For me, creation has always been autotherapy. I do not care if I am a surrealist for someone or if someone has problems with it. These are far more important things.
RK | What brought you to Surrealism?
JS | Stars, mental morphology, atheonic nature, rebellion and magical and irrational mentality of a Neolithic man.
RK | Do you have plans for further movies in your mind? For the next job?
JS | Insects is my last long feature film. So we decided with the production Jaromir Kallista. If you look at my filmography, you see that we make a film every five or six years, and Insects even after seven years. This is the time it takes us to raise money for each project. Adding to our present age the minimum of five years and the next two years to realize, you will understand that it is time to end. Maybe something shorter?
RK | What do you think?
JS | I do not derive my work from an idea. The idea cannot be a reason to sit at a table, a stepladder or a camera. Then your work staggers from idea to idea. The reason for creation should be an “emotional attack” or something. The idea has its place in the creative process later. Only when you are “in it”, only when you are “inside”. I have the experience that only then come the relevant ideas. I do not intend to stop this yet.
EDIÇÃO COMEMORATIVA | CENTENÁRIO DO SURREALISMO 1919-2019
Artista convidado: Winsor McCay (Estados Unidos, 1869-1934)
Agulha Revista de Cultura
20 ANOS O MUNDO CONOSCO
Número 142 | Setembro de 2019
editor geral | FLORIANO MARTINS | firstname.lastname@example.org
editor assistente | MÁRCIO SIMÕES | email@example.com
logo & design | FLORIANO MARTINS
revisão de textos & difusão | FLORIANO MARTINS | MÁRCIO SIMÕES
ARC Edições © 2019