Surrealist Jan Svankmajer Is Crowdfunding His Final Film

Jan Švankmajer has been working for more than half a century to blend live action and stop motion into more than 30 unsettling shorts and feature films. In features such as Alice (1988) and Little Otik (2000), plus dozens of shorts adapted from Edgar Allan Poe and other masters, his work manages to be both humorous and grotesque, deeply absurd, and strangely joyful. Švankmajer has also been deeply influential to the likes of Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, and David Lynch, although perhaps most notably to the Brothers Quay, who have used a similar blend of stop motion, Central European atmosphere, and eerie, exaggerated sound to produce gems like Street of Crocodiles (1986).

Now, as Open Culture notes, Švankmajer and his longtime producing partner Jaromír Kallista are crowdfunding to produce what they say will be Švankmajer's final feature film, Insects. According to the Indiegogo page, the film will be inspired by the “misanthropic and surreal imagery” of a trio of other Czechs: Kafka and the Čapek Brothers. The latter pair wrote The Insect Play (also called The Insect Comedy), first published in Czech in 1922, and Švankmajer's last feature promises to tell the story of an amateur theatrical group rehearsing the play in a pub after hours.

“The Čapek brothers' play is very misanthropic,” Švankmajer says on the Indiegogo page. “I’ve always liked that—bugs behave as a human beings, and people behave as insects. My screenplay extends this misanthropy further while also reflecting Franz Kafka and his famous Metamorphosis.”

Švankmajer's work is not the kind of thing that gets funded in Hollywood, at least not today. The plots are fragmented, the visuals are at times disturbingly strange, there are no action sequences or feel-good heroes in the way you might expect them. There’s also an embedded critique of capitalism. “The civilization we live in has little interest in authentic artistic creation,” the filmmaker says. “What it needs is well-working advertisement, the iconographic contemporary art, pushing people towards more and more mass consumption. It gets increasingly difficult to fund independent art that scrutinizes the very core of our society. Who would deliberately support their own critics?”

With 11 days to go (as of this writing), the campaign has met its first stretch goal, but only about half of its dream goal, which is $400,000. There are some great perks—film posters, lithographs, art photobooks, bugs used as props in The Nightmare Before Christmas—although someone has already snapped up the “the deceased and majestic tarantula actor” the Quay Brothers used in their film The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer (1984). However, if you have $15,000 to spare, you can still score “A dinner with Jan Švankmajer at his mansion in Czech Republic and a commented visit to his Kunstkabinet.”

Švankmajer says he is eager to start filming as soon as the funding has been secured. In the meantime, according to the Indiegogo page, "He’s very busy visiting entomological auctions, buying various kinds of bugs, doing rehearsal shots with them and so on."

“I promise you that I will invest my entire body and soul into this last feature film of mine," the filmmaker writes. "After all, that’s the only way I know how to create.”

[h/t Open Culture]

Header images via YouTube.

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