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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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By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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History
Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

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