August 22, 2012

A Tale of Two Jans

It may or may not, to all of my three readers of this blog, be obvious that I just post stuff that fascinates me. I guess the hope is that others will find it fascinating as well.  Although it may not seem obvious, there may be a common thread linking everything if you look hard enough...

Today's fascination is stop-motion animation from behind the iron curtain.  I stumbled upon this Czech stop-motion gem from 1988 by Jan ┼ávankmajer, in a somewhat unlikely place: it is currently streaming on Netflix.  I also found it so very strange that it was stumbled upon literally a day after I came across this stuff.  We had started watching the movie, and the pace at the beginning was so slow, and with very little dialogue.  I could see how some people have a hard time watching European films. I myself found the pace sucking me in, holding me in intrigue. You realize that you've been entranced and haven't moved a muscle.  The over-the-top foley, at first almost annoying, ended up just adding to the surreal state.

Then, also popping up seemingly randomly, I came across Polish stop-motion animation By Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk. There are a few short films on You Tube, ranging from the late 50's to early 60's (!!!)

They can be pretty out there.  I am also really digging the music in this one...

If you see any similarities to Monty Python's Flying Circus, you're not wrong: their work influenced Terry Gilliam.  It also took me a minute to realize that this is the same Jan Lenica that was famous for his posters, some of which are on view at MoMA...

And this is a poster by fellow artist Franciszek Starowieyski that I am now obsessed with...

A bit about the fascinating history of Polish posters:

"By the end of the 1950's Socialist realism had been dumped in Polish art. The Graphic Arts Department at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts divided its areas of instruction into fine arts, visual communications, applied arts, and poster art. It helped, thereby, to establish what is known as the Polish Poster School.

Many of their posters were commissioned to advertised events, and that they did. But, almost always, there is an underlying dig at some aspect of society. It seems that the Polish poster artist will take any chance they can to express the frustrations they, and their audience share about the status quo. In America it would be like making a public service announcement for the American Heart Association in which President Clinton is the victim of heart disease. It truly would make us change our health habits, but it would also be a statement about the artist's dislike for the American Government."

"There was much to divide these artists as every one of them had arrived at his own idiom, immediately recognizable, even from a distance. But at the same time there was something very important to link them together, something that made the Polish school something real and distinct.
This can be attributed to the fact that all of them were painting ambitious posters, expecting of the public an understanding of the signs, symbols and allegories. Polish posters were not only pieces of art, but also intellectual labyrinths and games of hide-and-seek. Posters referred not only to emotions, but to intellect as well. Viewers were required to think."

I have yet to do some research into the surreal stop-motion animation. I will post an update if I find some good info.

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