A short excerpt from the booklet essay by Ian Haydn Smith.

Located a stone’s throw away from the Charles Bridge, around the corner from the John Lennon Wall and under the looming presence of Prague Castle, is the Muzeum Karla Zemana. Opened in 2012, it is a small building, but features an abundance of information about a filmmaker whose contribution to cinema has been criminally undervalued. Alongside artefacts, a series of interactive installations and information about his life, there are his films, even the most obscure shorts from the early days of his career, playing on a loop, allowing visitors to witness the breadth of his vision and the startling originality of his craft. For an artist who has long influenced filmmakers around the world, Karel Zeman may finally receive the recognition he deserves.

If Zeman’s films have not found favour with the cinema-going public - not even in his home country - since the time of their original release, there has been no shortage of directors willing to cite the impact his work has had on their own careers. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton have all expressed their admiration for him. He also seems to have been as much an influence as Jacques Cousteau for Wes Anderson during the making of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). (Zeman’s influence can be found, to varying degrees, in most of Anderson’s films). Ray Harryhausen spoke of his admiration for Zeman’s cinema and the breadth of his imagination, while in The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film, Jan Uhde suggests that Jan Švankmajer’s body of work would not have taken the shape it has had it not been for his ‘comparing and confronting’ earlier generations of Czech animators such as Zeman and Jiří Trnka.

Arguably the most visual influence of Zeman over a filmmaker in mainstream cinema is that of Terry Gilliam. In an interview with Paul Wells, Gilliam spoke of seeing stills from Baron Prášil (The Fabulous Baron Münchausen, 1961) around the time he was making his own The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) and thinking, “He did what I’m still trying to do, which is to try to combine live action with animation. His Doré-esque backgrounds were wonderful. The film captured the real spirit of the character.” There is a strong influence across the whole of Gilliam’s career, from early shorts such as Storytime (1968) and Miracle of Flight (1974) to his animation for Monty Python’s Flying Circus series and his own subsequent features.

In his ‘Dictionary of Film’, the critic and former surrealist George Sadoul noted the importance of Zeman in furthering the accomplishments of the ‘eighth art’ – animation – whilst drawing a line between cinema’s earliest fantasist and fellow admirer of Jules Verne: “He is justly considered Méliès’ successor. He undoubtedly brings the old master to mind, not only because he is an artisan impassioned by art, creating his "innocent inventions" with infinite patience rather than with large budgets, but also because of his ingenuous and always ingenious fantasies. Less intellectual than Trnka, but nonetheless his equal, he has great zest and a marvellous sense of baroque oddities and poetic gags… He has never stopped experimenting with new techniques and exploring new genres.”

Zeman’s journey as a filmmaker may have been a circuitous one at first, but his vision never wavered. “Why do I make movies?” He once commented. “I'm looking for terra incognita, a land on which no filmmaker has yet set foot, a planet where no director has planted his flag of conquest, a world that exists only in fairy tales.”

Ian Haydn Smith's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the DVD release.

Disc Info

Czechoslovakia, 1964
Length / A Jester's Tale:
81 minutes
Sound: Original mono (restored)
Black and white
Original aspect ratio:
1.85:1 / 16:9 anamorphic
Language: Czech
Subtitles: English (On/Off)
Region 0
RRP: £12.99
Release Date: 15 Sept 2014 Second Run DVD 089


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