“Dimensions Of Dialogue” (dir. Jan Svankmajer, 1982, 11:22)
In my review of Jan Svankmajer’s surreal 1988 animated feature Alice, I mentioned that while First Run’s new Blu-ray looks very nice, it’s damnably lacking in bonus features; there isn’t even a sampling of Svankmajer’s many short films. As an alternative, our ever-knowledgeable commenter “washington” pointed readers to a region-free British Blu-ray that comes with much more content. And a lot of Svankmajer’s earlier work is available online—sometimes officially, sometimes not.
One good place for newcomers to start is with Svankmajer’s award-winning 1982 short “Dimensions Of Dialogue,” a stop-motion meditation on how people interact, divided into three sections: “exhaustive discussion,” “passionate discourse,” and “factual conversation.” In the first, three heads (one made of food, one made of utensils, and one made of office supplies), meet in turn, consume pieces of each other, and vomit out new heads, over and over, until everyone’s the same. In the second, two nude clay humanoids make love, smooshing their bodies together, but then have a violent disagreement over the hunk of residue they leave behind. In the third, two older bald heads stick their tongues out at each other, at first producing complementary objects like a pencil and a sharpener, or bread and butter, and then mixing those objects up disastrously.
In 2001, director/animator Terry Gilliam gave The Guardian his list of the 10 greatest animated films of all time, and cited “Dimensions Of Dialogue,” saying:
Jan Svankmajer’s stop-motion work uses familiar, unremarkable objects in a way which is deeply disturbing. The first film of his that I saw was Alice, and I was extremely unsettled by the image of an animated rabbit which had real fur and real eyes. His films always leave me with mixed feelings, but they all have moments that really get to me; moments that evoke the nightmarish spectre of seeing commonplace things coming unexpectedly to life.
Gilliam describes the creepy effect of “Dimensions Of Dialogue” well, but I’d also point to the sense of humor and thoughtfulness in the way Svankmajer combines objects here—especially when the utensil-head is chopping up the food-head—as well as to the uncompromising bleakness of his worldview. Here, he’s coming to the conclusion that nothing good can come from human discourse, which inevitably leads to conflict, conformity, or both.
Previous “Short Cuts” columns can be found here.