The Puppet Master: The Complete Jiří Trnka, Dec. 1-29
December 01, 2018, 12:00 AM
The maestro of puppet animation, Czech artist Jiří Trnka (1912–1969) came of age in an era of marionette theater, a lively feature of European culture since at least the 17th century. View the first complete retrospective of Jiří Trnka in the United States—six features and 20 shorts— a production of Comeback Company, curated by Irena Kovarova, featuring 35mm prints, two new digital restorations, and 11 newly translated works at the National Gallery of Art from December 1-29, 2018.
A painter, illustrator, designer, and author of fantastic tales, Trnka came from a family of toymakers and, in his films, created magical worlds with his sets and costumes. He often borrowed from Czechoslovak folklore while inventing novel techniques for directing his puppets using stop-motion cinematography. As in traditional puppet theater, some of his films use allegorical form to produce political satire; his most well-known satire, The Hand, was banned. At times, Trnka mixed two-dimensional drawn animation with puppetry that extended his formal range.
Special thanks to the Czech National Film Archive.
Old Czech Legends
December 1, 2:00 p.m.
Trnka used Alois Jirásek's 1894 Ancient Bohemian Legends and other literary and scientific sources such as the Cosmas Chronicles to revive essential Czech legends and folktales. Using puppetry which he crafted himself to create an origin myth for Bohemia, Trnka's epic animation combines intricate camera moves, sets, and lighting with magical storytelling. (1953, subtitles, 91 minutes)
The Emperor's Nightingale
December 8, 2:00 p.m.
The timeless Hans Christian Andersen tale about an ailing Chinese emperor and his love for the birdsong that restores his health has inspired opera, theater, ballet, and at least two animated films (including one by Lotte Reiniger). In Trnka's version—combining live action and animation—the tiny puppets appear in enigmatic masks and the costumes and sets frequently shimmer. (1948, musical soundtrack, no dialogue, 35mm, 72 minutes)
December 22, 2:00 p.m.
Based on a classic 19th-century fairy tale by Božena Němcová, Bayaya is populated with medieval knights and damsels, castles and banquets, dragons and jesters, a dazzling white stallion, and a surprise jousting tournament. Václav Trojan's haunting musical score accompanies this enchanting puppet play that is not without a few dark moments. (1950, subtitles, 75 minutes)
Shorts Program 1
December 23, 4:00 p.m.
This program of four shorts, made in the 1960s, includes Obsession (1962, 9 minutes); Cybernetic Grandma (1962, 28 minutes); The Hand (1965, 18 minutes); and Archangel Gabriel and Mistress Goose (1964, 29 minutes). (Subtitles, total running time 84 minutes)
The Good Soldier Švejk
December 26, 1:00 p.m.
A well-known classic of 20th-century literature, Jaroslav Hašek's subversive farce The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk (1923) traces the antics of a down-on-his-luck World War I soldier trapped in a mire of bureaucracy. A wickedly funny and fast-moving film version of the satire, The Good Soldier Švejk has all the traits of Trnka at his best, including a delightful soundtrack. (1954, subtitles, 74 minutes)
Shorts Program 2
December 26, 3:00 p.m.
Trnka's distinctive animation talents were evident from the beginning, as seen in this collection of six early experiments—eccentric and surreal hand-drawn examples, an anti-Nazi send-up, an organ grinder's encounter with an evil spirit, and even a puppet version of Anton Chekhov: Grandpa Planted a Beet (1945, 10 minutes); The Animals and the Brigands (1946, 8 minutes); Springman and the SS (Jiří Brdečka and Jiří Trnka, 1946, 13 minutes); The Gift (Jiří Trnka and Jiří Krejčík, 1946, 15 minutes); Romance with Double Bass (1949, 13 minutes); The Devil's Mill (1949, 35mm, 20 minutes). (Subtitles, total running time 79 minutes)
Shorts Program 3
December 27, 1:00 p.m.
An adaptation of Hansel and Gretel, Christmas toy trains, magical circuses, and a charming country fable are highlighted in this series of five shorts: Merry Circus (1951, 35mm, 12 minutes); The Gingerbread House (directed by Břetislav Pojar, designed by Jiří Trnka, 1951, 35mm, 18 minutes); The Golden Fish (1951, 15 minutes); How the Old Man Traded It All Away (1953, 9 minutes); Circus (1955, 23 minutes). (Subtitles, total running time 77 minutes)
Shorts Program 4
December 27, 3:00 p.m.
A witty winter's folktale, a pair of sleeping puppets, a UNESCO commission, and a satire of the Old West are among the delights of this eclectic program of shorts: Kuťásek and Kutilka (1954, 18 minutes); Song of the Prairie (1949, 20 minutes); The Two Frosts (1954, 12 minutes); The Midnight Adventure (directed by Břetislav Pojar, designed by Jiří Trnka, 1960, 13 minutes); Why UNESCO? (1958, 35mm, 10 minutes). (Subtitles, total running time 73 minutes)
A Midsummer Night's Dream
December 28, 2:30 p.m.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of Trnka's most dazzling puppetry animation feats. He shot two versions of the Shakespearean play at the same time—a version in CinemaScope and another in classic Academy aspect ratio with slight variations in scenery and shot sequences. This screening features the classic version with narration in English. (1959, 35mm, 78 minutes)
The Czech Year
December 29, 2:00 p.m.
A new restoration of Trnka's first feature-length puppet animation (hailed as a masterpiece when it first appeared), The Czech Year won a major award at the Venice Film Festival in 1947. The soundtrack features a melodious chorus of children's voices, while the story travels through a provincial year—from springtime festivals to holiday fairs and feasts—focusing on music, dance, ritual, and Christmas traditions with a cast of delightfully fanciful creatures and beautiful painted sets. (1947, 75 minutes)
Venue: National Gallery of Art
East Building Auditorium
The event is free and open to the public.
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