Turning, Flipping, Floating

August 7, 2009

written by Heather McShane


Turning, Flipping, Floating

A friend of mine recently showed me the animated short film called “Jabberwocky,” created in 1973 by the Czech director Jan Svankmajer.  The film is loosely based on the (inarguably) best nonsense poem of the same name by Lewis Carroll, found in his novel Through the Looking-Glass. The approximately 13-minute film, meant for adults, begins with a series of hand slaps to bare buttocks. The viewer then hears a young girl read the “Jabberwocky” poem while a wardrobe and a room with a man’s portrait (among other images) flash on the screen. A surreal narrative emerges, partially involving the choice of paths in a maze above which looms a pair of eyes. Over and over again, a black cat surprises. Although the creepiness of the film seems almost too much at times (for example: when dolls eat a soup of doll parts), there’s a sincerity to the film. That sincerity might best be recognized when one considers the work done off-screen, the small careful movements required to create such an animation; it is also present in the fact that the director is a Czech person responding to a nonsense poem written in English. Here’s the film, followed by the poem:



by Lewis Carroll

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.


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