Shorts Program 1: A Star from the Start (a.k.a. Survey of Techniques)

Shorts program, running time 74 min.

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Trnka proved himself a master animator from the very beginning, as evidenced by the formally inventive, wittily offbeat works in this program, which includes the filmmaker’s earliest experiments in the art form: hand-drawn cartoons that play like a distinctly Czech anti-Disney; a modernist tour de force of surrealist invention; and a rapturously beautiful puppet adaptation of Chekhov.


Grandpa Planted a Beat (Zasadil dědek řepu)
Jiří Trnka, Czechoslovakia, 1945, 10 min., no dialogue
A farmer finds himself with an unusually fertile bumper crop on his hands in Trnka’s first film, a charming hand-drawn adaptation of a Czech fairy tale that announced the director as an animation talent to watch.

The Animals and the Brigands (Zvířátka a petrovští)
Jiří Trnka, Czechoslovakia, 1946, 8 min., Czech w/ English subtitles
A rooster, a cat, and a goat meet a trio of ignoble characters deep in a night-shrouded forest in this hand-illustrated, Cannes prize-winning folktale, which showcases Trnka’s gift for evoking light and shadow.

Springman and the SS (Pérák a SS)
Jiří Brdečka & Jiří Trnka, Czechoslovakia, 1946, 35mm, 13 min., no dialogue
Trnka combines 2D and collage animation to striking effect in this zanily offbeat, anti-Nazi lampoon, which crosses Max Fleischer-like absurdism with a biting satirical edge. His first collaboration with Jiří Brdečka.

The Gift (Dárek)
Jiří Trnka & Jiří Krejčík, Czechoslovakia, 1946, 15 min., Czech w/ English subtitles
Trnka reached new heights of modernist abstraction with this innovative, surrealist mini-masterwork, which critic Jean-Pierre Coursodon likened to the Citizen Kane of animation.

Romance with Double Bass (Román s basou)
Jiří Trnka, Czechoslovakia, 1949, 13 min., Czech w/ English subtitles
This dreamily beautiful puppet work adapts a short story by Chekhov into a magical, moonlit reverie about a musician, a princess, and a chance encounter while night-swimming.

The Golden Fish (O zlaté rybce)
Jiří Trnka, Czechoslovakia, 1951, 15 min., Czech w/ English subtitles
Trnka returned to 2D animation for this wryly humorous fairy tale—written and narrated by legendary Czech actor Jan Werich—about a man whose problems only multiply when he catches a wish-granting fish.


The touring retrospective THE PUPPET MASTER: THE COMPLETE JIŘÍ TRNKA is produced by Comeback Company, originated at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Curated by Irena Kovarova. Films provided by the Czech National Film Archive. Image Courtesy of Czech National Film Archive.