Jan Švankmajer, ‘The Last Trick of Mr. Schwarcewallde and Mr. Edgar’ – Review

The Last Trick, 1964

Who will win?

Director Jan Švankmajer, well-known for his haunting surrealist style, and The Last Trick (Posledni Trik Pana Schwarcewalldea A Pana Edgara) (1964) is his first film. When I decided to watch the film, I wasn’t entirely sure what I stumbled upon; it is unlike any other animation I have seen. Upon conducting light research on Švankmajer, I found that he was the influence behind Tim Burton’s  work and the strangeness of this short makes this evident. Although there are elements in the footage that are confusing, it is enjoyable to behold and observe a short feature from pre-divided Czechoslovakia.

The Last Trick uses a combination of live action, stop motion animation, and a tiny bit of hand-drawn animation (in the form of the wooden heads’ eyes) alongside hurried camera angles to give the appearance of objects moving at a rushed pace. These effects are quite dizzying and headaches followed shortly after each implementation. Unidentified humans were used to don large, creepy wooden heads and other accessories to transform themselves into the characters of Mr. Edgar and Mr. Schwarcewallde, two master magicians who’s magic tricks would run circles around any act David Copperfield could muster–and possibly disturb unsuspecting audiences. The presence of a large black beetle is consistent throughout the short however, its significance is unknown.

Mr. Edgar and Mr. Schwarcewallde are rivals; their entire demonstration’s purpose is to prove who is the better magician. This rivalry is revealed in the form of handshakes. The envy of the characters gradually builds up to a point where they rip each other to pieces–literally. This can be interpreted as a fable; jealousy being a possible destroyer of life. Though, what is astonishing about the two characters attacking each other–they were once “live” men. Could this also mean envy degenerates the human spirit?

While The Last Trick is bizarre, it is an entertaining presentation left up to the viewer to interpret its message.

Source: MUBI

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