Dimensions of Dialogue

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November 19, 2010 by Matthew Mesaros

To try and break down all the elements within Švankmajer’s magnificent animated short Dimensions of Dialogue would seem too much of a feat. Perhaps mostly because I can’t claim to understand all of it, but also because what little I could glean from it already amounts to so much. It is, in essence, a three part play dealing with various elements of human interaction. If nothing else, and if political readings are of no interest to you, it is an absolute master-class in the field of animation, a visual experience no one should miss out on.

The first section, dealing with ‘Exhaustive Dialogue,’ shows us three different humans (shown in profile) eating, digesting and regurgitating each other. The first human is made of items of food, the second from machines and mechanical elements and the third from paper and stationery. The three different models would seem to suggest different classes in society: the agrarian, the ‘blue-collar’ factory worker and the ‘white-collar’ office worker. The second eats the first, the third eats the second and so on and on the cycle continues, each time the various models becoming more and more intermingled and mangled. Finally, after so much collision of the different models the result is a far more realistic looking, clay based, profile of a human. At this point the clay face simply regurgitates out imitations and replicas of itself. The conflict between the three spheres of human society seems to have ended and the result is no longer change or advancement but merely replication (and perhaps refinement?).

The second section deals with ‘Passionate Dialogue’ and features two human figures moulded in clay, a man and a woman. The two interlock, intermingle, transform and romantically embrace until eventually they reform leaving behind a single blob of clay, their offspring. This blob moves between the two vying for attention but each parent refuses it and sends it back to the other. Eventually they throw the blob at one another which causes a full fight between the two which sees them ripping at and destroying each other, both pounding the other into shapeless clay. A somewhat caustic view of parenthood, romantic relations or perhaps, drawing the analogy further, any creative endeavour between two humans, the segment is defined by it’s beautifully fluid stop-motion animation.

Finally we have ‘Factual Dialogue’ or ‘Conversation.’ Here we have two male heads, moulded in clay, facing each other. Each opens their mouth and offers an object which the other compliments with an object of their own. A toothbrush from one yields toothpaste from the other, a shoe gains shoelaces, a blunted pencil is sharpened and so on and so forth. This is constructive and helpful dialogue with one building on the other’s contribution to form the complete and coherent. Unfortunately the two heads then swap sides and their rhythm is broken. This time when the toothbrush is produced it is sharpened or when the pencil is produced it is wrapped in shoelaces. Discourse has broken down and eventually both heads begin to produce duplicate objects which destroy each other, one shoe eating the other or two pencil sharpeners reducing each other to parings of metal.

This part of the film seems most easily explicable, a critique of communist market ideology. The idea of useful elements being made useless was also seen in Švankmajer’s short film The Flat and so here again we see objects that can be used properly being destroyed by improper placement. As the two heads swap sides one supposes it could refer to the communist idea of the state dictating market roles for the people. When they started both heads were in tune with each other and produced useful syntheses of their individual efforts. When swapped, when their position is dictated by someone else, their individual talents are wasted and the result is a mess. As each head’s produce is destroyed it begins to break down and crumble until finally both lie in ruin on the table.

There’s a wealth of ideas running through this 12 minute short film but even if these are of no interest to you Dimensions of Dialogue is simply a sublime showcase of the possibilities of stop-motion animation. From the profiles of human faces in the first segment, each made up of countless, individually turning, objects moving towards a common end to the erotic but destructive amalgamations of clay in the second segment the entire film is awash with skill and artistry that few animators could ever hope to equal. There’s little surprise that this is usually considered one of Švankmajer’s key short films and it surely serves as a wonderful bar for other artists to try and match.

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