– Early in the history of this blog, I wrote quite a bit about Jiri Trnka. This man’s artwork has long been a source of great inspiration to me. His illustrations for the fairy tales of Grimm and Andersen are stunning and the two books are of inestimable value to me. His puppet films are so brilliantly strong and lyrically beautiful that I was overwhelmed when I first saw them, even though his reputation preceded them. I’d read enough about him and owned a magnificent biographical account of his work, that I was confident I would be a bit disappointed when I finally saw the films. I wasn’t.
The Hand was magnificent and remains one of my favorite films, to this day.
The Archangel Gabriel and Mother Goose is a beautiful animated puppet film about Venice during the late Middle Ages.
The Midsummer Night’s Dream is a feature-length masterwork that has to be seen for any lover of animation – nevermind puppet animation.
The film, Bayaya was a mystery to me for many years. It was not an easy film to view. Back in the 70s, there was no video, and seeing Trnka’s films meant trips to the NYPublic Library in NY to visit their collection of 16mm films. There you could watch any of the collection or borrow them to watch at home. These films were often littered with many bad splices where the films had broken. The quality of the colors deteriorated over the years. It made for tough viewing, but it also made it possible to see some of the Trnka canon.
Bayaya was not part of this collection. In fact, I’ve only seen part of the film once. John Gati, a NY puppet animator who was a good friend, located a copy of a 20 min excerpt (in Czechoslovakian) for an ASIFA-East screening and showed it to a small audience in a classroom at NYU. The print was black and white, but since I’d only seen B&W illustrations, this made sense.
This film represented a strong change for Trnka. He had previously done a number of cel animated films. These shorts were remarkable in that they were a strong step away from the Disney mold. This was a bold step to take in the animation community in Europe circa 1947.
The film was purely lyrical, and the story accented the folk tales quality of these legends of Prince Bayaya and The Magic Sword. Consolidating the two, he named the film after the hero and made him the embodiment of courage, morality and honor.
Trnka considered Bayaya a turning point in his career. He realized that the puppet film had taken on new strength and he had to follow through with every film thereafter.
Here are a couple of scenes from the Trnka book I treasure, Jiri Trnka: Artist & Puppet Master.