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MUSEUM HONORS ANIMATOR AND SPECIAL EFFECTS WIZARD

When I was a kid a strange black & white movie turned up on a local television channel: The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958). I’d never seen anything like it before. I came to learn that there was a reason: it was unique. It sprang from the imagination of Czech filmmaker Karel Zeman, who combined live-action, animation, fancifully designed sets, forced perspective and other techniques to achieve his amazing visuals. The film was dubbed into English and received wide U.S. release in theaters before going to television, as did his subsequent feature, The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1961).

Here is the whimsical entrance to the Karel Zeman Museum

Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Jan Švankmajer, Wes Anderson, and even Ray Harryhausen have been influenced by Zeman’s work, which has often been compared to the pioneering “trick films” of George Méliès. Film historian George Sadoul wrote, “He is justly considered Méliès’s successor. He undoubtedly brings the old master to mind, not only because he is an artisan impassioned by art, creating his innocent inventions with infinite patience rather than with large budgets, but also because of his ingenuous and always ingenious fantasies. Less intellectual than [fellow Czech animator Jiri] Trnka, but nonetheless his equal, he has great zest and a marvelous sense of baroque oddities and poetic gags.”

A three-dimensional display shows how the model of a woolly mammoth (in the foreground) was placed in front of rear-projected boys in a rowboat for A Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955), combining forced perspective with other “tricks” to create movie magic

On our way home from the Karlovy Vary Film Festival this summer, my family stopped in Prague and I made a late-afternoon visit to a modest but endearing museum devoted to Karel Zeman. It allows one to trace his career in a highly visual manner with interactive exhibits, puppets, storyboards, life-sized cut-outs, costumes, and set pieces. You can learn more at their website, http://www.muzeumkarlazemana.cz/en

I couldn’t stop taking pictures, only some of which manage to capture the three-dimensional appeal of the exhibits. In a separate room that I almost missed there is a video apparatus that enables a guest to become part of a Zeman scene through the use of green-screen technology. Standing to the side of this device is an enormous Praxinoscope, which must be six feet in diameter; you can try to imagine its size by noting the stack of film cans at its side.

No museum is complete without a six-foot Praxinoscope!

Like Czech stop-motion master Jiri Trnka, Karel Zeman deserves to be better known and recognized. I applaud the people who have devoted themselves to keeping his memory (and movies) alive through this museum. 

Here is an interactive display, inspired by the look of The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, designed to make the museum kid-friendly

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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