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Mergl, Václav

Entry updated 26 October 2021. Tagged: Film, People.

(1935-    ) Czechoslovakian animator, artist, writer and director; graduate of VŠUP (the College of Applied Arts, Prague). His films were usually made for Krátký Film (later Krátký Film Praha a.s.).

Mergl used stop-motion techniques – both cut-outs and claymation – as well standard 2D animation, including woodcut-like illustrations; his films sometimes use a mixture of these styles. After a couple of experimental claymation works – Promeny (1964; vt Metamorphoses), 4 minutes, made whilst still at VŠUP, and Studie doteku (1966; vt The Study of a Contact), 1 minute – he would go on to direct and write a series of memorable short sf films.

The first was Laokoon (1970), 11 minutes. Opening with an image of the ancient Greek sculpture Laocoön and His Sons, we see a planet where existence is eat or be eaten (see Life on Other Worlds) – including, in the case of one Shapeshifting species, being swallowed and then devouring the predator from inside. This Alien senses (see Telepathy) the arrival of an Earth Spaceship, whose astronauts disembark to explore, discovering numerous jewels and greedily bringing them aboard. Fighting among themselves, one astronaut is left behind to be eaten (the sculpture briefly flashing on screen), and the spaceship departs. However, the other two astronauts suffer the same fate: the jewels are the form taken by the species who had detected their approach. The ship arrives on Earth and the creatures pour out onto our vulnerable world (see Invasion).

Next came Krabi (1976; vt Crabs), 11 minutes. Based on the story "Kraby idut po ostrovu" (1958; trans as "The Island of the Crabs", June 1968 International Science Fiction) by Anatoly Dneprov (see Russia). A Scientist and a soldier land on a desert island, disembarking with various equipment. This includes a Robot crab that uses metal as raw material to manufacture copies of itself – which reproduce in the same manner. When all the metal is consumed they prey on each other, Evolutionary pressure resulting in more effective predatory crabs until only one giant crab remains, which the scientist turns off. However, that night, as the scientist dreams of crabs consuming the enemies' machines during a War, the giant crab is reactivated by lightning and kills the scientist to acquire the metal in his dentures; the soldier strips naked and escapes in a rubber dingy. Unable to find more metal the crab cannibalizes itself until it explodes. The island being overrun by the crabs resembles the Grey Goo scenario, though limited by location and their metal-only diet.

Homunkulus (1984; vt Homunculus), 12 minutes. A narrator discusses the old belief of creating a homunculus using alchemy, arguing it was an influence on Heironymous Bosch, to whose memory the film is dedicated. In the heavens (see Astronomy) we see a hand – presumably God's – rotating various astrological-related images: they are dissembled and fall to Earth, spilling through a window into a room. Many objects come to life, including a phrenology head; the most transformed is a jar whose clay-like contents – after much surreal imagery – becomes a homunculus. Somewhat robot-like, it is able to use its heating device to mould fragments of ore into what is effectively Powered Armour, breaking free of the jar and rocketing into space. Here it is shattered by Sagittarius's arrow – but God takes its heart, using it to create Adam and Eve (from Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights) who float off in bubbles as God returns to cranking the handle.

Mikrob (1986; vt Microbe), 16 minutes, is an allegory: the actions of microbes in a body reflects humanity's environmental destruction of the Earth. In Haló, Alberte (1990; vt Hello, Albert), 8 minutes, a baby falls out of a window but the accidental nudging of a Time Machine leads to its being caught in a Time Loop, aging and growing younger while repeatedly falling and rising; the Alberte of the title refers to Einstein. Mergl's other films are Sestrenicky (1988; vt Little Cousins), 7 minutes, which is Horror; and the live action/animated short Poslední lup (1987; vt The Last Theft), 20 minutes, where a thief enters a house only to be enticed by ghosts (see Supernatural Creatures) who eventually drain his blood: this was written by Mergl, but directed by Jirí Barta, a noteworthy animator, whose works tend to be Fantasy. Mergl also worked on Czech Television, directing four animated series for children, each comprising seven 8-minute episodes: O panence Apolence (1981), about a girl and her two elf friends; Sádlík a Hryz (1983; vt Lardocks and Crunch), seemingly about a squirrel and a pig; Bambulka a Bazilínek (1994) concerning a girl and her dragon (see again Supernatural Creatures); and Dobré chutnání, Vase lordstvo (1996), featuring a lordly dog and its two servants, a cat and a mouse who cook for him. [SP]

Václav Mergl

born Olomouc, Czech Republic: 24 August 1935

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