Like the little girl with the curl in the nursery rhyme, "Recent Czech Animation," a program of eight short films chosen by Milos Forman, screening at the Nuart Theatre (11272 Santa Monica Blvd., today and Wednesday, is very good when it's good and horrid when it's bad.
Czechoslovakia is usually associated with puppet films, but this selection contains only a single example: "The King and the Goblin," Lubomir Benes' wistful, elegant retelling of the legend of King Midas. Using a related stop-motion technique, Jiri Barta deftly spoofs film genres, from silent comedies to monster movies in "The Extinct World of Gloves."
Like much Eastern European animation, many of the Czech films contain strong elements of social protest and comment. Barta offers a mordant satire of conformity and social planning in "The Project," an example of pixilation, the stop-motion animation of humans and full-sized props. Strongly reminiscent of Zbigniew Rybczynski's Oscar-winning "Tango," "The Project" has stronger affinities with live-action film than traditional animation. In "Heads," Peter Sis uses delicately rendered drawings that evoke the surreal imagery of Archimboldo, Magritte and Dali to present his views on human growth and relationships.
The work of Benes, Barta and Sis represents the best of the program; that of Jan Svankmajar, the worst. For "The Fall of the House of Usher," he combines cliched live action footage with stop-motion animation to tell Poe's story clumsily.
"Dimensions of Dialogue" features handsome sculpture and skillful animation, but the film collapses beneath the weight of its pretensions and the unremitting ugliness of its imagery. As "Dimensions" closes the program, viewers would be well advised to choose aisle seats--so they can leave unobtrusively when it begins.