Saturday, 28 November 2009

Clare Kitson on British animation's great moments and Channel 4

Clare Kitson served as commissioning editor of animation at Channel 4 throughout the nineties, and so her 2008 book British Animation: The Channel 4 Factor provides an invaluable inside look at the creation of some classic animation.

The book begins by relating the history of British animation, from the silent period up until Channel 4's golden age. As Kitson summarises:
British animation has experienced several great moments. It was great for a while in the 1930s and again in the 1960s. But in the late 1980s the animation world had to acknowledge that it had hit its best form ever.
Aside from the work of Anson Dyer, Kitson largely dismisses Britain's contributions to the silent era ("While Emile Cohl in France, J S Blackton in the USA and Ladislas Starewicz in Russia where deploying extraordinary technical prowess in quirky, witty vignettes, the British pioneers were still enjoying the novelty of getting things to appear, disappear and move for a bit") and instead points to the thirties as the point when British animation hit its stride. She attributes the change to the coming of foreign talent - George Pal, John Halas, Peter Sachs, Lotte Reiniger, Hector Hoppin and Len Lye - and the creation of the General Post Office Film Unit, which she describes as giving both funding and a degree of creative freedom to animators in a similar way that Channel 4 would decades later.

Kitson's coverage of the thirties provides an interesting contrast to Giannalberto Bendazzi's. Bendazzi's Cartoons gave the decade a very brief overview as far as British animation is concerned, portraying it more as a short transitional period between the coming of sound and the founding of Halas & Batchelor and Larkins the following decade.

The next great moment in Kitson's overview began in the mid-fifties with the emergence of TV advertising and ended with the recession that followed the 1973 oil crash. During this period, animators used advertising revenue to fund more personal projects; this is when we saw the release of films such as The Flying Man, Automania 2000, The Do-It-Yourself Cartoon Kit, A Christmas Carol and Yellow Submarine. And then the eighties, of course, brought about an arguable golden age of British animation thanks largely to Channel 4; as this is the main focus of the book, several chapters are devoted to the channel's history. Between the two points, Kitson notes, interesting work was being produced by students at the Royal College of Art, the National Film School, West Surrey College of Art and Design and the Liverpool Polytechnic (for more about student animation of this period, see this post).

The majority of the book consists of chapters on thirty works (twenty-six short films, two feature films and two series), each one giving a lengthy behind-the-scenes story. Almost all of the works spotlighted are readily available either on the 4mations YouTube channel or on DVD - or, in some cases, both. The exceptions are the Pond Life series, which is partially available across a long out-of-print VHS and its own YouTube channel; and The Victor, which, as far as I know, has not been released since its appearance on a VHS compilation in 2000. Here's a list for anyone who wants to give them a look:

The Snowman: DVD
The Victor: VHS
When the Wind Blows: DVD
Street of Crocodiles: DVD
The Black Dog: DVD
Alice: DVD
Girls Night Out: DVD
Feet of Song: Online
Lip Synch - War Story: DVD
Lip Synch - Creature Comforts: DVD
Deadtime Stories for Big Folk - Deadsy: DVD
Deadtime Stories for Big Folk - Door: DVD
Secret Joy of Falling Angels: DVD
A is for Autism: DVD
Screen Play: Online
The Mill: Online
Bob's Birthday: Online
The Sound of Music (AKA Eldorado): Online
The Village: Online
Abductees: Online
Crapston Villas: Online
Many Happy Returns: Online
Pond Life: VHS and online
Death and the Mother: Online
Silence: Online
The Man with the Beautiful Eyes: Online
Home Road Movies: DVD
City Paradise: Online
Rabbit: Online
Peter and the Wolf: DVD

The remainder of the book is spent charting the decline (in terms of quantity, not quality) of Channel 4 animation, Kitson's departure from the channel, and finally, the future of independent British animation.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Seventies/eighties Richard Williams Studio adverts: Levi's, Jōvan and Limara

Take a look at these three beautifully drawn commercials made by the Richard Williams Studio in the late seventies and eighties. Unfortunately, I can find no details about the first two online.

This advert for Levi's jeans clearly takes after Star Wars (with a dash of Heavy Metal).

The owl-like character serves as an interpretor between the Luke Skywalker-alike and the "Kledian warlord", who admires the former's jeans.

"Tell him it is a frequent custom to wear Levi's jeans on Earth". His jeans magically change from denim to cordoroy with a yellow sparkle as he unknowingly avoids a swooping alien.

"But I do not think the Kledian could wear Levi's jeans!"

"He says the Kleds do not exactly wear Levi's jeans..."

Meanwhile, this commercial for Jōvan Sex Appeal aftershave and cologne pastiches Frank Frazzetta's fantasy art. Amidst thunder and billowing smoke, a Conan lookalike climbs up a mountain.

He is rewarded for his efforts with some Jōvan cosmetics that descend from the sky. A godlike voice tells him to use "the power" only for good, never for evil.

And finally, a Disney-riffing 1982 Limara toiletries advert titled Sleeping Beauty. The commercial offers a gender-reversed version of the fairy tale.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Following up on Bendazzi, part 4 (1970-1989)

The fourth and final post in my series looking at Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation by Giannalberto Bendazzi; click here if you want to start from the beginning.

This period is described by Bendazzi as "the good years". "Beginning in the 1960s Great Britain became an active centre of animation", he says.
High standards of quality put British advertising at the top world-wide. [...] Because of its individualism and fragmentation, British animation did not exhibit recognizable national traits, but was one of the richest in creative freedom, novelty and variety of themes and motives.
For the sake of completism I've listed all of the titles mentioned by Bendazzi, even though at this point we'll be seeing a number of household names that really need no introduction.

Bill Melendez & Ronald Searle
Dick Deadeye or Duty Done

Martin Rosen
Watership Down

Yellow Submarine
When the Wind Blows

Ron Wyatt & Tony Cattaneo

Biographic Films/Vera Linnecar, Keith Learner, Nancy Hanna & Bob Godfrey

Cucumber Studios/Annabel Jankel & Rocky Morton

Cosgrove Hall
Count Duckula
The Wind in the Willows

Siriol Animation/Mike Young & Dave Edwards

Tony Barnes and Naomi Jones/Fairwater Films
Hanner Dwsin

Klacto/Oscar Grillo and Ted Rockley

Matt Forrest

Film Garage

English Markell Pockett

Hibbert Ralph


Stuart Brookes

Richard Taylor
Earth is a Battlefield
Put Una Money for There
The Revolution
Some of Your Bits Ain't Nice
English by Television (1984-86)

Alison de Vere
Two Faces
Café Bar
Mr. Pascal
Silas Marner
The Black Dog

The Brothers Quay
Nocturna artificialia
Ein Brudermord
The Eternal Day of Michel de Ghelderode, 1898-1962
Leos Janácek: Intimate excursions
Igor - The Paris Years Chez Pleyel
The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer - Prague's alchemist of film
Street of Crocodiles
Little Songs of the Chief Officer of Hunar Louse, or This Unnameable Little Broom
Rehearsals For Extinct Anatomies

Aardman Animations/Peter Lord, David Sproxton & Nick Park
Confessions of a Foyer Girl
Down and Out
Sales Pitch
Creature Comforts
The Wrong Trousers

Daniel Greaves

Terry Gilliam

Monty Python's Flying Circus
The Miracle of Flight
Monty Python's the Meaning of Life

Geoff Dunbar

Kathleen "Spud" Houston
How the Kiwi Lost His Wings
(Note: I'm not entirely sure what country this film - which I don't have access to - was made in, as Houston has worked in both Britain and New Zealand. It was included in British Animated Films, 1895-1985: A Filmography by Denis Gifford, but the BFI database claims that it was made in New Zealand.)

Oscar Grillo
Seaside Woman

Vera Linnecar
Springtime for Samantha
The Trendsetter
A Cat Is a Cat
Do I Detect a Change in Your Attitude? (1980)

Ian Moo-Young
The Ballad of Lucy Jordan
The World of Netlon
Trebor Dandies: Norman Normal
Der Falschspieler (1980, with Joachim Kreck)

Sheila Graber
Just So Stories

Dianne Jackson
The Snowman

Tony White
Hokusai: An Animated Sketchbook

Lesley Keen/Persistent Vision Animation
Taking a Line For a Walk

Alan Kitching

Ian Emes

Philip Austin and Derek Hayes
The Victor

Paul Vester
Football Freaks

Joanna Quinn
Girls Night Out

Bendazzi ends his coverage of British animation with biographies of George Dunning, Richard Williams and Bob Godfrey.

I hope that this series of posts will be helpful for anyone who wants a rough map of British animation's history.

Part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Sunday, 22 November 2009

W.M. Larkins films: Without Fear and a Barclays Bank advert

I wrote about the W.M. Larkins Studio here. With this post I'll be looking at two films from the studio that aired on BBC4 alongside the Animation Nation documentary series in 2005; one is a piece of political propaganda, the other a commercial.

Without Fear, directed by Peter Sachs in 1953, is a propaganda film sponsored by the U.S. Economic Co-Operation Administration. It combines silhouette animation with still paintings.

"Europe today - in every country we face an unknown future", says the narrator. "We hope for peace, for a life worth living."

The film briefly meditates on the human condition and our capacity for love and war.

We see the good that technological advance has done for society.

"And yet, in Europe, we still have barriers. They keep us apart. They make it hard to trade the goods we have for the goods we need, and we all need things we haven't got."

The film proceeds to denounce the Soviet Union, which is portrayed in heavily symbolic terms.

Interesting use of limited animation: a still, painted family change into animated silhouettes. The upward-pointing pose is used in the film to represent servitude to the Soviet state.

Here, the pointing fingers of servitude are joined by pointing fingers of accusation.

A return to the idyllic Europe from before. "No man who has ever known freedom will willingly give it up. Freedom to choose the way we want to live, and to respect the ways of others."

"Freedom to combine with our workmates, and to protect ourselves against slavery."

"Freedom to choose our government - and if we don't like what it does, the right to throw it out and elect another."

"Freedom, above all, to think what we like and say what we think - without fear."

The film discusses people living in poverty, "to whom 'freedom' is an empty word". We are told that a united Europe could put an end to poverty.

"We can still preserve the things that make us different, that make us what we are. But we can also learn from each other, help each other." The film ends on an optimistic note: "Freedom is Europe's heritage. Sharing these things together, working together, thinking together, we can guard that heritage; not only for ourselves and our children, we can preserve it for the world".

This 1960s advert made for the global division of Barclays Bank is a different animal altogether. The title was not given on the BBC4 broadcast; the BFI database lists a Larkins production titled simply Barclays Bank D.C.O., which could very well be this one. It's clearly a follow-up to Put Una Money for There, and even uses an instrumental version of Sam Akpabot's song from the 1956 advert.

A man discusses his problem with another character - his wife keeps taking his money. The second man tells him to put his money where his wife can't get it.

He tries burying it (to the anger of his wife), but has trouble finding it again.

His problem his finally solved when his friend introduces him to Barclays Bank.