Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Geoff Dunbar's Ubu

Ubu faces the audience in a static shot that lasts for several seconds, ending when he breaks wind.

Ubu is a 1978 film made by Geoff Dunbar, based on Alfred Jarry's 1896 play Ubu Roi. Dunbar discussed the short in a 4mations documentary about his work, Dunbar's Lore:
I think it was the late sixties, and I saw this wonderful production of Ubu on at the Royal Court, and Max Wall was playing his Royal Highness. And it was just astounding, I mean, that was my initiation with Alfred Jarry, I mean, he was quite an extraordinary man. I thought at that time, if I ever got the chance to do it, Ubu would just be the most natural animated picture. I related it to Jarry in terms of animation initially because it was originally a marionette play that he put on at school as a boy, and then he placed it a little bit later in the theatre. And I think it's part of anyone that works in the theatre, it's part of their curriculum, you know, you come across Ubu, you come across the importance of Ubu in breaking the traditions.

...So we developed that style, you know, literally it was blobbing ink. And when we were doing some of the backgrounds - you know, they were very simple, we just drew them in like this, and then I would take a bottle of ink with those plunger things, just squeeze it, and then just whack it right across it, and you'd just let the blobs go.

I remember, it was in the BAFTA theatre, and it was a full house, a lot of people had turned up to see this piece. And it did the job, it broke the mould, I think, of people's conception of animation. I mean, there it was: suddenly there was something else happening on the screen. And it was the most marvellous feeling when it finished, there was a little pause. And tremendous applause, I was really moved by that. I did, at another screening, overhear some people walking out saying it was the most revolting and disgusting film they'd ever seen, and they didn't know what animation was coming to. At which I thought, well, I don't know, I mean, it can't always be little cutie characters.
Oscar Grillo commented on the film in the same documentary:
Jarry's drawings were at the time actually very, very important for Geoff's design of the film... because he's more able to admire an artist than a filmmaker. He' not afraid to leave for four seconds a static character looking at you. I say, if you go to a museum and see Mona Lisa, she's not moving, she's looking at you. So have a character looking at you, that character thinks, that character actually has loads of dimensions.

In the battle of Ubu, which is to my view one of the most powerful, violent sequences in the history of European film, I think only you could find things that is in Japanese films, live action films. Geoff actually managed to convey a lot of brutality and horror. And if you actually analyse the style and the drawings, they are unbelievably simple, childish, call it what you prefer. but the strength and the energy, which is essential in this dynamic form is being put by Geoff, being the fabulous artist he is.


  1. Great post on an amazing film. I saw it on tv on its debut and never forgot it. I wrote to Geoff last year and followed it up earlier this year . He's an amazing filmaker.

  2. I remember woking on this. Getting an invite to its BAFTA premiere and seeing I got a credit was a real blast I can tell you!

  3. annabel jankel14 July 2011 at 13:23

    it was a huge privilege to work with geoff on this film, a true artist, and where i learnt so much from the masters of the artform. at the time, it felt like we were breaking new ground, it was funny and frightening - and now over 30 years later, it still is radical but has also become a classic, that i am proud to have been involved with. Long live the king!

  4. one of my favourite UK animations - the design values are stunning. Terry Brown did a great job on the sound design, also.