Saturday, 7 May 2011

Animation of the week: Great-Bob Godfrey

One of the only decent people I share my last name with (sorry family) is British animation legend Bob Godfrey who was responsible for such childhood favourites as Henry the cat and the chaotic Rhubarb and Custard (both of which had amazing theme tunes).With a career spanning more than fifty years*(1) (Richard Williams is another British animator who can boast this) his less child friendly work carries a tongue in cheek British sensitivity to sex like Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em and the Carry On films but at times could be a little bit more risque (see Karma Sutra Rides Again or Dream Doll, which was made in collaboration with another renowned animation and film studio Zagreb Film based in Croatia)

The animation of his I have chosen for my animation of the week is his 1975 short Great (view part one here), a musical comedy about the life of famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Like his earlier satirical look at animation and commercial advertising The Do-It-Yourself Animation Kit, this uses the cut out technique where collage and cut outs are used alongside as well as instead of fluid drawings. This technique is sometimes mistakenly identified as being invented by Terry Gilliam but really it was Godfrey who had a huge influence on the Python animator and not the other way round*(2) (you can also see Godfrey's influence on Gilliam in the huge letters in the title sequences to all the Python films). Although Godfrey handles the subject matter and especially the Victorian period with a colourful irreverence (making fun of the empire's colonial powers amongst other things) you can tell that when it boils down to it it is tackled with love. Bright, cheerful, packed full of innuendo and achieves the near impossible feat of being a musical with not a single annoying song (not to mention the fact that it's educational!). There are some real strokes of genius in here, from 50's style rock and roll singers and found footage techniques that remind me a bit of Ralph Bakshi, to Freud calling Brunel 'a paranoiac with a pronounced phallic inferiority complex'. Also worth watching is this old BBC 2 documentary on Godfrey which was part of a series called The Craftsman. Click here.

I couldn't find any decent images of the film to post here but trust me it's worth watching.
*He also worked on Yellow Submarine, an experience his more traditional disciplined training made it hard for him to handle, as there was no real script to work to.
(2)*I'd say that Godfrey was perhaps one of the first British animators to use this technique but you can see it in a lot of Russian and Polish animation of the early 60's-70's as well.

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