So what of the films on the programme? It opened with the opening titles of Bob Godfrey’s film “Great”. What a rumbustious and colourful film this is with many of the big names in British animation working on it. It tells the story of inventor Isambard Kingdom Brunel and won an Academy-award. As a complete contrast the next film, “Matches Appeal”, took us back to the crude beginnings of British animation in 1899. It was made by Arthur Melbourne-Cooper working in St. Albans which gave it local appeal for me as I live in that town. The animation of figures made of real matches is crude but effective and was made as an advertisement for Bryant and May, the matches company.
Jumping forward 25 years we came to “Bonzo” – 1924. Made as a silent film and shown at the NFT without any kind of accompaniment, a little unfair I thought as it would have had some kind of live musical accompaniment in its day. However this did not prevent the
audience from being genuinely entertained by the antics of this mischievous pup and it raised some of the best laughs of the evening.
Another jump in years took us to 1937 for “Love on the Wing” by Norman McLaren who is best known for his work with the National Film Board of Canada but did in fact get his start with the GPO Film Unit in Britain. It shows many of the techniques that McLaren became famous for including painting directly on film. However the print looked very badly scratched to me, or was this part of the technique? I tend to think the former is the case and wonder why they could not get a better print for such an important occasion. Some of the other prints in the show looked as if they had seen a lot of life in a film library. I hope they try to get better prints before the show is put on tour.
Another film for the GPO, this time “Rainbow Dance” – 1936 by Len Lye. It is an experimental film which mixes a live action dancer with all manner of abstract backgrounds produced on an optical printer. The message telling us to save with the Post Office is tacked on at the end and appears rather at odds with the rest of the film. Lotte Reiniger also made films for the GPO and we were treated to “The Tocher” – 1938, which is a beautifully crafted silhouette film telling a love story set in Scotland.
Anson Dyer was one of Britain’s most prolific early animators and he was represented here by “Sam and his Musket” -1935. Made in colour, it was based on a monologue by Stanley Holloway which gave the middle section a rather pedestrian pace as the animation adjusted to the slow delivery of the tale.
One might ask what a film made in France is doing in a programme of British animation. The only thing that can be said in its defence is that it was directed by one of Britain’s most celebrated engraver/etchers, Anthony Gross who sadly died in 1984. “La Joie de Vivre” – 1934 was indeed a joy to watch, giving as it did the occasional glimpse of bare female breast it must have been considered quite daring in its day and perhaps that is why Gross had to go to Paris to make it.