The Museum of the Moving Image received the Royal seal of approval when Prince Charles attended the opening ceremony on Thursday 15th September 1988. There was much to recommend, particularly the way in which those responsible had succeeded in squeezing a pint into a half-pint pot. Tucked under Waterloo Bridge this seemingly impossible site has been expertly exploited.
Having climbed the impressive staircase and passed through the ticket gate, the visitor enters a world of audio-visual nostalgia. “The most important point one must make is that it is not like any other museum you have ever imagined. Museum is almost the wrong word to describe it for when you think of a museum you think of glass cabinets dust and objectivity,” I was advised by Sir Richard Attenborough. He continued, “Here, there is an arrangement of involvement and excitement as you walk around. The museum has been created to reflect the art form of our century contemporaneously. This is a place where people can come not only to look but to enjoy hands-on participation.” He turned to his companion Anthony Smith. “It has taken a long time – eight years, isn’t it, Tony?”
“Yes. The museum arranges and presents the history of people’s entertainment, setting up a whole series of visual experiences, and turning them into a story in a way no book, film or television programme could ever do. That was our intent and I believe we have succeeded,” – brilliantly! I have to add.
Enough has been written about the museum’s content, suffice to say the experience should be enjoyed by young and old alike.
I headed for the room of animation. The entrance corridor has a wall papered with a pencil drawn sequence. Beyond, one passes into an octagonal room surrounded by glass walls through which can be seen memorabilia and the bric a brac of film production. Video screens show an endless succession of film clips past and present. At the desk in the centre of the room I found a man earnestly teaching a little girl the intricacies of making a flipper pad. In an adjoining corner near the exit is a mock-up of part of a typical studio. A painter inked cels while her partner shot line-tests, continually demonstrating the techniques and ready to answer any questions.
“Animator magazine!” I announced to the line test operator.
“Hallo there,” she smiled, “We are from Chuck Jones Enterprises. I’m Valerie Kausen, Chuck’s grand-daughter, sort of mixing business with pleasure. We’re acting demonstrators for the day. In the States we distribute Chuck’s cels through my mother’s company in Los Angeles.”
“It is big business in America, isn’t it?”
“Yes – particularly in the fine art houses.” Now isn’t that a sensible form of exploitation, marketing your own assets? One that has received little attention in this country. When studios face down-time then staff suffer cut backs. Isn’t this the very time to turn to making money from materials which traditionally have been regarded as scrap. John Coates told me of the lorry loads of cels and artwork carted off for destruction. If the ‘scrap’ is being regarded as a saleable commodity it would be foolish to ignore a simple easy way of recouping expenses. The Americans were not slow in taking cels and backgrounds from Yellow Submarine, Christmas Carol and Watership Down back to their country for release through the art houses.
With today’s printing technology limited runs of colour copy backgrounds present no problem. Ready made frames and safe packaging are readily available. It may not be animation in the accepted sense of the word but if the process keeps people in work until the next commission comes along, so who can argue against the idea? It is a scheme I would be pleased to be associated with, but that may be because I spent so many years as a printer. Wake up to the fact you are producing collectable items. One obvious outlet is the Museum of the Moving Image.
MOMI is a constantly changing museum whose position alone imposes its own restriction upon how much can be exhibited at any one time. If the profession and collectors co-operate fully then the museum would be assured continual update of illustrative matter and memorabilia while remaining a constant source of interest to the general public.
Leeds International Film Festival
When asked to play a small part in the planning of the Leeds International Film Festival I thought it an appropriate moment to pay tribute to a studio that had survived the rigours of the 2nd World War to become our leading animation studio, Halas & Batchelor. Not long ago, John Halas told me, although many countries had honoured their husband and wife partnership with retrospectives of their work on-one had done so in Great Britain. With his enthusiastic co-operation a programme was chosen from available material.
It is fair to say, no prominent figure of note has ever been completely free from critics. Nevertheless, H & B have stood the test of time, setting a high standard which was recognised by Louis de Rochemont when he looked for a studio able and willing to tackle a serious subject in animated cartoon form, Animal Farm. John Halas and Joy Batchelor did not flinch when faced with the problems of adapting George Orwell’s story. They have always had a strong bias toward the application of animation for more serious purposes.
They have the same leaning toward innovative techniques, producing Europe’s first 3-dimensional cartoon The Owl and the Pussycat; the first computer-made British film Modem Mathematics; and the world’s first fully digitized computer generated film Dilemma with Computer Creations in the USA.
Over 2000 films (including commercials) and eight years on after H & B, John marches forward to his half-century in British animated film-making. Even though he is his own best P.R. man – and there is nothing wrong with that when you are in a highly competitive market-place – outside the industry the public are scarcely aware of Halas & Batchelor Studios by name. That is hardly their fault. More the fault of those in other parts of the film industry, particularly distributors, who are apt to dismiss animated films with a contemptuous wave of the hand. No individual short cartoon to my knowledge has ever gone out on general release. The closest we have come is with Bob Godfrey’s Kama Sutra Rides Again which, although it accompanied Stanley Kubrick’s The Clockwork Orange, did not make Bob a rich man.