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Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★

‘The Invention of Writing (and Its Destruction)’ is the second of only three films in Phil Mulloy’s ‘The History of the World’-series, which apparently should have existed of 140 different shorts.

Like ‘The Discovery of Language‘ this is a film about sex. The short uses the same white characters as ‘The Discovery of Language’, and takes place in 2,000 years B.C. The short tells about a man who doesn’t manage to get sex, because he’s beaten again and again by other men.

Then the man uses his own penis as a pen, writing ‘The penis (pen is) mightier than the sword’. The invention of writing earns him a multitude of women to have sex with, but it won’t last.

Like ‘The Discovery of Language’ ‘The Invention of Writing (and Its Destruction)’ is essentially a silent film, with intertitles. Mulloy’s animation is simple and crude, and makes effective use of cut-out techniques. The result is a strange mix of sex, violence and absurd humor.

Watch ‘The Invention of Writing (and Its Destruction)’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Invention of Writing (and Its Destruction)’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★

‘The Discovery of Language’ is ‘episode 10’ of Phil Mulloy’s ‘The History of the World’, which in real life only consists of three films, of which this one is the first.

The film series uses Mulloy’s typical crude black and white style, enhanced by reds to depict blood. But unlike his other films, his characters are not black blots of inks, but white.

The short tells about a primitive tribe of women, 1,000,000 b.c. who discover letters in the soil, which together form the word ‘vagina’. As soon as they realize the meaning of the word they create their own Fall of Man, covering their crotches with skirts, and forbidding masturbation. Meanwhile, the men are on a similar quest to form the word ‘Penis’, but they are too stupid to fulfill the task.

The crude humor of this short is enhanced greatly by the effective soundtrack, featuring excellent music by Alex Balanescu.

Watch ‘The Discovery of Language’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Discovery of Language’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★

‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ is the most critical of Mulloy’s ‘Ten Commandment’ films.

This short tells about Hank, an honest worker in ‘Joesville, at the wrong side of the Mississippi’. Hank works at a building site, and all his colleagues are stealing stuff (in a rather absurd sequence of images), but he won’t.

When crisis hits Joesville, Hank ends on the street, while all his colleagues mysteriously have built homes for themselves…

The town of Joesville would return in the episodes ‘Remember to Keep the Holy Sabbath Day’ and ‘Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness’

‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1994
Rating:

‘Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery’ is the fourth of Phil Mulloy’s ‘The Ten Commandments films’. This short tells about two astronauts, Tex an Mary Lou, who have feelings for each other, which they don’t express, because of their questionable marriages on earth.

This seems like a more critical episode than ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill‘, but Mulloy spoils it by an absurd postlude involving flies.

The black and white ink drawings are enriched by bright yellows and reds to depict flames of desire

‘Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1993
Rating: ★★★

‘The Sound of Music’ is easily one of the more serious and more depressing films British animator Phil Mulloy created. The film is one misanthropic view on mankind.

The film stars Wolff, a saxophone player, who works as a window cleaner during daytime. The window cleaning part allows Mulloy to indulge in his misanthropic world view, as every room Wolff and his colleague watch from the outside is filled with scenes of violence, loneliness, despair and death.

But Wolff’s night job is even worse. He plays the saxophone at one charity diner, which turns out to be an orgy of indulgence for the rich and famous. When the cooks run out of meat, they empty the streets and hospitals to feed the do-gooders. These visions of cannibalism are as depressing as it can get in animation film. And yet, the end of this film holds some hope…

Mulloy’s crude drawing and animation style suits the black humor and extremely bleak world view fine. The film is devoid of dialogue, with Mulloy employing title cards as if it were a silent film. But the images are enhanced by screeching avant-garde music by Alex Balanescu, whose string quartet is enhanced with voice, saxophone and drums.

Watch an excerpt from ‘The Sound of Music’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://www.philmulloy.tv/the-sound-of-music

‘The Sound of Music’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1993
Rating: ★★

After his absurd series ‘Cowboys’ (1991), which dealt with Western cliches, and the two-part ‘history of the world’, mostly devoted to sex, British indie animator Phil Mulloy embarked on a series on the ten commandments.

All stories are typically silent comedies, using a voice over by Joel Cutrara to tell the story. Unfortunately, Mulloy stays far from Krzysztof Kieślowski’s critical view on the ancient biblical laws. It seems he only uses the commandments as templates to build rather absurd stories on. Most attractive is Mulloy’s rough style, using broad black ink strokes on a white Canvas, with the occasional blood reds. His animation is very limited, but effective.

‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ is a typical example of the series. The short tells about one Uncle Josh from Arkansas, who loses his family rapidly, in Job-like fashion. A a reaction he commits suicide, flies to heaven, where he’s kicked into hell by God himself.

It’s as if Mulloy tells a joke, helped by visuals. In no way the series approaches the misanthropic criticisms of his contemporary film ‘The Sound of Music‘ (1993).

‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Mike Booth
Release Date: October 1996
Rating: ★★★½

The Saint Inspector © BolexbrothersThis Bolexbrothers short tells about a rather fat, naked hermit. He lives in complete meditation on a platform high above the mountains and clouds.

One day he gets a visit from the ‘saint inspector’, a robot. The robot inspects the meditative state of the hermit, who only once reacts to the robot’s tests. This prompts the robot to look inside the hermit’s brain, which leads to a mesmerizing string of rapidly changing and rather disturbing images.

‘The Saint Inspector’ is quite an absurd film, and more than anything else demonstrates the limitless potential of animation.

Watch ‘The Saint Inspector’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Saint Inspector’ is available on the DVD ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’

Director: Nick Park
Release Date: December 26, 1993
Stars: Wallace and Gromit
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

The Wrong Trousers © Aardman‘The Wrong Trousers’ was the second short featuring the cheese-loving duo Wallace & Gromit.

Their first outing, ‘A Grand Day Out’ had been a virtuoso piece of clay animation, but even so, ‘The Wrong Trousers’ was a giant leap forward, taking Aardman’s claymation out of the independent animation atmosphere into the mainstream of slick studio productions, without losing an inch of character.

Despite being only 29 minutes long and featuring only three characters, ‘The Wrong Trousers’ feels like classic cinema. The fifties horror typography of the opening titles immediately makes it clear that we’re in for a mystery plot, and indeed this is a crime thriller with a small penguin as a most unlikely, but very convincing villain.

The film opens on Gromit’s birthday, a day which turns out quite sour. First, Wallace seems to have forgotten all about it, then he gives him the most useless gift imaginable: automatic trousers to walk him out without his faithful master. Then it turns out that Wallace has to cut expenses and … a room for rent.

That very evening the penguin comes in as the new boarder, but instead of taking the vacant room, he heads immediately for Gromit’s room. The mysterious penguin first takes care of Gromit, chasing the poor dog out of the house, then he uses the trousers in a diamond heist scheme.

The whole film is very well shot, featuring expressionistic angles and clever zooming in and out between the  front and back of the set. The suspense is greatly added by dramatic orchestral music by Julian Nott. And throughout the animation, by Nick Park himself and by Steve Box, is top notch.

Especially the two silent characters, the penguin and Gromit, are very well animated: the penguin creepy and enigmatic, hardly revealing its emotions, except in the heist scene, Gromit with a multitude of expressions, making great use of Nick Park’s trademark brow technique. In fact, Gromit is such a rounded character, he easily carries the whole film easily using the expressions of his eyes alone. Especially Gromit’s agony, having to watch how the penguin silently takes over his home, is tantalizing.

Nevertheless, the most impressive part of this short is the finale. This is a remarkable chase scene, ridiculously set indoors on miniature trains, but it consists of five frantic minutes with a sense of speed never seen before in a stop-motion film. This finale alone takes the possibilities of stop-motion forward to new heights, and together with ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ from the same year, ‘The Wrong Trousers’ must be regarded as a milestone in animation. Thus, the next year the film rightfully won the Academy Award for animated short.

The film also started a sort of Wallace and Gromit tradition of combining silly inventions with mystery thriller plots, as this would be the promise of all three subsequent Wallace and Gromit films.

Watch ‘The Wrong Trousers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Wrong Trousers’ is available on the DVD ‘Wallace & Gromit – The Complete Collection’

Director: Dave Borthwick
Release Date: December 10, 1993
Rating: ★★★

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb © Bolexbrothers1993 was a great year for stop-motion animation: it saw the screening of the groundbreaking feature film ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘, as well as the Wallace & Gromit short ‘The Wrong Trousers‘, which also covered new grounds.

Much less well known is the stop-motion feature film ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’, also released that year. Made by Dave Borthwick at the British Bolexbrothers studio the film is a much rougher affair than the smooth stop-motion efforts of Disney and Aardman. In fact, it stands firmly in a tradition of gritty and disturbing stop-motion films that via Jan Švankmajer harks all the way back to Władysław Starewicz.

To begin with the film takes place in a dark and disturbing world, where large insects crawl and violence roams. In this gloomy world a poor couple gives birth to a child the size of a small fetus, whom they call Tom Thumb (in one of ca. three lines of dialogue in the entire film).

But Tom soon is kidnapped and taken to a sinister laboratory populated by several chimeral creatures tortured by insane experiments. A two-legged lizard-like creature helps Tom escape. Outside Tom meets a human tribe his own size, who unfortunately kill his chimeral companion. Jack, the leader of the tribe and a master of weapons, takes Tom back to the laboratory, where they eventually apparently destroy the laboratory’s power…

Much of what’s happening in this film is rather incomprehensible, and the plot could do with some cleaning. For example, it remains utterly unclear why Tom is kidnapped, and what the origin of the little people is. Throughout Tom remains a silent and innocent character, not unlike Pinocchio or Dumbo, and he hardly acts.

In the end the film is more interesting because of its disturbing images and for its unique artwork than for its story. The creators made especially well use of pixillation (the animation of people), giving all actors a grotesque appearance and ditto movement.

The best scenes remain the ones inside the laboratory, where Tom sees some pathetic creatures. Especially the one in which one of the creatures asks Tom to shut down the power that sustains them, is a moving piece of animation.

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ may never get the classic status of a ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ or a ‘The Wrong Trousers’, it still is a film that shows the limitless power of animation in the hands of creators with a lot of imagination.

Watch ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ is available on DVD

Director: Mark Baker
Release Date: May 1993
Rating: ★★★★★

The Village © Mark BakerAfter ‘The Hill Farm‘ (1989) Mark Baker returns with another strong parable on the human condition. If ‘The Hill Farm’ explored man’s relation to nature, ‘The Village’ is concerned with man’s internal relationships.

The village of the title is a circular isolated village with all houses facing the same square. The neighbors seem godly souls, but they are all hypocrites spying on each other. Everything has to be done in secret: a cleaning lady secretly steals apples, the vicar secretly sips wine, and a stingy, bearded guy secretly plays with his money.

In this narrow-minded and stifling community a married woman falls in love with a bachelor with glasses, but they have to flee into the surrounding woods to escape the eternal gaze of their neighbors. Meanwhile the woman’s husband kills the miser, and steals his money, but it’s the bespectacled lover who gets the blame.

The village gladly builds a gallows out of the unjustly accused’s very own trees, but the lover manages to escape, accidentally killing the vile husband in the process. In the morning the omnipresent ants, which form a rather morbid running gag during the whole film, have eaten the corpse dry, and the villagers think it’s the body of the escaped convict. They break down the gallows in deep disappointment, while the two lovers flee from the village into the world.

‘The Village’ is told without words, only using unintelligible dialogue. Baker’s simple and quasi-naive style is used to a great effect, and adds to the story’s timeless value. Moreover, Baker’s timing is excellent, mixing the painful with comedy, especially when using the ants, injecting some black humor into the disturbing tale.

Watch ‘The Village’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Village’ is available on the The Animation Show of Shows DVD Box Set 7

Director: George Dunning
Release Date: 1962
Rating: ★★

The Flying Man © George Dunning‘The Flying Man’ is a very short absurdist film in which a man drops his coat to take a swim in mid air. Another man with a dog drops by, tries the same thing, but with his coat on, to no avail.

Dunning uses a single tableau and no perspective. On his white canvas he paints the three characters (two men and dog) with bold paint strokes. Dunning’s characters consist of loose joints, similar to characters by John Hubley. Unfortunately, this design makes it rather hard to decipher the action, especially when both men are on the ground.

The action is accompanied by short but effective clarinet music by Ron Goodwin.

Watch ‘The Flying Man’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Flying Man’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Director: Luis Cook
Release Date: June 11, 2007
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Pearce Sisters © Aardman Studio‘The Pearce Sisters’ is an atypical product from the Aardman studio, as it does not use claymation, but 2D computer animation.

Cook tells a tale by Mick Jackson about two ugly sisters who live on a windy beach, far from the rest of the world. Their life is harsh, but they have each other. Then, one day, they save a man out of the sea…

The short is a rather morbid tale, but Cook manages to focus on the relationship between the two sisters, making the film gentler than one would expect. Cook’s style is completely his own – and owes nothing to Aardman’s general ‘Nick Park’ style. Cook tells his tale in great silent scenes, enhanced by a superb audio design – there’s only one line of dialogue in the entire film.

Watch ‘The Pearce Sisters’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Pearce Sisters’ is available on the DVD Box ‘The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 6’ and on the French DVD box set ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e anniversaire’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Mony a Pickle © Norman McLaren‘Mony a Pickle’ is a compilation film for the British ‘General Post Office’, made by several directors. In his contribution Norman McLaren turns to his homeland Scotland to tell a story about a poor young couple, still living with their family, but dreaming of a place of their own.

The dream sequence transforms the poor and crowded living room into a new stylish one, and uses a lot of stop motion of furniture. There’s a humorous sequence in which the two lovers argue about the legs of a table, which change back and forth for our very eyes. Unfortunately, in the end a little brother scatters all their dreams and puts them back into reality again.

‘Mony a Pickle’ is a nice blend of live action and stop-motion. The stop motion sequences in a long tradition of furniture animation, which started with Stuart J. Blackton’s ‘The Haunted Hotel’ (1908). McLaren’s animation is not too remarkable, but effective, and completely in service of the story.

‘Mony a Pickle’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Norman McLaren
Production Date: 1938
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Love on the Wing © Norman McLarenIn the late 1930s Scottish film maker Norman McLaren made several films for the British Post, like the promotional live action films ‘Book Bargain’ (1937) about how telephone books were made, and ‘News for the Navy’ about how letters were delivered worldwide.

Much more interesting than these films, however, is the small advertisement film McLaren made for Empire Air Mail, ‘Love on the Wing’. The film is clearly strongly influenced by the surreal movement. It uses, for example, music from Jacques Ibert’s quirky ‘Divertissement’, which was by that time only eight years old, and the film’s opening images are reminiscent of works by Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí.

In ‘Love on the Wing’ McLaren’s exploits his trademark technique of drawing direct on film, and he combines these images with beautiful painted and highly surreal backgrounds, reminiscent of the otherworldly landscape paintings by Giorgio De Chirico and Yves Tanguy.

The film tells a little love story, but is wildly associative, with metamorphosis and symbolism simply exploding from the screen. The three protagonists change into letters and back again, as well in numerous other symbols of love. So much is happening in the mere four minutes, it leaves the viewer breathless.

‘Love on the Wing’ surely must be one of the most avant-garde advertisement films ever made, and the short is without doubt McLaren’s first animated masterpiece. Unfortunately, the film displeased the authorities of the post office, and they never distributed this extraordinary short.

Watch ‘Love on the Wing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Love on the Wing’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Mark Baker
Release Date: 1988
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Hill Farm © Mark Baker‘The Hill Farm’ is a long animation film exploring man’s relation to nature.

First we watch the inhabitants of the hill farm themselves: simple farmers, who know the dangers and hardships of nature, and who treat their livestock without romanticism (as exemplified by the farmer’s wife killing chicken without ado).

At one point the hill farm is visited by tourists, who are completely alienated from nature. One of them faints at the sight of the farmer’s wife killing a chicken. When confronted by nature’s dangers (as embodied by a gigantic bear-like beast) they don’t recognize the danger at all. To them nature is something to visit, something to make snapshots from. The third party is a group of huntsmen, who (try to) kill everything in sight, including even the farmer’s bees.

The whole film takes place at a leisurely speed, without dialogue. Mark Baker’s visual style is simple, but very effective. His angular designs and graphic backgrounds are beautiful, and his animation has a unique timing, which is as comical as it is to the point. The narration is very open, leaving the interpretation to the viewer. The end result is one of the most beautiful animation films of the 1980’s.

Watch ‘The Hill Farm’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Hill Farm’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Director: John Halas
Release date: 1981
Rating:  ★
Review:

Dilemma © Halas & Batchelor‘Dilemma’ is one of the earliest computer animation films ever, and probably the first fully digitally produced one.

Unfortunately it is a rather vague, non-narrative film, which seems to try to tell us that we could better use the human mind for art and science than for violence and war.

‘Dilemma’ doesn’t make any use of 3D effects, but stays in a very graphic 2D design style. The only clear additions of the computer are the very primitive morphing sequences. Outside these, the animation is very limited. The film uses the same static head over and over again to illustrate the human mind.

The designs are rather ugly, and so is the synthesizer music. Moreover, the filmmakers seem to want to tell us too much, resulting in a rather tiresome film, in spite of its avant-gardism. It was to other film makers to use the full potential of the new technique of computer animation.

Watch ‘Dilemma’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dilemma’ is available on the DVD inside the book ‘Halas & Batchelor Cartoons’

Directors: Nick Park & Steve Box
Release Date: September 4, 2005
Stars: Wallace & Gromit
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Wallace & Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit © AardmanAfter three excellent two-reelers British animation heroes Wallace and Gromit were ready for their first feature film.

‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ elaborates primarily on the themes of ‘A Close Shave’: love and horror. This time Wallace and Gromit are after a giant rabbit threatening the crops breeds for a vegetable contest in the village.

The stop motion animation in this film is practically flawless, elevating the century old technique to the highest standards possible. Indeed, both this film and ‘Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride‘, another stop motion film, were far superior to any computer animated feature film released in 2005 or 2006.

‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ is not only a great animation film, it is great cinema, with excellent camera work, a flawless story, wonderful characterization and lean storytelling that builds to a spectacular climax. Especially the animation of Gromit is stunning, because his acting is completely silent throughout the picture and uses only the eyes to suggest emotion.

Watch ‘Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Ruth Lingford
Release Date: 1997
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Death and the Mother © Ruth LingfordWhen death takes away her child, a mother gives up everything to get her back.

‘Death and the Mother’ is Ruth Lingford’s re-telling of a classic fairy-tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s an animation masterpiece: its strong and gritty animation, the beautiful string quartet music by Nigel Broadbent, the subtle sound effects –  all add up to a very strong, dark and emotional film. Lingford makes clever use of the computer to create a very graphic film that looks like an animated woodcut. In an age in which computer animation almost equals 3D animation, this is a refreshing technique, with a stark impact and an imagery unparalleled in the animation field.

Moreover, Lingford captures Andersen’s tale of grief, love and sacrifice very well, without trying to update it. Just by staying true to the essence of the original story she has made a timeless classic. Her wordless film is as universal as it can get, and capable of communicating to audiences worldwide. It’s a welcome antidote to the Disney fairy tale retellings, which get more and more watered down, and which lose a lot of the originals’ charm with it.

Watch ‘Death and the mother’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Death and the Mother’ is available on the DVD inside the book ‘Animation Now!’

Director: Nick Mackie
Release Date: 1999
Rating: ★★
Review:

Minotaur & Little Nerkin © Aardman‘Minotaur & Little Nerkin’ is a curious 2d computer animation, which looks like it is designed for children.

However, its story is rather black. The film features a minotaur who lurks a duck into his home to eat a captivated human hand, only in order to eat the duck himself. Remarkable for its morbid humor and original technique, it is nonetheless an ugly and unfunny film, that fails to entertain, let alone impress the viewer.

Watch ‘Minotaur & Little Nerkin’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Minotaur & Little Nerkin’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

Director: Mark Brierley
Release Date: 1998
Rating: ★
Review:

Al dente © Aardman‘Al dente’ is another film by computer animation pioneer at Aardman, Mark Brierley.

This short film looks even more primitive than ‘Owzat’ from the previous year. It doesn’t feature any backgrounds of notice, and the main character, a grumpy waiter who has to serve a vegetarian meal at a meat restaurant, looks primitive and unimaginative. The film is utterly mediocre and, like ‘Owzat’, probably would never have been released were it not an Aardman production.

Watch ‘Al dente’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Al dente’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

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