The Sunday Intertitle: Goony Toons
ALF, BILL AND FRED is probably my favourite Bob Godfrey cartoon — I encountered it on Channel 4 sometime as a kid, back when Channel 4 would run unexpected surprises like this. It’s a simple, even twee, rags-to-riches type story, enlivened by a disrespectful approach to “style” and “production values” — Godfrey creates a style by ignoring or celebrating the clashes of mixed media, and doesn’t bother about things looking cheap.
There’s a strong resemblance to Terry Gilliam’s cut-out approach, which is also anticipated by Walerian Borowczyk’s collaboration with Chris Marker, LES ASTRONAUTS. WB supplies the persistent air of surreal nightmare that haunts Gilliam’s Monty Python work, while BG gives us the jokey blokeyness.
Godfrey also created KAMA SUTRA RIDES AGAIN, which I believe was the short screened with CLOCKWORK ORANGE on its release. I presume Kubrick approved it. Sex, violence and broad comedy: it could serve as a clue as to how Kubrick wanted his audience to react to his movie. I’ve really hate KSRA though — essentially a slapstick tour of various preposterous sexual positions, reimagined as Evel Knievel-style stunts. The cartoon lead’s wife becomes progressively more encased in plaster casts as the film goes on. I’ve always disliked plaster-cast comedy: I howl with laughter at Laurel and Hardy’s COUNTY HOSPITAL, but that’s precisely because it doesn’t force one to think of pratfalls causing broken bones. Olie’ leg is in plaster from the very start, and we never get told how it happened. The movie is true to a scared principle of slapstick, which is that serious injury never results. I think even giving somebody a black eye is pushing it.
On the other hand, Godfrey also gave us THE DO IT YOURSELF CARTOON KIT, narrated by Goon Show alumnus Michael Bentine, which is pretty good. The Victoriana theme certainly seems like it must have influenced Gilliam’s work ~
Of course, what makes Gilliam more than a mere imitator is the wildness of his invention and the excellence of his timing, which owes little to anyone. Cut-out animation was merely a means to an end for Gilliam, in the same way that CGI FX and troubled mega-productions are now.
This one gave rise to a catchphrase in our house — whenever we have to lift Tash, our Siamese cat, out of trouble (a routine occurrence), grabbing her under the front legs and hoisting her until she is extruded into a long, vertical shape like Gilliam’s marauding mutant, we remark, in shrill, stentorian tones, “But at what cost?”