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?”

12 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Goony Toons”

  1. A friend who used to work with BG many years ago told me his nickname was God Bobfrey. I can’t imagine it was due to any sense of self-importance though, the work doesn’t strike me that way.

  2. He seems very laid-back, when I’ve seen him. It’s possible his dream project, Great, the story of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was inspired by some kind of personal identification, though.

    Incidentally, isn’t Isambard Kingdom Brunel the most impressive name ever? Even better than Bonar Colleano.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by dcairns and malik anderson, Simon Kane. Simon Kane said: RT @dcairns: Celebrating (and savaging) animation wiz Bob Godfrey ~ … […]

  4. Just acquired Storm in a Teacup, a Scottish-set comedy featuring sexy Rexy circa 1937…

    Have been meaning to see Harry Smith, stuff, thanks!

  5. Off-topic, but I felt compelled to bring this to everyone’s attention. James Wolcott’s most recent post is about Conrad Veidt, or more specifically a piece on Veidt to be found in TCM’s Movie Morlocks section. It all can be found here:

  6. And David, your Mubi piece on Veidt and THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK is mentioned specifically, as well as a link provided!

  7. Isambard Kingdom Brunel is a great name. Watching The Wizard of Oz yesterday I briefly flirted with the idea of adopting Edgar Allan Woolf as my psedonym, it’s absurdly excellent. But for sheer chutzpah, it’s hard to beat Frank Smokecocks (though one of the credits on Tangled, for somebody called Jesus Canal, comes close).

  8. Thanks, Guy. That’s a really nice, thorough piece by Moira Finnie (good Scottish name!). Terrifically researched and observed.

    I love American movie credits for the strange names that turn up buried in the ranks of the crew. At random, I scan Black Swan’s credits and rejoice in Seth Tallman, Conrad V Brink Jnr, Henrik Fett, Chris “Pinkus” Wesselman, Michael P Whipple, Ben Lusthaus, and Morris Flam.

  9. Personally, I’m a little less sanguine about Gilliam’s originality particularly when one looks at the work of Stan Van Der Beek dating from the late fifties and early sixties. Here’s one example, but you can see more at UbuWeb as well.

    To me, it looks like Gilliam pretty much lifted VanDerBeek’s style and tone and ran off with it without looking back. Some of his feature borrowings seem slightly less homagey and more like Tarantino-like steals, but that may be due to the fact I just don’t think Gilliam has much of anything interesting to say. It feels like every film of his riffs on the same damn theme of the artist or imaginative person being put uopn by society which doesn’t recognize the brilliance of his contributions, but the artist type manages to transcend such pettiness in the end. Basically a sort of puffed up look at his own contributions to the world. Yech. Sorry, I just can’t stomach Gilliam at all.

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