Bob Godfrey - Writer




Animator. Nationality: British. Born: West Maitland, New South Wales, Australia, 1921; emigrated with his parents to the United Kingdom, 1927. Career: 1949—background artist, Larkins animation studio; then member of Grasshopper Group; 1954—cofounder, Biographic Cartoon Films for producing short animated films and advertisements; 1964—formed Bob Godfrey Films; television work includes series The Do-It-Yourself Film Animation Show (as writer and narrator), 1974, Roobarb , 1974, Noah and Nelly in . . . SkylArk , 1976, and Henry's Cat , 1983–86. Awards: Academy Award for Great , 1975; MBE, 1986; Senior Fellw, Royal College of Art, 1989.


Films as Director (Animation):

1952

The Big Parade (co); Formation (co)

1954

Watch the Birdie (co)

1958

Polygamous Polonius

1959

The Do-It-Yourself Cartoon Kit (co)

1963

A Productivity Primer

1964

The Rise and Fall of Emily Sprod (+ ro); Alf, Bill, and Fred

1967

Rope Trick ; What Ever Happened to Uncle Fred? ; The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck ( Dance of the Vampires ) (Polanski) (animation sequence)

1968

Two Off the Cuff (co, + voice)

1969

Colloids (Jessop) (animation sequences)

1970

Henry 9 'til 5 (+ voice); The Electron's Tale (co); Love and Marriage ( Sex, Love and Marriage ) (Gould) (animation sequences)

1971

Kama Sutra Rides Again (+ voice); The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (Stark) (animation sequences)

1972

It's a 2' 6" above the Ground World ( The Love Ban ) (Thomas) (animation sequences)

1973

Is This a Record? (Turpin) (animation sequences)

1975

Great

1976

The Key

1977

Dear Margery Boobs (+ voice)

1978

Marx for Beginners (co)

1979

Dream Doll (co); Instant Sex

1980

Bio Woman

1985

Polygamous Polonius Revisited ; Beaks to the Grindstone ; A Journalist's Tale

1989

Revolution—La Belle France

1990

Wicked Willie

1991

Happy Birthday Switzerland

1992

What a Hog!

1993

Small Talk

1994

1066 and All That ; Know Your Europeans

1995

Kevin Saves the World (+ production designer); Know Your Europeans: The United Kingdom



Films as Director (Live-Action):

1960

The Battle of New Orleans (+ ro)

1961

That Noise ; What Kind of Fool Am I?

1962

Plain Man's Guide to Advertising (+ voice)

1963

Morse Code Melody

1965

One Man Band ; L'Art pour l'art (+ ro)

1967

Bang



Films as Actor:

1955

Bride and Groom (Daborn and Potterton)

1966

Just Like a Woman (Fuest)

1968

The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (McGrath)

1970

Today Mexico, Tomorrow . . . the World (Shillingford)

1975

I'm Not Feeling Myself Tonight (McGrath)

1977

Sensations (Shillingford and Grant)

1980

The Falls (Greenaway)

1982

Henry's Cat (Godfrey)



Other Films:

1965

You Must Be Joking (Winner) (titles designs)

1967

Ouch! (Bryant) (titles designs)

1968

Twenty-Nine (Cummins) (graphics)

1971

And Now for Something Completely Different (Macnaughton) (animation ph)

1979

Dream Doll (Godfrey) (pr)

1993

Small Talk (pr)



Publications


By GODFREY: articles—

Cinema Papers (Melbourne), August-September 1980.

Screen International (London), 25 September-2 October 1982.

Video Business , 12 September 1984.


On GODFREY: articles—

Roudévitch, Michel, in Cinéma (Paris), no. 98, 1965.

Movie Maker (Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire), April 1967.

Image et Son (Paris), November 1967.

Lockey, Nicola, in Broadcast , 2 April 1979.

Banc-Titre (Paris), September 1982.

National Film Theatre booklet (London), March 1985.

Holton, Gillian, "Simply Great," in Stage Screen and Radio (London), April 1995.


* * *


One way and another, Bob Godfrey's films have attracted a good deal of attention, not all of it invariably favourable. Great won him an Oscar; but feminists have condemned much of his work for misogyny—a charge to which he himself is now inclined to plead guilty—and several Godfrey cartoons have had "X" certificates slapped on them by alarmed censorship boards. Kama Sutra Rides Again was the first cartoon to receive an "R" (adults only) rating in Australia, which did it no harm at all at the box office. It also gained a special award from Yugoslav film-buffs as "The Film Most Likely to be Understood All Over the World," much to Godfrey's delight. "I am completely communication-oriented. . . . If the art gets in the way—stamp it out, I say. I'm a plagiarist, I will desecrate, I will mutilate, I'll do anything in order to get the message across."

He first achieved wide recognition with The Do-It-Yourself Cartoon Kit , a spirited and irreverent send-up of animated-film conventions which Ralph Stephenson described as "one of the funniest cartoons ever made." The film signalled what Michel Roudévitch called, in tangy French, Godfrey's "penchants pour l'hétéroclite, le saugrenu, le coq-à-l'âne" (taste for the offbeat, preposterous and parodic), as well as locating him squarely in a British comic-surrealist tradition descending from Lewis Carroll via the Goons, and leading on to Monty Python. (Godfrey's influence is clearly evident in the work of Terry Gilliam, the Pythons' animator.)

Another fecund source of imagery was Donald McGill, maestro of the ribald seaside postcard. McGill's vast, predatory women and nervously randy little men peopled the long series of bawdy comedies, from Polygamous Polonius through Henry 9 'til 5 and Kama Sutra Rides Again to Instant Sex and Dream Doll , for which Godfrey is now best known. In these "sexual punch-ups" (his own term) he mocked his audiences, prodded impudently at the boundaries of censorship, and exposed the fears and anxieties haunting the male libido. Repeatedly, his anti-heroes take refuge in reassuringly manageable surrogates (masturbation fantasies, inflatable life-size dolls, cans of "Instant Sex"), rather than confront the terrifying prospect of a real, live woman. If some feminists have berated Godfrey for misogyny, others have felt more inclined to thank him for providing them with so much first-rate ammunition.

As the series progressed, the mood underlying the broad knock-about of Godfrey's sex comedies appeared to darken, the depiction of emotional inadequacy to grow more bleak. The frenetically varied couplings of Kama Sutra Rides Again suggest, as Tom Ryan observed, "nightmare rather than satisfaction." Most sombre of all is Dream Doll , codirected with Zlatko Grgic of the Zagreb studios. Despite problems during the making—Godfrey summed up coproduction as "like directing a jellyfish"—he was proud of the final result, "which took on a kind of Croatian doom—a sort of comedy noir . . . . Some of my films are very patchy, but this one really flows." The ending, in which the Chaplinesque little man is transported heavenwards by a whole flotilla of inflatable women, deliberately parodies Lamorisse's Le Ballon rouge ; when Dream Doll was premiered at Annecy, the French were not amused.

Godfrey's most ambitious work to date is the Oscar-winning Great , a 30-minute musical treatment of the life of the Victorian inventor-engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Visually and verbally exuberant, it packs in all the notable events of Brunel's stupendous career, along with a wealth of songs, jokes, and miscellaneous objects—including Union Jacks, exploding hats, and multiple appearances by Queen Victoria, who makes her entrance rising majestically out of a lavatory bowl. This gives fair notice of the overall level of humour, but it would take a jaundiced viewer to object, given the film's abundant energy, high spirits, and evident affection for its subject. Even so, according to Godfrey, the Brunel Society did object: "They said it was full of historical inaccuracies and lewd innuendoes. And why not, I say." In recent years Godfrey has made determined efforts to escape narrow typecasting as the maker of "male anxiety films." ("I think Maggie [Thatcher] used up all my misogyny," he commented in a 1993 television programme. "I haven't got any left, I used up so much on her.") But not even the award of an OBE—which arrived, much to Godfrey's glee, while a hanged effigy of Mrs Thatcher was on public display outside his studio—has conferred respectability. There have been collaborations with the left-anarchist cartoonist Steve Bell, whose scabrous political wit meshed well with the vigour of Godfrey's style of animation, and a loose ongoing series of portraits of European nations, unrepentantly rich in irreverence and crude stereotypes. Godfrey's main current activity is in the field of children's television, exercising his anarchic (and only slightly less lewd) humour in such series as Roobarb, Henry's Cat and The Bunbury Tails. He remains fascinated and excited by the unlimited potential of his medium—"You can do the impossible. We leave the possible to the TV news"—and as iconoclastic as ever. "One of the things I want to do is Hamlet. With robots. Get rid of the poetry and keep all the violence and the paranoia."

—Philip Kemp

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