Can I talk to the Animals?

I remember the wondrous production of Dr Dolittle in London towards the end of the 1990s, with Philip Schofield. Julie Andrews lent her voice to the parrot Polynesia, so, at the time, it was a bit like the theatrical sensation when Laurence Olivier was projected on to a screen during the rock opera TIME. In the case of Dame Julie, it was also a return to musicals for a lady who had just famously lost her voice. As for the producers, it’s certainly a way to get a big name on the theatre Marquee and up there on the billboards.

Schofield, by the way, was excellent in every way.

He was much warmer, too, than Rex Harrison who had done the 1967 film, one of those handful of films that, frankly, defined my childhood. I had a jigsaw, a book I still possess and yes, a roll-out map with rub-down transfers of animals. I thought it was Magical.

Not so magical for the 20th Century Fox film-makers, however: the Producer, Arthur P Jacobs, had a heart attack and the production itself was dogged with disaster, not least because of rain in Castle Combe and the film clocked up an impressive over-budget of $29 million, three times its original estimate. Rex Harrison proved to be a nightmare, with an ego inflated by oscar success in My Fair Lady, a mad wife and a fairly alarming line in racist banter aimed at hi9s co-star Anthony Newley. It is a bit shocking, really.

There is an odd link between the old movie and the new one, by the way- in Fiennes snr, whose son lends his voice to one of the better characters and who, as a 22 year old, before hitting fame as an explorer, tried to sabotage the film by blowing up a dam created by the film-crew to make the trout river appear to be a sea-inlet in the idyllic Puddleby-on-sea. Ranulph Fiennes was arrested for what he said then was an attempt at stopping “mass entertainment from riding roughshod over the feelings of the people”. It won two oscars.

But the question remains, is it possible to talk to animals or for them ever to talk to us? My cat, Hanim, has a range of noises that seem to communicate though she can hiss at her brother, Bey, in a quite unnerving way and she still slaps him. Recently, she has stopped purring or it has become very faint. She is old now.

But much of her communication has always been about the quality of the look she gives me. In fact, depending on her mood, her whole face changes shape completely.

Samuel Peypes records seeing a “great baboon” shortly after he arrived in London. He writes, “I do believe it already understands much English and I am of a mind it might be taught to speak”. There are a number of quasi-scientific records of communicating primates, though there is always the suspicion that we are stuck in some sort of conjuring trick, a bit like those chess-playing automata of the 17th/18th centuries, or, indeed, the basis of AI where computers repeat what they have been taught to say. It is not quite genuine communication- it is elaborate imitation. Parrots do it in a more modest fashion. (Back to Julie Andrews I suppose and her performance with Schofield!)

Hanim may not articulate sentences, but she certainly communicates and it seems to go beyond a need for basic foods. She enquires, it seems to me about my well-being, she is attentive and she is curious. These days, it is a bit reversed and she responds in a series of looks to my requests about her well-being. So far, so good. But she is frail, fragile. I wish I could do more for her.

And to the film- Oddly costing $175 million and yet abbreviated to exclude the protagonist’s  title. So, just “Dolittle” it is. No “Doctor.”and it was a disappointment that did very little if truth be told. It began with some nicely-coloured but worryingly wooden animation, gorgeous sets and inventive imagery; it was even partially redeemed by Antonio Banderas (Rassouli- yet another film version version of Lofting’s original Pirate king, “Bumpo”?) pretending to be Jack Sparrow, and Ralph Fiennes’ gorgeously animated tiger, Barry. I had high hopes for Michael Sheen, but he only came into his own at the end of the credits when he was spared a teasing moment to be eaten alive by a cave-full of bats.

The main problem, I suppose, lay in Downey jr’s welsh accent- something I had been warned about but did not realise would be as ghastly as it sounded. It was not at all wrong- indeed, to my ear, it was spot-on but just dull as ditchwater. If we want to hear an energetic welsh actor, we have plenty alive who would have done a better job- one of them bizarrely in the same movie, but Rob Brydon, Rhys Ifans and Anthony Hopkins would have done just in the title-role as well as Michael Sheen.

Even little 16 year-old Harry Collett could have taken on the main role, could have carried the film. He has form- in 10 episodes of Casualty and bits and pieces of creitable voice-work for animation. I was certainly more invested in following his adventures than Downey’s Dolittle. Let’s hope Collett gets even better and bigger opportunities- he is winsome and agile: the next ironman maybe? The next Christian Bale? I drew him here first!

Disturbing news

The last unpublished post of Caroline Flack makes for disturbing news but it raises an important point. Ms Flack’s career was defined by what she said on tv and that platform was taken away dramatically and suddenly. The loss of her voice, on top of everything else, therefore, must have been dreadful for her. She was already demonstrably vulnerable, had taken significant steps to sort things out and her boyfriend had said he did not want to press charges. An emotional breakdown has played out in public and we need to look at the way our society has allowed this to happen.

She writes with great clarity:

I am suddenly on a different kind of stage and everyone is watching it happen.

I have always taken responsibility for what happened that night. Even on the night. But the truth is …. It was an accident.

I’ve been having some sort of emotional breakdown for a very long time.

But I am NOT a domestic abuser. We had an argument and an accident happened. An accident.

The blood that someone SOLD to a newspaper was MY blood and that was something very sad and very personal.

The reason I am talking today is because my family can’t take anymore.

I’ve lost my job. My home. My ability to speak. And the truth has been taken out of my hands and used as entertainment.

I can’t spend every day hidden away being told not to say or speak to anyone.

I’m so sorry to my family for what I have brought upon them and for what my friends have had to go through.

I’m not thinking about ‘how I’m going to get my career back’. I’m thinking about how I’m going to get mine and my family’s life back.

I can’t say anymore than that.

There is now talk of “Caroline’s law” and, certainly, the death of Caroline Flack has been treated with great delicacy by the media. For the most part. One of the hosts of “This morning” may have made a slip of the tongue but it was an unfortunate one when she said on air, “The press are getting a lot of flack”.

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While the media may indeed need to do some self-searching, and while this may be  yet another reality tv tragedy, it is also another instance of the sort of mindless bureaucracy that we are allowing from public services set up to protect us, this time, from the CPS. We need to look better at people and ask what they are capable of, rather than follow a catalogue of events in -what should we call it? um- a “points’-based system”? (the punctuation alone to properly write that term should encourage us to avoid it in future).

We have the capacity to do better but we seem to be doing worse.

In terms of reality tv casualties, I can now think of 4 deaths directly linked to “Love Island”, a show that I managed to watch briefly- it is a very strange spectacle, more like a 1960’s beauty pageant. I can only speculate about the pressures the contestants must be put under every day! However, to that list – specifically, Sophie Gradon and her boyfriend Aaron Armstrong, Mike Thalassitis and now Caroline Flack, I should add Steve Dymond who was on Jeremy Kyle’s former show, but also instance the pressures that led to suicide attempts by Steve Wright, a former Big Brother winner in 2013. Aaron Allard Morgan has gone on record on “the Wright stuff” saying that 4 contestants he knew had attempted suicide following the show in 2011. This is what he said then,

They give you very little preparation for what’s likely to happen. From my year, with the 15 of us, I know that four of them have tried committing suicide after the show just because of the ramifications and impact that it has on your life.

You’re not prepared and you don’t get the aftercare that perhaps you should be getting afterwards. The people that are going in tomorrow, they’re not gonna hear this.

I just hope that if they need help afterwards, if they wanna speak to me, if they need any advice, I’m more than happy to give that.

There are, I understand, many other instances.

Despite having been on a Reality show myself, it is an area of TV that I know little about and the more I look into it, the more I realise there is an important story to be told. Reality TV has changed the dynamic of the medium and I think it will define the way tv moves forward. It has already dictated a number of checks and balances that I have seen in place, but we may need to be even more vigilant if these procedures are to have teeth and not be mere window-dressing, lipservice or a fashionable veneer over what has become a serious money-making machine.

Some years’ ago, I posted something about Robin Williams – It is a great sadness when those who are entertaining us are crushed by the very system that should be there to support them.

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Also in the news today is the statement that Prince Harry and Megan cannot use the term “Sussex Royal”. This is absurd- it is churlish, childish and cheap. It is a response, frankly, that is beneath the Royal family and those who offer them advice. At a time when senior members of that family have brought genuine shame on the Queen and are still held close, this kneejerk (do I need all that word?) reaction to the Queen’s grandson and his wife is astonishing and really should be reversed. Let’s wait for a gracious apology. If anyone can do that well, it is the Queen! She will lead the way out of this mess.

 

Tim the elephant

Today it was announced that the elderly tusker, Tim, has died in a safari park in Kenya. He had evaded the poachers and lived to a relatively ripe old age. He was much studied and drawn. I have drawn him in the past and drew him this morning as an example of how to draw elephants on my Youtube channel!

Here is a moleskine sketch along with comparisons with Disney’s Tarzan (Tantor?) and Warner bros’ Horton, both of whom have moved the eyes to a site slightly above the trunk, which is what made it so difficult to draw a convincing elephant as a child- the only elephants I had seen were in Disney’s version of “Jungle book” and this modest modification made all my efforts look more like dogs than elephants- and that was rather the plan I think by Johns Lounsbery and Ken Anderson and the 9 old men who reworked the elephant anatomy early on and especially for Dumbo. It is also evident, by the way, in the design for “elephacine” in Fantasia-

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and particularly evident in the designs for Madam Mim in “the sword in the stone”. In this instance, it is a Milt Kahl design animated by Lounsbery.DEKew22U0AEXyeu.jpgDEKezCqVoAAknlG.jpg

For the record, here is my drawing:

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