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.

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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.

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Even 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 creditable 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!

Boris

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rehashing the old letterbox issue again, but rather well this time. The applause that greeted Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi was deserved and his question impassioned, precise and elegant. Boris was fairly good in response too, to his credit, making reference to his own Muslim ancestors. He might also have added that his maternal grandmother was Jewish which I am pretty sure under the rules of the Beth Din makes him Jewish as well – though as I write this, I have someone calling me on the phone and he says that Boris’s grandmother, Frances Beatrice Loew, was only half Jewish- and her mother was actually Scottish. So his great grandfather, Elias, was Ashkenazi and a former Oxford academic, which puts pay to my theory there, but still- it gives a bit more weight to his comment about cleaning up anti-semitism in the Augean stables that is Labour.

An as for Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, he is a Cambridge Mathematician, so one expects something pretty impressive there! A meeting of giants across the floor of the House.

More on RICHARD WILLIAMS

Here is a link to Prologue from Youtube

It makes harrowing watching but is simply remarkable in terms of anatomy and action as well as in the pre mastery of camera moves. The is exactly what Hitchcock’s “Rope” should have been like- a constantly wandering camera lens picking out detail and following the action. I love the way, though that Williams does two things- a) the final man standing is so absorbed in his victory that he and us do not see the last attack and b) I love the fact that all this is actually observed by a girl we never see until the end. She runs off to her grandmother-0 another figure we never see on what otherwise seems to be a flat open plain. It is entirely magical.

 

RIP Richard Williams

When I was 11, I wrote to Richard Williams who invited me up to 13 Soho square and I never looked back. We met a few more times after that and I know personally of his kindness, his drive and his immense talent. He is the author of the bible of animation, a signed copy of which is in my bathroom, and another two copies on my desk and in my briefcase. He is also the director of “A Christmas carol” (1972 oscar winner), “Who framed Roger Rabbit?” (another 2 oscars) and the unfinished film “the Thief and the Cobbler”

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and the magnificent prologue

Quite simply the best!

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and circus drawings:

Here are some earlier pictures from earlier posts about RICHARD WILLIAMS:

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Ding Dong- where has the Ding gone?

Here I am in Dilijan, looking out over the mountains of Armenia! It reminds me alot of Albania and, indeed, I came across a map today which seems to confuse the two places precisely: here it is-

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The Dong with the Luminous Nose

In Lear’s poem, “the Dong with the Luminous nose”, I realise there is an interesting omission. Lear must have intended, in some way, a play on the doorbell-sound “ding dong” so the natural consort of the Dong must then by rights be the “Ding”.

Sadly, the Dong has other interests and pursues a Jumbly girl.

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There is more to this though, because Kant would go on with expressions like “Ding an sich” the thing in itself, so Dong has a much deeper meaning in the Germanic/english world. Kant would talk about the thing in itself as opposed to its actual appearance, “Erscheinungen,” what we see with our senses, something Plato would no doubt regard with suspicion. Lear’s Dong has clearly lost its “Ding an sich” and the light on his augmented nose simply illuminates the physical world and fails to get to the nitty-gritty, the thing in itself, whether this be the Jumbly girl he seeks or the missing Ding he does not know he has lost. The Dong therefore, confused by his senses is doomed to wander forever, weeping into the night.

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Spoonerism?

For luminous nose, read “numinous lose” or numinous loss- where the numinous is the spiritual- so, the Dong has lost his soul. He cannot see beyond the end of his own nose. that is a theme that reappears in the original 1964 “Mary Poppins” and leads up to Disney’s beloved song, “Feed the Birds”.

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Jane: An outing with father?

Mary Poppins: Yes.

Michael: I don’t believe it!

Jane: He’s never taken us on an outing before.

Michael: He’s never taken us anywhere!

Jane, Mary Poppins: However did you manage it?

Mary Poppins: Manage what?

Jane: You must have put the idea in his head somehow.

Mary Poppins: What an impertinent thing to say! Me, putting ideas into people’s heads? Really!

Jane: Where’s he taking us?

Mary Poppins: To the bank.

Jane: Oh Michael, the city! We’ll see all the sights and father can point them out to us!

Mary Poppins: Well, most things he can. Sometimes a person we love, through no fault of their own, can’t see past the end of his nose.

masha and the bear

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This was the first subject I dealt with for HTV’s news programme hosted by Irada Zeynalova just before Christmas. The interview was fairly full with questions about the impact of Russian animation in a global market. The particular controversy, however, was a result of an article in the TIMES, prompted by a number of academics-  Professor Anthony Glees, of the University of Buckingham, an intelligence expert, had said: “Masha is feisty, even rather nasty, but also plucky. She punches above her slight weight.” He was, in turn, quoting a slightly obscure paper by an academic in Tallinn University’s Communication School  claiming that the bear symbolised Russia and was designed, according to the Daily Mail, to “place a positive image of the country in children’s minds.” A Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, reported this in November 2018 but Professor Priit Hobemagi had actually written his paper nearly a year earlier. I do not quite understand why it took so long to come into print at all.

Speculation elsewhere that this story is really about anxiety in the Ukraine was missing from the report on HTV and reports in the Daily Mail and the Times.

The programme is deliciously designed and the soviet details are precise – that is partly where the humour lies- the cap that Masha wears here has a blue band= the colour of the border guards.

I gave a detailed breakdown of the development of Russian animation and made reference to some current projects including the amazing Hoffmanidea and further work by Yuri Norstein who animated the Hedgehog in the fog. tWhat I said was dubbed into Russian though I could not be sure that what I was saying was actually what was being spoken and the studio would not let me have access to the original tapes. Nevertheless, the dubbing seemed to be in line with the general points I raised in the interview.

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American History’s biggest fibs

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The first of three episodes begins on Thursday on BBC4 this week. I have completed animated linking sequences and inter-titles throughout the 3 programmes as I did in the previous series (“British History’s biggest fibs”) The imagery this time is drawn from American posters and typography- the title sequence itself should remind people of the currency which is a good start!

Lucy, as ever, is brilliant!

 

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