Wednesday, 29 May 2013

WISH I WEREN'T HERE!

A few weeks ago, Roger sent me a postcard from Braintree Shopping Centre which he reckoned was one of the most boring postcards ever produced...

Au contraire, I say! The shopping center picture contained vestiges of colour and even evidence of life, unlike this card of The Lounge, Herne Bay Court...


...wonder what it's like in the off-season?

Friday, 24 May 2013

ANIMATED ART

As you know, I am a bit of an animation nerd and, in addition to loving all forms of animated film-making, have had my own occasional flirtations with the medium: I worked with Nick Park on the original draft of The Wrong Trousers and, later, scripted two 30-minute animated films: one based on the Biblical story of Jonah, the other (left) an adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick ––– don't ask why the obsession with whales!

Also, some years ago I was almost connected with a projected series devised by Martin Cheek, now a master mosaicist, but, at the time, a gifted stop-frame animator who had worked on such successful  TV series as The Wind in the Willows, Paddington Bear, Noddy in Toyland and Portland Bill.

Martin came up with a humorous, film noir-ish series featuring a Philip Marlowesque detective who just happened to be a lizard named – Art Gecko!


My friend composer Dave Hewson and I wrote a theme song for the show and recorded a demo for the show's prospective producers.


In the event we didn't get the gig and the series was never made – tough-talking, lizard gumshoes, machine-gun-toting gangsters and a gila monster heavy obviously not proving suitable fare for the Teletubbies generation!

Anyway, here's the song (and the singer) that got away...




Tuesday, 21 May 2013

HOLEY PRODUCTIVE

And here's what goes on at a Polo factory – courtesy of Aardman Animations and the voice of Wallace, Peter Sallis...


Monday, 20 May 2013

THE HOLE TRUTH

Have you ever wondered what they do with the bits of Polo that get removed when they make the holes?

The answer: they sell them to the Italians...



Friday, 17 May 2013

THE PROMETHEUS FACTOR

The recent death of Ray Harryhausen reminded me of some thoughts I once expressed in relation to stop-frame animation of the kind demonstrated in Ray's films...

There is a legend telling how the gods chose two brothers, Prometheus and Epimethius, to create the living things that would inhabit a planet which was beautiful to look at but, as yet, quite empty of life. 

The brothers filled the world with their creations: birds soared above the mountains and the forests in a dazzling riot of coloured wings; shimmering fish darted through the rivers, lakes and seas; beasts huge and small, heavy and svelte, fast and slow, began to run and leap, bound, prowl and crawl, amble, waddle and lope through the woods, jungles and swamplands, across the fields, deserts and icy wastes of the new land. 

To each creature, the brothers gave a gift: to some it was fleetness of foot, to others it was strength or cunning; some were given powerful teeth, some thick skins, some simply the grace of rare beauty. 

Then Prometheus, unaided by his brother, conceived another idea: a being who would not be the fastest, strongest or most beautiful of creatures, but who would be the most intelligent of them all - Man. 

Taking a lump of clay, Prometheus shaped and formed a figure that resembled the high gods themselves; a living image of the supreme powers who could stand upright upon two legs; who, though naked and vulnerable, would have the wisdom to clothe and protect itself; who, though set upon the earth, would have the desire to lift its head to the stars and dream... 
There is another ancient story...
Yahweh, the God of the Jews, gathered the soil of the ground in his newly created world and formed from it the shape and likeness of a man. Then, breathing his all-powerful life-giving breath into its nostrils, this naked, vulnerable creature formed in the likeness of God came alive… 

The creation story is found, with variations, in many different cultures and faiths: a symbolic picture, explaining not just the origin of man but also the source of man's creativity.

Such mythologies run deep within our souls, causing us to endlessly re-enact them throughout our lives and even memorialise them in our death: when mighty rulers died in past ages, they surrounded themselves with clay figurines of children, servants and cattle, pottery armies of guardian warriors; still today the priest intones the solemn reminder, 'Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, from the earth we came and to the earth we shall return…'

No wonder such stories, myths and legends have provided such a rich, recurrent theme for artists down the centuries and, in particular, through the work of the three-dimensional animators who have taken their puppets, crafted from a variety of materials from simple clay and precision-built metal skeletons covered in foam rubber, and gifted them with the ability to exhibit a range of emotions – menace, anger, joy, grief and loneliness – that we immediately identify as being as being real, honest and true to life.

And our identification is easily understood since, from childhood, we have played at being not the frail creatures plucked from earth, but the gods who are the creators; not the vulnerable but the powerful; not the recipients of life but life-givers. Give us a lump of clay or Plasticine as children – or, come to that, simply mud – and we will make for you a man or a woman –– or, indeed, a winged horse, a giant ape, a raging demon or  rampaging dinosaur – that can hold within its fragile form all the passions, ambitions, dreams and despairs that are the lot of humankind and of whom Jehovah or Prometheus might have been justifiably proud.


Tuesday, 14 May 2013

FLASHMOB, WALLOP: WHAT A PICTURE!

Viewing much-reproduced, iconic paintings in the flesh (or, rather, canvas) can be a tad disappointing: for example, the most startling thing about looking at the original of the 'Mona Lisa' in the Louvre is that you can't actually see it for the scrum of tourists and their blitzkrieg of flash photography. 

One notable exception to this rule is Rembrandt van Rijn's 1642 painting, 'The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out' – or, as it is more commonly called, 'The Nightwatch' – housed in Amasterdam's Rijksmuseum...


I vividly remember seeing it for the first time, being captivated by its scale and striking intensity, spending some time just absorbing its richness of detail and, later, discovering the intriguing story behind the painting of the picture.

After being closed for a decade of refurbishment, the Rijksmuseum re-opened last month and to mark the event a flashmob invaded a shopping centre in Breda and – with seeming disregard for issues of health and safety, imaginatively and excitingly recreated Rembrandt's famous painting...




Brilliant!

You can read more about the painting here and in even greater detail here.

Monday, 13 May 2013

SEVEN YEAR ITCH?

Absolutely not! 

After seven years of blogging: the Sibley blog and its readers remain as devotedly faithful as ever!


HAPPY 7th
BLOGTHDAY!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

LONG LOVE THE KING!

A number of those who marked the recent death of Ray Harryhausen, noted that the event that ignited Ray's life-long love affair with stop-frame animation was seeing, as a 13-year-old, the 1933 movie, King Kong...

When I was exactly the same age, I saw Ray's Jason and the Argonauts which had a similar impact on my life.

So, in tribute to Ray (and to the film that inspired his own wonder-creating career), here's a radio programme I made in 2003 (with, among others, Mr Harryhausen) to mark the 70th anniversary of King Kong.

Also featuring a poem by that mutual friend of Ray and myself, the late Ray Bradbury, the programme is called – Kong: A Love Song...

 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

THE 'WEIRRD' WORLD OF STEADman

His mixed upper-and-lower-case signature...
STEADman 
...has been the trademark on over five decades of scorching satirical cartoons and wildly (sometimes weirdly) startling illustrations.

In the 1960s, Ralph Steadman was one of the bad boys of a new school of irreverent cartooning that, shunned by the august British comic journal, Punch, found exhibition space for their visceral attacks on most things establishment (and pretty much everything phony, corrupt, unjust and hypocritical) in the pages of a ‘new weird paper’ entitled Private Eye such as this revisionist take on William Hogath's 18th Century engravings – 'Hogath '65: Taste in High Life 2' published in Eye in April 1965...


Regardless of his former status as l'enfant terrible, the artist is enjoying a retrospective exhibition at London's Cartoon Museum, STEADman@77, and is now rightly celebrated for his unfettered imagination and his fantastic draughtsmanship as displayed through relentlessly savage cartoons such as this 1969 double-denouncement of Richard Nixon and his flip-side (or back-side), Spiro Agnew...


...and in his dynamic and revolutionary 're-visioning' of literary masterworks, beginning with his acclaimed 1967 interpretation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and, five years later, Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There...



The range of Steadman's work represented by the over 100 works in the Cartoon Museum's exhibition is staggering in its diversity of subject and medium from examples of his celebrated collaboration with Hunter S Thompson on that author's seminal Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas...


...via his monumental interpretation of the life, times, trials and tribulations of Leonardo da Vinci in I, Leonardo (1983)...


...and his 1986 series of distorted Polaroid celebrity portraits, Paranoids...

  
...to his brutal and bloody 1995 vision of George Orwell's Animal Farm...


...his evocative wine-growing landscapes created for the wine merchants Oddbins...


...and his most recent work, Extinct Boids, published last year...


Regardless of what you may think you know about Steadman and how you perceive him as an artist, this exhibition will still manage to surprise you by the astonishing sweep of his talent. 

You may have forgotten the Steadman who drew pithy little 'pocket cartoons' with uncompromising captions or the impeccable use of detail and hatching contrasted by startling areas of arctic white in his great political caricatures, such as that of US diplomat Henry Kissinger tiptoeing across a vista of eggshells which are cracking open to disgorge writhing vipers. 

Contrariwise, if your recollections of Steadman are as the eviscerating political and social commentator – unafraid to shock or disgust in the interests of making a point – you may be surprised by the infectious humour of line with which he chronicled his expeditions into Lewis Carroll's dream-realms of Wonderland and Looking-glass World or the rich beauty and staggering concepts spread out across the pages of his deeply thought-provoking apologia for God, The Big I Am.

Above all, what emerges is an artist of passion –– and compassion: fulminating righteous indignation weighed and balanced against the redeeming effects of laughter and an unquenchable love of life...

The exhibition STEADman@77 remains on show until 8 September at...
The Cartoon Museum
35 Little Russell Street
London WC1A 2HH.
Telephone: 0207 580 8155
www.cartoonmuseum.org

OPENING TIMES:
Monday – Saturday: 10:30 – 17:30 including Bank Holidays
Sunday: 12.00 – 17.30
(Please note the museum will be closed on Monday 22nd July)

ADMISSION:
Adults - £5.50
Concessions - £4 
Students with valid student ID - £3
Free to Under-18s, Art Fund Members and Friends of the Cartoon Museum (children 12 or under must be accompanied by an adult)

SPECIAL EVENTS:

27 June  6:30-7:30 pm
ILLUSTRATIONS by STEADMAN: Wonderland, Treasure Island and Beyond 
Writer and broadcaster BRIAN SIBLEY (who he?) celebrates Ralph Steadman's radical interpretations of classic texts.

4 July & 3 September  6:30-7:30 pm
PROUD TO BE WEIRRD
Cartoon Museum curator ANITA O'BRIEN looks at Ralph Steadman's life and work

Admission: £5, £4, £3

Book online, or by phone: 0207 580 8155

You can discover more about Ralph on his official website: www.ralphsteadman.com

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

RAY HARRYHAUSEN (1920-2013)


He fashioned the creatures – marvels, wonders, demons and monsters – of my childhood dreams and nightmares.

A twentieth century inheritor of the centuries-old craft of puppetry, he took the playthings of his fantastical imagination – no more than a few inches high – gave them life and breath, empowered them with emotions and turned them into the often huge and towering beings that became the delights and terrors of several generations of wide-eyed youngsters – many of whom grew up to be amongst the most amazing filmmakers of all time.

Before digital animation, Ray Harryhausen – having learnt his art from one of great masters of the craft, King Kong's Willis O'Brien – created unforgettable moments of fantasy cinema: dinosaurs, sea monsters, snake-haired women, multi-limbed goddesses, flying horses, minotaurs and armies of skeletal warriors. He whisked us back in time to witness the brutal struggles of prehistoric life on earth and carried us off to the fantasy realms travelled by Jason, Perseus and Sindbad.

A modest, courteous, gentleman whom I had the privileged to meet with and interview on several occasions, Ray was, without question, a master artist who conjured life into the inanimate toys of his ingenious imaginings and then let them lose to roar and rage their way into the annals of movie history.


You can view some of Ray's cavalcade of creatures in this blog posted in 2010 to mark his 90th birthday.

And here's one to entice you to click that link!


Saturday, 4 May 2013

WHO'S ZOO

My friend Darren very generously gave me a Fellowship of the Zoological Society of London for Christmas and David and I spent a wonderful sunny Friday afternoon in the London Zoo in Regent's Park enjoying, among other things, the brand new Tiger Territory attraction...



I relived many memories of earlier visits to 'The Ark in the Park' which I was first taken to when I was quite a little tot in order to see the newly-born polar bear cub, Brumas.

My first-ever job ambition as a schoolboy was to be a zoo-keeper and, after a number of visits during my childhood and adolescence, I became a 'Friend of the Zoological Society of London' in my late teens and remained so for many years until a spell of hardship forced me to give it up.

During the time of my membership I would visit at least once a week often with my best pal (meeting, without plan or arrangement, but always knowing that the other one would be there) or with my first girlfriend (yes, you did read that right!), my Mum (who loved having afternoon tea on the Member's Lawn) or, again, special guests such as my friend, the actor and teddy-bear fancier, Peter Bull.

When  the Zoo unveiled a statue in memory of a bear called Winnie, who once lived on the Zoo's famous Mappin Terrace and who was the part-inspiration for A A Milne's young son naming his teddy, 'Winnie-the-Pooh', I was a guest at a celebratory lunch lunch seated next to the grown-up Christopher Robin Milne...

At another time of my life, during a particularly bleak mid-winter when I was teetering on the edge of a breakdown: I went AWOL from my job in the City and spent every day for a week wandering among the snow covered animal houses...

Anyway, David and I had the first of what I hope will be many brilliant visits to a place that, throughout my life, has been one of several, beloved Special Places.

Thank you, Darren...





 Photos: David Weeks and Brian Sibley © 2013

Thursday, 2 May 2013

DARLING DEANNA

In 1940's Hollywood she was the epitome of the girl-next-door: a sweet, innocent, wholesome youngster who just happened to be able to warble operatic arias with the perfection of a seasoned soprano at the Met.

Deanna Durbin, who has just died aged 91, made a slew of sentimental movies in which she demonstrated her unique voice to the enraptured enjoyment of a raft of indulgently admiring character actors.

Here she is, alongside the great Leopold Stokowski, in their 1937 hit, 100 Men and a Girl, demonstrating how easy it is audition for an internationally famous conductor...


...and here she is singing Schubert's 'Ave Maria' for an audience (including Kay Francis and Walter Pidgeon) at the conclusion of Joe Pasternak's It's a Date...


It's a Date premiered in March 1940. How interesting that, eight months later, Walt Disney concluded his Fantasia with the same musical item and similar imagery of church windows, arches and processing choristers...

Anyway, from her debut co-starring with Judy Garland in Every Sunday (1936) to her last film, For the Love of Mary, in 1948, she won the hearts of a decade of picture-goers. Corny and implausible though many of her movies were, Deanna Durbin was a unique star in that once-glittering firmament that illuminated Hollywood's golden age.

DEANNA DURBIN
1921-2013


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

MAYHAP

A first-of-the-month greeting to those who are not bothered about waiting till May is out before casting a clout...



Vanessa Redgrave (her seductiveness not quite making up for her lack of Julie Andrews' cut-crystal vocals) as Guinevere in Lerner & Loewe's musical, Camelot based on T H White's book, The Once and Future King.