Part One: The Animation Festival
This is the first of three blogs, looking back at the time I spent as a student in Cambridge from 1967-70. Yes, I know, it’s a long time ago, and perhaps I wouldn’t admit to it were it not for the fact that it was a fascinating period, as we entered the era of street theatre, protests, hippie gear, and other stuff (I shan’t talk about the illegal bits!) And also, having fun, sometimes in very peculiar ways. This story is about a stage appearance of an unusual kind.
In 1968, I received an unexpected request. Could I take part – at short notice – in the Animation Film Festival? It was apparently a festival in its second year, as a film article tells us: – ‘It was non-competitive, and the current Cardiff Festival is its descendent.’
But I was a person, not a cartoon… surely the point of animation films is that they’re already on screen, good to go? This one, however, apparently required a live body, specifically a girl with long dark hair who could do a bit of dancing on stage. Just gyrating and waving arms…like on a tropical island…nothing too choreographic. I was doubtful. But, I was told firmly, the Dutch director (of international repute, name lost in the mists of time) needed one! It was urgent – the event was already publicised. Surely I could give it a go? Perhaps I could…. after all, how hard could it be? Although I was somewhat lacking in precision and delicacy, as a dancer. I did not get beyond the first year ballet class as a child. And what if it was something sleazy? But, I was reassured, it was all above board.
It was too late now to back out- I could but try.
I felt pretty daft in the grass skirt, and as for bare midriffs, I’ve never gone in for them, having a scar on my stomach following an emergency operation as a new-born baby. No time to worry about that though, as on cue, I wiggled my way sideways onto the stage, while suitable Hawaiian music played. Not that there was much stage to wiggle on, with the cinema screen just behind me. It was both simultaneously terrifying, and hysterically funny.
And then what? This was, after all, a festival of animated films. There was nothing on the screen itself except – as you can see – a palm tree and a simple tropical backdrop. This was apparently some kind of clever cinematic joke. ‘Oh God, I get it now – it’s me who is the ‘animation’!’ The penny dropped for the audience too, who roared with laughter; I simpered and continued my waving and teetering until signalled at last to stop.
The director seemed very grateful – maybe too grateful, when he then invited me out to supper? I declined and resolved never to dance in public again.
Perhaps some day, someone will discover this photo and claim it as an important milestone in animation history. Perhaps they will track me down and explain my significance in cinematic development? Perhaps…but no, better let sleeping grass skirts lie…
I’ve not found trace now of this actual film, but a little more about the festival has come to light.
In this analysis of the 1968 festival, we get a description of the festival theme film: ‘All the programmes were given a lively send-off by the festival film, Cambridge Steam Engine, made by Charlie Jenkins and Heinz Edelmann of Yellow Submarine fame. Queen Victoria sits unamused, screwed firmly to the screen, while coloured railway-engines cavort behind her, growing stranger and more tube-like until the last one, an op-art octopus, sinks slowly beneath the surface, the captain at the salute on the bridge.’
And joy of joys, we can see it for ourselves! Here’s the film, titled ‘The Transformer’, on the BFI site.
It’s delightful, and I have vague memories of it, watching it now. But I’m struck by the fact that my film was the opposite – in Cambridge Steam Train, Queen Victoria stays regally still and fixed on screen, while the train chuffs back and forth behind her – in my appearance, the palm tree stayed rock steady while I dance languorously in front.
The article’s author describes the set-up, and then singles out a raft of short animations for praise. Mine was not among them. Is this good or bad? Well, there’s still time to be ‘re-discovered’ – perhaps!
Two ‘forgotten books’ – written with enthusiasm, now rarely making an appearance. Curiously enough, the short story on the left, written for students of English, looks rather like me in my late teens – even though I never met the illustrator!
2 thoughts on “Crazy Times in Cambridge”
Very funny,enjoyed reading it and seeing you in your youth!
Oh surely I haven’t changed that much…???
Comments are closed.