Sunday, 24 February 2013

Bob Godfrey (1921-2013): in praise of glorious sextoons

Veteran animator Bob Godfrey passed away last week, at the ripe old age of 91, a career overview of the man inevitably evokes happy memories of childhood, thanks to Roobarb (1974) and Henry’s Cat (1980), but equally remarkable was his adult orientated ‘sextoons’ beginning with Henry 9 ‘til 5 in 1970, and continuing with a slew of likeminded animated shorts throughout the 1970s and early 80s.  Godfrey’s sextoons elicited belly laughs from the British attitude to sex, yet also remained compassionate and non-judgemental over characters others would swiftly dismiss as beyond the pale perverts, a trait that gave the films a strong emotional reassurance to the dirty mac brigade.  In a Bob Godfrey sextoon dirty macs could see themselves immortalised in cartoon form and portrayed as heroes or sexually desperate romantics at odds with a prudish and uncaring society.  In Henry 9 ‘til 5 the bald-headed, bespectacled Henry escapes from his nightmarish, grey existence and 9 to 5 city job by daydreaming a series of sexual fantasies, ones that find him indulging in transvestism, sadomasochism, indecent exposure, throwing custard pies at a topless woman and watching a busty blonde exercise on a trampoline (blondes, generally ones with big tits, tending to be a reoccurring fantasy figure in the Godfrey sextoon world).

The twist being that Henry’s day job and non-stop fantasising leave him too mentally and physically exhausted to deal with the demands of his sexually insatiable wife once he returns home.  Henry 9 ‘til 5’s celebration of its hero’s endless sexual fetishes and obsessions pushed the boundaries in terms of British animation, easily earning the film its X certificate, but Godfrey was canny enough to avoid the totally explicit approach that ghettoised many sextoons- such as Germany’s ‘Schneeflittchen unter die Sieben Bergen’- as mere pornography.

In the dialogue less Dream Doll (1979) Godfrey proved that sentimentally and sauciness could go hand in hand, with its tale of a lonely, middle aged bachelor who buys a blow up doll only to find that the love-struck, levitating doll follows him around everywhere, leading to much embarrassment and social ostracization for the mortified man.  In the surreal, but deeply moving ending the doll ‘dies’, prompting an army of flying blow up dolls to descend on London and carry the grief-stricken bachelor off to heaven, where presumably man and doll are reunited.   Of the other Godfrey sextoons ‘Dear Margery Boobs’ (1977) parodied the tabloid agony aunt phenomenon of the 1970s, while Instant Sex (1980) and Bio-Woman (1981) satirised the growing commerciality  of sex.  In the former, sex is literally sold in canned form at supermarkets, and in Bio-Woman a new detergent allows a hen-pecked husband to create a busty blonde from soap bubbles, much to the contempt and disgust of his chronically complaining wife (voiced with monstrous relish by Irene Handl).

Predictably the Godfrey sextoons had their imitators, ‘Snow White and the 7 Perverts’ (1973) and ‘Sinderella’ (1972), were obvious attempts to muscle in on sextoon territory, but Godfrey would see his films afforded accolades unheard of for the British sex film genre, with Bafta nods for Henry 9 ‘til 5 and Dream Doll, plus an Oscar nomination for Kama Sutra Rides Again (1971), which Stanley Kubrick personally selected to be the support feature for the UK release of A Clockwork Orange.       

Godfrey’s sextoon work has become less visible in recent years, their last commercial release being ‘Instant Sex’ a 1991 video compilation of his X-rated shorts, issued to coincide with Godfrey’s return to sextoons with a 40 minute TV adaptation of Gray Jolliffe’s ‘Wicked Willie’ series of books centred around a talking penis.  Purchasing the Instant Sex video, second hand at a record shop a few years ago, proved to be a memorable experience.  The title of the video resulting in yours truly being the recipient of dirty looks from the clearly outraged woman behind the counter, my fumbling attempts to explain my reasons for buying the video, by blurting out “its by the man who did Roobarb and Custard” did little to win favour with her.  It was as if I’d momentarily stepped into one of Godfrey’s sextoons myself, for that experience and the sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, often psychologically revealing, but always brilliant films themselves I doff my hat to the great man.


No comments: