28 November 2013

Bambi Meets Godzilla (バンビ、ゴジラに会う, 1969)

I cannot hear the lyrical melody of Rossini’s Ranz des Vaches (Call to the Dairy Cows) from William Tell (1829) without bursting into a fit of giggles.  This affliction dates back to my early childhood.  My parents were elementary school teachers in London, Ontario.  In those days, educational films were distributed to schools via a 16mm film library held by the London Board of Education.  For my birthday party one year – I believe I was turning 9 or 10 years old – my parents brought a projector home with a collection of animated shorts for my friends and me to watch.  The only film that I recall from the party is Marv Newland’s classic Bambi Meets Godzilla (バンビ、ゴジラに会う, 1969).  If you have not yet seen it, it only lasts about a minute and a half and can be viewed on Vimeo.

The film was made while Newland was still a student in California – he talks about it a little bit in an Anifest interview here – and quickly became a cult classic.  In today’s world in which the internet is patrolled by over-zealous corporations protecting their copyrights and infringing upon freedom of artistic expression, it is doubtful that such a film could be made without the threat of a lawsuit.  Newman did not ask Disney or Toho for permission for his send-up of / homage to their iconic Bambi and Godzilla characters. 

The main conceit of the film is that more than half of the less than two-minute film is taken up by hilarious opening credits and closing acknowledgements.  This is partly a commentary on the growing length of film credits (in the early days, films only credited key people, but by the 1960s the opening and closing credits were getting longer), but it is mainly a suspense technique leading up to the extremely quick “action” of the film.  The opening credits are drawn out for 50 seconds, eliciting chuckles from the audience first when they notice that Marv Newman has done everything, and second when the jobs credited become ludicrous. 

At the 50 second mark, the credits are interrupted by the sudden appearance of Godzilla’s foot flattening poor, unsuspecting Bambi like a pancake.  The “action” lasts just under 2 seconds, then after a few beats for the audience to get over their shock / laughter, the acknowledgements appear, thanking the city of Tokyo for the loan of their most infamous Kaiju.  While watching the film online recently, I got nostalgic for the old 16mm projectors because at my birthday party, in addition to re-watching the film several times, we also watched it backwards and laughed ourselves silly at the sight of Godzilla’s foot going up off-screen and Bambi popping back to life again.  Alas, such joys are not to be had with digital media.  I also miss the whir of the projector and the tactile pleasures of spooling the film into the projector.  It is sad that movie projectors are going the way of the dodo bird, for they bring much pleasure to many.

Marv Newland (マーヴ・ニューランド) is an American-Canadian filmmaker, who has had a long career making short commercials for both private and public broadcasters in the US and Canada.   In the course of his career he has done everything from drawing storyboards for Barbapapa at Toonder Studios (Netherlands) to making delightful animated shorts for the NFB.  His animated adaptation of Gary Larson’s Tales from the Far Side (1994) for TV won him the Grand Prix at Annecy in 1995.  He currently teaches Classical Animation at the Vancouver Film School.  A limited edition DVD of his collected works, The Best of International Rocketship became available earlier this year.  See Cartoon Brew for more info.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2013