I was delighted to welcome Vivien Halas and Jez Stewart of the BFI as our special guests at London Animation Club on Tuesday 5th of May. This event celebrated the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Halas & Batchelor studio, the exact date of which is today.
The last few years have been particularly busy for Vivien: 2012 was the centenary of the birth of her father John Halas and 2014 the centenary of her mother Joy Batchelor. Last year Vivien produced a book about Joy and a digitally restored version of the 1954 film Animal Farm was released on BluRay and had a limited theatrical release. Later this year a compilation of H&B animated shorts will be released and her parent’s illustrated version of Orwell’s novel republished. So I was delighted when she chose London Animation Club for a screening event to coincide with the 75th anniversary.
Vivien introduced a selection of lesser-known Halas & Batchelor shorts, two of which have scarcely been shown since they were released. She showed:
1. For Better, For Worse (1959). This is comedy about the effect that the new-fangled television has on home-life and could just as easily have been about tablets and iPhones. It is very ambivalent about television and was designed in a very modernist style. Interestingly, it features Maurice Denham as the narrator, Matyas Seiber as composer and Harold Whitaker as animator: so in a funny sort of way it is a reunion of the team behind Animal Farm. It was particularly nice that Matyas Seiber’s daughter Julia was in the audience.
2. The Owl & The Pussy Cat (1952). One of the more famous H&B shorts, this was originally made in 3D and its Matyas Seiber score is very much foregrounded in the action.
3. To Your Health (1956). This medical information film about alchohol and alcoholism is really not what you would expect. It is brilliantly informative, visually sophisticated and not at all partonising. It has a very grown-up design and drawing style, with an atmospheric use of shading. It reminded me of George Dunning’s 1973 film The Maggot. It was very apt that we screened it in a pub!
After the break, Jez Stewart told us that according to Companies House, the studio’s launch date was 18th May 1940 and although it is uncertain which their first film was, it may well be Train Trouble, an ad for Corn Flakes in which a squirrel needs a proper breakfast to operate his railway.
Jez is launching a new blog today to coincide with the H&B 75th anniversary and wants to invite people to contribute: http://halasbatchelor75.co.uk/
Jez finished by screening a beautiful advertising film, Fable Of The Fabrics (1940), in which a tiny cupid and a gypsy girl extol the virtues of Lux flakes and in a bucolic idyll. However, by the time the film was completed, Britain was at war and washing powder rationed, so a new ending was added in which the cupid announces that the product will not be available until after war has ended. So it was an advertisement for something you cannot buy.
We then screened a new version of Vivien’s and my documentary Remembering John Halas (2012/15), which launches online today. It features a new score by Tanera Dawkins, a sound mix by Tom Lowe and is narrated by Zoe Wanamaker.
Vivien then finished the evening with an encore, The Shoemaker And The Hatter, an animated morality film which extols the virtues of export and free trade:
Many thanks to Vivien and Jez for a fantastic evening. Captain Zip’s video record of the event will be available online soon.