This Throwback Thursday, ex-cinema usher Alex Casey watches an Aardman claymation built entirely around real conversations between real foyer girls.
You will know Aardman Animations now for the dynamic moon-eating duo Wallace or Gromit, or perhaps, for the more culturally unrefined, the screaming toilet slugs of Flushed Away. They’ve really done it all – Chicken Run, Arthur Christmas and even helped out on the animation for this iconic and deeply emotional last-of-the-ginger-wines Spice Girls video:
But it hasn’t been all screaming slugs and fairy-Scarys. Founded in 1972, the British animation house had its first foray into proper fancy adult animation in the 1975 Confessions series. Aardman creators David Sproxton and Peter Lord were absolutely ‘aardamant’ that animation could harness an adult audience successfully. Twenty years before Mr Hanky the Christmas Poo or “what the deuce”, a small studio in England set about moulding and crafting bizarre animations for adult eyes only.
The BBC Animated Conversations shorts are weird for sure. The sprawling dialogue is lifted from real-life conversations between normal people, and then thrust into a horrific world of discordant imagery and more than a few freaky facial expressions. I was reminded more than once of the bone-shuddering trip through the tunnel in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Surely it’s no coincidence they both came out of the early 70s. 420 blaze it.
Here is a slightly later example called Conversation Pieces, taken from the real office of a working newspaper:
As you can see, not the easiest watch. Don’t get too hung up on the mouths matching the talking, or you’ll never sleep well again. What really piqued my interest was short entitled Confessions of a Foyer Girl. As an ex-cinema foyer worker myself, I spent three years of my life standing behind a counter staring at a clock on the wall that wasn’t there. This is me, basically, in clay form.
Taking hearty chunks of conversation and whizzing them in a blender, what comes out in Confessions is a mash of dialogue that is half surreal and manic, and half completely accurate. The main character spitballs between not getting enough sleep to missing the good part of a movie to peel-off face masks and finally star signs. Here is an Aardman impression of a lady with a face mask on. Terrifying.
These inane thoughts are all met with jarring images of industrial machinery – the rusty cogs and hefty cars that constantly grind away inside the brain of a trapped foyer worker. “I can’t wait to go home” she sighs, just after planning out exactly when she has to wake for work the following morning. It’s claymation groundhog day which, despite the ropey animation, has never looked truer to life.
I remember the feeling well. The total exhaustion, the recurring stress dreams. Visions of a line of customers out the door and film malfunctions often blurred into reality to create a constant hellscape of foyer-based stress. At the end of the short, the girl wakes up in a black and white laboratory, lifting the sheet from her Frankenstein’s table. Was it all a dream? It felt bloody real if it was.