Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Dougal And The Blue Cat (Pollux et le chat bleu) (Serge Danot, 1970)

If you've ever asked yourself what a David Lynch animation would look like, the answer may lie in this undervalued and underseen animation from the early 1970s. Released the same year as Performance (Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg) and El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky), Pollux et le chat bleu feels strangely at home with the surrealist strand of 70s cinema, while retaining the quintessentially British tone of the 60s TV series, aired by the BBC but originating from France, on ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française). What most people don't realize about this cult series is that the version we know and love actually has nothing to do with its inventor Serge Danot - indeed, Eric Thompson watched each episode without Danot's original script and invented his own storyline and characters based on the visuals alone. All the character traits we know and love are his, and his narration and voice work is impeccably dry and softly magical. Much like Brian Cant's work on the brilliant Camberwick Green (1966, and one wishes there were a feature film of Windy Miller and her pals), Thompson's thespian skills are what gives the animation such a unique flavor and long lasting appeal. The opening scene (with beautifully restored colour) sees a cuckoo clock strike 7pm - Dougal, with nightcap intact, leaps out of bed; "What? What? What? What? Man the lifeboats! Ban the bomb! The dams burst! Is me nightie on fire? Vote conservative! Keep off the grass! What? What? What? What?" Later in the scene Dougal crawls his way out of bed reassuring himself; "just have a cup of tea". It's odd then, and wonderfully so, that seeing as Dougal is essentially channeling the post-WWII working class Englishman, the visuals are so distinctly gallic...

In fact, despite having a totally different animation style and story, the film Dougal And The Blue Cat most recalls is René Laloux's La planète sauvage (Fantastic Planet, 1973), in its surreal, almost trippy oddness and focus on the colour blue. Both films also share an incredibly relaxed pace and attention to landscape - Ygam, the land of the Draags, is in many ways the primary character of La planète sauvage, and its rituals and culture are the most interesting aspect of the film. The same thing can be said for the sense of community created in Danot's brightly quaint stop motion universe, which almost appears to be on another world itself. The most interesting thing about the film is Thompson's ability to ground this unspecified and fantastical location (pink trees, talking animals and a spring-footed magician named Zebedee) in a Englishness perfectly encapsulated by Dougal's declaration of "writing to The Times" every time a problem should arise. Even when Dougal and Buxton (the evil blue cat of the title) take a 2001 (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) homaging trip to a yellow moon, it retains an Englishness that few films from the period can claim to match. "Hmm, what a place. Worse than Barnsley". Every joke is perfectly written and performed, and Thompson's understanding of his audience is remarkable.

What's really to be celebrated about Dougal And The Blue Cat though, is exactly how odd it is. One scene sees Buxton inducting himself into the blue cause by way of a test... he must correctly identify the shade of blue on a door in order to enter and progress to the next stage. There are seven doors and behind each he finds a different manufacturing process that will turn the whole world blue - but one room holds a greater surprise (3:08 in this clip). The masks hark back to German Expressionism/Weimar Film, in particular the Moloch that appears as a vision in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927). Dougal's nightmare has a creepy, Lynchian feel to it... the looming factory projecting light into the dark blue cavern, with an eerie voiceover by Fenella Fielding ("I am blue. I am beautiful"), feels like a deleted scene from Mulholland Drive (2001). Brian, Ermintrude, Dylan and co. are kidnapped by an army of blue men, thin as sticks and with strands of cloth for hair - which they can extend in order to trap their victims. Mustached and with a permanent smile, these little troopers are given a strange menace by their silence, efficiency and sheer number. Even the scene where Dougal is tortured by sugar cubes feels surreal, as he delivers a Shakespearian soliloquy on the moral dilemma of consuming the sweet snacks.

The fact that this beautiful animation has been forgotten for so long is a crime, and the fact that it only now reaches DVD feels strange, considering that the audience for it has all but passed. Had it appeared in 2005 along with the CG reboot it would have at least felt like a tie-in, but most kids now aren't interested - and its questionable how many adults would even remember the film. So it remains a cult curio - dedicated to the archives of cinephiles. It's criminally underrated and honestly one of the best animated films I've ever seen. Check it out while you can.

DVD Extras: The original and distinctly different French version, 'Thompson And The Magic Roundabout' feature, Mark Kermode interview and stills gallery.

2 comments:

  1. Dan Zukovic's "DARK ARC", a bizarre modern noir dark comedy called "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different..." in Film Threat, was recently released on DVD and Netflix through Vanguard Cinema (http://www.vanguardcinema.com/darkarc/darkarc.htm), and is currently
    debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it's World Premiere at the Montreal Festival, and it's US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. Featuring Sarah Strange ("White Noise"), Kurt Max Runte ("X-Men", "Battlestar Gallactica",) and Dan Zukovic (director and star of the cult comedy "The Last Big Thing"). Featuring the glam/punk tunes "Dark Fruition", "Ire and Angst" and "F.ByronFitzBaudelaire", and a dark orchestral score by Neil Burnett.

    TRAILER : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPeG4EFZ4ZM

    ***** (Five stars) "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different...something you've never tasted
    before..." Film Threat
    "A black comedy about a very strange love triangle" Seattle Times
    "Consistently stunning images...a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, "Dark Arc" plays like a candy-coloured
    version of David Lynch. " IFC News
    "Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is...Don't see this movie sober!" Metroactive Movies
    "Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. " American Cinematheque

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  2. Super dessin animé ! Je l'ai vu quand j'étais encore petit (7 ans, environ). Je voudrais le télécharger mais je ne le retrouve plus... ='(

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