Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Talking Shop - Monkey Dust

Recently, I've been wondering where my passion for animation came from. And in truth, I've been stumped. It was never Pixar or Disney, I knew that much. They never really had the profound life changing effect on me that they do so many others. I knew it wasn't Chuck Jones cartoons either. Yea, the rabbit was funny, but it never made me want to forge a career.The more I thought about the issue, the more I worried. It started to develop into a pathetic existential crisis. Maybe animation wasn't for me? Maybe I wouldn't be able to work in the industry anymore because I can't reference the first time animation hit me like a bolt of lightening? Maybe I'd be outed and I'd be force to leave. I wouldn't be allowed anywhere near Soho, and they'd take my degree back. They'd all bloody know I was a sham. I'd have to become something else, an accountant, or an estate-agent or something. These were dark times. I couldn't rely on quoting Kubrick as an inspiration any longer, it was becoming embarrassing. I needed some bloody animation to reference but I couldn't think of anything. I was a goner...

And then, after a night at the pub back in my home town, it hit me. Walking through the dying highstreet, past drunken children and aggressive kebab wielding maniacs, I had a flash back...this was the moment, the big reveal. The big life changing event that I would quote forever more!...well kind of...I couldn't actually remember what the hell the inspirational animation was called. I just knew that those dark alleyways of my hometown were perfectly captured in an old animation I used to watch. I remembered watching dark, grimey, green stories play out in the dead of night on the BBC. I remember the feeling of watching that animation. I was too young to be seeing this stuff and I should have turned it off. But I was a rebel at heart, and I watched week after week on the small TV I had in my room. The memory had hit me, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember the name. Finally, my Desert Island Discs recollection story had hit me and I was too stupid to know the name of the fucking tv show. Now I'd never win an Oscar. 

So, I did what anyone would do. I opened Google and with as much intelligence as I could muster, I typed "bbc 2 animation series from the 2000's."...and there it was...the answer I had been searching for. The solution to my woes. My restoration of faith.

"Monkey Dust"...Instantly I remembered. The golden light of an angel hit the Wikipedia link on the screen and I was transported back to when things were easier. I was Indiana Jones, and this was my big golden egg thing. I was Neo, and god blimey I was about to take the green pill. No blue pill. Or was it the red pill. Who cares, I was about to be fulfilled. For the next two hours I sat watching clips on Youtube. I ordered the DVD and I felt like I belonged on earth once more. I could finally fit into society safe in the knowledge that I too had a bullshit story to share about the day I decided to be an animator. I could finally attend dinner parties and be an adult.

Monkey Dust was mine. It was the TV series that made me want to make animation. I didn't know it at the time, but now I realise how important it was to me. At the time of release, I would have been 13 years old. At that age, most people seemed to be down the park smoking crack or taking vodka shots directly through an eyeball. But I was never really that person. I spent most of my time in my room, drawing and watching hugely inappropriate tv shows and films. 

It's difficult to describe exactly what Monkey Dust was like. It was at times, dark, disturbing and melancholy; whilst often being side-splittingly funny, offensive and depraved. It was a string of adjectives, all oxymorons to one another. But more importantly, it was a snapshot of a time and a place...it was Britain in all its glory and horror. Complete with depressed sex addicts, psuedo-intellectuals and yuppies.  Rather than a patriotic, nationalistic love for a place that never existed, this mocked the realities of life in Britain and demonstrated that at the core of all broken societies, existed people with problems. Both good and bad.

Among them, my favourite, Clive Pringle. A middle aged man, who walks home each night to his flat in the city. On his arrival, his wife questions his whereabouts, to which he always responds with a bizarre string of excuses, all of which are plots to fictional stories; including 2001: A Space Odyssey, The A-Team, Humpty Dumpy and Hotel California. His wife points out the obvious lie, forcing Clive to reveal his true whereabouts, most often being sexually degrading tales, followed by his catchphrase, "...and that, darling, is what really happened." 

There was Ivan Dobsky, The Meat-Safe Murderer - A man held in prison who is frequently exonerated, bounces around the outside world on a space-hopper called Mr Hoppy, only to find life on the outside a little harder to live in. Each week he would be released, only to once again commit horrendous crimes on his smiling space-hopper.

Then there was the divorced dad and his son Timmy. A dad so depressed from the tales of his old family that he commits suicide on each episode, whilst his son sits helplessly in the other room, giving his true feelings on his step-dad, Roger.

And of course, the famous Paedofinder General, a character who leads a witch-hunt for potential sex offenders across the UK. Strikingly current at the time, he listed many reasons for his trials. In one instance, he targets the cast of a production of Fiddler on the Roof, citing, "By the powers invested in me by a text vote on Sky News, I find you guilty!"

I don't prescribe complete influence of my life to this little know animation, but I do attribute it with being one of the first works to demonstrate that people all have problems. That realisation of our own failures and the failures around us, encourages empathy, rather than prejudice. And that rather than a constant obsession with a perfect world, are we not better understanding the realities of our situation in the horrors that we often ignore. Monkey Dust not only taught me to appreciate this style of storytelling, but also informed me that animation could be dark, adult and effecting.

Cartoonist Chris Ware once stated "Happiness is overrated." A quote that most people will retreat from, but in truth, a quote that so perfectly describes life and art. To constantly obsess about ones happiness is to ignore the realities of our surroundings. Monkey Dust manages to explore this void. It remains on the small list of animations that specifically engage with the darkness of our culture. Sometimes being deeply disturbing and harrowing, but often hilarious and comforting. Whatever point I'm trying to make about this shows effect, it's probably best to just say, go watch Monkey Dust.

If you are interested in more inane articles of this sought, why not check out Talking Shop, a bunch of blog posts about animation and whatnot. And for students from UCA, Monkey Dust - Season 1, is available on DVD from Rochester Campus Library.

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