Have you ever heard an English cinema audience applaud and boo a
film? It is extremely unlikely that you have, for the films which would
provoke such an un-English demonstration are few and far between.
The usual audience reaction as a film ends is a relieved silence — relieved
because either the boy has got the girl in spite of all the misunderstand-
ings and there is a happy ending, or, if the film finishes 'unhappily', the
release of tension and the end of a harrowing experience is a relief.
Rarely, however, is a film strong enough to call for opposition as
well as applause from the audience. The fact that The Little Island
produced that effect, at least on the occasion when I saw it at the
Curzon cinema, is an indication of its power. The Little Island is a
cartoon film, but if that makes you think of Disney, Bugs Bunny, or
even UPA, I must hasten to tell you that the only thing in common
between them is that they have all been drawn by hand and do not
employ live actors for the visual image. One may as well think of
Annigoni and Picasso as having something in common because they
both use paint and canvas.
The Little Island runs for half an hour, which is long for a cartoon,
and tells the story of three men who land on an island and proceed to
have an argument. Simple enough, except that they represent Good,
Truth and Beauty and into that half-an-hour is packed, in symbolic form,
a statement of man's accumulation of knowledge and the struggle
between goodness and beauty — both of which become transformed in
the course of their conflict into monstrous machines of destruction. That
is all the film is— a statement. Dick Williams, who made it, assures
me that it has no message; it was something he wanted to say. There
can be few statements which have been made so forcibly.
For sheer invention in colour, pattern, form and movement (the
fourth [abstract] graphic dimension which only the cine camera can
offer an artist), this must be one of the wittiest serious statements ever
made, with biting comments on art collectors and the babel of art
criticism, on the church with its prudery and readiness to resort to
violence, and on the detached and objective scientist who realises too
late what he has done and settles the argument once and for all. The
tension and the terror built up in this last section is the equal of any I
have ever felt in the cinema.
Dick Williams who made The Little Island is a twenty-eight-year
old Canadian who came to this country in 1954. He worked day and
night, accumulating heavy debts, and when things got too bad produced
TV commercials to buy more time for The Little Island. He could
obviously make a fortune the easy way in TV advertising, but preferred
to make his statement the hard way. It took him two and a half years
to pay off the debts he incurred in making the film.
Yet although his was obviously the drive and conviction which
has made The Little Island what it is, he would be the first to admit
how much he owes to a handful of good friends who worked with him
or helped and encouraged him through the three years of labour on
this film; the dark despairing days as well as the days of hilarity and
high enthusiasm. Most important among these for the finished result
and the success of the film is Tristram Cary who provided the brilliant
musical score which matches in wit and invention the visual imagery.