Top 10 Things To Know About Supermarionation

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This week sees the release of Filmed in Supermarionation, a definitive documentary looking at the golden years of Gerry Anderson and his signature puppet shows: Thunderbirds, Stingray, Joe 90 and more.  Since these action-packed puppet shows played a key role in the childhoods of at least three generations, we thought it appropriate to look at what we learned from Anderson’s iconic series.

Below is the Top 10 things to know about Supermarionation inspired feature idea, we’d love you to run something this week on it or similar? Please include the credit below to the film and images/packshot download link below which expires end of Wednesday this week so pls download asap. Just let me know if you need any more information!

 



Supermarionation (a portmanteau of “super”, “marionette” and “animation”) is a puppetry technique devised in the 1960s by British production company AP Films. It was used extensively in the company’s numerous Gerry and Sylvia Anderson-produced action-adventure series, the most famous of which was Thunderbirds. The term was coined by Gerry Anderson, possibly in imitation of “Dynamation”, Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion technique.

Being a geek’s OK

Today, with all Hollywood churning out a dozen comic book movies a year and male models buying non-prescription glasses, it can be easy to forget the playground stigma attached in bygone years to being nerdy, geeky or just into doing hard sums. Anderson’s shows were a welcome respite to this for those of us just not into PE, with Thunderbirds’s Brains and Joe 90 himself regularly saving the day, despite their incredible handicap of wearing chunky spectacles.

Middle kids have it tough

In Thunderbirds, Scott, Virgil and Alan Tracey fly around in hovering aircraft and rockets saving their word. Third and fourth siblings John and Gordon are stuck respectively alone in a space station and piloting a tiny submarine that looks like an abandoned Ford Cortina prototype. It’s a harsh lesson, but Jeff Tracy taught a generation just how brutal large-family politics can be.

Philanthropy is critical

When today’s super-rich aren’t busy catastrophically distorting London’s property market, they’re gold-plating their Lamborghinis, or giving megayachts to children. Jeff Tracy used his fortune to set up International Rescue, and create one-of-a-kind vehicles that were not only capable of saving the world, but which almost certainly inspired every automotive designer working today. Bill Gates’s crusade against malaria is a noble one, but until Carlos Slim has a rocket stored under his swimming pool, the real-world wealthy will still be falling short.

The future’s going to be amazing

Produced at the time when the Apollo space programme was igniting imaginations the world over, Anderson’s shows are redolent of a kind of techno-optimism typical of an era when air travel was something that didn’t make you miserable and ill. Sure, the Heath Robinson mechanisms needed to get into Thunderbirds 1-5 were a tad impractical, but the wondrous machines Anderson and co designed for their near-future setting did suggest that the rapid technological progress since the war was set to continue.

A good theme tune is important

For some it’s the Rocky theme. For some it’s the prelude to Das Rheingold. For the tasteful few, it’s a sweet cut from Slayer. For the supermarionation shows, it was the phenomenal, brass-heavy work of Barry Gray, whose music elevated those bushy-eyebrowed marionettes to the status of epic drama. We wouldn’t see such a blend of cardboard sets and bombastic orchestration on a such a scale again until Star Wars. They’re groovy, too: it’s not a stretch to imagine the Captain Scarlet theme being played in a club on the 1967 King’s Road.

World government is on its way

Despite what the nuttier elements of YouTube say, we don’t yet have world government – but Anderson thought it the logical end result of the absurdities of Sixties Cold War politics. In Thunderbirds, Joe 90 and especially Captain Scarlet it’s explicit, and implicit elsewhere – not as some creepy bureaucracy, but as an escape from the petty nationalism that had led to previous wars, a very pressing concern a mere 20 years after World War Two’s end.

A cool head is crucial

While today’s kids’ shows can feel like punishment, with the shrieking and melodrama, the Tracy boys, Captain Scarlet, Troy Tempest et al could be relied up to not lose their heads and maintain their stiff upper lip. It probably helped that their lips were made of plywood, but they’re sure better role models than the shrieking fools today’s kids have to put up with.

Smooth transitions are key

In Anderson’s series, it seemed you couldn’t go between any pair of scenes without a burly man bashing the timpani on the soundtrack. There’s no obvious need for this, but it sure would up the drama on Downton if every transition was soundtracked by a drum fill that sounded like tractor tyres being thrown down stairs.

Everything’s going to be fine

Finally, despite the wealth of exploding oil refineries, hijacked space liners and malevolent possessed men, in Anderson’s programmes good did always triumph. Made at a time when nuclear catastrophe was theoretically minutes away at any time, the reassurance that everything would work out in the end is the secret to their enduring appeal. All you need is a cool head, a wonky walk, and access to some amazing machines.

 

FILMED IN SUPERMARIONATION has a special Supermarionation is available on DVDBlu-ray and Limited Edition Box Set 20 October


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

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