Eye For Film >> Movies >> Filmed In Supermarionation (2014) Film Review
Supermarionation might sound to the uninitiated - and, particularly, those under 30 - like the latest Nintendo video game. In fact, the portmanteau word refers to "super" "marionette" and "animation" and was created by Gerry Anderson for production company AP Films, which he founded in the late 50s with Arthur Provis and which would become known for hit puppet series, including Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet.
Filmed In Supermarionation is director Stephen La Rivière's carefully crafted love letter to the company's output and, more significantly, to the people behind the puppets. Featuring many of the original puppeteers and crew and extensive interviews with Gerry's wife and collaborator Sylvia Anderson - perhaps most familiar to audiences as the voice and model for Thunderbirds' Lady Penelope. Rivière and co-writer Andrew T Smith have scripted new dialogue for Penelope, Parker and Brains (original artist David Graham remains on vocals) to help guide us on a romp through the history of the studio, which came from small beginnings - The Adventures Of Twizzle was born more out of financial necessity than desire - but went on to create some of the western world's most iconic kids' characters.
Moving chronologically, Rivière has a lot of ground to cover - from Twizzle and Four Feather Falls through to the now rarely seen or mentioned odd live-action/puppetry mash-up The Secret Service - but although this necessitates a bit of a whistle-stop tour, like the APF crew, he shows an admirable eye for important detail. In between interviews and a visit by key members of the crew to the firm's original premises, prompting memories of the set-up at the time, which often saw some of them sleep overnight in flats above their stages, pausing only to grab a quick coffee on the floor above on their 'commute' to work. There are fond memories of pulling together and recollectons of the rivalry between the puppeteers and the explosives department, who would think nothing of blowing up a prized marionette or two in pursuit of the perfect shot.
The picture painted is a lively one, with the crew offering snippets of information on how they created certain effects, often backed by older archive footage. Thunderbirds, in particular, has become such a brand down the years, however, that fans will already know much of the technical detail, which is why the observations offered on what it was like to actually work at the studio are so crucial to the documentary's freshness. In addition to those behind the scenes, many of the key voice artists also talk about their work, including Graham, Shane Rimmer (Scott Tracy in Thunderbirds) and Nicholas Parsons (Sheriff Tex Tucker in Four Feather Falls).
Gerry Anderson also has a very strong presence in the film despite dying in 2012, his thoughts on his company's work captured in archive interviews and through the memories of those who worked with him. Gerry had always wanted to work with humans rather than puppets and this emerges as a strong driver for realism in the later series produced by his firm. The film's attention to those who are no longer with us is extensive, with a strong archive interview with Robert Easton (Phones in Stingray) and, even though there seems to be no footage available, a strong segment dedicated to composer Barry Gray, whose music is key to the various shows' success.
Perhaps inevitably, this is the sort of documentary that leaves you wanting more - and considerably more is to be found on the two disc Blu Ray release - but this is nonetheless a thorough, engaging and sprightly consideration of AP Films, its output and its employees that is likely to prompt you to splash out on an additional DVD of your favourite show from their back catalogue.Reviewed on: 20 Oct 2014