Wednesday, 26 June 2013

J.R.Ackerley and 'Tulip'

I've always enjoyed the writing of the British author J.R (Joe) Ackerley, long dead now, an excellent critic, editor and prose writer. His poignant memoir My Father And Myself is a little classic of autobiography, a fascinating revelation of familial skeletons-in-cupboards – at once intimate and outspoken, elegantly written, confessional yet discreet.

Watching the animated film drawn from Ackerley's book My Dog Tulip (itself another extraordinary autobiographical work, based on his longterm relationship with his canine, Queenie), we found it just as enchanting and indeed even more impressive on a second viewing. Released in 2009 (when I first saw it on the big screen) My Dog Tulip struck me as one of the very best full-length animated features I'd ever seen. My opinion was generally shared by reviewers and arthouse audiences, including Philip French, perhaps the doyen of UK film critics, who wrote: "Exquisite… A film to cherish". It's also very funny as well as touching, and says more in its 82 minutes than many more mainstream and bigger budget movies. It's voiced, quite beautifully and most appropriately, by Christopher Plummer, the late Lynn Redgrave and Isabella Rossellini, while the film's whole conception – the brilliant artwork, music and the spikily effective and witty narrative – is altogether delightful.

It's the work of a painstaking and exceptionally talented pair, an American husband and wife team working from home: their names are Paul and Sandra Fierlinger. Paul, an immigrant to the USA of Czech origin, has for years been an Ackerley fan, and here he has somehow managed to absorb and convey onscreen a quintessentially English style of humour. The film is witty, rueful, self-deprecating, a quietly observant, wonderfully camp analysis of class and relationships between humans and canines in the UK. (Anyone, for instance, who enjoys Hancock and Alan Bennett, would delight in this imaginative and enthusiastically created classic of animation.) Try to get hold of the dvd, for the extras are most entertaining and illuminating. I can honestly add, as a confirmed cat-lover, that this is absolutely the best and most endearing film about a man and a dog that I've ever seen – and frame by frame, it's technically brilliant too!

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