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Saturday, 21 June 2008

Joanna Quinn "Britannia"










We are used to the cartoonist savaging current politicians, celebrities and royals in the daily newspapers. In her 1993 short, Britannia, the incomparable Joanna Quinn uses all her skills and cartoonist's wit in a savage satire on British Imperialism. Many consider the five minute movie to be her masterpiece. Satires are not intended as celebratory and Joanna's view of my own nation's past shows how, in the pursuit of wealth and power, Britain trampled over other nation's hopes and plundered their wealth. Focusing on the rise and fall in the fortunes of the British bulldog, reigning happy and supreme on its little island kingdom, then progressing (not the right word at all) to its colonisation of the world, or most of it. The animation weaves in an irrepressible way through a range of perspectives that are variously funny, savage, scornful, contemptuous. It is an historical study in something of the great tradition of satirists, such as William Hogarth, as the British get well and truly skewered at the artist's hands. From playful puppy to tyrant, leaping islands to throttle the Irish, rising in ambition or perhaps opportunism to plunder the globe (and emerge with a tiny teapot) the change in the beast is marked. From tail-wagging to the more tyrannical acts of savaging pygmies, Joanna's dog runs a whole gamut of personalities - thief, belligerent bully and the emasculated wretch at the close. Satire is not intended to deal in shades of grey and I'm not totally sympathetic to the characterisation of my country's past though elements of truth sadly beam out. Joanna's skill as an artist permeates all elements of this black and white, hand drawn animation (save for the dog's red, white and blue vest at the start). The bulldog is a supreme creation, metamorphosing into caricatures including a vindictive one of Queen Victoria. Ben Heneghan & Ian Lawson amplify and counterpoise the vices with their montage of anthems and tunes. To complement the YouTube link above I have tried to discover a reasonably priced DVD though the solitary Amazon link I was able to find is a tad expensive. Two other links are pertinent. First is Joanna's employer, Acme Filmworks, who have a pool of talent that is just about incomparable; the second is an informative interview Joanna made in 2005 with Taylor Jessen for The Animation Show.

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