MOVIE REVIEW: FILMED IN SUPERMARIONATION / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: STEPHEN LA RIVIERE / SCREENPLAY: STEPHEN LA RIVIERE, ANDREW T. SMITH / STARRING: GERRY ANDERSON, SYLVIA ANDERSON, JAMIE ANDERSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
This Christmas will see the second anniversary of the death of the astonishing Gerry Anderson, creator of a string of wonderfully inventive, timeless adventure series for children of all ages which pretty much defined the TV experience in the 1960s. The shows are nearly all iconic – Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons – and they all starred sophisticated puppets brought to life by a technique Gerry himself christened ‘Supermarionation’. Stephen La Riviere’s wonderful, poignant and impressively thorough documentary Filmed in Supermarionation is the story of how it all began… and how it all ended…
In truth it’s a story most Anderson fans will be more than familiar with. But any story is only as good as its telling and Filmed in Supermarionation is the definitive account of the glory days of AP Films, Century 21 Productions and a fantasy factory working out of an unassuming unit in Slough’s dour industrial estate. Spines will tingle as Lady Penelope and Parker are brought back to life – voiced, as ever, by Gerry’s ex-wife Sylvia and voice artist and legend David Graham – recounting the story of Gerry’s genius from the comfort of an astonishingly faithful recreation of Jeff Tracy’s International Rescue base from Thunderbirds. For the next two hours no stone is left unturned as we journey from the early days of AP Films, with Gerry and his hungry and ambitious team taking their first faltering steps in the world of TV production. Approached by the formidable Roberta Leigh to produce a children’s adventure series, Gerry, who appears in archive footage throughout the film, recalls how he “nearly vomited on the floor” when he realised he was expected to make Twizzle with puppets and models.
But from tiny acorns grew a formidable empire as Gerry’s ferocious imagination created a succession of unforgettable, iconic children’s adventure series, each show growing in scale, scope and confidence. Filmed in Supermarionation brings together many of the people who, alongside Gerry, made it all happen. Gerry’s son Jamie takes some of the surviving puppeteers back to Islet Park in Maidenhead, the austere mansion home of Gerry’s very earliest productions and, later, the Ipswich Road studios in the Slough Trading Estate where the more ambitious shows were made. Elsewhere other familiar names and faces turn up to share their memories of very special times, including Nicholas Parsons (voice of Tex Tucker in Four Feather Falls), Anderson regular Shane Rimmer, Elizabeth Morgan (voice of Captain Scarlet’s high-flying ‘Angels‘) and a rare sighting of Robert Easton who provided the distinctive voice of Phones in Stingray.
Backroom boys including Brian Johnson, Alan Pattillo, Desmond Saunders, Alan Perry, Mike Trim – familiar names to anyone who’s ever studied the credits of any of Gerry’s shows – are on hand, all united in their opinion that Gerry was an “absolute visionary” who made the Century 21 phenomenon possible and who fought to make each of his shows bigger and better than the one which preceded it. But the film isn’t afraid to touch on Gerry’s less successful projects; the unexpected failure of the first Thunderbirds feature film (the forgettable second attempt, Thunderbird Six, is quickly glossed over) and the disastrous Secret Service which pretty much brought about the end of the Century 21 era.
Ultimately, it was the dawn of the new decade which brought down the curtain on Gerry’s production empire. Tastes were changing, puppets were out of fashion and, in any event, Gerry was keen to move into live action production… but that’s another story. Tales of the closing down of the Slough facility and the wholesale trashing of years of accumulated props, puppets and costumes created by Gerry and his team are genuinely heartbreaking, and not only to those who have to live it all again here for the camera.
Anderson fans keen to hear about the likes of UFO and Space:1999 and Gerry’s later efforts such as Terrahawks and Space Precinct may be disappointed, but the clue’s in the title. This is all about those wonderful Supermarionation years, classic shows where “anything can happen in the next half-hour” (and frequently did). It’s a tale told with genuine love and affection and with plenty of never-before-seen behind-the-scenes material, footage of Gerry and Sylvia on a ‘fact-finding’ visit to the States, a BBC TV documentary interviewing Sylvia and, astonishingly, the original Pathé news film story reporting on the German mining disaster which inspired Gerry to create International Rescue and Thunderbirds in 1964.
Filmed in Supermarionation is a remarkable achievement, a brilliantly considered and scrupulously researched love-letter to the work of one of the greatest innovators and storytellers of the television age. It can’t be recommended highly enough and it’s absolutely unmissable, not only for Gerry’s legion of fans and admirers but for anyone who remembers or is fascinated by the glory days of British TV and one of its most exemplary and important pioneers. Filmed in Supermarionation is, to coin a well-worn but unavoidably apt phrase, nothing less than FAB.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10