You may have recently seen a commercial for a certain fizzy drink featuring a gang of mad cuckoos jumping around to some peculiar bouncy music (on the television and at cinemas in Europe at least). Well, the music was by The Real Tuesday Weld and the amazing animation was by a peculiar Russian friend of mine called Alex Budovsky. In fact both were developed from earlier films for tracks from the ‘I Lucifer’ album.
I am often asked how I know Alex – I mean he is an ex-pat Russian from St. Petersburg living in Brooklyn, New York and I am a pale-faced, down at heel ex-aristocrat who finds it difficult to leave my bit of London, England. Well, it all comes down to the wonders of this new fangled thing they call the Internet. You see, one day, I got an e-mail completely out of the blue which said in rather broken English: ‘Dear Mr Stephen, I am making a film to one of your tracks, do you mind?’ Very polite that ‘do you mind’ don’t you think? I like that. So, I wrote back in an equally polite manner: ‘no, of course not old sport. But you will let me see the results when it’s done won’t you?’
Now I don’t mind telling you, I fully expected to never hear anything about the matter again or, if I did, for it to be one of those computer generated affairs you can get software to do automatically plus a bit of monkeying around on top. So, you can imagine my surprise therefore, when less than a week later, I received a disc in the post from the United States of America with an absolutely remarkable animation choreographed to the track ‘(still) terminally ambivalent over you’. It had all sorts of malarkey going on between various people in strange hats, a prison, gramophones, a lavatory, a baguette and I don’t know what else. I was charmed and not a little blown away.
It turned out that Alex had discovered the track when he was round at another Russian friend’s apartment in Coney Island. This friend – Radik – had heard it himself in that peculiar and delightful shop: ‘Other Music’ in Manhattan. The very next time I visited that august and noble metropolis, we met for tea and I expressed my appreciation in no uncertain terms – I mean, after all, this was Alex’s very first film – and we discussed the possibilities of another collaboration. Well, that planning eventually bore fruit in the avian madness of the ‘Bathtime in Clerkenwell’ animation and the rest, as they say, is history – Alex went on to win a list of awards as long as both your arms – Sundance, Cannes, Krok, Aspen etc., etc., etc.. He gave up his job as an electrician at the port authority, travelled the world and ended up signing to Palm Pictures. Gosh it makes you think doesn’t it? But, you see, it could easily have been so different couldn’t it? – not just if Alex’s original e-mail had gone astray but if we had stuck to our original plan which didn’t involve birds at all.
You see, ‘I Lucifer’ is the soundtrack to the novel of the same name by Glen Duncan. The book is the story of the devil being given one last chance for salvation by having to live on earth – without sin - in the body of a failed writer in Clerkenwell. When I told Alex all about this, and particularly about the scene which has the devil waking up in the bath, we decided that this would be the story of the animation – actually it sounds quite good, no? So, I went about my business and Alex disappeared to Russia – to Siberia in fact – where he was undertaking an epic trip to a strange and mystical island in the far north. I heard from him by e-mail fairly regularly until unannounced there was a long silence. This continued for some time until one day I finally received a highly excited missive.
It turned out that, whilst our man was crossing the sea in a ramshackle boat piloted by a semi-inebriated captain, there had been a storm and the boat had suddenly and terrifyingly capsized. Plunged into almost freezing water, those on board managed to swim and drag each other to shore where they had to strip naked and light fires to dry themselves and their clothes before hypothermia set in. Fortunately, all’s well that end’s well and everybody survived unaffected – at least physically - by the experience.
But, as the e-mail went onto relate, whilst in the icy water, at this moment of existential crisis, Alex had looked up and had had what I would describe as ‘a white light’ experience as he floated there before he managed to get ashore. Things would never be the same for that Mr Budovsky:
“Stephen, there is no way, we can have the devil in this film, absolutely no way. I have seen the light. But it’s alright, everything’s going to be alright I promise you, everything all makes sense now man… I have had this idea about an army of cuckoos trying to take over London……….’
And so they did.