Stage Fright (1997 film)
Title card from the movie
|Directed by||Steve Box|
|Produced by||Steve Box
|Written by||Steve Box
Tess Daulton (uncredited)
|Starring||Graham Fellows (voice)
Tess Daulton (voice, uncredited)
|Music by||Julian Nott|
|Editing by||Edward Jarvis|
|Distributed by||Atom Films
|Running time||11 minutes|
Stage Fright is an Aardman Animations short claymation film produced, directed, and co-written by Steve Box. Tess Daulton is also an uncredited co-writer. The story follows Tiny (Graham Fellows), a music hall (vaudeville) performer, Arnold Hugh (also voiced by Fellows) and Tiny's co-worker, Daphne (Tess Daulton), as they attempt to adjust to the coming age of film. The movie is eleven minutes in length, and won a BAFTA Award for Best Short Animated Film in 1998.
Tiny climbs out of a wicker basket in the middle of a derelict theater. He is followed by several dogs wearing tattered ruffs. After throwing a tattered straw boater onto the floor in front of the dogs, he shouts "Hat" and they attack it. Amid his wild cackling, a tall man in a yellow suit appears, causing Tiny to trip over a bucket and into the theater's orchestra pit, his jacket snagging on a broken plank of wood. The man picks up the hat, looks at Tiny and shouts, "You bugger!" Tiny howls as the main titles begin.
The film resumes some time previously with Tiny backstage in the fully functional theater. Daphne, his co-worker, stands next to her dressing-table and a packed suitcase. She sees Tiny looking longingly at an empty ruff. When she tries to usher Tiny on stage, he expresses his fear that the audience dislikes his act, but Daphne convinces Tiny to go on stage anyway. Amid boos from the crowd, Tiny attempts to perform his dog juggling act, while Daphne's voice narrates. She comments on how Tiny's act has fallen into disrepute, and all the audience wishes to see is the latest silent film. A screen comes down in front of Tiny and covers him from flying projectiles. Tiny returns to his basket and breaks down in tears. Meanwhile, out on stage, an organist rises from the orchestra pit and begins to play a typical musical number to a rolling silent film.
The film title is Lonesome Arnold, and upon its start, the audience shifts from boos to cheers and the title card is shown. The black and white film is about a depressed character named Arnold. While attempting suicide and failing to hang himself on a tree due to his noose rope being too long (a spectacle that brings laughter from the crowd in the theater), Arnold sees a small dog. He follows it to a lady who is caught on a tree over a cliff. The lady in the film is played by Daphne, who watches the film from the wings of the stage. Arnold saves the lady by using his noose as a harness and the film ends happily. The scene cuts to the shot of the film's stage, with film crew dismantling the scenery after the end of shooting. Both Daphne and Arnold are there, the camera having just stopped rolling. Through Daphne's dialogue, we learn that the man in the film, Mr. Hugh, is a successful film-maker and actor, and that the dog has been taken from Tiny. Mr. Hugh wishes to meet Tiny, sensing a personal financial gain. Daphne expresses her concern that Mr. Hugh will mistreat Tiny. He threatens her, declaring that, if she keeps quiet about the arrangement between him and Tiny, she can continue to act in his films.
The scene cuts back to Daphne in the wings, with the organ playing the final bars of the music before the film ends. She continues to narrate her intentions of leaving her music-hall career to become a film actress. As she leaves with her suitcase and banjo, we see Tiny hiding in his basket. She explains that Arnold Hugh's films continue to be a success, and that he takes all the credit for the dogs' training, without mentioning Tiny's input in the training. This deception continues until the unsuccessful filming of a musical "talkie", in which a dog known as Bonzo, the same dog that Tiny has been training, bites Mr. Hugh's nose during filming. As the man flies into a rage at both the dog and Tiny, Daphne remarks that Mr. Hugh is nothing but a bully. She knows that the man has been abusing Tiny all this time. She narrates that, despite the damage to her film career, she was going to stop his abuse of Tiny.
We then return to Tiny dangling over the seemingly bottomless organ pit. During an argument with Mr. Hugh, he remarks that Mr. Hugh drove him to teach the dog to bite him. Mr. Hugh argues that he has looked after Tiny, then Daphne appears and hits Mr. Hugh with a sandbag. He staggers back while she apologizes to Tiny. She admits to being in league with Mr. Hugh, by using one of Tiny's trained dogs. Mr. Hugh begins to strangle her, knocking the straw boater onto Tiny's head. Tiny commands the dogs to attack Mr. Hugh. Backing away from the snarling pack of dogs, Mr. Hugh hurls verbal abuse at them, before wielding the key that keeps the film screen raised above the stage like a weapon. He advances on the dogs and Daphne, only to be knocked down by the falling screen, which comes to rest on his legs. She and the dogs look on in shock. She then remembers that Tiny is stuck. Turning around to see the empty organ pit, she presumes that Tiny has fallen. She breaks down into tears, only to see Tiny rising from the pit on the organ, now glowing a vibrant blue and being played by a ghostly musician. The ghost of the organ player beckons to Mr. Hugh's body. Tiny and Daphne watch as Mr. Hugh's ghost rises from his corpse with the sound of a movie projector rolling. Mr. Hugh's ghost straightens his glasses, rises up, walks over to the organ, and stands on it to face Tiny and Daphne. The organ player speaks the words "going down" in a deep booming voice and plays a fast tempo tune. He, Mr. Hugh's ghost, and the organ descend into hell via the pit. The theater begins to shake and rumble, with patches of the roof dropping down as the building collapses. Daphne, Tiny and his dogs run to the exit, but, as Daphne reaches for the handle of the door, Tiny stops her. He tells her that he fears the world will still hate him and his act, but with her encouragement and promises to stick by him, he agrees to leave. The couple hold hands as both they and the dogs step out into the bright light of the outside world.
Stage Fright won a 1998 BAFTA Award for Best Short Animated Film. It was also nominated for Crystal Star for Best European Short at the 1998 Brussels International Film Festival, for the Jury Award at the 1998 Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films, as well as the Best Animated Film Award at the 1998 Molodist International Film Festival.
- The title "STAGE FRIGHT" that appears in the organ pit foreshadows what happens to Mr. Hugh's ghost.
- When Mr Hugh is knocked down to his death, he literally kicks a bucket also. This was a joke.
- BAFTA Awards Database - Best Short Animated Film, bafta.org. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
- 2008 Palm Springs International ShortFest Announces Festival Winners, psfilmfest.org, August 27, 2008. Retrieved March 17, 2012.