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Arrow, The (1969)


Main image of Arrow, The (1969)
35mm, colour, 2 mins
DirectorMel Calman
Production CompanyBFI Production Board
AnimatorMel Calman
MusicRon Mathewson

A man is compelled to follow a red arrow to the point where he collapses with exhaustion.

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By the time he made his first and only animated film, Mel Calman (1931-94) was one of the most immediately recognisable newspaper cartoonists in the country, having worked for a wide range of national titles including the Daily Express, the Sunday Telegraph, the Observer and the Sunday Times, though he was ten years off taking up his best-known residence, contributing single-panel cartoons to The Times from 1979 until his death.

His best known character was an anonymous, depressive "little man", who made his debut in 1962 and who featured in much of his work up until his death. The Arrow features an animated version of the same character, and in less than two minutes encapsulates the entire Calman universe. He wakes up to find himself confronted by a large red arrow, insistently pointing leftwards. He follows it, running faster and faster to keep up, until he collapses and dies from exhaustion - whereupon the arrow points at him, almost tauntingly.

It's a classic example of a simple conceit opening up an entire encyclopaedia of information. What does the arrow mean, and why is it pointing so insistently? Is it indicating some glorious future, or merely barking orders at the hapless little man, who is unable to do anything but meekly obey, even if it ultimately kills him?

Calman denied that the little man necessarily represented himself, but this is a man whose Who's Who entry listed his recreations as "brooding and worrying" and who in 1963 claimed he was "surly before breakfast, depressed after lunch and suicidal at night". However, much like the not dissimilar Woody Allen (Calman was also Jewish, and steeped in that culture's traditionally mournful humour), he at least was able to transform his neuroses into lasting art. The Arrow may be one of the shortest films in the entire BFI Production Board animation catalogue, but it scarcely needs to be a second longer.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
Complete film (1:40)
Production stills
The BFI and Animation