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Marx for Beginners (1979)

Courtesy of Bob Godfrey Films

Main image of Marx for Beginners (1979)
35mm, 7 min, colour
Made byBob Godfrey
 Clive Morton
 Kevin Attew
 Annabel Jankel
 Marcus Parker-Rhodes
Produced byReaders and Writers Publishing Cooperative
MusicJohnny Hawksworth

Voices: cast of 'Dirty Linen'

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Cartoon animation outlining some of the theories of the philosopher Karl Marx, based on the book 'Marx For Beginners'.

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No-one could have predicted the international publishing success that began with the publication of 'Marx para principiantes' by the Mexican political cartoonist Rius in 1972. But the decision by the British publishing collective Writers and Readers to edit and translate the work for English-speaking audiences revealed a previously untapped demand. Marx for Beginners sold over a million copies, was translated into at least 12 languages, and spawned two competing series of books in the same mould.

Much of the power of cartooning lies in its ability to link together words and images to create an effect greater than either could do separately. This is especially useful for compressing and explaining seemingly complex ideas, and therefore a perfect medium to condense the life and theories and Marx to some 160 pages. Animation has similar virtues - which are vital in this attempt to shrink an introduction to the book into some six minutes.

Writers and Readers called on the expertise of Bob Godfrey's Movie Emporium and Cucumber Studios - where Annabel Jankel and Clive 'Rocky' Morton began their careers, before moving on to music videos, digital TV personality Max Headroom, and feature films. Godfrey's rough and ready approach is certainly evident, but the film, like the book, draws on an impressive array of visual styles.

As a trailer for the book, the film works well, particularly as it picks up space in the second half and Marx himself - or his animated representative - reappears. As he prompts the protagonist - the worker - to ask increasingly awkward questions of his employer, the film dissolves to the rustling pages of the book as it closes, inviting the viewer to buy it to discover more. This could also be said of the dangling Marx hidden after the credit sequence, as he tries to cram in a mention of 'dialectical materialism' before he drops. The academic jargon is itself dropped in order to entice the general reader, which goes a long way to explaining the success of the book, the film, and the concept.

Jez Stewart

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Video Clips
Complete film (6:06)
Godfrey, Bob (1921-2013)
Russell, Erica (1951-)