The Peanut Vendor

Len Lye (1933)

Experimental animation.

Despite the interest generated by his first film, Tusalava (1929), the early 1930s were a difficult time for artist and animator Len Lye. A series of projects were abandoned through lack of funding, and he supported himself by designing book jackets. By 1934 he was doing relatively menial work in the Wembley studios of Associated Sound Film Industries, while trying to convince investors to back his latest project with his long-time friend and collaborator, Jack Ellitt, provisionally titled Quicksilver. Lye had already produced dozens of set and costume designs for this ambitious science-fiction musical comedy but, although an American producer eventually expressed interest, the film that emerged bore little relation to the original concept, and neither Lye nor Ellitt benefited financially.

In the meantime, Lye turned his attention to puppet animation. He scraped together enough funding and borrowed equipment to produce a three-minute short featuring his self-made monkey, singing and dancing to ‘Peanut Vendor’, a 1931 jazz hit for Red Nichols. The two foot high monkey had bolted, moveable joints and some 50 interchangeable mouths to convey the singing. To get the movements right, Lye filmed his new wife, Jane, a prize-winning rumba dancer. Ellitt assisted in synchronizing the animation with the music.

Lye hoped to use the film to interest advertisers, but again had no success. However, on the strength of the film the head of the newly established Shell Film Unit, Jack Beddington, was later persuaded by Lye’s friend Humphrey Jennings to commission Lye to make a short animated advertising film, The Birth of the Robot (1935).

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