Perhaps the most memorable and enjoyable (and certainly the most lively) of the five stop motion shorts which made up Aardman's early 80s series, 'Conversation Pieces', 'Early Bird' offers an amusing glimpse of what goes on inside the studio of a local early morning radio show, as presented by Roger Day (filling in for the slot's regular DJ John Hayes, who'll reportedly be on holiday for another week and a half). Like all the 'Conversation Pieces', the dialogue was taken from a real-life recording and combined with then-state-of-the-art claymation (which obviously looks a little dated by contemporary standards, but not jarringly so - in fact, the character movements still seem fairly seamless and impressive), the real joy being not so much in the words themselves, but in whatever imaginative little touches that Peter Lord and David Sproxton could add to the visual conveying. Of the bunch, I'd say that 'Early Bird' mastered this most successfully (though another good contender, 'Palmy Days', did a decent job of adapting its own recording into an entirely different context). Amidst all the traffic reports, dedications, horoscopes and trivia-reading, it has the presenter going about his own morning routine; brushing his teeth, shaving, cooking breakfast, all within the confines of the studio, before heading out to begin the day. There are plenty of kicks to be had along the way from the minor mistakes he makes (like washing records instead of dishes), the various pieces of studio equipment which appear to take on minds of their own (look out for one encounter with a particularly disobedient microphone), and of course the true identity of successive presenter Trevor Fry, a closing gag guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Due to the nature of the recorded dialogue being wielded in the short, it also evades the fundamental flaw that might curb your appreciation of its fellow 'Conversation Pieces' slightly - and that's that the sound quality is generally awkward, something which the Aardman DVD release I was able to grab them all on unfortunately did little to improve upon. A lot of the time, you really need to pay close attention just to work out exactly what it is that the characters are chatting about (I assume a lot of it comes down to the kind of recording equipment they had available at the time, and just how close a proximity they were able to get to the real-life speakers, who sometimes sounded a little far-off). No such problems here - it could be recorded directly from the radio, and the speaker is naturally very fluent and outspoken throughout. The presence of radio beds and jingles, all of which are perfectly pleasant, also compliments the duration nicely.
A nice reminder of the days when records were the customary musical format instead of CDs, and an entertaining way to while five minutes of your time, 'Early Bird' may not be Aardman's greatest work perhaps, but it has a welcome place on my favourites list.
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