On ‘the continent’, and in other sunnier climes, a visit to the beach on a sunny day is nothing special. In Britain it is not like this, as for most of the year our beaches are drizzly, windswept, desolate places. This means that on the one or two weekends when the sun actually shines and the mercury reaches the dizzying highs of the low twenties, every person within 50miles of the coast packs up their car with enough food and booze to open a small corner shop, then bombs down to the beach to get as much sun as possible. It’s this sporadic, manic, slightly masochistic, relationship between Brits and their beaches that On Time Off, a striking animation piece by Bill Porter, looks at.
The start of the film reflects how we like to think the beach will be; a calm, tranquil coastline, surrounded by natural beauty and the gentle sounds of the seashore. But soon we are perched on a high cliff, and looking down we see what the beach is really like; a place crammed with flabby bodies, where rogue beach balls and the ambient mix of snoring and other people’s radios, tells us this is not a slice of paradise, it’s an uncomfortable day spent sitting a bit too close to nearly naked strangers.
Amid the posers in the Speedos, the babies with buckets, and the pensioners letting it all hang out, there is one place where most people seem to be drawn to; the ice-cream hut. The focus all this attention turns it into a chaotic place, where the overworked sole employee has to go faster and faster to keep up with demand, sweating in the one place that should be cool on a hot day. The chaos in the hut slowly seeps out on to the wider beach, and the animation becomes surreal and twisted, with the people becoming more grotesque. Finally, they’ve had their fill and leave, allowing the beach to return to its usual quiet state.
Bill explains that the inspiration for the piece came from his summer spent working at an ice-cream shack on a beach in Cornwall. With this knowledge the film almost seems like a cathartic exercise, as he illustrates the beach goers with barely concealed disgust, all in garish hues of pink and orange, mostly depicted as either self-centred posers, or unselfconscious oafs.
But thankfully this harshly scrutinising eye is balanced with a humour and wryness. This stops the film coming across as bitter and makes it seem almost affectionate, with the general unawareness of the beach dwellers, and their pinky chubby bodies, making them seem almost like big babies, rendering their grossness as harmless and almost cute.
On Time Off feels like a very British film, as for anyone who’s spent at least a year on these shores, the desperate need to try and get a slice of beach life on the few sunny days off you might have, makes total sense.