Thursday, September 22, 2011

Night On Bald Mountain

NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN (part of Disney’s Fantasia)

Directed by Wilfred Jackson, USA, 1940, 8 minutes

This short, animated and made to Modest Mussorgsky’s classical score, is about dead souls rising from beneath the earth and coming to life. Skeletons and phantoms are called back to life by a gigantic winged demon with glowing eyes, and dance through the dark night sky and on the fiery sides of a mountain. In one part, they dance in the hands of the demon who manipulates their form from fire, to dancing voluptuous ladies to animals and then back to devilish creatures. A slew of disturbing yet gorgeous images continue as the evil spirits cause havoc until finally a bell is rung and dawn comes. Then the demons and ghosts slink back into the earth.

Disney’s Fantasia is a fundamental part of my childhood. I can picture exactly where the VHS is sitting at home and the weird yellow color the white case has turned. While, as a child, I loved all parts of Fantasia, that didn’t stop me from being scared as shit of them. While the possessed broomsticks in the classic “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is the image from Fantasia that haunts most, I think “Night on Bald Mountain” is the most terrifying. The fire surrounding the mountain and the colors that make up the dark night seem straight out of a nightmare. At the same time, it is captivatingly beautiful and a true piece of art. It is Disney at its best, truly visually stimulating. That it was still widely enjoyed by children and adults alike in the 1990’s, fifty years after it’s original release, says to me that it has staying power unlike Disney’s more modern projects. Will my children and grandchildren ever watch Prom, a recent Walt Disney Pictures release? I’m going to go out on a limb and say, no.

What is interesting about this film within the context of the short films world of today is its release and distribution. Fantasia is a collection of short films. Many don’t perceive it as so, considering its feature length and prevailing theme, but it is at its based, a compilation of animated, music based shorts. Shorts are struggling to find their place, especially in regards to finding an audience and in turn, funding. Maybe Disney got it right over fifty years ago. Instead of trying to find a totally unique space for shorts to be successful, maybe the solution, if not temporary solution, should be to just conform to the generally accepted idea of time and film by creating compilations that are feature length and can be more easily sold to audiences. Anyway, most people I know were first exposed to shorts through collections of Oscar Nominated or topical shorts brought to a movie theater.

These days, we can turn our original experiences with Fantasia on their head. When watched individually on the internet, it no longer becomes the marvelous and mystical world of fantasy and music we remember from our childhoods. When I recall watching Fantasia in its entirety, the stories are inseparable and form a big mass of music and animation in my memory. Now, they can be viewed and appreciated as single pieces, a little more manageable and interesting on their own. I definitely recommend looking a few up on Youtube and allowing yourself to get nostalgic and scared. But most importantly, do so being open to a new experience with an old classic.


haley schattner said...

You are right, FANTASIA really is a compilation of shorts. I always thought that this was the scariest part, or film, of the film.

Also, this film, in particular,is very risque. For one, female bare-breasted demons show off their goods close to the end of the film, up close. Parents would never allow that today, demon or no demon.

KTC said...

I couldn't agree more, "maybe the solution, should be to just conform to the generally accepted idea of time and film by creating compilations that are feature length and can be more easily sold to audiences."

This brings up a couple important points we've gone over in class. First, the idea of creating a narrative in the sequencing of how short films are shown. Professor Middent's has talked at length of the deliberate nature of the sequencing of the shorts we're shown during screenings: comedic to serious to short- short to classical to contemporary/experimental etc. In a way, the moderators or distributors of short films can manipulate the experience the audience is having by experimenting with sequencing, additionally creating a narrative just in the way short films are screened. So, like in Fantasia there is a story arc within each of the short films, but imagine if the sequence they were shown were switched around. Someone made the final cut decision.

Second, I find it very interesting that short film festivals do as well as they do. I'm not sold on the concept/definition of a short film (something I'm reconciling myself with), but I am sold on the idea of going to a theatre and paying my ten dollars to see a compilation of short films, particularly if some of them have been made by filmmakers I admire. The thing I love most about short film is that it doesn't come with all of the commercial restraint that full- length films do as a result of distribution. So, I say we ought to have the opportunity to see collections of shorts in the same way we see full- length films.

Lastly, to support mine/your case. Short story collections are just that: collections of stories that an author has written that are generally pre- published and compiled for the reader who is used to going out and buying the novel. Like short films, they're audience is small, but passionate.

Great post.

Albert Dubin said...

Disney's Fantasia, similar to you, has a place in my heart, regardless of how twisted that place might be. It ignited my adoration for every part of horror I enjoy watching today, and matured the way I thought about cinema in general. It is also the reason why I am reviewing films today, on a blog such as yours. At first I reviewed only horror films, but now it has grown into something more.

I don't have many reviews up yet (around 40), but I am still going. I admire your intellectual knowledge of film, and am glad that you understand the significance of this short film. It is because of this that I have chosen to follow your blog. I implore you to reciprocate my actions by following my blog, Cult Classic Theater. Thank you for your consideration, and happy blogging. Here is the link to my review of Night on Bald Mountain.