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.