Archive for Disney

Front and Centaur

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2014 by dcairns

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Marvelling all over again at FANTASIA, which occupies a key role in my cinema-going life. It must have been an early example of a movie I went to all by myself, not out of any social urge. Truth be told, once I was old enough to not require parental supervision at the movies, there wasn’t anyone around I wanted to see them with or who wanted to go with me, until my best friend Robert joined in. FANTASIA was one I had known about for years but never seen, because I don’t think it had ever turned up on re-release and of course Disney kept their movies off TV for the most part. Oh, and I was a bit of a classical music fan in my early teens — it was another reason for the assholes at school to hate me — the looks on their faces when they asked what kind of music I liked were kind of priceless. That, having long hair in the eighties, and not liking football were enough to ensure pariah status with the right people.

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I don’t think I was aesthetically developed enough to be properly repelled by the film’s most egregious artistic crimes, but I enjoyed the bits that work just as much as I do today. Who was it said, “Too much beauty is disgusting”? Attributing any sort of beauty to the film’s Olympian interlude may seem controversial, but consider: ladled over the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony are a lot of colours, variously bright and brash or even muted and sombre, but all individually pleasing to the eye. The shapes are all soft, sensuous and curving, with not a jagged or discordant angle in sight. And the movement is elegant, arcing, balletic. And the creatures are woodland animals and nymphs and flying babies and cute girls and jocks with equine underparts. And they’re all pastel pinks and purples and blues. The combination of this is enough to provoke a Technicolor yawn from anyone, turning the screen to a Jackson Pollock explosion, which would be an improvement.

In other words, unlike the Toccata and Fugue, which mingles extreme gaudiness and vulgarity with some sublime abstract imagery, or the Nutcracker Suite which features whole sections of gorgeous kitsch, this great conglomeration of beautiful components results in an eye-aching pastel inferno which would serve as an ideal hell for anyone with an iota of taste. It’s all the more shocking coming after the restraint of the Rite of Spring sequence, which has plenty of almost monochromatic shots, all sulphurous yellow or muddy brown.

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The only hints of ugliness allowed in Disney’s Olympus are some spectacularly unpleasing character designs — Bacchus ought to be a relief from all the idealised body shapes and clean living on display, but he’s an unfunny bore and I was rooting for Zeus to immolate him with a thunderbolt — and the typical, yet heightened Disney sexual weirdness. The centaurettes, with their pert breasts and no nipples — (later, in Night on Bald Mountain, the harpies are allowed nipples, so evidently nipples are a sign of evil) — are posed about the place so seductively, we can be almost certain Disney was sexually attracted to horses (and fish). And there’s the usual ass-play, about which whole monographs have been written. Disney’s anal obsession. The best one is probably the centaurette spanking her hindquarters with a twig-as-riding-crop to make herself jump a fence, which brings up all kinds of curious thoughts. It seems she’s not only a conglomeration of two animals, her lower section has a will of its own. King Lear had something to say about that, as I recall.

Still, one aspect of the film’s vulgar heroism is its capacity to do everything beyond belief — when it succeeds, it astonishes (frame grabbing these images gave me a new respect for the artistry in every image), and when it fails it doesn’t settle for falling flat, it crashes towards the earth’s core like Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff and leaving a coyote-shaped crater in the desert floor.

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If you’re revisiting it, and I recommend you do, I recommend the Blu-Ray.

UK: Fantasia [Blu-ray]

US: Fantasia / Fantasia 2000 (Two movie Collection) (Special Edition)

No Excuse

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2014 by dcairns

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In the first film I directed, I was lucky to have a Distinguished Thespian, from whom I learned crucial stuff (“Never ask for effects, because if you do, that’s all you’ll get”). And I heard some good stories, though alas I missed a lot of them while setting up shots. I would walk in to fetch our star and catch him in the middle of a sentence like “The crookedest film I was ever in was A TOWN CALLED BASTARD.” One time I caught the line, “Of course the best films to be in, for drugs, were the Disney films.” Some surprised looks. “Because you got these cool Californian guys coming over…”

But no chemical intoxicant can really excuse this — a broken-down toy robot with the voice of Slim Pickens. I like Slim Pickens, but make him play a cute robot with sympathetic cartoon eyes and you really are thumbing my vomit button very hard indeed. Stuff like this makes you actually respect how restrained George Lucas was — his cute robot was essentially a fat bullet with legs. No anthropomorphism at all, and no voice. The audience does the humanizing.

If rampant hallucinogen abuse can’t excuse the film’s robots (Roddy McDowell voices the other one, FFS), it may at least explain the deeply bananas ending, probably the most batshit crazy ending to a kids film ever — even more disorienting than TIME BANDITS. As the heroes plunge into the titular singularity, TV director Gary Nelson spins his cast in a tumbrel, replays their dialogue at them through an echo chamber, dilates them with an optical printer and otherwise confuses the young audience, Maximilian Schell floats by in dreadlocks as if attempting a very special James Bond title sequence, seemingly mates with his hulking Gort-substitute robot henchman, then finds himself INSIDE the robot looking out, then he’s on a papier-mache promontory in heavy metal Hell — the weirdness is so extreme it even wakes composer John Barry from his movie-long slumber to offer up some swooning arpeggios, as he does.

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And then it’s Heaven, which is of course far more skeletally imagined, and then there’s more normal outer space and the cast look very confused and then the movie kind of stops.

Obviously they were thinking of 2001, and obviously they weren’t able to handle the visual abstraction and so needed to show some kind of solid imagery. And their ideas were thoroughly confused. I think Professor Hawking would refute their depiction of an event horizon.

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It couldn’t happen now, and it shouldn’t have happened then. But, after a movie that just recycles 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA in space with a sticky STAR WARS paste slathered over everything, an ending so batshit crazy has to be welcomed. They tried something, finally.

 

Gooble Gobble

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 8, 2014 by dcairns

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I’m sure others have pointed this congruence out before, but, well, here it is again.

Conscious influence seems possible, though one can’t imagine the puritanical Disney being a fan of Tod Browning’s FREAKS. I recall in the end of the Grimms fairytale, the wicked queen is made to put on red-hot iron shoes and dance herself to death, which is a little more in line with MGM’s disreputable horror. Throw in some feathers and you’ve got a deal!

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Disney keeps the thunderstorm (which may, we are told, be responsible for Cleopatra’s transformation to chicken lady. Ponder than one!) but sensibly reduces the cruelty. We are left to wonder what exactly the seven little miners would have done to that old woman if they’d caught her, and what The Sun headline would have been (does Doc’s name imply he has the surgical skills to forge some kind of woman-fowl graft, like Johnny Eck and Prince Randian and Schlitzie apparently did in FREAKS? What exactly ARE Koo Koo’s medical qualifications?) — instead, Disney has the witch-queen attempt to topple a boulder on her miniature lynch mob, and, in a bit of physics that’s unusually reasonable for a cartoon, she instead pries the cliff ledge loose beneath her feet, and plummets to her doom upon the jagged rocks below. Vultures swoop down, but for once are able to resist forming a barbershop quartet.

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It’s a good action sequence, not just because it has spectacle, but because it solves tricky plot problems (killing the villain without making the goodies murderers) in a credible and exciting way. I suspect a lot of people don’t realize that action sequences are written, and though often fight arrangers and second-unit directors play a major role, if the sequence doesn’t affect the direction of the story, it’s a narrative failure.

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