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Thursday, August 27, 2020

When Disney Said Eat Your Spinach


Fantasia Chases Rocky Road that Was "Good" Music

Do any two people, anywhere, listen to music the same? Means by which we hear it are infinite, preference as to how or when more so. Some listen alone, others in a crowd. There are those who loved music all their lives and never went to a concert, never cared to. So how did Fantasia presume to reach a mass audience and convert them to the classics? Walt Disney said it could be done and went down trying (negative cost: $2.3 million, says WD biographer Michael Barrier). Disney and associates imagined we might receive our music enrichment in a uniform way, even as reality suggests otherwise. Ask multitudes who tried: Classics for the masses never worked, chances less that they ever will. A book called Highbrow/Lowbrow, by Lawrence W. Levine, told of men in the nineteenth century who made the attempt. Theodore Thomas, who had a world class orchestra, toured the country with it. He tried to establish a Chicago Symphony, was met by “the indifference of the mass of the people to the higher forms of music.” Finally, Thomas would admit, after years trying, that few were “sufficiently advanced intellectually” to appreciate his kind of repertoire. Classical performance was for an elite after all (query: Is that now true of classic movies as well?). Best success was for music out of grab-bags, anything goes selection-wise. Selections might jump from Beethoven to minstrel tunes, snatches of Liszt ceding to patriotic marches or a pop ditty called The Railway Galop, where “a little mock steam engine kept scooting about … on the floor of the hall, with black cotton wool smoke coming out of the funnel.” For smart promoters, so-called classics were one more resource to draw from for an evening’s entertainment, no more venerated than Turkey In The Straw.


So wait --- hadn't this been Disney’s approach up to quicksand that was Fantasia? The Band Concert is instructive, as in here’s the way to do it, Mickey as conductor trying toward serious as Donald Duck interrupts continual with, yes, Turkey In The Straw. The Band Concert was a masterpiece in nine minutes, 1935 critics clapping hands raw, hands they’d largely sit on for two plus hours that was Fantasia. Disney had already unlocked the secret for making us enjoy classics, not needing Stokowski, Deems Taylor, or any of consulting conservatories to school him. Did Walt rely on egghead judgment rather than his own? Past Silly Symphonies and most of Mickeys were rife with recognizable themes. We’ve all of us learned more of classical music from cartoons than anyplace else that served it. Disney had been making bite-size Fantasias since sound came in, lemon drops to go down easier than a watermelon sans story, sense, or breath of life that best of cartoons were full of. First Disney short I had in 16mm was Mickey’s Service Station, its score a basis for much repeat viewing to follow. I can still hum the whole seven minutes (themes by Leigh Harline). Did Disney lack confidence in Harline or Frank Churchill, another of crack composers on staff, to let Fantasia be about them?




Disney tried adapting classical music to his purpose and got pilloried for it. One kind critic called Fantasia “a work of promise.” Another, less kind, said it was a “promising monstrosity.” All offered barbs, much I think, to show how cultivated they were, and who did Disney think he was, trimming symphonies to measure of dancing hippos? Seems the latest minted genius had fallen in the same trap as geniuses that went before, Griffith with Intolerance, Chaplin and Modern Times. Read contemporary reviews of those and wonder why the two even kept trying. Did Disney need a trim after Snow White? Humbling is first thing on a menu for any popular artist who becomes too popular. Walt could have lunched with Frank Capra on that topic, Lost Horizon and Fantasia topics A and B. Disney got to where he had to top himself each time out. At point of realizing folly in that, the money ran out. He built a new studio with Snow White profits … air-conditioned, milkshakes brought up whenever staff got hungry or felt lazy. They would thank him by going on strike and nearly wrecking the joint. Fantasia started out as one modest thing and ended up another Intolerance, or Lost Horizon, or whatever filmmakers do when too puffed up. Initial idea was to make a deluxe Mickey based on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, clever if apace with well-received Popeye specials (Sindbad, Ali Baba, etc.), but Disney had misfortune to run into Leopold Stokowski at Chasen’s Restaurant in 1938, balloons inflated from there to pop-point.




Certain Silly Symphonies sort of warned there would be a Fantasia. The Old Mill was experimental, still-life beside rival cartoons, determined to be something different from what animation had been up to then, an announcement that art was achievable off drawing boards. Sillies had gone far as they could, were anything but silly anymore. The series was spent by the time Fantasia got loose, itself a definitive statement of philosophy they had come to embrace. “Funny” cartoons at Disney were now the outliers, Pinocchio, plus Bambi in development, adopting a same drama-as-overlay to humor that diluted much of screen comedy gone inflate to feature length. A Fantasia was in a way inevitable. Someone would surely head that direction eventually, but why exhaust patience with lending institutes to do it? (it was after Fantasia that Bank of America dialed back spigot to Disney) Classical music as backdrop to an animated feature was anything but a sure thing, and yet there was hint, if faint, of a wider public seeking to be enriched. Two-hour radio recitals earlier in the 30’s surprised NBC for warm reception they got. Stokowski had become a longhair star and momentary darling of movies as object of Deanna Durbin pursuit (she wants him to conduct her). Not altogether daft to think great music could/might connect with at least enough public to break even, but Fantasia, much as it now cost, had to do better than even Snow White to achieve that.




Fantasia’s opening was built to intimidate, as wrong-head an intro as serious music ever got from movies. We are five minutes at least getting the orchestra seated, then comes Deems Taylor as headmaster with everything but a switch for bad lads not listening, all grimly lit like Mario Bava arrived early with Wurdalaks. For me seeing Fantasia first in the mid-seventies, it was like Get Out Now While You Can. No matter the respect conveyed, critics were insistent on a barbecue. To praise Fantasia was to expose your own incipient philistinism. First off, the rejiggering of music. Here, for extreme instance, was highest falutin’ pan re Disney’s rendition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, which to The Nation’s B.H. Haggin’s mind, “did not even remotely represent the substance and organic development and structured complexity of Bach’s music or exert anything remotely comparable with the power of the music’s formal eloquence.” Play Beethoven intact or not at all, many said, Disney knowing that had he done that, there would be no one else on the program but Beethoven. Someone who should have known better announced that Fantasia would have us “seeing music and hearing pictures,” to which modern vulgarism WTF might ideally apply. Reviewers wanted to show off taste elevated past Disney and his cartoonists. Latter had less celebrated Great Music than profaned it. So far as animators whose “imaginations were applied” to classical themes, it would take a Michelangelo to do that proper justice. Disney wanted to rescue music from ingrained snobbery, and instead got buried in it by a critical establishment the biggest snobs of all. Enough to make even a genius like Walt retreat back to Steamboat Willie drawing boards.




There was further innovation, also underappreciated, “Fantasound” a would-be engulfing sound process way ahead, as in too ahead, of its time. Thirteen venues wired up at great expense, not as though they could use Fantasound for future product, so any loss was dead loss so far as equipment went. Otis Ferguson, more mercifully inclined toward Fantasia than most (if referring to it as “hollow fakery” is a kindness), questioned if Fantasound was worth the “cumbersomeness,” which for all of sound coming “from everywhere,” was “still mechanical in effect.” Fantasound may actually have done more to emphasize the absence of a live orchestra than to suggest presence of one. Word spread that Fantasia told no story, except briefly when Mickey Mouse came round, so the very mass Walt sought stayed away. Spoofs had to come, and would, with a vengeance. Other cartoon shops particularly had fun at Disney expense. Warners addressed classics with all tongues in cheek, Bugs, Elmer, the lot. Tom and Jerry disrupted one another at concertos. Ridicule seemed a forever thing, to thrive for long after Fantasia itself went into hibernation.




Fantasia came back in 1946 to $535K in worldwide rentals, a help toward making up initial loss, even as marketing, prints, distribution ate up much of that. 1951 was another try, $110K in domestic rentals this time. Would audiences change even if Fantasia did not? Disney hoped so, and aimed mid-50’s dates at “Bopsters, Longhairs, Hi-Fi Addicts, and Juke-Box Fans,” not a bad scattershot, for such splinters did emerge from mainstream viewership, or more accurately, a listening public, few knowing Fantasia for anything other than having come and gone years before. Fantasound was sold as full stereo now (1956), none I'm aware of calling foul. Disney made bite servings of it for TV and outreach to schools. I had twenty minutes of 16mm dinosaurs called A World Is Born, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice finally went out as the glorified Mickey Mouse it always was. Fantasia seemed by now in perpetual release, fresh paper prepared in 1958, 1963, 1970, whenever spirits moved Buena Vista marketers. A perhaps cynical serve was to hippie niche that might take Fantasia to hearts, if not addled minds. At least here was first occasion for exhibitors to worry about rogue substances being snuck into a Disney screening. Fantasia seemed always available to theatres ready to roll dice, an art film the whole family could avoid. A few of us drove from college to Charlotte in 1974 for an empty matinee. I kept praying each segment would be the last. Disney later tried putting new stuff with the old stuff for an update. I’ve no idea if that did more good than harm, or harm than good.




Best not to second guess artists, particularly those who did their art eighty years ago, and who am I to propose a better idea than Disney had, but … here goes. To have made Fantasia right, at least right to my reckoning, would not involve classical music at all, celebrating instead late 30’s-and-into-40’s locomotive that was jazz at its popular peak, specifically swing, that summit attained by the new form which everyone danced to and jammed theatres to hear. No stuffy Deems Taylor, tut-tutting his musicians when they dare improvise a spritely tempo (a moment to best illustrate why Fantasia was a fundamentally wrong idea). The Fantasia done right would bring wide mosaic of musicians to the fore, each hosting segments, or better, doing distinctive stuff w/o resort to intros or set-ups, their sounds speaking for themselves. Swing had well-achieved status by 1940 --- think of Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall in 1938. Imagine him and a dozen other headliners combined with Disney cartoon favorites, a songbook to really let loose animators ideally age appropriate to interpret fresh forms of music. Let first-run theatres bring in a name band to open live, changing the bill throughout extended engagements. Allow kids to dance in the aisles if so moved (a coming rock-and-roll era would usher that in). Include Latin sounds starting to get a US foothold, a head start on Saludos/Caballeros that Disney introduced a few years later. From this could emerge a critic-proof Fantasia, for with music so modern and wide-appealing, who’d pay attention to critics? Here then is the Fantasia of my dreams, a time capsule to open again and again, if only Walt Disney had run into Benny Goodman that fateful day at Chasen’s instead of Leopold Stokowski.

23 Comments:

Blogger radiotelefonia said...

FANTASIA is one of the rare Disney films that I saw for the first time in a movie theater. That theater, also, was devoted at the time to exhibit Disney films only and for that reason I knew exactly where to go if I wanted to watch his stuff, which was not frequent. I never fully liked his movies or TV shows, except for Zorro because it is a personal favorite.

My parents grew up listening classical music on the radio and going to concerts and I eventually went with them too. I frequently go back to listen to this kind of music but I found that the few broadcasting stations that we have in the United States fell into the same trap that Disney and other cartoon producers have fallen into: they keep going back to the same symphonies, sonatas, concerts, etc., as if they have the mentality of "this is the popular thing, let's repeat it".

I wish they could play some of the least known pieces from the great composers because I get rather tired of listening to the same things over and over again while I'm driving.

12:40 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Griff considers Superscope impact on FANTASIA:


John:

I cannot get a proper read on what adjustments were made to the picture for its Superscope release. In writings about the development of the Tushinskys' lens, mention is frequently made of the fact that the brothers used excerpts from FANTASIA to demonstrate how the still-complicated-to-describe lens could somehow transform a flat 1.33 film into a widescreen spectacle. What this might have looked like is never well described.

A few sources insist that the '56 reissue was anamorphic, but the specific aspect ratio is not cited. [As some '56-era ads actually describe the movie as "in Superscope," this does suggest that the prints themselves were anamorphic widescreen. There weren't that many Tushinsky lenses out there.]

The wording in the LA Fine Arts theatre ad -- "its new wide SUPERSCOPE screen changes its size before your very eyes from magnificent spectacle to intimate detail" -- puzzles me further. Did the house actually repeatedly change the masking on the screen during showings? Were Mr. Taylor and the orchestra seen in 1.33:1, and the likes of Hyacinth Hippo, say, displayed at 2.00:1 or 2.2:1? I have no idea whatever.

Seeing the film theatrically back in the '70s was almost always a, uh, different experience. Arthouses (bless 'em) and old houses would usually show the picture at 1.33 or thereabouts, but newer theatres would usually crop it to 1.75 or (more frequently) 1.85. [The 1990 restoration/reissue was mindful of this; Buena Vista struck 70mm/6-track prints matted to 1.33:1.]

The '63 reissue prints, while mostly 1.33 (with some leftover Superscope prints apparently seeing use), were in stereophonic sound. When WDP took its flyer on an arthouse release in the late '60s, all prints in distribution were mono. [Arthouses generally weren't wired for stereo, and, come to think of it, neither were most neighborhood houses at that point.] In '77, Buena Vista finally struck some stereo prints (hence the adjustment on the poster on your page: "Now In Stereophonic Sound). I don't believe the studio used the then-new Dolby noise reduction process on the new prints, but the film did sound good. I saw it at LA's Cinerama Dome in 1978, and the picture and sound seemed excellent.


Regards,
-- Griff

2:17 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Disney was always leery of anything that would age the feature films. Also, jazz was disposable pop to the mass audience, art to elite "outsiders", and the Devil's Music to stodgy moralists. Gershwin, Ellington, and a few others had concert hall cred, but they actively sought it and dutifully respected classical rules. If Disney did a truly earnest jazz film -- either with the down-and-dirty types or the concert hall types -- he might well have gotten a shellacking from multiple directions.

Disney did get around to Benny Goodman in "Make Mine Music", visualizing "All the Cats Join In" with animated bobby soxers. The postwar package films were comparative quickies, headlining currently popular singers and bands. Even then, Disney probably didn't plan to re-release them in feature form. Freestanding segments could be and were sent out as shorts; for boomer kids they were most familiar as moments in the World of Color. If a few pieces dated into puzzlements or silly relics, they sat in the vault without affecting the marketability of the rest.

Walt Disney reportedly had regrets over "Fantasia", but even in his lifetime it was insistently paraded as his Great Film Achievement. Of course, even failures like "Sleeping Beauty" and "Alice in Wonderland" are now treated as successes -- which, over the years, they finally became, thanks to re-release money, steady merchandising, and acceptance as must-see Disney Classics. Sorcerer Mickey challenges 1930s Mickey at the company's icon, and there's a Fantasia-themed miniature golf course at WDW.

6:52 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

In 1982 they digitally re-recorded the whole soundtrack, with Irwin Kostal conducting. Later they did the full cleanup on the original tracks. The Kostal version was released on LP, and is now included on a four-CD Fantasia set.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Robert Fiore said...

I think that Bambi actually achieved the marriage of music and image that Fantasia was aiming for. (It's easier to appreciate if you can concentrate on sound and image and ignore the treacly characters.) The key was creating the images and music to go together rather than taking existing music and trying to come up with images to match it.

1:33 AM  
Blogger bufffilmbuff said...

Another interesting variation on this was GRAND CANYON which was shown with SLEEPING BEAUTY in its original release. This was a Cinemascope short in stereo sound with which combined the classical music concept with the True-Life adventure nature film concept. And it kinda works. I don't think these two concepts were combined by Disney again.

As for BAMBI I can understand why unfortunately the toxically cute characters put people off but it is Disney's most painterly looking film and there are some incredible sequences such as the one about raindrops and of course the fiery finale.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

The only "classic" Disney animated feature I can still get through is PETER PAN. I have never seen any of the "new age" computered animated features from Disney, or any other company.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Actually, the Goodman piece in Make Mine Music is After You've Gone. It's the best segment in the movie, clearly influenced by Dali. By and large, those movies where Disney tried to
make pop music versions of Fantasia are terrible.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Amoskind said...

What little I know about classical music comes mostly from FANTASIA. I love this movie and it has some of the most beautiful images I’ve seen in any film. I went to several showings in the 80s and 90s before it a video release and the shows were always packed. I don’t remember what the audience reaction was but I assumed since the tickets were selling that it was appreciated.

The updated FANTASIA 2000 has Gershwin among its segments but don’t feel much about it either way.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

I remember going to the local cinema with my entire grade to watch "Fantasia" -- in the 60's. I love animation and Disney, have made my career in animation, and I remember feeling punished, along with my classmates, to be forced to sit through "Fantasia" back then. Yes, many animated sections were fantastic, but the Deems Taylor educational sections made it feel like a bad PBS special on the "Arts." I agree with you that Disney missed a chance not to feature contemporary music and contemporary musicians. (I might add, however, that in the cartoons I've made over the years, we've frequently parodied sections of Fantasia, including "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," "Night on Bald Mountain," and the dancing hippos.)

7:59 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

It took the LSD 1960s for this to find an audience relaxed enough to enjoy the headspace this pictures takes us into.

10:45 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

My wife and I smoked the appropriate amount of grass to prepare ourselves. But, our warm and gooey mood was destroyed by the showing of "Stormy, the Thoroughbred Horse" before the feature. Not only is it downer when Stormy is taken from his mom, the whole shabang threw off our careful timing for the Mary Jane.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

I love every glorious millisecond of this film, and even loved it as a kid. Especially the end. "Night on Bald Mountain" fading into "Ave Maria" with bells ringing in the surround speakers? BRING IT ON.

The same cannot be said for "Fantasia 2000"...oh brother. The celebrity intros...the rather weak selection of music (except for Rhapsody in Blue)...the strangely benign animation. The best segment was Bette Midler talking about the segments that were originally considered for the 1940 version but eliminated. I would love to have seen Walt tackle "Ride of the Valkyries."

Your Alternate Fantasia...my interest in piqued..but just based on MGM cutting "The Jitterbug" out of The Wizard of Oz...maybe Hollywood was afraid to inject anything too "trendy" into expensive prestige offerings, knowing how fickle the public is. Once a music style has fallen out of favor...it is shunned like the plague.

Tho I do wonder how Duke Ellington might have scored Vladimir Tytla's spectacular Chernobog coming out of the top of that mountain.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

The musical numbers and their accompanying animation are, for me, the most memorable sequences in Disney's "classic" animated feature films made whilst Walt yet lived - and that observation holds true even today when it comes to some of the Disney studio's recently-released animated feature films. Moreover, memorable sequences in those animated films which are not musical numbers are invariably well-scored. The better Disney films and their accompanying music go hand-in-hand.
Walt, as a very successful entertainer of children, seemed to have suffered from the virus which causes successful popular artists - almost always musicians - to seek "legitimacy" in the form of "public and critical recognition and appreciation" for the art which inheres in what they do - by somehow changing what they had hitherto done so successfully and well. Sometimes it works, but in those cases the artist usually needs to find an entirely new audience for it to do so.
Audiences have their own agendas; and very often they simply will not go where the artist or performer would lead them.

11:11 AM  
Blogger MikeD said...

Maybe it's a good thing that Walt Disney did not include jazz in "Fantasia". Had he done so, the animation may have included black characters who don't pass today's muster and "Fantasia" may have wound up in the dustbin with "Song of the South" and the banned Looney Tunes.

8:53 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer remembers past encounters with FANTASIA (Part One):


I saw the re-mastered version of “Fantasia” released late in 1990 at the Plaza Moorestown Theater in Moorestown, New Jersey and loved it. Probably I was just the sort of audience Disney had in mind for the film: intellectually pretentious and in love with classical music, but not so knowledgeable as to mind the liberties taken with the music or even to be aware of them. I understand that Igor Stravinsky, the one living composer of the pieces featured in the film who actually saw it, was not charmed by the way Leopold Stokowski had changed the order of the movements of his Rite of Spring, and that he described the performance itself as “egregious.” On the other hand, Stokowski’s transcription for orchestra of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor has remained in the repertoire of the Philadelphia Orchestra ever since, and was performed as late as last season by the Philadelphians under the baton of Yannick Nezet-Sequin.

As I experienced it, the recording of the music was full and rich and, if it approximated what audiences heard at, say, the Broadway Theater in Manhattan, which Disney leased for a year so that he could install his Fantasound system, then it must have been a revelation for them. What struck me, however, was that there was no noticeable stereophonic effect, certainly not like the distinct separation of RCA’s Living Stereo series of recordings in the fifties and sixties, but that there was occasionally a pronounced directional effect intended to complement the image on the screen. For example, in the rolling abstractions accompanying the Bach, the sound followed the animation across the screen without reference to where it would have emanated from the orchestra.

I was also aware, seeing the film projected on a very large screen—there are now 12 screening rooms in the very same space as once occupied by the Plaza—that an animated film from that period is composed of thousands of hand painted cells. Especially in the images of flowers and of water and ice accompanying Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, I seemed to sense the very brush strokes that had created them.

12:27 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Dan Mercer:


Not all of the sequences are entirely successful, and the selection of stories or images is more appropriate in some cases than others. The Bach is brilliant as an expression of “pure image” accompanying “pure music,” while the Tchaikovsky nicely provides a transition from abstraction to more natural forms, and from “pure music” to one which is intended to tell a story. The Mickey Mouse piece to Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a classic, while I would be surprised that anyone who didn’t love cartoons as sheer entertainment wouldn’t have enjoyed the hippos dancing to Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours with crocodiles as their ardent suitors. There is, of course, the centaurs and other mythological creatures for The Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven, and this sequence has been criticized more than the others in the years since as being overly literal and more than a little cloying. The adaptation of the music, however, is fine, even from my current perspective, and for that alone, it should be forgiven. At any rate, it seems a more imaginative effort than that for Schubert’s Ave Maria, which was intended to redeem the terrifying images created for Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain.

The one aspect that dates is the narration of Deems Taylor, but his presence is understandable. “Fantasia” was something out of the ordinary when it was released, and it would have helped an audience of the time to better understand what was being attempted by having such an avuncular personality as Taylor introduce it to them. We might think of Leonard Bernstein’s introductions in the Young People’s concert series of the New York Philharmonic in the fifties and sixties.

When I was a boy, I loved the Disney television show on ABC; that is, when I could find it at all. It seemed to pop up on almost any day or time on Channel 6, the Philadelphia network affiliate, so seeing it was almost a matter of chance. I remember one episode, though, that was devoted to “Fantasia.” Strangely, it seemed to acknowledge that the film had been a failure, and what they wanted to do was to explain what they had been trying to accomplish. The Rite of Spring sequence seemed to be problematic, and I was fascinated to see pencil animations giving way to the fully animated images of dinosaurs in mortal struggle, though, of course, I was seeing it in black and white on our Magnavox.

As to the enduring worth of “Fantasia,” I believe that Otis Ferguson best expressed it in his review from its original release:

“Dull as it is towards the end, ridiculous as it is in the bend of the knee before Art, it is one of the strange and beautiful things that have happened in our world.”

12:31 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

I have never seen any of the "new age" computered animated features from Disney, or any other company.

You're missing a lot, Mike; many of the CGI Disney/Pixar movies (and the ones from Blu Sky and Dreamworks PDI) are amazing, and have amazing storytelling (Tangled, The Incredibles, Frozen/Frozen II, Coco, Onward, Cars, Toy Story, The Croods, Ice Ages, Kung Fu Panda, Big Hero 6, etc. Take some time to watch these movies and see how great they are.

3:32 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

On the subject of "medicine", I find myself recalling how "Donald Duck in Mathmagicland" was always held up as a model of edutainment. It is, at best, more a commercial for math than anything else.

"Fantasia" may have been genuine spinach at heart, but "Mathmagicland" was french fries branded as a vegetable. Likewise "Donald and the Wheel". And a few years down the line, all those little bits salted into Saturday mornings ("Schoolhouse Rock", "In the Know", and other content meant to appease the FCC). Yes, tidbits of actual information and good advice filtered through, but it was often the wilted lettuce leaf in a nutritionally dubious Happy Meal. Outside of actual instruction films, the most truly educational stuff was generally propaganda or marketing.

Perhaps the weirdest edutainment -- if it was indeed meant to be -- was "The Famous Adventures of Mister Magoo". Learning the exact wrong lessons from the hit "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol", each episode miscast Magoo in some famous literary work, whipped through the story in a half hour, and kept Magoo playing it straight aside from bookend gags (in which his nearsightedness, absent during the story. returned). The opening title sequence was funny and cool, though.

One can make a case that "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" was George Lucas's "Fantasia", the spinach being history instead of music. Lucas splurged on production values and location shooting, deployed all his Industrial Light & Magic to make them look bigger, and the eventual disc release boasted solid historical documentaries instead of the usual making-of extras (the ultimate vision was that these would become classroom perennials). It lasted a single season on network television, and some additional episodes -- packaged as TV movies -- carried Young Indy into the 1920s, an earlier endpoint than planned. DVD sets are still in print, evidently much esteemed, but for all gloss and Indy glamour it seems to be weighed with that faint, discouraging scent of Good For You.

2:19 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I used to work at a rental library, where instructors who should have known better persistently inflicted DONALD IN MATHMAGIC LAND and "The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo" upon student audiences. At one unfortunate screening, the principal of the elementary school was a Cervantes scholar, and insisted on introducing DON QUIXOTE himself. After his imposing and serious speech, someone turned on the projector and there on the screen was Don Quixote Magoo, accompanied by the "Famous Adventures" theme song. The house came down, and word got around about Mr. Principal. The news even reached as far as the courier who picked up and returned the prints, who in turn told me.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"classics for the masses."

At a music industry gathering a Rock promoter overheard promoters of classical music decrying the public lack of interest in their work.

This prompted him to promote a classical music performance.

It was sold out.

What he promised was "MOZART LOUD."

He made it sound exciting. I'll bet it was.



3:27 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"Griffith with Intolerance, Chaplin and Modern Times."

THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915) was about something the public could resonate with. INTOLERANCE (1916) was not. It is, however, a wonderful motion picture as well as the perfect aftermath to THE BIRTH. It's theme is "Why worry about the dust in your neighbor's eye? Look to the log in your own eye." That is always time. It is also something people refuse to listen to.

Presentation is the key. While separate themes which reflect the period in which each story is set are right for the first half the second works best I found when scored as an action film with the music fusing into a torrent of sound designed to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. I learned from reading contemporary reviews that the music for INTOLERANCE was a let down.

It's hard to understand why MODERN TIMES wasn't liked. I fell in love with it from the get go.Ditto LOST HORIZON. The same is true of Charles Laughton's awesome NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. What was wrong with people when it was first released?

It is not unusual for works to enter the public stream quietly then to gain in public value gradually as the years roll by. That happens with books. It happens with movies. A quiet first impression is not good for publishers be they publishers of books or movies as they have investments to recover. I love Martin Scorsese's HUGO. His use of 3D is exemplary though like all of Scorsese's work the picture's construction emanates from his study of what others before him had done not from an inner vision within himself (which I do not feel the man is capable of). He hits all the right notes, yes, but fails to understand that sometimes the wrong note is called for.HUGO was an expensive picture. When Scorsese's producer spoke of his financial loss Scorsese let him know that was not his problem. It is, of course, if we want people to support us. Everyone deserves to get fed but if the person putting up the bucks does not get fed they will look for better people to support.

It's nice to stick our nose up and say, "I don't work for money." Still, we all have bills to pay so, like it or not, we must work to pay them.

I chose, with no money in my pockets, to fund my programs with my wits instead of grants. This means I have had to put bums on seats. I have had to learn what the motion picture industry had to learn from the start, indeed what all industries have to learn, how to make the work pay its way as well as pay the way for new work.

Some ideas I have had did not click on first try. Repeated tries found success.

Currently with Covid it has become much more difficult to attract an audience (almost total failure). August has always been for some reason I know not a dead month for me going as far back as I can remember.

We live always in a moment when flash, dash and sugar trumps substance which is why those of us who prefer substance find ourselves not only walking the solitary path but also accused of not going with the flow.

The only fish which go with the flow are the dead ones.

The comments on FANTASIA 2,000 are apt. Warner Brothers does the same thing when they use celebrities to host their animation specials. They think stars will sell seats. They do. The work suffers as a result. I'd rather here people actually connected to the work.

Deems Taylor delivered on air essays on NBC's SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE OPERA on radio. He had a big following. Adding him to FANTASIA was a smart move. A smart move for readers would be to track down Taylor's collection of his essays, OF MEN AND MUSIC. They are spot on.





4:12 AM  
Blogger Cliff.Balcony said...

My first viewing was on VHS and I was "meh" about it. My second viewing was also on TV, but by this time I had a much larger set and surround sound and I absolutely loved the film; to this day from that, it's been my favorite Disney picture. I like 2000 well enough, I guess, but 1940? Wow. A breathtaking bit of Disney art.

2:45 PM  

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