Tag Archives: Night On Bald Mountain

“Fantasia” double-feature today!

I just finished watching Disney’s “Fantasia” (1940) this snowy afternoon with my girlfriend — she gave me the boxed set with “Fantasia 2000” (1999) this Christmas.  This is the first time I’ve seen the entire film in … 26 years?  If memory serves, I last saw it at Mary Washington College’s Dodd Auditorium when I was a freshman in 1990.

I loved it just now even more than I loved it then.  My favorite segment will always be the final one — Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” with a coda of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”  (The accompanying animation is Gothic horror; I’ve posted about it here at the blog before.)

I felt for sure that my second favorite would be Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”  Pictures of those animated dinosaurs startled and thrilled me as a tot after Christopher Finch’s “The Art of Walt Disney” (1975) somehow appeared magically among my baby books in Queens, New York.  As an adult, however, I liked the segment mostly because of its cool depiction of lower life-forms.  The dinosaurs were stylized and interesting to see, but I don’t think the quality of the animation has held up very well — especially considering what we know about the dinosaurs has changed so much in 80 years or so.

Instead, my second favorite was Ludwig von Beethoven’s “The Pastoral Symphony,” and its whimsical, beautiful depiction of centaurs, gods, and other figures from Greek mythology.

My girlfriend’s favorite segment was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” with its dancing fairies.  “Fantasia” was actually a favorite movie of hers growing up; she’s seen it several dozen times in her childhood.

There is some bizarre trivia about “Fantasia” from Wikipedia, which has a lengthy entry for the movie: “In the late 1960s, four shots from The Pastoral Symphony were removed that depicted two characters in a racially stereotyped manner. A black centaurette called Sunflower was depicted polishing the hooves of a white centaurette, and a second named Otika appeared briefly during the procession scenes with Bacchus and his followers.”  That’s so nuts.

 

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Nolanferatu’s tip for a trippy vintage horror double feature!

Well there’s one thing I can cross off my bucket list.  (There’s a lot on there, and some of it’s weird.)  I finally saw F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu: ein Symphonie des Grauens” (1922).

And am I damn glad I did!  I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  I love plenty of classic movies; “The 39 Steps” (1939) and “To Have and Have Not” (1944) are among my all-time favorites.  But I’m accustomed to modern horror — my tastes generally extend only as far back as “The Birds” (1963) and “Night of the Living Dead” (1968).

I waited until I was in just the right mood.  (This is the first silent film I’ve ever seen from start to finish — the only exception being Mel Brooks’ 1976 parody, “Silent Movie.”)  Then I began it shortly before midnight.

The movie just worked for me. It was sublimely creepy.

I think it helped that the grainy, flickering, black-and-white period footage made this expressionist movie utterly atmospheric for a modern viewer.  These, combined with the shots of Max Schreck superbly made up as “Count Orlok,” were damned unsettling.  Schreck also appeared to be a great physical actor, with his gaunt stance and stilted, inhuman movements.  (Was he unusually tall too?)

The vintage footage also enhanced my enjoyment of the movie in a way that Murnau probably couldn’t have expected.  I know this is strange, but … nearly a century later, the thought that occurred to me several times during this movie was this: “Everyone involved in this production is long dead by now.”  Yes, I know that is a morbid thought — I’ve never done that before!  I think it was just the film itself that did that to me — it’s about undeath and immortality, after all.

It also helped that I’d read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (1897), of which this film is an unauthorized adaptation.  The resulting lawsuit by Stoker’s estate is interesting reading: supposedly all copies of the movie were ordered by the courts to be destroyed, bankrupting Prana, the production company.  But a permanent cult following developed for the few surviving prints.

Anyway, I followed this up with the palate-cleansing “Night on Bald Mountain,” the final segment of Disney’s “Fantasia” (1944).  That combination, too, totally worked for me — I followed up the black-and-white nightmare-fuel of the seminal vampire film with some vivid, incongruously hellish Disney nightmare-fuel.

“Nosferatu” is in the public domain.  You can view the entire film on Youtube at the link below.

 

 

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Throwback Thursday: CD’s?!

CD’s?!  Really?!

I didn’t think that compact discs were such an outdated format that they’d be the subject of a nostalgic Facebook meme like the one you see below.

But I guess it makes sense.  I actually own a portable CD collection case exactly like the one pictured, but it’s been in storage for years.  Today’s digital music is absolutely more convenient.

I always thought of CD’s as a 90’s phenomenon, but I was surprised to learn that they’re definitely an 80’s technology.  The first CD released commercially, according to this Internet thingamijiggy, was Billy Joel’s “52nd Street” waaaaaay back in 1982.  (For a little perspective, that was the album that featured oldies like”Big Shot” and “My Life.”)  But that was released in tech-savvy Japan — the first CD released commercially in America was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” in 1984.

They didn’t sell so hot right away.  They were far more expensive than cassette tapes, which peaked in sales in the late 80’s, and a lot of people weren’t sure the medium would take off.

I myself first laid eyes on one at a party during my last year at Longwood High School, in the spring of 1990; it was a gift from one guy to the classmate whose birthday we were celebrating.  Then I remember seeing CD’s in stores, sold in a separate section from tapes.  The packaging was weird.  They came in slim, 12-inch “longboxes” like those you see in the second picture.  I always thought manufacturers did that to make the product visually seem larger, like LP’s — but apparently the stores just preferred that packaging since the boxes could fit in the same racks used to sell records.

It was only at the start my sophomore year at Mary Washington College when it seemed like a lot of my friends owned them.  My roommate had a 5-disc CD player in which you inserted the discs onto a turntable the size of a record player — the “random play” function would select from those five discs, and I remember thinking that was pretty damned elaborate technology.

The discs themselves had a slight mystique.  They were shiny.  The bottoms were … lasery and kind of iridescent.  They just looked … high-tech and a pretty fancy, compared to the beige or white plastic cassettes every kid remembered since early childhood.  (I myself can actually remember my parents having 8-track tapes when I was a tiny tot, but those weren’t something that belonged to me.)

CD’s really were the first computerized format for music.  Hell, we were still watching movies on VHS tapes back then.  (Except for that one weird time when a hardcore collector in my dorm was showing off a rare, LP-sized video “laserdisc” of “The Monkees.”)  And again, CD’s predecessors were ordinary tapes.

At first, college kids occasionally erred a little too far on the side of caution in caring for CD’s …  Yes, they would skip or break if they were scratched or if they accumulated dust.  That indeed sucked when it happened.  But a few kids treated them as though they were made of priceless, eggshell-thin medieval spun glass — as though they would be rendered useless even if a single hair fell across them.

And one student I knew got CD care entirely backwards … he kept advising everyone that it was the top of the disc — with the artwork, band name and songlist — that actually contained the readable music, and not the shiny bottom.  (Retrospect suggests he might have been high.)

I owned only a couple of discs at first — I remember having Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” Ravel’s “Bolero” and Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.”  I also was the owner of … God help me … “I’m Breathless,” Madonna’s tribute to the bizarre 1990 “Dick Tracy” feature film in which she starred.  (I was *19,* okay?!  I didn’t know what good music was yet!!)  I also routinely borrowed my mother’s “Glory” (1989) soundtrack; I remember loving that during the summer of 1992.  Hot damn if James Horner didn’t sound fantastic on compact disc, especially when I was stuck at home on a sweltering summer night in a new small town in Virginia.

I did like more mainstream music  … but I continued to listen to my U2, Depeche Mode and Def Leppard on tape.  My tapes still worked just fine, and CD’s were more expensive for a college kid.

Mp3’s eventually arrived, of course.  I was very, very late to the party, as I always am with cool things.  I stuck with my CD case; the idea of “downloading music” seemed oppressively techy to me.  (Would I have to know code?  Would I have to type stuff?)  My first mp3 player was a gift — it came with a personal (and punk-heavy) music selection already on it.  My subsequent iPod broke disappointingly early.  Do those damn things just stop working as some kind of variation of planned obsolescence?  Because their shelf-life sucks, and it makes it ironic that people worried so much 25 years ago about their CD’s being scratched.

There is a larger point that I am trying to make here … I feel like we really did lose something in the switch from disc to digital.  Look at that case in the meme below.  That’s … a music collection.  You could hold it.  You could organize it with your hands, and then hand it to the person next to you as sort of a document of your aesthetic personality.  If you’re at home and your CD’s were in their cases, you could examine the cover art.

Or, if you were dating someone new, in that getting-to-know-you stage, there was a subtle ritual in which you examined each other’s music collection.  It was a conversation starter, or maybe even a handy icebreaker when she first saw your place.

Digital music doesn’t do that for us.  I don’t think I know anyone who has ever handed over a palm-sized gadget to a new friend or sweetheart, and asked them to scroll through the song list to “see what I’m into.”  And … you just don’t get the same sense of “having” the music, or owning it.  The different feel of digital is further increased if you can purchase individual songs … the entire concept of “having an album” is just different.

But I’m just bitching here.  I probably sound like one of those overly nostalgic post-40 guys who used to lament the passing of LP’s.

Hey, you kids … GET OFF MY LAWN.

 

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