WHAT IS A CINESYMPHONY?
A Symphony Concert Illustrated by Disney
BY IRIS CONLAY
RECENTLY Manhattan, U.S., had a
film show that makes news even over here, and even in war-time. It was the premiere showing of Walt Disney's Fantasia. Not a Silly Symphony this time but a Cinesymphony; not a ten-minute triviality, not even a fulllength fairy-tale, but a two-and-a-half
hours' symphony concert illustrated by Disney, composed by Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Dukas, Tchaikovsky, Moussorgsky, Schubert, and played by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
This is how the opening of the film is desCribed by Time (American magazine);_
" As the audience enters and the little theatre nits with the sweet confusion of an orchestra tuning up, there are no musicians in the pit. As the curtains part, a huge symphony orchestra appears hazily, on the screen. Before it steps a thin grinning, bald-headed man. He introduces himself as Deems Taylor, welcomes the audience on behalf of Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney to ' an entirely new form of entertainment.' When he finishes, Leopold Stokowski himself, his back to the audience, steps into the picture, raises his arms, and the great orchestra swings into 13ach's D Minor Toccata and Fugue.
" The music conies not simply from the screen, but from everywhere; it is as if a hearer were in the midst of musk. As the music sweeps w a climax, it froths over the proscenium arch, boils IMO the rear of the theatre. all but prances up and down the aisles. The hazy orchestra begins to dissolve and weird abstract ripples and filaments begin an unearthly ballet in Technicolor.
AND the ballet has its various moods following the moods of the music. For brevity we catalogue:— Tchaikovsky 's Nutcracker Suite (flowers, fairies, fish, falling leaves, mushrooms).
Paul Dukers's Sorcerer's Apprentice (Mickey Mouse appears and steals the bearded sorcerer's cap which is magic, commands it to fetch water, forgets how to stop it and nearly drowns himself in the deluge that follows). Stravinski's Rite of Spring (a primeval world, complete with dinosaurs, bubbles up).
Moussorgsky's Night on the Bald Moantam. (Hobgoblins and witches ride on brodms).
Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (centaurs and centaurettes, Pegasus and Mrs. Pegasus and the little Pcgasi gambol and fly: Bacchus and his crew get a good drenching when the storm comes up).
Quoting again from Time on the Pastoral Symphony:— " It would have taken a Gustave Dore to do justice to the big beauty of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. No Dore. Disney peoples his classical Olympus with
smirking ' centaterettes with calf-eyed centaurs and kewpiedoll cupids, makes Bacchus' bacchanale look like a nursery lemonade party, leaves his audience wondering whether he is serious, or merely trying to be cute by putting diapers on Olympus."
TT doesn't need the critics to tell us that the
toddlings of Disney don't keep up with Beethoven, and we think it highly likely that canons of taste will be outraged at least by this part of the programme. but there is no doubt about it that where angels have feared to tread Disney has tripped in. And even a world troubled as it is now will be interested to see what he has made of his experiment.
Fantasia started in its creator's mind this way. Three years ago the conductor Leopold Stokowski begged Disney to let him conduct the music foi a short made with Mickey Mouse from the Sorcerer's Apprentice.
Disney let himself in for something. Maestro Stokowski had so many bright ideas for " symbolic animovies " that Disney himself was nearly outdone by an amateur. This decided him. He would keep Stokowski and build round Mickey's sorcery act a whole programme of einesymphonies.
Q0 it started. In one set of studios sat Stokowski surrounded by orchestras and sound equipment. In another sat Disney and the Mickey Mouse creators all gone high-brow for the occasion.
Stokowski and an engineer managed to create a new sound recording which follows characters across the stage, throws music from the ceiling or whispers in your ear or down your back.
Disney's lot rang with classical music, too, and his patient engineers, who had never been to a concert in their lives, listened to thilty-tive to seven hundred and ten performances of each composition and ended up by whistling Bach, Beethoven and Schubert in the bath.
For the Rite of Spring sequence Disney men began to study nebulae and comets at the local observatory. They mugged up theories of protozoic life, earthquakes and other geological upheavals, did portraits of every prehistoric animal in Manhattan's American Museum of Natural History. By the time a complete cast had been rounded up for the Rite the Disney zoo contained eustenopterons, brachiosaurs, brontosaurs, pleisosaurs, mesosaurs, diplodocLINCS, triceratopses, pterodactyls, trachodons, struthiomimuses, stegosaurs, arehaeopteryses, pteranodons, tyrannosaurs, and enough plain dinosaurs to people a planet, Evolution was never better represented.
rr HE best act of Fantasia, according to 1 Time's Critic is the Night on the Bald Mountain. Graveyards and ghosts and all the paraphernalia of horror will turn little girls' hair white, we learn.
Two million, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars have gone into the show. It has been called " Disney's Folly," but results will show how justified he has been. In the meanwhile the sound gadgets are so difficult to fit and so expensive that, even in America, small town themes do not hope to be able to show Fantasia. At the moment it is on the road touring those cinemas that can afford the fittings.
When it will come to this country is conjectural. But come it will, surer than any Nazi invasion. map and it hasn't got a B.B.C. accent in its whole length. That is a bit of a record.
It is an ambitious affair and I can well imagine what Hollywood would have done with the same subject. For one thing we would have had travelling cameras rushing round in circles, quadand triangles, snaking shots of " Flot•dora" scenes that never existed on land or sea and, of course, the Zeigfeld girls would have been there in full force. But that is not the way in English studios. Things are taken very quietly and the result is that Leslie Stuart emerges as the hero of his own flint.
The first scenes show us young Tom Barrett (later to become Leslie Stuart) in the humble Manchester home of his Irish parents. A piano is arriving—won by the father in a raffle. Given a piano, someone must be taught to play the thing and Tom is chosen. Thus was the fate of one man and a large slice of the English musical comedy stage in the next forty years decided.
MARIE O'Neill brings all her Abbey
J. Theau'e realistic training to make the mother that tine mixture of authority and humour that has inspired all those " Mother Macree " songs,
With the coming to manhood of the musician, Robert Morley takes charge of the picture, attended at intervals by his old friend, Emlyn Williams—always faithful and always looking in need of a shave and brush-up.
Robert Morley, looking and sounding, 1 should think, far mote academic than ever the poor boy of Manchester did, nevertheless scores a distinct success in the part. Ile gives Stuart a gentle dignity that is the common characteristic of all artists—
Schubert had it and so had Elgar. And this characteristic 'becomes even more pronounced in the lean and hungry days of Stuart's decline from popular favour. Jerky jazz raises its St. Vitus-afflicted head and the lovely " Lily of Laguna " is forgotten.