SIGNE BAUMANE: WOMAN

“When I don’t think about film, I think about sex.  Every 10 seconds.  I have the sense that my head is very close to my genitals.”  So speaks Latvian animator Signe Baumane in the documentary Signe and…. It’s part of an indispensable and unique collection of Baumane’s animated shorts called Ten Animated Films by Signe Baumane.

True to her word, there is sex aplenty in most of the films in this collection, including her  Teat Beat of Sex, and Baumane goes a long way to prove obsession in art is indeed a good thing.

In Natasha, a lonely housewife finds a vacuum cleaner is just as effective as any man.  In Five F___king Fables the head of a decapitated princess gives a man oral while a dog performs cunnilingus on her, penises do indeed come in every shape, size, color and form, and Georgia O’Keefe’s erotic flowers are taken to a whole new level. These are just a few of  the repeated erotic images and themes that make up Baumane’s world.

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DIRECTOR RETROSPECTIVE: RALPH BAKSHI

Fritz The Cat (Ralph Bakshi)

Coming out of the Warner Brothers cartoon factory, Ralph Bakshi emerged as one of America’s unheralded surrealists. He is as authentic in his way as Ken Rusell was. Both share a related aesthetic, which is closely linked to avant-garde cinema tradition, but grounded in the stylistic tenets of Surrealism. Russell, unquestionably flamboyant, probably has the more secured reputation with aficionados, while Bakshi too often is summarily dismissed as a cult animation specialist. Yet, as Paul Klee, Max Ernst, and Luis Bunuel have proven aesthetically more consistent (and infinitely more interesting) than that hero of male teenage angst, Savlador Dali, so too Bakshi likewise may come to be seen as the part of the pulse of Western Surrealism.

Fritz The Cat (Ralph Bakshi)

Bakshi’s debut, Fritz the Cat (1972), is delightfully of its period and  could probably only have been made in the 1970s (although work on it actually began in 1969). It was a first on numerous fronts: The first X-Rated cartoon, Bakshi’s first feature (his previous work include a number of shorts and the television cult classic animated “Spiderman” 1967-1970), and the first cinematic adaptation of the work of Robert Crumb. Crumb himself thought Bakshi’s adaptation too subdued and hated it (it does lack the original’s bite), as did the cartoonist’s loyal fan base. Critics were divided over it then, and they’re still split on it, which sets the pattern for the whole of Bakshi’s work.

Fritz The Cat (Ralph Bakshi)

The critics of Fritz The Cat accuse it of blatant racism and sexism. Its defenders proclaim it as brutally honest and immune to political correctness. However, few dispute that Bakshi’s animation style is a highly original, handsomely mounted one.
It is set in the late 60s, as we follow the pot smoking, Candide-like protagonist Fritz out of college, into a Harlem ghetto filled with barroom brawls, riots, unbridled sexual escapades, drug abuse (which includes a heroin addled rabbit), cynicism, graphic anti-establishment violence (the police are literally portrayed as inept pigs), and revolutionary spirit.

Fritz The Cat (Ralph Bakshi)

Despite budgetary limitations and Crumb’s refusal to endorse the film, Fritz The Cat proved a success, even inspiring a sequel—The Nine Lives Of Fritz The Cat ( 1974)—which Bakshi was not associated with. Predictably, the sequel flopped, making the original look like a masterpiece.

HEAVY TRAFFIC (Ralph Bakshi)

Heavy Traffic (1973) is Bakshi’s most personal film. Essentially, it is an animated autobiography about the shy, sexually frustrated, pinball-playing aspiring underground cartoonist Michael Corelone (yes, it’s one of many references to Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Godfather). Michael attempts to make his way out of his warring parents’ Bronx home. As his much put upon Jewish mother and philandering Italian Mafioso father play out an urban “Taming of the Shrew,” Michael ambitiously sticks to plying his trade. Heavy Traffic is a paradoxical, heartbreaking, harrowing love letter to counter-culture urban freaks; replete with transvestites, amputees, interracial relationships, construction worker thugs, and God as a rapist. Bakshi is deep into Herbert Selby, Jr. territory here,leaving no demographic unoffended. Within this literal black comedy, the city streets are squalid and awash in Edward Hopper despair.

HEAVY TRAFFIC (Ralph Bakshi)

A beautiful scene depicts Michael in a dilapidated theater watching 1932’s Red Dust (probably the best film of both Clark Gable and Jean Harlow). Bakshi elevates stereotypes to sublime tragedy, reminding  us that often, we choose to live up to those stereotypes. Artistically and emotionally, Heavy Traffic is arguably Bakshi’s greatest, most surreal accomplishment, which validates the argument that art is at its most significant, potent, and powerful when the artist depicts what he (or she) knows.

HEAVY TRAFFIC (Ralph Bakshi)

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BETTY BOOP, THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION: VOL 1& 2 (2013)

Pre-code Betty Boop.

Hands down, the most indispensable DVD/Blu -ray collections released in 2013 are the two volumes of the Fleischer original Betty Boop cartoons from Olive films. Betty Boop, The Essential Collections, Vols 1 & 2 (2013) are long overdue. Although Volume 1 is not perfect (more on that later), it is the best Boop collection we have seen since the eight volume Definitive Collection distributed by Republic on VHS in 1996. (Earlier this year, Legend Films released The Uncensored Betty Boop, which is exactly what it says it is: pre-Hays Code Betty, but of fairly low-grade quality).

Betty Boop The Definitive Edition. Pre-CodeBETTY BOOP The Essential Collection

The Definitive Collection conceptually broke the Fleischer shorts into “the Birth of Betty”  (she debuted in 1930), “pre-Code,” “Surrealism,” and “Musical Madness.” However, the collection also featured the later, watered down, post-Code Betty, complete with her Promise Keeper-styled housedress and a boyfriend (to keep her monogamously domesticated). Since Republic strove to release a complete collection, this inclusion was necessary, but it’s certainly not Betty at her best. Indeed, it is the post-Code Betty which is indirectly responsible for the bland fridge magnets and license plates we have been saturated with by companies and persons who have probably never seen Betty in in her original incarnation.

pre-code Betty Boop

The basic rule with Betty Boop is that the shorts are best up through 1934. In Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) Betty (making her first on-screen appearance in 49 years) tells Bob Hoskins that she was ruined by color. Actually, Betty Boop was spayed and destroyed by the Legion of Decency and by Will Hays. The proof of pudding is in shorts like The Foxy Hunter (1937) from Volume One, in which Betty is anything but foxy. Stuck in a servile, matronly role, she plays second banana to man’s best friend. Her trademark garter is long gone; remnants of a past sex life. In its place is Betty, stuck in a Dan Cathy-approved dress and relegated to June Cleaver’s kitchen. (Most, if not all, the Betty shorts featuring Pudgy the dog are painful to watch, especially after seeing Betty in her prime. Fortunately, her prime makes up most of Volumes 1 & 2).

Betty Boop

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SATURDAY MORNING WITH SID AND MARTY KROFFT

Saturday morning With Sid and Marty KrofftSid and Marty Krofft Productions

Some may count the 1980s as the last great decade of pop culture. I disagree. The first half of the 80s was undoubtedly influential, but it was a continuation of the individuality of the previous decade. Around the halfway mark, the 80s gave way to the lack of personality blandness that saturated the 1990s (and beyond, to today). Rather, the 1970s was the last decade of pop heaven, and Saturday Morning With Sid and Marty Krofft serves well as the Calgon to take us away to that Neverland time capsule.

H.R.Pufnstuf lunchbox

This Rhino DVD collection of pilot episodes will probably be best enjoyed with a bowl of Quisp cereal and some full blown Vitamin D milk. None of that wimpy 2 % or skim crap (you might also enjoy a bowl of Quake, if you can find it). Now, slip into a plaid robe, a pair of fuzzy house slippers, kick all those boring hyper-realists out of the house. Then, turn on the TV and hit play. DO NOT fall into the temptation of using the remote control (yes, it’s a DVD, but let’s try to get as close to the genuine experience as we can). Throw the pillows on the shag rug carpet and let the cartoons begin.

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THE WILD AND ZANY WORLD OF TODD M. COE

Todd M. Coe is one of those secret finds that is all too tempting to keep secret.

Todd’s animated shorts evoke the decade of the 1970’s, which  he is hopelessly in love with.  Drive-in commercials, exploitation, cheesy horror, 70’s adult  posters, variety show television specials, low budget spaghetti westerns, robots, the rock group Kiss, Aaron Spelling cop shows, feathered hair, plaid bell bottoms, and, of course animation are all manna from pop culture heaven for him.

From Todd on Carl the Mountain: “This is my friend, Carl… and he’s a mountain. He’s really cool too! But he’s got a slight problem that annoys him.
Anyways, since the eBook market is growing and I’m an illustrator/animator, why not embrace this new technology and have fun with it?”

TODD M COE %22888%22 FOR %22STATIONS%22

Todd could undoubtedly add a few thousand items from that decade to the list, such as one of his favorites (and the delightfully of it’s period) Paul Lynde Halloween Special ,with Donnie and Marie Osmond, Mrs. Brady, Witchie Poo and Billy Barty all trading groan worthy barbs with the inimitable and much missed Mr. Lynde. Todd discussed this perennial favorite in a series of emails and his enthusiasm was admittedly infectious.

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REV. DONALD WILDMON: MIGHTY MOUSE IS BACK TO SAVE THE DAY (FROM THE LIKES OF YOU)

The New Adventures Of Mighty Mouse- The Complete Series

Rev. Donald Wildmon is, thankfully a dinosaur, a dying breed of self-appointed “moral crusader” bullies who blasphemously oppresses in the name of a peasant Jew who hung out with hookers and derelicts, talked a theology of love, understanding, and peace, and was brutally butchered by Wildmon’s own type some two thousand years ago.  Wildmon bullies in the name of this Jew to masquerade his own ignorance.  Each year that passes it becomes increasingly apparent that the world will be better off when he and his type are extinct.

Rev. Donald WildmonMighty Mouse (endorsing crack?)

In 1988, Rev. Wildmon saw an episode of Ralph Bakshi’s “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse.”  The show was imaginative, colorful, and witty.  Wildmon’s Methodist toupee did a double take and he screamed “The Devil” when he saw something he could not understand, let alone appreciate.  (Specifically, Wildmon saw Mighty Mouse happily sniffing a crushed flower, and presumed the scene promoted cocaine use).  So Wildmon cocked up his triple chin and let out a Tarzan styled yell to his fellow Neo-Nazi thugs.  Wildmon and the brown shirts started their march, taking it all the way to the faceless sponsors of “Mighty Mouse.”  It’s not surprising that Wildmon bedded with money to attack an imaginative kids show.  After all, that peasant Jew was killed because he messed with the money system.

Mighty Mouse Night Of The Bat-Bat The New Adventures Of Mighty Mouse

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FELIX THE CAT 1919-1930

Felix the Cat %22Felix Saves The Day%22 (1922)

In 1999 Image Entertainment released a DVD compilation of “Felix the Cat” cartoons, from the character’s debut in 1919 to 1924. Inexplicably, Image never followed up with a second collection, and allowed Presenting Felix the Cat to go out of print. Naturally, used copies now fetch high prices. This leaves us with another, briefer collection from Slingshot Entertainment, also from 1999, to take up the slack. The Slingshot release can be purchased for slightly less than a McDonalds Happy Meal, and it will not clog your arteries. The presentation is not as extensive as that from Image, but neither edition is ideal.

Felix In Hollywood 1923

Felix the Cat predates Mickey Mouse by a decade but was just as popular in the 20s as Walt’s rodent was in the 30s. There is a longstanding dispute over who exactly created Felix, but he was born in the studio of Pat Sullivan. Sullivan’s animator, Otto Messmer, usually (and probably rightfully) receives the bulk of the credit. Felix shot to stardom rapidly, but faded in the 30s when Sullivan was reluctant to make the move to sound, thus paving the way for Mickey’s meteoric ascent. The Felix character was revived in a weak, imitative TV series in the 1950s, and has appeared in two execrable feature films.

%22Felix In Hollywood%22

Although the quintessential compilation of Felix at his earliest (and best) remains to be released, the still-available Felix The Cat 1919-1930 will have to suffice until then.

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MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967) ON BLU-RAY

MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967) news adArthur Rankin and Jules Bass may just be the weirdest animation team in history. Most of their stop-motion Christmas toons have become perennial classics, despite such bizarre characters as a carrot-topped roly poly dancing demon in hell; a misfit-among-misfits Arctic explorer; a dentist elf; a flying lion; a bitchy, bigoted Saint Nicholas; a winter warlock; a toothless, abominable Bumble; and a Charlie-in-the-Box. One wonders if the duo realized how off-kilter their formula was. When it came to their Halloween special, Rankin and Bass used the 1940s’ studio bound monster-mashes as their blueprint. Oddly, their Mad Monster Party (1967) was considerably better than those late, fatigued Universal extravaganzas. Helping tremendously was the voice work of Boris Karloff as Baron Frankenstein and Allen Swift as Felix Flankin, the Monster, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll, and the Invisible Man.

MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967) bride of frankenstein posterMAD MONSTER PARTY (1967) Karloff

Harvey Kurtzman of “Mad Magazine” and Forrest J. Ackerman, the celebrated founder and editor of “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” worked (uncredited) on the script. It shows. Mad Monster Party is a loving homage to Gothic cinema, replete with trademark campy puns, which equally inspire nostalgic smiles and pained groans. The special serves as a precursor of sorts to Henry Selick‘s Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Rankin and Bass approach their theme with far less originality than Selick, but the earlier film does have a pronounced sense of adolescent charm. Continue reading

THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926)

Historians, film buffs, and Disney fanatics all cite Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) as the first animated feature. While it is the first animated feature as we Americans tend to think of animation, actually that “first” honor goes to a little known, innovative oddity from eleven years earlier. The Adventures Of Prince Achmed (1926) is a labor of love from the pioneering female German filmmaker Lotte Reiniger and her husband, Carl Koch.

What makes Achmed still unique 88 years later is animation entirely composed of cutout silhouettes. The result  was one of the silent era’s most enchanting and captivating films. It is also a lucid reminder that the medium of film was at its most innovative in its infancy, before the rules were set and the mediums defined.

Reiniger lucked into a patron for her artistic efforts: Louis Hagen supplied her with enough film stock and financing to proceed with her project. Using scissors and black construction paper as her primary tools, Reiniger spent three years meticulously working in an attic on Achmed with a small crew that included her husband/cinematographer, Koch.

Influenced in part by Georges Méliès and Arabian Nights, Reiniger created a world of sensuous, exquisitely detailed beauty. The film has an almost surprisingly coherent and linear narrative, given that Reiniger was embraced by the European avant-garde. Unfortunately, the director had difficulty booking Achmed, and with the exception of Dr. Doolittle And His Animals(1928), the rest of her career was relegated to short films. There was work on a third feature, to be based on Maurice Ravel’s enchanting opera, “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges”; unfortunately, rights to the music could not be secured and the film was abandoned. The Adventures Of Prince Achmed is the only one of Reiniger’s films to date that has seen a home video release. Some of her shorts occasionally appear on television, but often in truncated versions. One such example is Doolittle, which has aired with added (and intrusive) voice over narration, coupled with woefully inadequate projection speeds. Fortunately, YouTube has been more respectful. The Star of Bethlehem(1921)Cinderella (1922), The Adventures of Prince AchmedPapageno (from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”) (1935), The Magic Horse (1953), and Jack and The Beanstalk (1955) along with a short documentary of her work can all be found there. The documentary shows her storyboarding techniques and the almost rapid-fired speed at which she crafted her baroque figures.

Still from The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)There is a noticeable gap of activity in Reiniger’s filmography from 1938 to the early 1950s. With the rise of Fascism, Reiniger and Koch struggled to flee Germany. Although not Jewish, politically they leaned left, which marked them as subversives. Jean Renoir was among those who aided the couple, but they lived in abject poverty until finally being able to settle in England in 1949. Despite the initial financial failure of Achmed, Reiniger and Koch were respected in film circles and were able to be relatively prolific.

Achmed is of its time in its portrayal of the good guys as completely good, bad guys as completely bad, and the pretty girl as in need of saving (Reiniger’s later films frequently had biblical, Victorian, fairy tale, and operatic themes). Still, it’s put over so beautifully, even the most hardened cynics will hardly care. The color tinting renders the film a phantasmagoric smorgasbord of gemstones. Achmed is awash in emeralds, sapphires, rubies, garnets, aquamarines, amethyst, topaz, citrine, tanzanite, and fire opal.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed weaves interrelated narratives involving our protagonist, his princess sister, their Caliph father, an erotic heroine (who Achmed voyeuristically spies on while she is bathing), a flying horse, a malevolent shape shifting African magician, the Witch of the Fiery Mountain, dancing harlequins, sphinxes, terrifying demons, Aladdin, and the genie of the magic lamp. Locales include an exotic island, a majestic palace, Peru, and China.

Reiniger was  master of her medium and an innovator. Every step through her unique world is an enchanting one.

WALT DISNEY’S FANTASIA (1940)

Over a thirty year period I have seen Fantasia (1940) in theaters on a few occasions. During each showing I witnessed several members of the audience walk out. That is usually a good sign. There is little doubt that this experimental film (yes, Disney once was innovative) has unmitigated moments of lurid kitsch, with equal parts cinematic magic. It’s a flawed masterpiece, which begs the questions: does an infallible masterpiece actually exist? Fantasia represents it’s creator, Walt Disney, as utterly possessed by obsessive, artistic, and innovative ambition. It may be one of the most stand apart films ever crafted, which is why, seventy plus years later, it still has the power to provoke dumbed-down audiences who still look at artmusic with suspicion. Simultaneously, it also annoys insufferable academic elitists who cannot find it in themselves to embrace the film’s tawdrier moments.

Another supposed “strike” the film has against it is its choice of conductor: Leopold Stokowski. Stoki was the P.T. Barnum of transplanted Euro conductors residing in America. Mention him to any “serious” classical music lover and he’ll make a face like he’s heard fingernails scraping down a chalkboard. Stokowski was known for his Bach transcriptions, one of which—”Toccata and Fugue in D minor”—opens the film. Essentially,he romanticized Bach, making him sound more like Tchaikovsky. One wit described such tampering as “High Cholesterol Bach.” It’s a dishonest reaction, molded by unimaginative attachments to “historical correctness” and hyper-realism. Avoid such persons like the plague (they probably started life by pulling the wings off butterflies). For those of us who have no qualms admitting that we like plenty of syrup on our musical flapjacks, embracing this wizard’s transcriptions presents no problems. Seeing only Stokowski’s brazen self-promotion amounts to blindness. This former organist had one of the most prodigious gifts in drawing color out of every orchestra he worked with, which made him the quintessential choice for Fantasia. Compare his achievement in this film, awash in personality, to the comparatively monochromatic conducting of James Levine in Fantasia 2000.

The meeting of Stokowski and Walt Disney, in 1937 at Chasen’s restaurant, is the stuff of legend. Disney was starstruck with the conductor’s celebrity, mysterious accent, and fierce mane. The seed of an idea for a “concert film” sprang from the meeting. At this time Disney had only produced and released one previous feature: Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (1937). The idea of an animated feature had seemed risky and radical, with the naysayers predicting bankruptcy. The profits and critical acclaim from Snow White forever silenced those constipated doomsday prophets. Now, Disney was ready to take another risk. 1940 saw the release of Disney’s second and third feature films. Artistically, it paid off as Pinocchio (1940) and Fantasia are, to date, Disney’s two greatest films (yes, I said that), released only nine months apart. The former was a critical, box office hit. The latter did not make money for nearly twenty years. Disney had proven one can go indeed broke overestimating the American public.

Still from Fantasia (1940)The Fantasia deal signed, Stokowski was excited and predictably offered numerous ideas about the use of color. A later biographer wrote that the conductor’s fascination with color was sincere, describing his various experiments with mixing alcoholic drinks for color effects. Stoki did a similar thing with “sound color” by incessantly changing the orchestra seating layout. Even visually, “Toccata and Fugue” is pure Stokowski. The opening piece is introduced via the superb narration of American composer Deems Taylor (to the public he was primarily known as a commentator for the NY Philharmonic Radio Broadcasts). This “absolute music” is total abstraction. Entirely hand painted, at times the watercolors almost appear to still be wet. Vibrant with texture, this is far removed from contemporary slick and soulless computer animation. Stokowski used no baton, so his beautifully powerful long hands are highlighted, jabbing through the splashing backdrop. The french horns are hauntingly lit in diaphanous color before the violin bows transform into silvery beams of light reaching for infinity. Sound and vision collide, producing crashing tides, ending in a literal fireworks display.

For those, like myself, who have overdosed on Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” Fantasia serves up a refreshing alternate vision, the most incandescent and sensual vignette of the entire program. Naturally, it is abridged and rearranged like one of Stoki’s infamous “Symphonic Syntheses.” Unwittingly, Disney tailored this Nutcracker Suite for the upcoming hippie acidhead generation (who eventually elevated Fantasia to masterpiece status). Darting fairies, spectral spider webs, and psychedelic mushrooms are followed by larger, dew-shaking ‘shrooms engaged in a Chinese tango. Being a ballet, naturally there is plenty of dancing, but the Disney team imaginatively improve on the yawn-inducing holiday imagery that we have come to associate with Tchaikovsky’s most famous music (which, as Taylor reminds us, the composer himself detested). Guaranteed, you will not find blue fairies, Russian Cossacks, pink fairies, waltzing flowers, orange fairies, or rhythmic goldfish mating with fairies (?) and swimming through an eroticesque aquatic Arabic dance sequence at your local ballet company anytime soon.

Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is justifiably Fantasia‘s most famous segment. Having a narrative (albeit a wordless one) to work with inspired the team to great heights. It is possibly the last time we will see Mickey Mouse before he succumbs to total blandness.With its narrative of white magic and sorcery, it is remarkable that the evangelical zealots of the day did not hone in on this segment (the way they did more recently with the Harry Potter series). It’s either that such types are somehow even more de-evolved than they were seventy years ago (possible, but not likely) or they stayed away from anything with the tag of “classical music” attached anyway. Since they didn’t see it, they didn’t know to get their feathers riled. Regardless, Stokowski had no such qualms. This being a tone poem, it is tailored for his bag of tricks. Even the most art-constipated among us can enjoy our once favorite mouse in the expert choreography composed by the Disney team.

Igor Stravinsky’s ballet “Le Sacre du printemps” (“The Rite of Spring”) is served up here for the eternal dinosaur-loving eight-year-old boy. Actually, the ballet is about pagan sacrifice and is so dissonant and barbaric that it caused one of the biggest scandals of music history in the form of a violent riot during the 1913 premiere at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. Regardless of the ballet’s narrative change (and the necessary abridgment), the composer (the only living composer chosen for the film) at first loved the Disney/Stokowski version. Years later, he did an about face (as he was apt to do), vilifying it. Still, given the time, the Darwinism included here was a damned provocative decision. This was only fifteen years after the Scopes trial, yet Disney and team are showing us the beginning of life on earth as science has revealed. Fish mutating into amphibious lifeforms show the artists clearly siding with Scopes and Clarance Darrow. Naturally, the dinosaurs come, and no Creation Museum is going to stop them. While the Le Sacre duPrintemps (2004) film by the tragically short-lived Oliver Herrmann might be aesthetically truer to the avant-garde nature of Stravinsky’s masterpiece, Fantasia‘s interpretation is rousing (and exhausting). After carnivorous lizards and the extinction of much life on earth, we deserve an amusing intermission with the soundtrack and, again Taylor is the host for the job.

Fantasia‘s treatment of Beethoven’s “Pastorale” symphony has always been a point of debate. Skinny dipping centaurettes are lured (by mooning cherubs) to square jawed, beefcake centaurs. Fortunately, the centaurettes do manage to squeeze into their garland bras because their male counterparts don’t seem to know what to do next. Confused libidos and a bacchanal (where the wine pours freely) is rudely interrupted by none other than Zeus himself (wielding a lightening bolt forged by Vulcan). This is the famous “storm” movement of the Pastorale. Helios’ chariot brings forth a much-needed sunset, and Selene tucks the Earth in with the night of her cape. Stokowski’s reading, like Disney’s animation, is anything but subtle.

Ponichelli’s ballet “Dance of the Hours” (from the opera “La Gioconda”) becomes what may be the most eccentric burlesque in the history of cinema. This is also a highly debated segment, which is to be expected with an amorous alligator cavorting with a hippo, alligators riding ostriches, and elephants riding alligators. Perhaps the Fantaisa-loving acid heads of the 1960s had a point.

Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” was part of Stokowski’s standard repertoire. He has his own arrangement, as opposed to the Rimsky-Korsakov edition used in most concert programs. The Witches’ Sabbath brings out the Satanic Chernobog (modeled, in part, on  and Wilford Jackson), descending on the town below like the Angel of Death terrorizing Egypt in the Moses narrative. Chernobog’s demons join their master in this violent, surreal nightmare, which, unfortunately for the victims, features a fiery pit to rival the worst of the gnostic apocalypses. The sadistic, phantasmagoric mayhem retreats with the chiming of the church bells that herald the segue into Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” Some have held these last two conjoined segments as the film’s best.

Walt Disney had planned more editions of Fantasia (which included a collaboration with ), but its initial failure laid such plans to rest until sixty year later when Walt Disney Productions released Fantasia 2000Fantasia 2000 had fleeting moments of brilliance, but was mostly a disappointing sequel; too clean, too crisp, lacking the risk-taking intensity and provocativeness of the original. Pinocchio may have had boys turning into jackasses, and Dumbo(1941) had it’s mind boggling “pink elephants on parade,” but Walt Disney’s Fantasia is chock-full of progressive weirdness and an ardent embrace of art for the sake of art.