Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fantasia's "Night On Bald Mountain"

The Monster Memories this time are of:
The "Night On Bald Mountain" segment of Disney's Fantasia
(Click on images to view larger size.)

Detail of pre-production painting for the "spookshow" segment.

My favorite segment of Walt Disney's classic Fantasia is of course, "Night on Bald Mountain." The music composed by Modeste Moussorgsky is powerful and one of my favorite scary compositions, so seeing it brought to "life," as it were, by the animators is a special treat.

Another pre-production painting of the cemetary scene.

Recently I put on my DVD of the movie and made a series of screen captures to post here. Taking the time to just look at still images gives you a greater appreciation of the artistry that went into it, don't you think?

Click on any image to see a larger version. And as you view each picture, I challenge you NOT to hear the strains of the music in your head! Impossible to do, isn't it?

I grew up knowing about Fantasia, from the various film and monster magazines I had. I had a real itch when I was about 21 to learn more about it, so I went to the public library in Savannah, GA (the town I lived in at the time) to see what I could find about it. This was in the late fall of 1979.

The large imposing edifice made quite an impression on me, located in the beautiful historic section near downtown. Surrounded by huge oaks draped with greenish-gray spanish moss, I was reminded of what Officer Brophy in "Arsenic and Old Lace" said... "Why, this whole neighborhood just stinks with atmosphere." And he meant that in a good way. The setting sun streaming through the leaves and moss cast a dappled orange glow on the white stone of the library.

In the library I found a large reference book on the art of Disney, and was entranced by the paintings from "Fantasia." But then, I discovered the motherlode; an old LP record and book of the soundtrack of the film! The pages bound in the LP cover book had all sorts of pre-production art, and I was especially attracted to the scenes from "Bald Mountain." The beautifully-painted cemeteries and ghosts had a style to them that really gave one the chills. As I walked out into the autumn evening air, which carried an uncharacteristic coolness in with a light fog, a slight tingle went up my spine as I anticipated getting home and listening to the record while studying the pictures.

Pre-production painting of the opening scene.

Page from the LP soundtrack book.

A year or so later I was able to acquire the same record and book to own at a flea market, and that was the extent of my knowledge about the movie. But in 1984, to my total and complete delight, most of the sequence was shown on one of "The Wonderful World of Disney" Halloween Specials (I'll be doing some posts on these specials in an upcoming October series of blog entries). It was indeed as dark and foreboding as I had imagined, and depicted the dispair and horror among the wicked dead, even as they are called to celebrate and entertain their dark lord. Hardly the typical Disney fare!

"Monster File" feature from an issue of "Famous Monsters" in the early 80's.

Unlike the cute, bare-breasted but nipple-less centaurettes of the "Pastoral Symphony" sequence earlier in the film, there are several glimpses of topless harpies sporting their nips, albeit only briefly. The demons and ghosts are not "Disneyfied" and softened for this segment, but the entire scene is played out in an unrelenting cacophany of wicked revelry, and demonstrating the short-lived nature of it.

When it was released for the first time on VHS in the 90's, I could much more appreciate the dark beauty of the entire segment. I have only enjoyed it more with the subsequent re-releases on DVD with much improved picture. I think I'll go watch it again right now!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Colossus of New York

Today's Monster Memories are of:
"The Colossus Of New York"
1958 was a good year for monster and sci-fi movies. It's also significant that I was born that year. Significant to me, that is, nobody else, really.

This is a little low-budget film that few seem to remember, but it had a big impact on me when I saw it on TV when I was around 5 or 6. I recall sitting on my Grandaddy's lap while we watched it, so I didn't get too scared. He was a cool guy, an easy-going ex-Marine with a wry sense of humor, whose hobby was ham radio. Sitting with him at his desk full of equipment and a microphone probably accounts for the fact that I went into radio as an adult. He died too young, only in his 50's in 1968 in an accident at the Warner-Robins Air Force base in Georgia where he worked as an electrician. Someone else's careless lack of attention to shutting off a switch caused him to be electrocuted. Mostly, the way I know him is through pictures. So, the few memories I have of him are important, and when I watch this movie now I think of him. The main character played by Ross Martin was killed in a senseless accident also.

The hulking figure of the robot body, with it's glowing eyes and wide shoulders, combined with the harsh electronic voice, were quite frightening to me as a kid. The image of it smashing through the glass wall stuck with me and I never forgot it. Back then I thought it was a Frankenstein movie as it tromped around in it's big boots, and in retrospect it really is. Except Dr. Frankenstein had the good sense not to install death rays in his creation's eyes; never a good idea when you don't know how the brain will react to finding itself in a monstrous body!

I was fortunate enough to find this on a bootleg DVD recently, since it hasn't been released officially yet. Watching it for the first time in nearly 44 years brought back a flood of nostalgia, and I could swear I caught a whiff of my Grandaddy's aftershave lotion, almost as if he were there watching it with me again. Weird!

In the August 1981 issue of Fantastic Films magazine, there was an article about the movie with rare behind-the-scenes photos, which I scanned in to share with you below. Since you can't come over to my house to browse through the collection bookcases, (unless you were willing to make the trip) the least I can do is bring out items and post them here for you. Enjoy!

Here are some lobbycards you might enjoy perusing; no high-rez versions, unfortunately.

In the recent Futurama movie "The Beast With A Billion Backs," Stephen Hawking zaps some arguing audience members with eye lasers, then says, "I didn't know I could do that." I was immediately reminded of the "Colossus" scene and wondered if it was an intentional homage. It certainly has parallels; a brilliant genius mind trapped in a body that doesn't work right, who speaks with a mechanical voice, suddenly discovering he has eye beams!

Some "Colossal" Links: Monster Hunter and Senses of Cinema

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Haunted Mansion Hobby Kit Ad

Today's Monster Memories are of:
The Haunted Mansion Hobby Kits
(click on images to view full size)

In the early to mid 70's, the ads in the comics for the model kits and such were as interesting and entertaining to me as the comics themselves. And although I was never fortunate enough to own one of these, the ads themselves bring back a lot of fond memories of those times. I remember reading the ads for the first time on a rainy wintery day when it was too cold and wet to go outside. So now when I see them I get the mental impression of clouds and rain. It's funny how circumstances of the time can influence your current perceptions!

Disney's Haunted Mansion seemed to represent a physical location that Monster Kids could aspire to actually visit, and be in amongst the spooky environment that otherwise only existed in the movies and our imaginations. And model kits like this promised to let you bring a little of that place into your own room, as a visual accompaniment to the audio atmosphere created by the two records, which I was lucky enough to have. The pictures of them here are scans of my own copies.

Years later, I did get to visit Disney World and the Haunted Mansion was my main destination there. After all the years reading about it, and listening to the sound effects LPs, the actual experience was very fulfilling, and no disappointment; even though it was over in just a few minutes, I came out a bigger fan than when I went in. I'm one of the few people I know that actually enjoys the movie; I put it on quite often and watch it.

While going through some old comics last night, I found this two-page advertisement for the kits, and scanned them in to post here. If you haven't seen them for awhile, I hope they bring back some good memories of your own!

Here is an ad from Famous Monsters for the kits that I found last night also. Click on it to view biggie size!