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!


Mr. Karswell said...

Really nice caps Fred. Everytime I come here to yer blog I wanna watch whatever it is you're featuring again.

And *choke!* MORE new features?!! I can barely keep up with the others...

Frederick said...


As for the features on the sidebar, I figured that they might be a good way to have more regular content that doesn't warrent a whole blog entry. Just some addwed fun bits that don't accumulate, but change often. They'll change topics occasionally as certain ones run out of material. I have lots of ideas for them!

If my readers (what few there are)are having near as much fun as I am doing this, then I'm happy!

Anonymous said...

When I was...I dunno... 8 or 9 Disneyland had that segment on telly more than once. It fascinated me and at the time it scared the living hell out of me. A real dichotomy! I've learnt since that Disney hired Lugosi to make some gestures in a threatening manner for them to copy into the film. But in going through the credits I didn't see his name. I have a copy of Fantasia and every time I watch it I feel like that little kid again, repelled but intrigued.

Anonymous said...

As another mostner tie-in, Night On Bald Mountain was used as the theme for Ferdy's/Lenny's Inferno, the Fri. midnight monster movie show in Madison WI. hosted by Mr. Mehpisto.