Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. "Oberservations of film art and Film Art." David Bordwell's Website of Cinema. 2 Dec 2008.
In this blog entry, Bordwell speaks of Disney and his animation drawing from Neal Gabler’s biography Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. He describes the ideology portrayed in Disney’s films as able to create a specific conception of American life and society. Though many intellectuals fell out of love with Disney in the 1940s, Bordwell believes that Disney’s cartoons were still artistically very strong. These cartoons are characterized by an unsurpassed dynamism and grace of his animation, his power of expressive movement of the screen and “Mickey Mousing, ”which, according to Eisenstein, is a primal, visceral unity that could move the spectator involuntarily. Disney achieved this “absolute perfection” of animation through technological methods as well as an understanding of human thought, images, ideas, feelings, etc. Bordwell add that Disney was a “control freak.” Thus he wanted to create an idealized world, obsessively pursuing the “quality” of animation, which he could control. The result was his films and, of course, Disneyland. Technology was his reality-distortion field. Disney was able to bring animation to life for many reasons: skill with line and contour, soft caricature with an enormous bounce or vibrancy, use of color, and relationships between image and sound. Bordwell concludes that the artistic imagination displayed by Disney and his staff captivated American imagination.
Bordwell explains that Disney conveyed American ideologies mainly through animation. This brilliant animation is one of the two main components of “Fantasia,” the other, obviously, being sound. The graceful, vibrant animation that Browell describes is what truly captivates the viewer. Otherwise, the childish themes and unimpressive animation would definitely detract viewer from Disney’s films. The animation in “Fantasia” thus plays an important part in its popularity. As an “experiment,” the film sought to achieve the perfection in production that Walt Disney expected. Furthermore, it seems that perfect synchronization of image and sound really accentuate the films features. Such an entrancing combination sucks the viewer into the screen entering Disney’s world of imagination. In doing so, Disney achieves a spectacular, unique power over the audience. Though quite impressive, this captivation is the source of the many critiques of “Fantasia.” Disney taints the musical pieces with his dictated ideas, leaving the viewer trapped in Walt’s idealized world. “Fantasia” binds the viewer to a set of inflexible interpretations, negating the film’s artistic possibilities.
Copland, Aaron. "The Aims of Music for Film." New York Times 10 Mar. 1940: 158. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
ProQuest. Van Pelt Library Philadelphia, PA. 2 Dec. 2008.
Copland introduces film music as an important part of film composition. He does not agree that “background music” losses its function when the viewer becomes aware of it, giving the example that watching a film before the musical score is added is nothing short of unbearable. The problem with music, however, is that audiences have not yet been informed on the subject. Copland believes that advertising a film as having the music of a famous composer could attract a huge audience of musical fans—2,000,000 concertgoers/year—just as directors and stars attract another audience to specific movies. This tactic might truly increase the number of people who attend films, as they would attract a more intellectual population than the traditional moviegoer. However, he explains that most films are worthy of their mundane music, but about 10% of Hollywood films, “the cream of the cinematic crop,” would profit greatly with better music. Copland asserts that the score is designed to strengthen and underline the emotional content of the entire picture supplying a sort of human warmth to the black-and-white, two-dimensional figures on the screen.
“Fantasia,” unfortunately, does not fall into Copland’s “cream of the cinematic crop.” Perhaps the film’s musical criticism originates from the Disney Company’s sense of entitlement regarding selected music. Unlike any other film at the time, producers of “Fantasia” took the liberty of using works from big-name composers of classical music while adding to them their own personal, random interpretations. Animators may be skilled in creating cartoons, but having no musical background or education, it comes as no surprise that some critics say “Fantasia” butchered the music it employed. Furthermore, Disney does not use the music to enhance the picture, but rather uses animation to enhance the music. This assumes that the music needs enhancing thus further insulting the world-renowned composers. “Fantasia,” though perhaps a good source of entertainment, ultimately shows Disney’s arrogance, despite its musical disability, through the artistically improper connections between image and music.
Clague, Mark. “Playing in ‘Toon: Walt Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ (1940) and the Imagineering of Classical Music.” American Music 22.1 (2004): 91-109. University of Illinois. JSTOR. Van Pelt Library Philadelphia, PA. 26 Nov 2008.
Clague opens with “Fantasia’s” style. A “new kind of art,” “Fantasia” creates meaning out of music and images through audiovisual alignment. Such meaning should expose the public, presumably having no musical knowledge, to a wider understanding of classical music. Disney achieved this goal with “Fantasia” by creating a series of shorts, each of which was associated with a particular piece of classical music (such as Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor of the opening vignette). With the help of Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Disney attempts to teach viewers how to listen to such music. The animation acts as a visual aid to suggest information about listening to the music. More specifically, “Fantasia” is an early example of Disney’s “Imagineering,” exemplifying the combination of science and creativity, engineering and imagination. Certain critics suggest that such a composition may have damaged the music; inevitably, image always dominates sound. However, the Disney Studio used that implication to its advantage in “Fantasia” by introducing a number of associations, ideas, and references to the music. Appealing to middlebrow culture and an uneducated middle-class, “Fantasia” provided easy access to the high-end classical music. Abstractions of sound were connected with imagery of commonplace experiences to allow the public to better relate to the pieces. Themes expressed by the film are faith in scientific research and progress; Darwin’s theory on evolution in The Rite of Spring segment; racism (though more obvious passages were self-censored in the 60’s and do not appear on the modern editions of the film), mainly in depictions of black picaninnies; sexism; homophobia and gluttony (Bacchus, who is over weight, and the donkey kissing); as well as family, parenting, love, youth, etc. Though many of these ideologies are rejected by today’s society, Americans in the 1940’s more readily embraced them. In effect, “Fantasia” reflects the ideological viewpoints of its time, serving today as an important reminder of where America has been and what is aspired to be.
Clague exemplifies, in this article, Disney’s goal to make “Fantasia” an educative production. The film therefore has a clear message in mind and does not leave much room for personalized interpretation. More harmful still are the commonplace associations with the music. Such banalities associate the corresponding music to lack of musical innovation and of individuality. This visual imposition therefore truly taints the musical pieces of great composers whose work has been subject to Disney’s distortions. The Disney Studio effectively changes the nature of the music by limiting the listener’s creativity. As such, “Fantasia” is the opposite of art because it introduces only one correct idea and expresses as true, perhaps resembling propaganda. Though there is the unresolved debate of propaganda’s artistic nature, “Fantasia” is not even propagandistic art because it was not created as such. “Fantasia,” an entertaining animated film and not a political advertisement, confines the viewer to one clear interpretation, rather than implying a message through abstraction. This film is therefore fundamentally not a work of art. It is simply the middleclass entertainment that it depicts.
English, Horace B. “’Fantasia’ and the Psychology of Music.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 2.7 (Winter, 1942-1943): 27-31. Blackwell. JSTOR. Van Pelt Library Philadelphia, PA. 30 Nov 2008.
English reminds the reader that the combining music and dramatic production is an old technique. Therefore, there has always been music that was written to accompany drama. Such music is composed around the story in order to enhance it. Some of the pieces in “Fantasia” were written as such, and therefore Disney’s visual accompaniment does not destroy the music. On the other hand, most of the sequences in “Fantasia” use the music as the base and write the story around the music, ignoring the inherent differences between visual forms and musical forms. He explains this by describing man’s relationship to sound. Sounds have become abstractions and carry an infinite variety of plastic meanings. There is no fixed meaning of a musical sound. On the other hand, the eye is an organ of reality meaning that what is seen—painted, written, pictured, etc.—holds far more acceptability than what is heard. “Seeing, not hearing, is believing,” he asserts. He says that when we are really responding to music, we are creating something unique and individual; and at the moment of such creation, anyone else’s response, be it ever so beautiful, is only a distraction and an annoyance.
This article exemplifies one of the biggest critiques of “Fantasia:” mixing two forms of art inappropriately. According to English’s view on music, Disney ends up annoying the viewer with this combination rather than impressing him. In the context of “Fantasia’s” purpose, English seems to take the repercussions of the sound-image relationship too far. Disney wanted to expose lower-class audiences to the mysteries of classical music while demonstrating his talent in animation. However, with an intellectual mindset, the viewer sees the images as “a distraction and an annoyance.” Disney thus succeeded in entertaining his uneducated viewer, but he could not gain approval of intellectuals. English describes music, which is not written around a story, is an art form of its own. As such, artistic music provokes individual emotions that should not be normalized as they are in “Fantasia.” Unfortunately, Disney’s attempt failed to consider the musical characteristics that were the cause of much critique. As an entertainer, Disney seems to be doing the job with this film. On the other hand, as an artist, Disney overlooks fundamental aspects of art. Disney’s lack of basic artistic comprehension contributes to “Fantasia’s” failure as a work of art.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1997.F3317 C8 1999
This segment addresses the aesthetics in the last number of “Fantasia” which combines Modest Moussorgsky’s bone chilling tone poem “Night on Bald Mountain” with Franz Schubert’s pacifying Ave Maria. Disney’s goal here was to visually shock the audience with the audio bridging of these two drastically different pieces. This would ultimately address the conflict between good and evil. Vladimir Tytla successfully conveyed the demonic aspect of Moussorgsky’s music with impressive animation amplified by special effects and camerawork. Furthermore, Moussorsky’s music was used to its full potential because the Disney Studio was able to increase the tone of a descending passage—low notes however loud they may be played decrease tone in a classical live stage setting. The transition to “Ave Maria” occurs with the sounding of a bell forcing the demons to retreat as dawn approaches and a series of pilgrims are depicted. “Ave Maria” serves an emotional relief to the audience, undoubtedly tense from the shock of Moussorsgky’s malignant music and its grim visualization. Though Disney was unsatisfied with his animator’s production of this scene, he finally realized his vision only days before the premiere; in Disney’s eyes it was finally perfect. The use of Fantasound in the scene was one of the most important technical components that aided the scenes effects. Fantasound made it seem as though “the spirits of the pilgrim choristers were in procession up the side aisles of the theater.” Disney, Stokowski, and their coworkers had created an entire animated concert while taking full advantage of the animation medium.
Moussorgsky’s piece was written to accompany a story so its style is unusual. Disney's images of demons from the underworld are uncommon as well, since Walt did not want to portray traditional horror motifs. Combining the two creates a harsh sensation while it increases the tension and discomfort of the viewer. However, the following “Ave Maria” sequence erases any fear created by "A Night on Bald Mountain" primarily through its music but also through its animation. Disney and his staff used the sound-image relationship here but they extended that concept by creating a relationship between two sound and image combinations. It is interesting to note that the music alone, the animation without sound or the separation of the two parts would have created something ordinarily unimpressive. The genius behind this last scene is the perfect synchronization of sound and image and the astute bridging of the two pieces. Musical senses are amplified by animation, and furthermore the coupling of two extremes heightens reactionary emotions. This well-constructed scene is perhaps the best example of “Fantasia” working as a form of art. Though the interpretation of the music is depicted directly, and not implicitly, the meaning of the combination of pieces is only suggested. Disney finally required interaction from the viewer perhaps hinting at "Fantasia's" artistic value or, at least, its artistic potential.
Downes, Olin. "'Fantasia' Discussed from a Musical Standpoint--Sound Reproduction Called." New York Times 14 Nov. 1940: 28. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. ProQuest. Van Pelt Library Philadelphia, PA. 2 Dec. 2008. <http://proxy.library.upenn.edu:2082/>.
Downes’ article is a review of the film in the context of the interpretation of music. He describes that Fantasia proves that wonderful things can be done with the combination of image and music. However, Fantasia is an example of what not to do with such a medium. Downes criticizes the films very purpose. He explains that many musical authorities say that such pieces cannot be related in any other language but there own. Listeners should be free to imagine only what they can fathom and not preconceived, set interpretations. He asserts that nothing positive comes out of “scrambling” different art forms together. He argues that, had the animation been based on musically knowledgeable sources, the film could have been an outstanding creation. He acknowledges several moments in which the film does not harm the music, but for the most part, he disagrees with Fantasia’s depictions. He is utterly repulsed by the sequence of Beethoven’s Pastoral that renders the film worse than “footless.” Though Disney cut and modified the musical pieces to fit the animation, Downes notes that fortunately the music has survived, but such inappropriate representations should not encompass such acclaimed musicians.
From a musical standpoint, “Fantasia” is a monstrosity. Borrowing from already-established music, “Fantasia” attempts to invent a form of expression that it cannot sustain. Conceptually, Disney was on the right track with “Fantasia,” but it is impossible to nationally portray false interpretations of such acclaimed musical pieces without being reprimanded by musical authorities. Rightfully so, Downes and many others were “utterly repulsed” by scenes in the film. Instead of creating art within its medium and conventions, “Fantasia” tries to invent a new kind of art that combines abstract music and images. We can appreciate Disney’s attempt here, but still the studio cannot blend abstract music with childish animation (like with Beethoven’s Pastoral) and get away with it. “Fantasia” is more of a crime against art than a form of art
Crowther, Bosley. "The Screen in Review." New York Times 14 Nov. 1940: 28. ProQuest HistoricalNewspapers. ProQuest. Van Pelt Library Philadelphia, PA. 2 Dec. 2008 <http://proxy.library.upenn.edu:2082/>.
Crowther’s review in the New York Times praises “Fantasia” saying, “motion picture history was made at the Broadway Theater” with the premier of the film. He says that although “Snow White” and “Pinocchio” have charm, “Fantasia” goes the extra mile by creating an innovative film that cultivates the imagination to an unforeseen level. Crowther believes that the film goes even further by inspiring the viewer’s imagination with a “spellbinding” range of high-toned music merged with Disney’s fantastic imagery. Crowther expresses that the assigned imagery is actually quite appropriate as it complements the music to create an enchanting form of entertainment. He idealizes each sequence as he explains the high point of each movement, describing it as enchanting, brilliant, even lovable. He adds that the elaborate sound system increases the film’s beauty, though it is too harsh at times. He continues to say that the animation might be too perfect. He asserts that the enchanting images, at times, captivate all the viewer’s senses which ends up detracting from the music. Thus he acknowledges that “Fantasia” is a frank experiment. His final sentence urges the reader to go see “Fantasia,” “if you don’t mind having you imagination stimulated by the stuff of Mr. Disney’s fanciful dreams.”
This is an interesting example that fully justifies the many critiques of the film. In this article, Crowther, a clear advocate for the film, pinpoints “Fantasia’s” biggest problem. Despite his praises and elaborate descriptions, he still thinks the film is at times “too pretty” and clearly states that the viewer’s imagination is altered by the images. “Fantasia” is thus an “experiment” in which the animators have falsely assigned image to sound. “Fantasia” is then just a form of entertainment, exciting in its unconventional composition perhaps, but not to be viewed as truly artistic. Rather, it’s recognition stems from its technological advances in animation and sound and its imaginative depictions that are in themselves captivating but are not of the caliber of the music they are meant to portray.
Call#: Van Pelt Library NC1765 .I37 1991
Brophy identifies the Disney Company as important, first and foremost, for its inventions, devices, and processes that have defined and refined animation as we know it. Disney constructs cinematic totality with the interaction between image and sound. Regarding Disney productions, Brophy defines musical composition as an organic life force and image as an artificial life force. Disney’s fusion of the two leads them to distil each other, to effect a symbiotic relationship emphasizing synchronization. The sound cartoon world, he explains, is one where every mark and squiggle is energized by rhythm, vibrating in reaction to the soundtrack. Brophy suggests that “Fantasia” honors the organic life of music to which the trickery of animated imagery could only aspire. An example of the symbiotic relationship between sound and image, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” shows how the orchestra conductor directs music while experiencing it. The experience and the direction determine each other. The real versus the dream-like are evoked in Mickey’s dream sequence. The passage demonstrates that music’s relationship with time is always relative. One’s reaction depends on what precedes and follows the sound. “A World is Born” is a commentary on the whole illusion of life which we infer from the preceding voice-over narration that delivers a literal content. Stravinsky’s score expresses a violence of rhythm, which Brophy links to barbaric behavior and reproductive and procreative activity (the juxtaposition of orchestral bursts and erupting volcanoes represents the phallic thrust of creation). Disney’s animated shorts and features manipulate sound-image relationship to mobilize narrative construction and our place within the text.
Music’s relationship with time explains the conductor metaphor that he can control a piece’s direction during his performance, but can never fundamentally alter it. The conductor thus never redefines music in any other temporal context but his own. The conductor, symbolizing the producer in the context of film, is given the opportunity to place the audience within his “text” to create a specific perceived narrative of sound within one sole context. The Nutcracker Suite in “Fantasia” is proof that associations and interpretations are all relative. In this sequence music is depicted by fantasy and nature. Coincidentally, it never alludes to the theme of Christmas for which the soundtrack was originally composed. The film therefore illustrates the myriad possibilities in musical direction while inferring that interpretation is contingent only on time. Brophy’s theory on the relationship between image, sound, and time proves Disney’s artistic intentions to simply sway the audience in a certain direction. Unfortunately, the animation, like that of the erupting volcanoes for example leaves no room for individualized creativity because it so clearly defines the action. Though the synchronization of music and this particular animation does not intrinsically harm the musical pieces, it does devalue them as art in the temporal medium of “Fantasia.” By falsely directing such musical manipulation, “Fantasia” significantly decreases its own artistic value.