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Director: Alexandre Alexeieff
Release Date: 1933
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Une nuit sur le mont chauve © Alexandre AlexeieffPredating Disney’s film to the same classical piece by seven years, this ‘video clip’ to the music of ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ by Modest Mussorgsky is an impressive mood piece.

The Russian-French artist Alexeieff animated ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ on a so-called pinscreen, a device he invented himself , and which consists of a screen with numerous pins, which can be pushed further in or out, to produce a shadowy image together. This technique is highly original, and the images produced are totally unique.The film’s imagery has more in common with surreal paintings from the era than with any other animation film from the 1930s. ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ was Alexeieff’s first film on the pinscreen. Together with his wife Claire Parker he would animate five more, of which ‘The Nose’ (1963) is arguably the best.

The film does not tell a story, but shows us a string of expressionistic images of animal and human forms, floating through air, and morphing into disturbing creatures. The animation is sometimes excellent (with a human figure circling through the air as a particular standout), but at times primitive, too, and the film suffers a little from the crude montage. Both shortcomings are a direct result of the limitations of the pinscreen. However, Alexeieff’s vision overcomes the film’s drawbacks, and ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ is rightly considered an animation classic.

Watch ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ is available on the DVD ‘Alexeïeff – le cinéma épinglé’

Director: ?
Release Date: May 27, 1948
Rating: ★★
Review:

Trees © Walt Disney‘Trees’, the fifth segment from ‘Melody Time‘, is a mood piece, like ‘Night‘ (1930) and ‘The Old Mill’ (1937).

However, this religious poem about trees is easily the least interesting example of its kind, despite its rather beautiful images of trees and wildlife. Neither the music nor the poem (with its moral “only God can create a tree”) is remotely interesting, rendering this short sequence dull and forgettable.

Watch ‘Trees’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: April 18, 1930
Rating: ★★
Review:

Still from 'Night' featuring a moth near a candle‘Night’ is a typical ‘mood piece’ Silly Symphony, comparable with the season mini-series (Springtime, Summer, Autumn, and Winter). This time it’s night and we watch owls, moths, fireflies, mosquitoes and frogs moving to music.

As usual in the early Silly Symphonies, there’s practically no plot, but only a dance routine, and a rather dull one, too. Nevertheless, the short manages to evoke more ‘mood’ than the other early entries.

Especially the opening scene looks beautiful with its rippling reflection of the moon in the water, predating similar scenes in ‘Water Babies‘ (1935) and ‘The Old Mill‘ (1937). Indeed, ‘Night’ can be seen as an early forerunner of the latter cartoon, and it is interesting to compare them, and awe at the tremendous strides the Disney studio had made in the mere seven years between the two shorts.

According to David Gerstein in ‘Animation Art’ the dancing frog is the embryonic form of Flip the Frog, Ub Iwerks’s own star after he had left Disney January 1930. Apparently, Iwerks wanted to make a new star out of this frog, but this idea was turned down by Walt Disney. Indeed, this frog gets quite some screen time (the last three minutes of the cartoon), and has a girlfriend, who is a clear forerunner of Flip’s sweetheart in Flip’s second cartoon, ‘Puddle Pranks‘.

Watch ‘Night’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 9
To the previous Silly Symphony: Cannibal Capers
To the next Silly Symphony: Frolicking Fish

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: November 5, 1937
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Old Mill © Walt Disney‘The Old Mill’ is a milestone in effect animation.

From the first scene on special effects seem to be the sole raison d’être of the film. The cartoon is literally stuffed with them: dew on a cobweb, ripples in the water, light beams, fireflies, wind, rain and a thunderstorm.

Disney’s famous multiplane camera, with which the feeling of depth could be realized, makes its debut here. Together these effects create an astonishing level of realism, necessary for the upcoming first animated feature, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. In ‘The Old Mill’ even the animal characters are more or less realistic, a rare feat in Disney cartoons until then.

All this realism leads to awe-inspiring images, based on concept art by Danish illustrator Gustaf Tenggren, who had joined the studio in 1936. Unfortunately, the images do not lead to much of a story. The film is more of a series of moods from dusk to dawn. Despite its clever pacing, reaching a climax in the thunderstorm sequence, ‘The Old Mill’ is an overly romantic depiction of nature, and less enjoyable as a cartoon than as a showcase of Disney animation.

Watch ‘The Old Mill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 68
To the previous Silly Symphony: Little Hiawatha
To the next Silly Symphony: Moth and the Flame

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