Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Happy Walpurgis Night! (Night on Bald Mountain, 1940)

One piece of animation I love to revisit around Halloween is the Night on Bald Mountain segment of Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940). It has many elements that we associate with Halloween...ghosts and monsters, witches and graveyards...but it depicts a much older ritual that occurs in May, not October.

The setting is a little village at the foot of foreboding Bald Mountain (said to be based on Mount Triglav, in southern Russia).

One night a year, Walpurgis Night, a towering demonic figure awakens at the mountain's peak and calls upon restless spirits, witches and monsters to join him for an unholy celebration.

The winged creature is Chernobog, a figure from Slavonic mythology whose name translates to "black god".

Spirits of those buried in unconsecrated ground rise up out of their graves in a ghastly pilgrimage toward the mountaintop.

Once the spirits have arrived at their master's roost, they materialize into living things, perverse imitations of animal and man, and dance in worship as demonic fire erupts around them.

As Chernobog tires of their ritual, he disposes of his worshipers by immolation.

Meanwhile the sky is maelstrom of ghosts, wraiths, and skeletons, whipped into a frenzy.

When dawn arrives, the festivities end. Chernabog will hibernate in Bald Mountain until next year.

When the 1940 film was rereleased in 1969, the marketing campaign, in keeping with the times, emphasized the films pyschedelic imagery, as evidenced by this one-sheet that resembles a rock concert poster.

It's easy to see how some segments of Bald Mountain would appeal to the late-60s "turned on" generation. Take this colorful kaleidoscope of hellfire, from which female figures and screaming faces are glimpsed. These stills look like they belong on those trippy black-light posters that were popular at the time (and incidentally, didn't exist when the film was created nearly 30 years prior.)

Fantasia has been previously available on DVD and VHS, but is out of print as of this writing.

This post is illustrated with screen-captures of the film, as well as black-and-white storyboard sketches and concept paintings by Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen, who, interestingly, was not a Disney studio artist.

Some information in this post came from the book Walt Disney's Fantasia (1983, John Culhane), also out of print as of this writing.

1 comment:

C. Jerry Kutner said...

A great collection of images!