Monday, October 03, 2011

The Four Musicians of Bremen (Disney 1922)

(Laugh-O-gram, US 1922) Reissue: Four Jazz Boys (1929) D: Walt Disney; anim: Walt Disney, Rudolf Ising, et al.; DP: Red Lyon; filmed: ca. 4-5.1922, 3241 Troost Ave., Kansas City; dist: Pictorial Clubs Inca. of New York (non-theatrical, regional circuit); 35 mm, 765 ft, 9'16" (22 fps); from: The Walt Disney Company. English intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: John Sweeney, 3 Oct 2011.

Russell Merritt & J.B. Kaufman (GCM Catalogue): "The leap from Little Red Riding Hood to The Four Musicians of Bremen is remarkable. Put into production almost immediately after his first Laugh-O-gram, Four Musicians puts on display what Disney has learned in the course of only a few weeks. The comic routines are more inventive, the action better staged, and the quality of the backgrounds dramatically improved. Disney is learning how to set up his gags and then build on them, rather than simply string them along one after the other. Disney was sufficiently proud of Four Musicians that when he created his Laugh-O-gram Corporation in May 1922, he listed this film – but not Little Red Riding Hood – as the company’s sole cartoon asset."

"At the same time he put Four Musicians into production, Disney was gaining important practice with novelty reels of jokes and commentaries called Lafflets, in part to diversify his product, but also to break in his growing staff. Apparently none of the Lafflets survive, but based on descriptions, they help explain the attention given to the gags and enriched backgrounds as Disney rotated his men into the senior projects."

"To see how he has improved, we might consider what has happened to the chase scene. The one in Little Red Riding Hood was nothing more than an airplane flying above the villain’s car, catching it in a hook, and dumping it in a pond. In Four Musicians, the chase has been given a simple but effective structure. An underwater pursuit of a smart-aleck fish leads our hungry cat to a grinning swordfish, ready to dice the cat up with his sharpened sword-bill. The tables turned, the fish now chases the swimming cat, goosing it up to the riverbank, where the cat rejoins its friends. The chase expands. Outnumbered four to one, the single-minded swordfish calculates, and then races after all four of them, first into a hollow tree where the four are shot out of a branch like a cannon, then up a sapling where, thinking themselves safe on a branch, the Four emit a collective laugh. Pause. The shark thinks, then diligently razors his way through the tree. Laughter turns to panic as the Four tumble out of the tree over a cliff … and on to the next phase of their adventure."

"Although limited by his ongoing reliance on cycles and repeat actions, Disney has already started to insert personality bits for comic effect – giving the swordfish a fixed expression of grim determination, letting him pause to furrow his brow and think; setting up his encounter with the Four by introducing him as the merry swordsman sharpening his blade on a grindstone and gaily dicing a fish."

"Disney also develops his feel for dance and syncopation. What gets the cat into trouble is his clever idea of luring a jazz-crazy fish onto land with the music of the Musicians, and then braining it with a plank of wood. This is the closest the Bremen musicians ever get to perform, but the cat’s attempts to pound the dancing fish and the fish’s syncopated twists, spins, and leaps give the cartoon its most playful, prankish moment."

"Four Musicians still shows the limitations of the beginner. To audiences unfamiliar with the original Grimm Brothers story, the descent into the robbers’ hideout and the subsequent battle comes as a bolt from the blue, disconnected with anything that has come before. In Disney’s hands, the robbers have become an Austrian gangster army, complete with Tyrolean caps, a cannon, and black masks. To complete the Teutonic connection, the extended sequence of the cat flying around on a cannonball is vaguely reminiscent of Baron Münchhausen’s most famous exploit, but the final moment – the cat losing most of its nine lives – is pure Disney, an early version of one of his favorite gags." Russell Merritt & J.B. Kaufman

AA: Revisited Disney's early animation where he risks going deeper into fantasy territory, into the absurd, defying laws of gravity and nature. It is fascinating to observe Disney's passion for dance, music and rhythm even in his early silents. Even the fish is dancing, even on dry ground. I would see in this Disney's Orphic connection. Music can reach even beyond. There are a lot of swordfish gags: the swordfish is introduced at the knife-sharpener's, and it is able to cut a tree with its sword. In the final gag the cat loses eight of his lives as little white cat angels, but its one life remains.

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