Friday 13 November 2020


Today is the 80th anniversary of Walt Disney's one-of-a-kind masterpiece, Fantasia! And I'm casting my mind back, fifty-five years to a summer day in 1965 when I was 15 years old. 

At the time it was a HUGE adventure: I was planning on skipping school. I'd never played truant before; I just wasn't that kind of kid – mainly because I simply didn't have the guts! But this was an emergency! 

Disney's 1940 classic, Fantasia, was showing at a local picture-house. 

This, you must remember, was in the days before videos and DVDs and this particular Disney film was only ever shown, every few years and strictly as one-day-only screenings. It was showing on a Wednesday at the Odeon cinema in nearby Bromley but – being mid-week, with school the following day – I knew my parents would never allow me to go to the evening performance, so I simply had to see it in the afternoon. 

I had read about this film, I had pored over pictures from the various sequences reproduced in books and seen one or two clips on black-and-white TV, but I had never seen the movie itself! What's more, if I missed it this time around, I'd maybe have to wait years to get another chance! 

So began the best acting performance I've ever given. Once at school, I developed a irritating cough that worsened throughout the morning's lessons until I was sent to the deputy headmaster, Mr Edwards, who was also responsible for First Aid and all medical referrals. By this time I was sniffing and snuffling with the occasional fit of teeth-chattering shivers thrown in for added effect. My temperature was taken and by some miracle (a combination, perhaps, of an excitement-induced adrenaline rush and sheer will-power) it was slightly up! Mr Edwards told me to go home at once. I needed no second telling: I was out the school gate and on the bus to Bromley. 

Within the hour, I was sitting in the dark, succumbing to the thrilling and astonishing experience that is Disney's beautiful brave, bold and brazen collaboration with conductor Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra in "Seeing music and hearing pictures"! 

I was drowned in unforgettable imagery that, however many times I have seen Fantasia since, is for me, forever associated with the illicit nature of this particular cinema visit. There were the colorful abstractions accompanying Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; the dew-drop, frost and snow-flake fairies that with the Cossack thistle and Chinese mushroom dancers interpreted Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite; and the hilarious pastiche ballet for ostriches, hippos, elephants and alligators choreographed to Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours.


 Then there was the Bacchanalian romp on Mount Olympus (flying horses, centaurs, unicorns, fauns and gods) set to Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, The Pastoral; and the juxtaposed sequences featuring a Black Sabbath with devils, demons, hags and harpies cavorting to Moussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain and a devoutly reverential procession of pilgrims making their way through a forest of Gothic-arched trees to the strains of Schubert's setting for Ave Maria.

There was the relentlessly brutalising music of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (that I had never heard before) which provided a soundtrack to a shockingly violent pageant of prehistoric life on earth; and the piece of music that kick-started the project: Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which provided Disney's cinematic alter-ego, Mickey Mouse, with an inspired comedic turn that ranks alongside the best of Chaplin and Keaton and which created one of the studio's many enduring iconic images...

I left the cinema with my ears buzzing and my eyes boggled! I had never seen anything like it in my life and I was both thrilled and very slightly traumatised. 
The journey home on the bus remains as a bizarre memory: I was reeling – my imagination drenched from the splash and dazzle of the film I had just sat through – but, at the same time, I was terrified by the realisation that my truancy might yet be discovered if I should happen to accidentally run into a member of staff on my way home or, worse, any of my parents friends and neighbours who might wonder what I was up to and subsequently blow my cover!

As it happened, I was not found out. But this bit of luck was outweighed and overshadowed by the fact that I couldn't share with anyone my reactions to the devastating visual and aural experience that I had just enjoyed and which I now longed to wallow in all over again. My days of truanting were at an end, but, from then on, I would scour the local papers looking for further one day screenings and would travel to any cinema that was on a bus route in order to relive the Fantasia experience.


Michael G. said...

Bravo! You must have been exploding inside as you could not relate your joy! Good job!

Anonymous said...

Certainly the most enjoyable film review that I've read for a long, long time! I doubt whether anything that you would have learned at school that day would have been more beneficial than what you experienced at the cinema. "Splash and dazzle" is a phrase I'll treasure. (RGP)