Saturday 31 October 2009


And here, courtesy of Tim Burton, are Jack Skellington's friends and compatriots to wish you all...


Thursday 29 October 2009


Talking about dancing...

As anyone who has ever visited our Greek island of choice - Kalymnos - will know we are habitués of George and Irene Glinatsi's taverna, Artistico.

And, as I've mentioned before, Artistico is a place where people contribute to the entertainment on an often nightly basis. Regular visitors who play guitar will bring their own instrument (or borrow one of George's) and will play - sometimes solos, sometimes duets, sometimes something Greek, sometimes something from their own musical culture.

Then there's also our good friend Roger who brings his kazoo and spoons and has been known to play both - simultaneously! But it's OK, he's not there year all year round! Sorry, Roger, only joking!

And, as usually happens in Greece when music is played, people dance!

Even I - in those now far off years when I was fitter and suppler - was occasionally known to take to the floor: memorably on one occasion (and I fear that there may be photos somewhere to prove it) engaging in a faux-fandango with Irene while wearing (don't ask why; ouzo can make a man do ludicrous things!) an outsize Pint-of-Guinness-hat... But, again, don't worry: I'm not there all round either!

David normally restricts himself to his regular magic performances, but maybe once a year - and this year it was on our Last Night - he will also trip the light fantastic. And when he does, it is an experience not to be missed!

So, here's David's singular interpretation of a traditional Greek dance with a little assistance/encouragement from George Glinatsi.

My thanks to David for permission to blog this and I hope that it brings a smile to your day!

Once again, in the interests of the Kalymnian Tourist Industry, David isn't at Artistico all year round!

Happily for me, however, I've had him around for 365 days a year, for almost two decades!

Monday 26 October 2009


I mentioned that I was talking with Marge Champion last week about her work on Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for which she had provided live-action film footage to enable the animators to create a convincing human character in such scenes as the one in which she and the dwarfs are singing and dancing together...

Marge recalled also having provided the Disney artists with reference footage for their animation of the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio and the dance steps - though not the physical bulk - for the balletic hippo in Fantasia...

This reminded me that I have long been intending to blog about a terrific book that will be of interest to musical film fans, animation buffs and lovers of dance.

Written by Mindy Aloff (a distinguished dance critic and a teacher of dance history) Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation is, as the title proclaims, a study of dance in Disney films and it is as wide-ranging as the animated pictures that emerged from the studio over the years.

In 1929, just one year after the debut of Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie, Disney released his first 'Silly Symphony' cartoon, a series set to popular and classical tunes, that allowed the animators to explore a diverse range of characters and stories.

The first of those 'Silly Symphony' experiments was entitled Skeleton Dance...

Seven years later, here's Mickey Mouse in colour dancing up a storm in the 1936 cartoon, Thru the Mirror...

Donald Duck was also quite a hoofer as can be seen from his jitterbugging performance in the 1940 short, Mr Duck Steps Out...

"Dancing wasn't crucial to the Disney enterprise," writes author, Mindy Aloff, "but it was intrinsic to it. Bodies moving in periodic rhythms to music - either while executing choreographed dances, or while engaging in physical activities that verge on dance, or, occasionally while creating abstract designs (such as the surreal marching-and-floating-in-space patterns of the 'Pink Elephant' ballet in Dumbo) - were hallmarks of Disney's animated films..."

Well, you can judge for yourself because here is that elephant ballet that is a-sort-of-a-dance-even-though-it-is-not-quite-dancing...

In a foreword to the book, choreographer and director, Mark Morris explains why he includes Walt Disney on his list of influential choreographers alongside George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham and Busby Berkeley. "I marvel," he writes, "at the variety of choreographic invention and aptness. What a remarkable resource of whimsy, fantasy, art!"

Indeed, the sheer diversity of Disney dance is extraordinary: in one picture, Make Mine Music (1946), there is, among other things, a pas de deux from ballet stars, Riabouchinska and Lichine...

And this, accompanying a jazz number from Benny Goodman and his Orchestra...

Dance is often used in Disney films to convey moments of key emotion: Cinderella dancing with her Prince as the clock moves inexorably towards the midnight hour, Briar Rose dancing with woodland animals as she fantasies about meeting the man of her dreams, Belle dancing withe the Beast and so softening his bestial heart, but it just as often used as an integral part of the storytelling process as can be seen in this classic sequence from the last film to be personally supervised by Walt Disney - but released in 1967, a year after his death - The Jungle Book.

Just as the Disney animators had modeled Snow White on the movements of Marge Champion, so the artists working on The Jungle Book based the antics of of King Louie and Baloo on those of veteran jazzmen Louie Prima and Phil Harris...

No Disney film features quite as much dance as the 1940 feature, Fantasia. It is a masterpiece of animation and dance is part of the total expression of the film's visualisation of music and musicalisation of art and I have been thinking quite a lot about this movie lately as I am prepare to provide a new commentary on the film for it's Blu-ray DVD release next year.

In addition to the ballet of hippos, alligators and elephants executed to the music of 'The Dance of the Hours' and the gambolings on Mount Olympus and Bald Mountain in the sequences choreographed to Beethoven and Moussorgsky there is the exquisite sequence based on Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker Suite' which is presented as a succession of dances executed by fairies, fishes, flowers, snowflakes and - in a segment animated by Marge Champion's first husband, Art Babbitt - mushrooms...

"Dance and animation," writes John Canemaker in another of the book's forewords, "a pas de deaux choreographed in heaven." And that divine choreography is what Mindy Aloff has chronicled in this richly-textured book.

Saturday 24 October 2009


In the post this morning...

Well, at least that's one thing less to worry about, come December!

And, after all, Christmas Eve is only two months away, today...

Thursday 22 October 2009


Spotting the following sign outside a chapel on the Greek island of Kalymnos, I was reminded of the words of Ezekiel (Chap. 33, v. 11):

"As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways..."

This Way to God
Remember, however, that all Greeks drive in the middle of the road so, when coming up to any turn, keep your wits about you or you might well end up dead - wicked or not!

Image: Brian Sibley © 2009 uploaded by flickr.

Tuesday 20 October 2009


Talking about Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs...

A few months ago, when I was in New York recording my interview for the new Blu-ray DVD release of the movie, I referred to the work of the Swedish-American illustrator, Gustaf Tenggren (right), who contributed so much to the look of the early Disney animated features and in particular Snow White and Pinocchio.

Tenggren (1896-197) had emigrated to America in 1920 after establishing his style with a series of illustrations for a popular annual of Swedish folk and fairy tales, Bland Tomtar och Troll - or Among Elves and Trolls.

Click on image to enlarge

Living and working in New York City from 1922, Tenggren began producing pictures for lavish story books from American publishers that evoked the European tradition of fantasy illustration popularised by artists such as Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen and Edmund Dulac.

This is from a 1923 edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales...

Click on image to enlarge

No wonder Walt Disney - on the look out for talent to help raise the cartoon medium to an art form - engaged Gustaf Tenggren specifically to help give this feel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Tenggren's inspirational story sketches show just how successful he was in doing that...

Click on image to enlarge

Disney was so pleased with Tenggren's work that it was his imagery that appeared on the first poster for the film in 1937...

These wonderful pictures - both akin to and different from those so familiar to us from the completed film - have long been admired by Disney aficionados and now they can be enjoyed by everyone in a new book from the Disney Press - Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs retold by Cynthia Rylant and with pictures by Tenggren.

The story is simply told - as it has been told and retold for centuries - but the joy of this volume is in the pictures that effortlessly capture both the look of the illustrated books that proliferated in the first two decades of the twentieth century and the Disney interpretation of this ancient tale with its Princess in peril - running scared through a forest of anthropomorphic trees...

The Queen pursuing her wicked wiles...

And her dramatic transformation into an evil death-dealing Hag...

The septet of comic Dwarfs...

And the charming Prince with whom any Princess could hope to live happily ever after...

Saturday 17 October 2009


I've spent the last few days in the company of an amazing woman: 90-year-old Marge Champion.

Marge was one-half of the highly successful dance duo, Marge and Gower Champion, whose films include the 1951 version of the Kern/Hammerstein musical, Show Boat and a string of other films - Lovely to Look At, Everything I Have is Yours and Give a Girl a Break - as well as stage appearances and a TV series before Gower went on to direct and choreograph such famous musicals as Bye Bye Birdie, I Do, I Do! and Hello, Dolly!

Here are Marge and Gower in a wonderful routine (choreographed by the great Jack Cole) from the 1955 film, Three for the Show...

Curiously, Marge's status as a Hollywood legend was not her reason for being in town or for our spending so much time together. She was here to help promote the latest release on Blu-ray DVD of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for which, 76 years ago, she acted as live-action reference model for the film's heroine: a performance that was captured on 16 mm film and then used by the animators to create Snow White's animated likeness in the picture.

Marge and I (as one of the Disney Historians featured on the DVD bonuses) were giving press interviews during which she explained her unsung work on this groundbreaking and iconic film.

The fourteen-year-old Marjorie Belcher - as she was back in 1934 - was paid just $10 a day to act out, in pantomime, all Snow White's scenes wearing the famous costume on a virtually deserted sound stage with the minimum of props such as dwarf-sized tables, chairs and beds.

A line with hanging ropes was set up and Marge ran to and fro, brushing them aside as Snow White does when running through the scary forest from the Queen's Huntsman; she acted out the scenes at the Wishing Well, kneeling by her bed to pray for the dwarfs and for the scene in which she danced with Dopey precariously balanced on Sneezy's shoulders.

Here's a still from the footage, with Disney Musical Director, Oliver Wallace, standing in for Sneezy and Dopey...

Marge, along with Snow White's voice, the late Adriana Caselotti, provided - without credit - the personality of this memorable character in a film that was not just a milestone in the art of animation but also in the history of the movies.

Incidentally, the animators (to one of whom, Art Babbitt, Marge was briefly married) had a composite name by which they referred to Snow White's vocal and physical references - Margiana Belchalotti! Someone said it sounded like an Italian ice-cream sundae; I said it sounded more like the after-effects of one!

Here's the lady herself on CBS breakfast show - it's a bit early morning American-ish, but you do get to see the lady as she was and as she is...

Marge, who as you can see from that clip, still dances every day has a wonderfully indefatigable, life-affirming view of life.

When I asked her the secret of her long and active life she replied: "Celebrate each new decade of life for what it gives you rather than regretting what it takes away..."

By the way, in that photo at the top of this post Marge is wearing (though you can't see it because of the jacket) a top with Mae West's famous line picked out in glitzy sequined letters: "I used to be Snow White but I drifted"!

Wednesday 14 October 2009


Thirty-three years ago, today (to save you counting that was 1976), the BBC very kindly broadcast my first-ever radio programme called Three Cheers for Pooh in celebration of Certain Significant Birthday.

To explain: fifty years earlier (and for those without sufficient fingers, that was 1926) A A Milne had written a book entitled
Winnie-the-Pooh. It was inspired by his son's teddy bear of the same name and it had wonderful decorations by the artist and illustrator, E H Shepard.

Because everyone enjoyed the stories and pictures about Pooh and his friends in the '100 Aker Wood', Mr Milne and Mr Shepard put together another volume, two years later, going under the title of
The House at Pooh Corner.

Eighty-something years on - or, to put it another way, nine days ago - we saw the publication of Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, a sequel to Mr Milne's books written by David Benedictus and illustrated (after the style of Shepard) by Mark Burgess.

In view of all of which, I should like to offer my readers, a newly discovered episode in the life of the Bear of Very Little Brain...

Chapter Ten-and-a-Half

In which Winnie-the-Pooh discovers that
whereas they had been two they were now three

Winnie-the-Pooh was counting. The only counting Pooh usually did involved checking how many honey pots there were - or sometimes, disappointingly, weren't - in his cupboard. Today, however, which happened to be his birthday, Pooh was counting books.

"That's strange," said Pooh to himself, rubbing his nose thoughtfully with his paw, "because there have only ever been Two for as long as I can remember (and I can't remember how long that is) but now there are Three which is one more than there ought to be. And that is what I call very strange."

"What is?" asked Piglet who had just arrived at Pooh's house to see whether it was the sort of day when Something Exciting might be going to happen or whether it was just one of those days where nothing really happened which would be even better, provided he and Pooh were together when it wasn't happening.

"It's puzzling," said Pooh, puzzled.

On the table were three books that all looked very similar. Piglet looked at them.

One was called Winnie-the-Pooh, which of course Piglet knew was Pooh's name, although he also knew that it had stories in it about him - Piglet - including one in which for a shortish time he went under the name of Henry Pootle.

The book next to it had rather more words on the cover, but Piglet knew, because Christopher Robin had told him, that it said The House at Pooh Corner and he knew that he was in that book too, especially in a story about how he had done a Very Grand Thing.

And then there was a third book...

"Where did that come from?" asked Piglet, understanding now why Pooh was puzzled.

"Just what I ask myself, " said Pooh.

And just as Pooh was asking himself that question, Owl arrived because he had heard about the very puzzling situation concerning Pooh's Books from Eeyore the old grey donkey (who had heard it from two of Rabbit's Friends and Relations, Late and Early) and decided it was one of those times when Someone with a Mind was called for.

Owl turned the third book round several times so that he could get a good look at it first sideways and then upside down and eventually announced that it was called Return to the Hundred Acre Wood which sounded like a railway ticket that Christopher Robin had showed him once when he had come back from the seaside.

It was just about then that Rabbit bustled in with a very worried look on his face. "Owl," he said importantly and then added "And Pooh," and then, noticing Piglet, "And Piglet... We are not alone!"

Pooh looked round in case maybe Kanga and Baby Roo had come along too or perhaps Tigger had bounced into the room without his noticing, although it was almost impossible not to notice Tigger even when he was trying not to bounce.

"No, Rabbit," said Pooh, "you are mistaken. We are alone, if you can be alone, that is, when there are three of you."

"Four!" said Rabbit crossly. There are four of us here, Pooh, or can't you count?"

"Not very well, lately," replied Pooh, "I was just saying to myself before the rest of you arrived, there used to be only Two Books about me and all of us in the Forest and now there are Three!"

"And that's not the worst of it," said Rabbit, dramatically seizing the third book. "There's a story in here about an Otter."

A what-er?" asked Pooh.

"It's an animal," explained Rabbit, "like us only different. It's a mustelid."

"A Mustard Lid?" asked Pooh, getting very confused.

"Well," said Owl, "that explains it! Everyone knows that Mustard is One of the Hotter Condiments."

"Not hotter," said Rabbit, who was beginning to lose his patience, "Otter! They live in rivers and are related to weasles."

"I think you mean Woozles," put in Pooh who had once tracked a Woozle-that wasn't."

"But, according to this book," persisted Rabbit, "there is an Otter is called Lottie who is supposed to be One of Us."

Rabbit waited for this information to sink in before going on.

"I have conducted a Thorough Check," went on Rabbit, "and asked all my Friends and Relations - including Small who is always going missing and tends to Finds Things Out while trying to find his way back - and all of them say the same thing."

"And what is that?" asked Owl.

"That this character - and, therefore, I suspect, the entire book - is a Fraudulent Deception!"

Piglet was just asking Pooh, in a whisper, what a Fraudulent Deception was and whether it was larger than a Heffalump and had teeth at the sharp end, when Eeyore arrived.

"Does anyone know anything about this new book?" he asked. "Not that I'm bothered, because I don't suppose I'm in it and, even if I were, it would only be by mistake, just because I had happened to wander in, rather like now, and sat down on one of the pages. You don't mind if I sit down, do you Pooh, even though you haven't actually asked me?"

Pooh said Eeyore was welcome to sit down and Eeyore did so, muttering to himself, "A little consideration for others, a modicum of thoughtfulness what does it cost? Nothing and Everything!"

"Of course," said Owl, ignoring Eeyore's interruption, "you could say that Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery."

Leafing through the book and chuckling to himself, Owl added, "For example, there are several things in here said by Eeyore which, as far as I know, he hasn't ever said, but could have and might have done if he'd only thought of them!"

"Typical!" sighed Eeyore. "They take your words and twist them to make them say whatever they want them to say. But what does it matter? After all, it's only Eeyore!"

"Anyway," said Rabbit with an irritated moving-on kind of cough, "the important thing to decide is what are we going to do about it."

"Let's ask Christopher Robin," said Piglet just as Christopher Robin walked through the door.

"About this book," began Pooh, "that wasn't One of the Two but is now a Third..."

"It really doesn't matter much," replied Christopher Robin, "because I learned in sums that three into two doesn't go, so that settles it."

And suddenly everyone felt much happier about everything.

"And, now," went on Christopher Robin, "I really think it's time for a little Smackerel of Something, because today is Winnie-the-Pooh's birthday!"

Which is exactly what they had, except for Pooh who had a Rather Large Smackerel of Something which, in Pooh's case meant the entire contents of a not-exactly-small jar of honey.

And when Pooh tipped up the pot - just to check that the honey went right down to the bottom of the jar, which it usually does, but you never can tell - several largish dollops of honey got dolloped, quite by accident, onto the copy of Return to the Hundred Acre Wood so that the pages got all stuck together and everyone knew, without actually Saying it Out Loud, that they would never have to open it again...


Images: Illustrations by Mark Burgess (in the style of E H Shepard) from Return to the Hundred Acre Wood © 2009

Saturday 10 October 2009


If you enjoyed seeing the great Arturo Brachetti on this blog the other week, I thought you might like to know a little more about this amazing artiste.

Brachetti was born in Turin in 1957 and is one of the fastest - if not the fastest - quick change artist in the world, able to change from one costume to another in a matter of seconds, often by throwing a sheet up and completely changing costume by the time it falls. In his current show Arturo performs no fewer than 80 characters in one evening.

As a child, he frequented a seminary where he encountered a young priest whose hobby was magic and who taught Brachetti many magic tricks which he frequently incorporates into his dazzling routines.

Here's the mercurial master of illusion demonstrating his incomparable skill and matchless wit...

Pure genius!

And finally, Arturo proves that BLACK is WHITE...

Visit the Brachetti website to read more about the amazing art of Arturo

Wednesday 7 October 2009


Following on from my recent rose photos, I'm returning to gardening mode with the following sign spotted by the ever-vigilant ROGER at the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Wisely...

Oh, yuck! You didn't, Roger, did you...?

Image: Roger Shrigley © 2009

Sunday 4 October 2009


I mentioned, the other day, the new book on Aardman animation, The Art of Wallace and Gromit to which I contributed an introduction. Well, here I am at the book signing with Wallace and Gromit's 'onlie begetter', Nick Park...

Nick Park and Brian Sibley

And here are a few more fascinating images from the book, beginning with a prototype Gromit...

Followed by a couple of early sketches of some of the cast-members of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit...

And a portrait of the two females who bring such havoc into Wallace and Gromit's lives in A Matter of Loaf and Death...

When I last wrote about W&G, I and regular 'Comment Maker' (and fellow-blogger) Good Dog were discussing the fact that the Plasticine pals had made relatively few outings on which their considerable fame was founded.

However, in listing their various film projects, I completely overlooked their 140-second-long Cracking Contraptions, a series of shorts cataloguing such potentially useful (and, needless to say, potentially problematic) devices as the Tellyscope, the Snoozatron, the Soccamatic and the Bully-Proof Vest. These mini-misadventures are not currently available for upload, but you can view them all here, and this is an early sketch, from the book, for what the Bully-Proof Vest might look like...

W&G have also been picking up a bit of extra cash from time to time (essential, of course, for their weekly cheese-and-crackers shopping) by devising and demonstrating useful machines for various commercial companies.

Here, for your enjoyment and amusement, are a couple of examples of the inventors at work...

An exhibition of Wallace and Gromit art - storyboard sketches, original drawings of the dynamic duo and limited edition prints remains on show at The Illustration Cupboard - 22 Bury St, London, SW1Y 6AL - until 24 October where you can also purchase copies of The Art of Wallace and Gromit signed by Nick Park (and very probably myself) along with other Aardman books, including Cracking Animation on which I collaborated with the studio's co-founder (and creator of Morph) Peter Lord.

Photo of Nick and Yourstruly was taken by Katy Williams of Egmont (thanks, Katy!) and uploaded by flickr.
All other images © Aardman Animations

Friday 2 October 2009


I had a Norma Desmond moment today.

There's a scene in Sunset Boulevard where Miss Desmond returns to Paramount Studios and is stopped by a security guard at the front gate who fails to recognise the former star. "Without me," she tells him, "there wouldn't be any Paramount Studio." Then, when she enters the sound stage where Cecil B DeMille is directing a film, one of the old electricians calls down to her from the lighting gantry and welcomes her back...

Well, that's what it felt like for me this morning. I was appearing on BBC TV's Breakfast Time to discuss the shortly-to-be-published sequel to A A Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh books.

As we went into the darkened studio, the Floor Manager whispered, "Nice to meet you, Mr Sibley! I always used to listen to your programmes on the radio - Kaleidoscope, Talking Pictures, that film quiz, Screen Test..."

And, when the interview was over and he was unhitching my radio mike, he said, "They really ought to have you back on Radio 4, sir!"

I gave him my best Norma Desmond look - proud, yet tragic - and wandered off into the outside world...

Thursday 1 October 2009


I took some photos recently of a rose picked from my garden and was looking for a poem to accompany them...

I found this one by W E Henley...

Red rose VI


O gather me the rose, the rose,
While yet in flower we find it,
For summer smiles, but summer goes,
And winter waits behind it.

For with the dream foregone, foregone,
The deed foreborn forever,
The worm Regret will canker on,
And time will turn him never.

Red rose III

So were it well to love, my love,

And cheat of any laughter
The fate beneath us, and above,
The dark before and after.

The myrtle and the rose, the rose,
The sunshine and the swallow,
The dream that comes, the wish that goes
The memories that follow!

- William Ernest Henley

Dew drops

Images: Brian Sibley © 2009 uploaded by flickr.