Saturday 27 November 2010


I recently posted some of my photographs of Sydney and regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my snaps of Venice and Greece, but as much as I enjoy taking picture of other cities, I also enjoy photographing landmarks in my home capital – such as the London Eye...

Palm, Eye & Flags (1)

Flag & Clock

Flowers & Eye (1)

London Eye (1)

London Eye (4)

London Eye (2)

London Eye (5)

Event Horizon (4)

Wednesday 24 November 2010


On the evening on which another aspiring entrepreneur will be shown the door on The Apprentice, I am sending the following appeal to Lord Alan Sugar:

It is now time for your Lordship to leave the Boardroom for a few hours and visit some of the other 'reality' TV shows currently obsessing the Great British Public.

You would be doing a incalculable service to human-kind if you could confront the following annoyingly talentless space-wasters...

...and simply deliver your customary two-word judgment that, for all of them (and for the sanity of the rest of us), is now seriously overdue––


Tuesday 23 November 2010


Talking about Fantasia recently, I mentioned the long-awaited sequel, Fantasia 2000, that was eventually carried through to completion by Walt Disney's nephew, the late Roy E Disney.

But Roy didn't stop there, an enthusiastic raider of the lost archives of his uncle's studio, he was constantly looking out for and championing projects that caught the spirit of the daring, experimental years at the Mouse Factory back in the 1930s and '40s.

One such project was Destino, a planned (but later aborted) collaboration between Disney and the artist who popularised surrealism – as well as being another of the great showmen of the 20th Century – Salvador Dali.

The project began in 1946, but never got beyond some remarkable Dali paintings and hundreds of storyboard sketches made by Dali and long-time Disney artist, John Hench.

The film, completed in 2003, together with a superb documentary are to be found among the extras to the Blu-ray release of Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 and are an intriguing reminder that our commonly-held perceptions of Disney are quite often a far cry from what Walt himself sometimes saw as being 'Disney'!

Whilst the collaboration (until Roy Disney picked up the project) was unrealised, the two men – and, indeed, their wives, Lilian Disney and Gala Dali – remained good friends with the couples getting together at Dali's home at Port Lligat during one of Walt's visits to Europe.

The story of this relationship, as seen from the perspective of correspondence between the two men made available from the studio archive, was chronicled by Jonathan Owen in an article 'Salvador paints, but Walt Disney! A surreal friendship (and an old joke)' in last weekend's Independent on Sunday - and, if anyone spots the old joke, please tell me, because I don't see it! The interview also contains some observations by a certain 'Disney expert' – yes, you've guessed it!

Did I really suggest, as a possible 21st century equivalent of the Disney-Dali collaboration, that Pixar/Disney's John Lasseter might work with Damien Hirst? I suppose I must have done! But I was probably only being a touch surreal!

The Indie only quoted a couple of the letters, but you can read this intriguing correspondence here in both Salvador and Gala Dali's Catalan and in translation...

And, while you are waiting for your DVD to arrive, you can preview Destino, here

Letters and images © Disney.

Sunday 21 November 2010


But for the death, last week, of my computer (bowed heads and solemn music, please) I would have obviously posted to mark the fact that November 19th is – or, rather, was...

World Toilet Day may sounds like a facetious piece of media eventism but it has a serious purpose, since contaminated water and bad or non-existent sanitation have, allegedly, claimed more lives than all of the wars of the 20th Century combined.

Without taking anything from WTD's laudable aims, it does give me an excuse to share the following souvenir which Sheila and Roger brought back from their holiday, earlier this year, on the Greek island of Thassos: an entertainingly-translated sign spotted in a local tavern's WC...

Bin There

Thursday 18 November 2010


Today is the eighty-second birthday of that veteran of the silver screen...


Twenty-two years ago, when Mickey turned 60, I was given an exclusive one-on-one interview with the most famous rodent in Hollywood for Animator magazine.

It was a fascinating experience and I was able to pass on to my readers a number of hitherto unknown facts about the Mouse and his relationships with Walt Disney, Donald Duck and, of course, Minnie Mouse.

Here's how the interview began...

He stands beside the pool, looking rather taller than I had imagined and casually dressed in slacks and a sports shirt with a Betty Boop motif. "Hi, there!" he calls in a sharp Brooklyn accent that takes me somewhat by surprise.

As I walk to meet him, he extends a white-gloved hand in welcome and gives me a broad, beaming smile. That famous Mickey Mouse smile. He grasps my hand with a firm grip and I can’t help noticing that he wears a Ronald Reagan wrist-watch.

"Come over to the yard, and I'll fix you a drink," he smiles and leads the way across a neatly manicured lawn to an Italianate patio behind the imposing pseudo-gothic villa that, mysteriously, has never been listed in The Starland Guide to Hollywood...

"Too early for a Sorcerer’s Apprentice?" he asks. I have to confess that I've never heard of the drink. He gives me a faintly patronizing smile and begins emptying the contents of various bottles into a cocktail-shaker. "They invented it for me at Musso & Frank’s on Hollywood Boulevard, back in 1940," he explains and pours out a large glass of vivid lilac-coloured liquid and hands it to me.

I take a sip and experience a sensation not dissimilar to a heavy blow on the back of the head. "Helluva kick, hasn't it?" Incapable of reply, I catch my breath and loosen my tie. "Have to watch them though," he adds, "I introduced Goofy to them and ever since it's been like Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend over at his place. Tragic!"

Click HERE to read the entire interview

I am not sure how Mickey will be celebrating this year's birthday, but here is how he partied back in 1931...

– and very many more!

Saturday 13 November 2010


...though, sometimes (in English), the wrong one!

Greek magnet courtesy of Sheila and Roger!

Monday 8 November 2010


At the time it was a HUGE adventure. It was forty-five years ago and I was planning how to skip school. I had never played truant before: I wasn't that kind of kid – mainly because I simply didn't have the guts!

But this was an emergency!

Walt Disney's 1940 classic, Fantasia, was showing at a local picture-house. This 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 at the nearby Bromley Odeon on a Wednesday and 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 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 for added effect. My temperature was taken and by some miracle (a combination, perhaps, of an excitement-induced adrenalin 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.

Imagine, then, my total joy and delight when the Disney company invited me to record a new audio commentary for the film's 70th anniversary re-release on DVD and Blu-ray, which goes on sale today.

The first non-American 'Disney Historian' to get such a job, it gave me an opportunity to talk about the long and sometimes tortuous journey that Fantasia took to the screen: from a chance encounter between Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski in an LA restaurant at which the idea of an animated film version of The Sorcerer's Apprentice was mooted, via the decision to develop the cartoon about the wizarding tyro and the runaway brooms into a full-length project initially known around the studio as The Concert Feature but which, eventually, became Fantasia...

Here's the original 1940 trailer...

Conceived as the most ambitious animated film ever made with a stereophonic sound system ('Fantasound') and with plans – albeit unrealised – for the film to be in 3D (remember this was 1940!) and have fragrances pumped into the theatre for certain sequences and a wide screen finale, Fantasia was, at the time, a financial failure and after its critically acclaimed opening in a special, 'showcase' format was hacked down for general release and distributed as the 'B' picture support for a Western!

Not everyone will be entirely happy with this re-issuing of the film in that the narrative links by the film's host – composer and musicologist, Deems Taylor – are not from the original soundtrack (having been lost in one of the many catastrophic re-packagings of the film) but are from a later release where they were re-created by a voice-over actor.

Others will deplore the continued absence, in the Beethoven sequence, of the politically-incorrect 'piccaninny' child centaur (a black stereotype reminiscent of Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin) who serves as a maid to the white 'centaurettes' and who was later excised from the film as being racially insensitive. Although 'Sunflower' (as she was known around the studio) has not to be restored, my commentary refers to her and attempts to explain why, today, the inclusion of such imagery would be offensive.

Happily, the musical score is (as it should be) from the original soundtrack as opposed to the version 're-created' for a later release by Irwin Kostal and the colours – by turn vibrant and subtle – dazzle the eye with a new freshness while the special effects from lava-spewing volcanoes to frost-covered autumn leaves are as stunning as they were in 1940.

It had always been Disney's intention to re-issue Fantasia every few years with variations to the programme – some sequences being retired and others added. As a result of many things – not least WWII – that never happened, or, at least not until Walt's nephew, Roy E Disney, took the courageous decision to make a new Fantasia for the Millennium.

In many ways, Fantasia 2000 rather confirmed what an exhausted and somewhat frustrated Disney had said back in 1940: "Oh, Fantasia! Well, we made it and I don't regret it. But if we had to make it all over again, I don't think we'd do it!"

Nevertheless, it contained some beautiful and wildly ingenious sequences that totally embraced the Fantasia concept and, as a result, deliver memorable combinations of music and imagery, such as the flamingo playing with a yo-yo to the music of Saint-Saëns...

In addition to the regular DVD and Blu-ray release of Fantasia, there is a double-disc version that includes Fantasia 2000 and an opportunity – sadly, only on Blue-ray – to explore another of Walt Disney's imaginative (though never realised) experiments: a surrealist collaboration with Salvador Dali entitled Destino that was, once again thanks to Roy E Disney, eventually brought to fruition many years after the death of both famous moustache-wearers!

In one of its many post-war re-incarnations, the film was promoted using the the tag-line "Fantasia will Amaze-ya!" Admittedly, not the most sophisticated of marketing gambits but, I believe, true then and now...

And I'll be appearing on Film 2010 BBC1 tomorrow, Tuesday, at 10:35 pm talking about the 70th anniversary of Fantasia and the state of animation today.

Friday 5 November 2010


Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's mercy he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring!
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him?
Burn him!

Wednesday 3 November 2010


You know how it is at weddings: everyone feels an overwhelming compulsion to take photos and most of them – sometimes including those of the professionals – turn out to be pretty unremarkable other than as aide-memoires of a (hopefully) happy day!

When David and I went to our friends Becky and Graeme's wedding the other week, we clicked off just such a crop of undistinguished snaps, hindered during the ceremony itself by the fact that we were shooting into the dazzling light that spilled into the room from the Thames-side vista outside.

So, how very, very lucky I was to grab this completely unposed picture of the radiantly beautiful bride...

Click to view at larger sizes

You can view more of my pictures on my flickr Photostream.

Images: © Brian Sibley 2010