Alexeieff and Parker’s Night on Bald Mountain (1933) remains one of the most unusual and unique looking animated films ever created. While visualizations of music have always been a popular choice in experimental animated films, this short’s loosely structured approach presents both delightful and at times horrifying imagery, a stream of consciousness barrage of images that challenge the viewer to comprehend both their meaning and the mystery of how they were created. The illusion of dimensional drawing in animation has rarely been created better.
Russian engraving artist Alexandre Alexeieff and his wife Claire Parker’s Pin-Screen invention is one of the most unusual devices ever conceived to produce animated films. The handmade device consists of thousands of small pins that, depending on placement, would refract light to create various tones. The light source is place at the side of the pin screen, creating a shadow. It’s a fairly similar device as the toys made of hundreds of pins that you push your hand or other objects into and see the extrusion on the other side. The device took many years to build. Alexeieff and Parker used this device, along with small sets and other forms of animation to create this unique and unusual film in 1933. They made a series of films using the pin screen, with many years apart between most of them. The sequence at the beginning of the Orson Welles movie The Trail (1962) was also created by Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker using the pin screen for a series of stills.
Many years later, in the early 70’s, National Film Board of Canada animator Jaques Drouin restored and used the original Pinscreen made for this film to a handful of shorts, the most famous being Mindscape (1976).
Night on Bald Mountain appears on the Grostesqueries DVD produced by the Blue Mouse Studio, available on Amazon. It’s a great collection of short films with spooky themes (including the live action/ animation short The Fresh Lobster) as well as fun little sequences with vintage halloween artifacts and other cool short sequences. I worked with Chris Buchman and Rex Schneider on the DVD, including doing some restoration work on this short. It appears on the set courtesy of Cecille Starr. Happy early Halloween! More next week!