THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
October 24, 2013 posted by Steve Stanchfield

A Spooky Thunderbean Thursday: “Night on Bald Mountain” (1933)

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!

9 Comments

  • Pretty cool. Quick question though. The credits state that the musical arrangement was by Rimsky Korsakoff. Korsakoff, who composed “Flight of the Bumble Bee” died in 1908. This by chance wouldn’t be his son or daughter who arranged the music?

    • Rimsky-Korsakov’s arrangement dates from 1886, and has long been the most familiar, and by far the most-recorded version of Mussorgsky’s work.

    • This was *the* Rimsky-Korsakov. The other members of the group of major composers in Russia regarded Moussorgsky as a kind of idiot savant and “toned down” his compositions, apparently with his cooperation. This is an unusually fast version, but you have to wonder how familiar with it Vladimir “Bill” Tytla was when he directed the Disney version.

    • “Fantasia” used Stokowski’s own arrangement of the Rimsky-Korsakov version, done specifically for the film.

  • What an amazing film!

  • This is indeed an overlooked classic! Alexeïeff’s complete films can also be obtained:http://www.amazon.com/The-Animation-Alexeieff-n/dp/B00278FT5Y.

  • Stunning. Thanks, Steve!

  • Mark, Tytla was the supervising animator of Chernabog and it may be his best work. But he didn’t direct it, according to Leonard Maltin and IMDb that segment was directed by Wilfred Jackson.

  • I’ve heard of pin-screen animation, but until now I’ve never seen an example. The technique looks cool, like a living engraving. Thank you for posting this.

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