Why Frank Lloyd Wright Hated Fantasia

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peterm
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Why Frank Lloyd Wright Hated Fantasia

Post by peterm »

From a previous thread, "Goody Steinberg, FAIA"

This man from the Bauhaus started it all. Abstract non figurative moving images choreographed to music, more than three decades before the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco began their improvised "light shows". His talents were put to good use for the film Fantasia, but his original proposed concept was then commercialized and watered down by Walt Disney. Welcome to Hollywood!

From the early 1930s, "Kreise" (Circle) by Oskar Fischinger:

http://www.tudou.com/programs/view/cIrIOrYsD2c/
Last edited by peterm on Wed Dec 22, 2010 10:25 pm, edited 2 times in total.

peterm
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Post by peterm »

I found this essay entitled "Why Frank Lloyd Wright Hated Fantasia" which sheds some light on Wright's thinking about the relationship between visual images and music, which we were discussing on the previous Goody Steinberg thread:

Essay in its entirety: http://www.mouseplanet.com/8788/Why_Fra ... d_Fantasia

...Here are some excerpts from Wright’s observations, in particular about the approach to Fantasia:

“Walt Disney is something unique. He is what he is. I think that he happened to stumble upon the future development of the cinema. I don’t think it was his fault. He happened in on it with this peculiar gift of his, which I think is precious. It shouldn’t be violated. He shouldn’t become too art conscious. That is what makes me feel that Mr. Stokowski is coming in here with this type of music, which is picture music, to have you extra-illustrate the music. I think you should have the type of music that was in the Russian cartoon. The music was abstract, just as it was abstract drawing—the whole theme was an abstract thing.

“I was regretting that you take picture music and illustrate it rather than doing something with music—having the two things made one. Haven’t you got some guys to write the music? Even though it is crude and simple, it would be good. You shouldn’t take Clair de Lune’and these things which are not good music anyway. I don’t care what Stokowski says. I wish he were here. He knows better. He’s got some Russian blood in him himself. I can’t believe he would imagine that you seriously are doing your best when you are merely extra-illustrating pictorial music.

“In this film [the Russian cartoon] you must have seen perfect correlation between music and design. The whole thing is design—instinctive design, which is perfect design. There is no reason you boys can’t do that.

“If you drive a modern car in front of a Colonial house, you insult either the car of the house every time you do it.

“There will always be those people [who like old fashioned music]. They are dead people. They live in the past, not in the present or the future. They are gone. We should treat them tenderly and with consideration, and have the caskets ready.

“But you fellows—there has never been anything like this. You’ve got a clean spread. If you get it all mixed up with these sentimentalities, God help us. The more nearly you can strip the things you’re doing clean, and establish this simple child-like correlation between things and make a child-like thing out of it and not get too sentimental about it, the better, I think.

“There’s one thing that distresses me in your productions, and I think people think the same about it—one can emphasize the senses quite with impunity. It’s desirable. The moment you emphasize sensuality it becomes disagreeable. There is a touch of what I would call vulgarity that creeps into your films sometimes. I guess it’s box office and it gets a horse laugh from the worst element in the audience. I think you should be a little shy of that. Old Gray Head speaking.

“When I was here before, I told Walt Disney that the introduction of the two condors was the thing that was, to me, the most remarkable thing of the film. It prophesied something greater that might come. Didn’t they give him the prize in the East, and didn’t they mention the fact of the two condors?

“The thing you are in is as fresh as a daisy. Don’t let it get bawled up with those sentimentalists. Tell Stokowski if he can’t come in and write music for you that has the proper quality and appropriate to the thing you’re doing you don’t want him at all. Stokowski isn’t running the show, is he? Put him on the spot. When you take music as one thing, your animation is another, your story is another thing, there you’ve got a division that is fatal right at the beginning. It’s unison between the three and making those three one that is the only road to anything you might call worth the name of art or worth the name of entertainment.

“You would be surprised and I have been continually surprised at the amount of intelligence possessed by people you wouldn’t think had it. You would be surprised how ‘almost as intelligent as we are’ most people are. I have great faith in that.

“Why have you got modern architecture today? It isn’t an accident. Somebody stood there. Somebody asserted the fact of the thing. It’s no different from you. We’re all alike. Our reactions would be very similar to almost anything. It takes a little character and guts and a stand-by to see it through. That’s all.

“People are very much, as people, like sheep. If you begin to temporize and pat them on the back and cater to their idiosyncrasies, you’ll never get anywhere. This commercialization of things, commercialization of everything, I think that’s what the matter with the country.

“The public doesn’t know what it wants. If the public is paying your bills, it’s entitled to have you stand up to the thing you do because you alone know. The public doesn’t know. I think you’re going back on your public when you try to find out what the public wants and give it to them. No public knows. As compared to the fine thing they might have. They don’t know what they miss. Show them that thing which they miss. Explode once or twice and see what the reactions are.

“Don’t let this idea ‘Box Office’ and this idea of what pleases people bother you. Concern yourself with the best and finest thing, by God, that you know and do it to the top and give it to them to the hilt and you’ll go places and you’ll never lose.

“If the moving picture industry, acquired by Paramount and MGM and Fox had had that faith in life, and had that faith in the American people the cinema wouldn’t be going down and out now. You’re going up. That’s what makes the difference.

“Wherever you’re playing best together—having fun and putting in the music where it belongs in the picture—getting the effect, you ring the bell. That’s what is going to make your success. Where you’re trying to be artistic and thinking of the fellow in front and trying to please him you’re going to lose out. I’ll bet my head on it. I know from my own experience. It’s a veteran sitting here talking to you. I’ve been there.�

They ran the Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence for Wright and he commented, “The music is all sentimental right from the beginning. It’s all off key from the beginning. There’s something wrong about the whole thing.�

Then they ran Sequence 11 from Pinocchio for Wright and he commented, “There is a lot of good stuff in there. Why can’t you take that sound and make it into music. It doesn’t take much to make it almost music. I don’t mean that sentimental music. You can do it. It’s great stuff. I do like it better than Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I think this is more nearly it. The other is just an attempt to take picture music and make a picture to fit the picture music.�

Decades later, Walt wanted to recreate this same type of multiartistic training experience with the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Calif.

“It’s the principal thing I hope to leave when I move on to greener pastures," Walt said. "If I can help provide a place to develop the talent of the future, I think I will have accomplished something.�

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Very interesting. Is Wright decrying the use of representational imagery as an accompaniment to what is (of course) abstract sound imagery ?

There is a part of Fantasia in which we see instrumentalists and instruments. I haven't found that yet on YouTube (the source of so much music and video) -- but I found this, which I can't recall seeing before:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gZbMOq_Ge8


What I like about that is that the visual events are directly coordinated with what is happening in the musical score.

By contrast, there is this, which has much more potential to match abstract content to abstract sound -- but there is no direct coordination between the two. Is this the sort of childlike "directness" that Wright extols ?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrKgyY5aDvA


I haven't been able to access the video Peter posted above -- is this anything like the film you are directing us to ?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umFG1O4b ... re=related


S

SDR
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Post by SDR »

James Whitney used an analog device fashioned from a WWII aircraft bombsight (?) to create these visuals.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzniaKxM ... re=related


I like this because the visuals seem directly connected to the soundtrack, particularly in the latter portion of the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8T3B0AF24M&NR=1


S

peterm
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Post by peterm »

From what I understand of Wright's somewhat rambling critique of Fantasia, he seems to have several problems with what he encountered with the film.

First of all, he does not like the choice of much of the music, calling it sentimental, old fashioned, and "off key"... He seems to favor something adventurous and new, truly "modern".

Secondly, (showing a certain amount of naivete), he seems to think that Leopold Stokowski should make some better music. (He was only the conductor, did a few arrangements, and probably mostly accommodated Disney along the way). What is also interesting, especially considering Wright's affection for the three B's (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms) he is demanding that the film be a contemporary and abstract work, and "establish this simple child-like correlation between things".

Thirdly, he clearly dislikes the illustrative nature of where Disney and company were going, instead favoring the abstract qualities which he preferred in the Russian cartoon. He would rather have the images and music be abstract, and then merge as a third element, an unpretentious work of art as an animated film.

Wright was much more international in his thinking than we give him credit for, bringing in a Soviet Russian film as an example of what could be achieved to show to American arch capitalist Disney...

SDR- I am not sure why the link to the Oskar Fischinger film is not working, it was earlier... try this instead, his only American release, "An Optical Poem":

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/index.jsp?cid=255306

The examples which you post are fantastic, and are definitely related to the tradition of the early Bauhaus films of Fischinger, the music connecting to the picture rhythmically, and emphasizing velocity, dynamics over any illustrative or narrative qualities.

Wrightgeek
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Post by Wrightgeek »

I thought the following might be of interest to those following this thread:

Who's Who in Filmmaking: James Whitney

Dr. William Moritz

For openers, we must distinguish between John Whitney Sr. and James Whitney. To the general public, John may be the more famous name, since he has received many honors as a pioneer of computer graphics, and recently published Digital Harmony (McGraw-Hill, 1980). John's son, John Whitney Jr., is also in the forefront of computer graphics, specializing in digital simulations, many of which can be seen in TV commercials and such features as The Last Starfighter.

To the animation connoisseur, however, James Whitney (John Sr.'s younger brother) is the Whitney. During his 43-year career, James made only seven short films, logging about five years of solid work on each one. In the spirit of oriental craftsmanship, James prepared all of his films by hand, and infused them with a genuine mystical sensibility. As a result, James Whitney is universally regarded as one of the great masters of visionary cinema. When he was only 27, his work was awarded a Grand Prize at the 1949 Brussels Experimental Film Festival. His films are now housed in major international film archives; and, in the last decade, major retrospectives of James' work have appeared at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Stedlijk Museum of Modern Art in Amsterdam, the Museum of Fine Art in Montreal, the Toronto '84 International Film Festival, and many others.

While James was studying painting and traveling in England, World War II broke out. Back home in Pasadena, his older brother, John, had constructed an 8mm optical printer so they could produce animation and special effects as a team. After collaborating with John on one short abstract film, 24 Variations, James continued to work for several years on a longer 8mm film, Variations on a Circle. This piece highlighted colored, geometric forms moving in lively, rhythmic patterns - a kind of soundless, visual chamber music.

Meanwhile, John was busy constructing both a 16mm optical printer, and a novel instrument that enabled precisely calibrated pendulums to write sounds onto the soundtrack of a 16mm film strip. The resulting sounds were "pure" electronic tones which, in the early Forties before the perfection of recording tape, shocked and fascinated audiences. John made two films using this process - Film Exercises #1 and #5, while James made Film Exercises #2, #3, and #4. The visual images in these films were created by shining light through flexible masks, so that the camera was filming direct light rather than light reflected from drawings. The results seem like dazzling neon apparitions, that were as novel and shocking as the accompanying soundtrack. (These Film Exercises won the Grand Prize in Brussels.) After 1945, James and John worked separately.

A Fascination with Eastern Philosophies

In 1943, James visited the Frank Lloyd Wright "Hollyhock House" on Olive Hill in Los Angeles (now Barnsdale Park). There, he met the young photographer, Edmund Teske, who was artist-in-residence at one of the studios on the grounds. Teske and James became fast friends, and James moved into one of the other studio residences. Both men shared a mystical bent, so they visited the Vedanta Center where they met British celebrities Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, and Gerald Heard. As he studied Eastern philosophies, James realized that certain cosmic principles did not yield easily to verbal explanations, but could be seen and "discussed" through the abstract shapes in his films. Tensions between apparent positive/negative dualities could be particularly felt and resolved in his geometric language.

James was attracted to the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, an Indian sage who stressed practiced self-realization and the integrity of one's whole life. Ramana taught that one must strive to be fully aware of one's total involvement with all things, for no creature - fern, flea, or flagstone - is intrinsically less worthy or possessed of less personality. Over the years, Whitney found these ideas mirrored in the talks of Krishnamurti, the paradoxes and flowing of Taoism, the ambiguities and endless toil of alchemy, the theories of nuclear physics, and the mythic psychology of Jung. The abstract language of his art became "non-objective" in the special sense of its refusal to view "things" coldly as objects. Continually cultivating this conscious awareness of all things involved rigorous discipline. He ate well (largely vegetarian) and worked hard in order to keep himself in healthy preparedness. He rechannelled the energy of his passionate nature into inspiration for his films.

James found a suitable living space with the help of a friend, Ted van Fossen, a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright. Van Fossen took an inexpensive, prefabricated plywood house, split it in two, and realigned it into an L-shape to embrace a garden. Huge windows on the inner side provided a continual view of the cycles of nature. Whitney, van Fossen, and Teske finished most of the house by hand, preserving the integrity of the wood grain and reinforcing the structure with brick and rustcolored tiles. If all of this seems a bit irrelevant to the study of James Whitney's film career, it is not. It is precisely this spiritual background that makes his films vibrant and exciting; and the fine consciousness of van Fossen's architecture helped James to create a series of brilliant films.

Here is a link to a "for sale" advertisement for the above referenced property:

http://www.architectureforsale.com/prin ... rty_ID=817

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

peterm, Stokowski did write one ditty: he transcribed Bach's organ masterpiece "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" for orchestra, or as one classical radio wag put it, Bach in drag.

A Warner Bros. short from 1964 called "The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics" would have agreed with FLW more than "Fantasia": "A simple line tries to woo his true love, a dot, away from the unkempt squiggle she prefers. But he'll have to learn to bend before she notices him." With Robert Morely narrating, this is the funniest short I've ever seen.

DRN
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Post by DRN »

I saw that great short in an art class once....it ended with:

"Moral: To the vector belong the spoils."


It is available on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmSbdvzbOzY

DavidC
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Post by DavidC »

Thanks for posting the YouTube link.

It's co-produced and directed by Chuck Jones - and it is enjoyable to see the similarities to "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (also directed by Jones).


David

peterm
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Post by peterm »

Roderick Grant wrote:peterm, Stokowski did write one ditty: he transcribed Bach's organ masterpiece "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" for orchestra, or as one classical radio wag put it, Bach in drag.
Stokowski wrote nothing, but you are right, he did do a trancription of the Bach. This is basically the equivalent of doing an arrangement, taking notes from the original Bach manuscript and then assigning them to various instruments in the orchestra. I would not call this composition.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Right. Unfortunately, Stokowski's romantic dramatization of Bach's already powerful work amounted to gilding the lily, ironically trivializing the piece (a well-known "war-horse" already) in the view of some. But that's just a listener's opinion; I haven't learned what Stokowski's intention or motivation was . . .

S

peterm
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Post by peterm »

Agreed. So much more powerful, (and perhaps strange...) when heard in a Gothic Cathedral with the pipes.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

The Toccata and Fugue in D minor is sort of like the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's "Messiah" -- everyone's heard it even if they're largely or completely ignorant of the rest of the composer's work. Even now it's hard for me to discern the special charm of this one among hundreds of Bach's organ works.

In the same way, many know of Fallingwater without being aware of all the other gems in Wright's catalog . . .

S

Palli Davis Holubar
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Post by Palli Davis Holubar »

I'm looking through my shelves and drawers for Justor's book, a real touchstone for the period. I assume it came before the animation. Does any one know for sure?

peterm
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Post by peterm »

Do you mean Norton Juster?

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