SUMMARY: An animated adaptation of Modest Mussorgsky’s composition ‘Night on Bald Mountain’, which documents a haunted, tempestuous night of phantasmagoric imagery.
WHY IT’S HERE: When Disney finally realised his ambitious classic music film ‘Fantasia’, one of the highlights was the climactic section based on ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ and it remains one of the film’s best loved sequences. Fewer people know, however, that it was preceded by another animated take on this composition by Russian animator Alexandre Alexieffe and his wife Claire Parker, which is even more remarkable. Alexieffe and Parker invented the technique of pinscreen animation, in which tiny movable pins make up the images on screen. With this unique, creepy technique they crafted a jaw-dropping film which still feels modern when viewed today.
Given his interest in animation, it seems unlikely that Disney was not influenced by ‘Night on Bald Mountain’, just as ‘Opus I’ probably had some bearing on ‘Fantasia’s ‘Toccata and Fugue in D Minor’ section. But ‘Night on Bald Mountain’s likely influence goes deeper than that. In its incredible depiction of one night in which people, animals and objects battle against an intense storm, I glimpse a clear influence on Disney’s classic short ‘The Old Mill’, in which the studio experimented with non-narrative, non-character driven animation. Alexeieffe and Parker’s early masterpiece predates that film by four years and remains an unshakably powerful piece of animation which deserves to be more widely known than it is.