Sunday, October 14, 2007

Song of the South

Cartoon Brew points out that SOTS enjoyed two screenings in Philly, but there's still no DVD release in sight.

Which I don't get. Song of the South is far from being the most socially conscious film of its time, but compared to Gone With the Wind (now in its 416th video release) it could have been financed and produced by the NAACP.

Per Sam Adams (a fabulous name for a film reviewer in Philadelphia):

Once you've seen Song of the South, it's hard to account for its uniquely untouchable status. It's nowhere near as malicious as The Birth of a Nation, less bizarre than The Jazz Singer and less awful than The Emperor's New Groove....

Song is hardly a great movie, but Baskett's lively performance shows the intelligence behind Uncle Remus' tales, here conceived as parables to help the son of the plantations' owners weather his parents' threatened divorce. Even in their animated versions, Remus' tales reveal their roots in African folklore, and Gregg Toland's cinematography ingeniously soups up the live-action colors to match their ink-and-paint vibrancy....

In the 1950s, the Old Man brought home chewed-up 16mm prints from the Disney library, along with with a 16mm projector that was new at the beginning of Franklin Roosevelt's first inaugural. My brother and I, along with a couple of friends, would watch Snow White, Cinderella or some other opus from the Disney vaults. The scarred prints often broke, the sound went out half the time, but we usually made it through to the end credits.

We saw Song of the South a couple of times. What I remember half a century later is the three-strip Technicolor bright enough to pop your retinas loose, the antic cartoon segments, and James Baskett. Also Bobby Driscoll's wretched acting.

It's a shame that the Disney Co. is so gun-shy about SOTS. The live-action screams Mid-forties! at you, but the animation is great, and the flick deserves a better fate than a nervous conglomerate has given it.


Anonymous said...

I think they know it's not the horror that legend has made it out to be. But they also know that once it's released everyone else will know that too and the mystique will be gone. I think they're waiting for just the right moment to put out a DVD to get the maximum return or perhaps to counter what might otherwise be a gap in their new titles releases.

Anonymous said...

Song of the South is certainly NOT a great movie overall, but it's beautifully shot (Gregg Toland, cinematographer of "Grapes of Wrath" and "Citizen Kane"), and sincere, if a bit cloying.

The Animation is probably the finest the studio ever produced.

But enough of that. Steve, who did the incredible illustration at the top of this article?

Steve Hulett said...

Al Dempster, one of the old Disney pros of the background department. A good friend of my dad's.

He painted the piece at the top of the post for a Golden Book. Here's more info on Mr. Dempster:

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