Bird Movies 4: The Emperor’s Nightingale +2

The Emperor’s Nightingale (1949, Jiri Trnka)

Live-action, a pent-up litle kid prevented from going outside or ever having fun gets a mechanical bird, then has a fever dream that all his toys come to stop-mo life. He proceeds to imagine that the emperor of China feels the same way, lives in a house of riches but never gets to have any real experiences. When the emp hears of the existence of nightingales, he demands one. The most accurate part of the story is when the emp gets into birds, so at his next birthday everyone gives him bird-related things – including a mechanical nightingale which glitters and sings so perfectly that he has no need for the real bird, but eventually the machine’s perfect unchanging song has the emp decrying “music without life, without meaning,” getting physically ill over the idea, until the real bird returns and heals all with its song.

Some motion and interlacing problems on my video copy – the English version adapted by Pulitzer-winning children’s author Phyllis McGinley and read by Boris Karloff. The music, by Trnka’s regular guy Václav Trojan, had a theme that sounds like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

best bit is the court scientist, interrupted while counting stars, has to start over:

Water Birds (1952, Ben Sharpsteen)

You had me at “naked baby pelicans.” Disney setting nature scenes to wild music, synched to the picture like a cartoon. I disagree with the narrator calling flamingos “awkward and grotesque,” otherwise this is good, and at the end it stitches various bird movements into a ballet montage.

Narrator Winston Hibler had been a writer on Disney animated films since the late 1940’s and both Sharpsteen and composer Paul Smith had worked on Pinocchio and shorts since the early days. Editor Norman Palmer (later The Shaggy D.A.) was the new guy on the team. A ton of credited photographers, at least two of them from Wisconsin, which is where I’m writing this now. Won a two-reeler oscar against a whale hunt, a traffic safety film, and a British short that absolutely nobody remembers.

Ballet for Birds (1975, Beryl Sokoloff)

There are plenty of gulls, a piper or two, but Beryl is equally interested in the crashing waves and in passing jets. Without a zoom lens or any sustained interest in a single creature or group, we don’t get too close to any bird (or jet). Editing isn’t especially to the music/rhythm. At the end the camera gets distracted by the distorted reflections of passing humans in a curved mirror.

Set to Stravinski’s 1945 “Ebony Concerto” (which has been used in ballet). Sokoloff had been making 16mm shorts since at least the early ’60s – a Time writeup says he was “sympathetic to the aesthetics of excess.”