The revered Karnatak vocalist Musiri Subramania Iyer only acted in one film: Thukkaram (1938), in which he portrayed the 17th-century Hindu poet and saint Tukaram.
The shooting of the film ran into an unusual problem. The hero had to sport a bushy moustache, and in those days makeup materials were crude and even primitive. Moustaches and beards were stuck to the actor’s face with spirit gum, and when the gum dried the skin would burn and pull, the degree of irritation depending on the sensitivity of one’s skin.
Musiri suffered unbearable irritation, and he threatened that he would walk out if he had to endure the suffering any longer. Left with no choice, the producers permitted him to grow his own moustache. The shooting had to be stopped while Musiri waited for his lip hair to grow to the degree of bushiness required by the script.
This according to “Filmsinger in saint’s clothing: Tuka-ram” by Randor Guy (Sruti 176 [May 1999] pp. 35–38).
Today is Musiri’s 120th birthday! Above, a publicity shot for the film.
Night on Bald Mountain, Walt Disney’s animated rendition of Modest Musorgskij’s Ivanova noč’ na Lysoj gore, follows the structure of the work, linking the main theme to the demonic figure of Černobog and introducing new ghostly or monstrous creatures for each new musical section.
The climactic orgy includes all of the previously introduced characters as well as newly introduced ones, often depicted in an expressionist style that contrasts with Musorgskij’s own realist aesthetic—indeed, expressionism was an overt rebellion against realism’s Romantic ideals.
Disney’s version also follows the program of Musorgskij’s work as the village church bells put a stop to the hellish festivities, but a happy ending was deemed necessary, resulting in an unfortunate segue into an inappropriately Romanticized arrangement of Schubert’s Ave Maria.
This according to “Klasična glazba u crtanom filmu <Fantazija> (1940.) Walta Disneya” by Irena Paulus (Arti musices: Hrvatski muzikološki zbornik XXVIII/1–2  pp. 115–27).
Today is Musorgskij’s 180th birthday! Below, the full segment from Disney’s Fantasia.
The Marx Brothers’ film A night at the opera is best known for its travesty of the high-society manners of the opera house and its sendup of Verdi’s Il trovatore. Underneath this farce, however, the film suggests deep affection for opera—a stance prompted, ironically, by the demands of the studio system.
The Hollywood movie is the heir and rival of opera as an entertainment medium, and both its follies and splendors are rooted in the immigrant experience of early–20th-century America.
This according to “The singing salami: Unsystematic reflections on the Marx Brothers” by Lawrence Kramer, an essay included in A night at the opera (London: Libbey, 1994 pp. 253–65).
Above and below, classic Marxian mayhem.
Rock mockumentaries like The Rutles: All you need is cash lampoon the notion of high art and satirize the image of the solitary, suffering genius in an attempt to recuperate the carnivalesque heart of the music.
All you need is cash offers a complex and subtle relationship to the documentary tradition and the history of rock and roll. Its target is not simply The Beatles themselves, but the mythology that surrounded them and that they alternately promoted and assaulted. The film also targets the solemn documentary and critical tradition that upholds the mythology.
While the mythology needs to be challenged and the kings dethroned, the parodic elements of the carnival also affirm and create. Rock and roll documentaries need their uncanny doubles: Mockumentaries remind us of the music’s power, and remind us that behind any domesticated narrative we find a potentially transgressive force—one that is, in this case, unleashed through laughter.
This according to “The circus is in town: Rock mockumentaries and the carnivalesque” by Jeffrey Roessner, an essay included in The music documentary: Acid rock to electropop (New York: Routledge, 2013, pp. 159–70).
Below, The Rutles in their heyday.
In 2015 Hal Leonard launched the series Disney music legacy libraries with Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the seven dwarfs”, a bound, glossy facsimile of the master score for the 1937 animated film Snow White and the seven dwarfs.
This 200-page MS guided the construction of the film’s final mix of music, dialogue, and sound effects—in effect, it represents the entire soundtrack of the world’s first full-length animated feature film.
Unlike many film studios, Disney has always saved its written and recorded music assets. Over almost 90 years, dating back to the earliest Mickey Mouse shorts and Silly symphonies, millions of pages of music have been preserved, most recently in climate-controlled conditions. Over a million of these documents have now been digitized, streamlining the time needed to find one from two weeks to three minutes.
Above, a two-page spread from the book (click to enlarge); below, the related sequence from the final film. More about the book series is here.
In 2007 Keith Richards joined the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise as Edward Teague, Pirate Lord of Madagascar. He was a natural choice for the role of Jack Sparrow’s father since Johnny Depp, a longtime fan, had partially modeled his character on the legendary guitarist.
Asked whether he saw any similarity between the roles of rock star and pirate lord, Richards said “Actually, you could look at it like that. Both are ways to make a good dishonest living.”
“The music business has never been any different. It’s a pool of piranhas. You want to get in there? You better not be tasty.”
This according to “Johnny Depp & Keith Richards: Pirates of the Caribbean’s blood brothers” by David Wild (Rolling stone 1027 [31 May 2007]).
Today is Richards’s 70th birthday! Below, Edward Teague comes to life.
In his comic depictions of drunk dancing, Astaire used choreography to project social views and feelings about drunkenness, and to set up tensions between those qualities of inebriation and the precision and agility that his dancing embodied.
Memorable examples include the solo number “One for my baby (and one more for the road)” in The sky’s the limit (1943, above and below).
This according to “Stepping high: Fred Astaire’s drunk dances” by Sally Banes, an essay included in Writing dancing in the age of postmodernism (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1994, pp. 171–183).
Of the many Hollywood films made about Africa, the Tarzan films are among the most influential in creating stereotyped notions of African peoples, geography, and social organization.
An examination of the portrayal of Africa and Africans in Cedric Gibbons’s Tarzan and his mate (1934) provides a window into how music has been used to generate these stereotypes and calls into question the degree to which these (mis)conceptions, under the same or different guises, have survived into the 21st century.
This according to “When hearts beat like native drums: Music and the sexual dimensions of the notions of savage and civilized in Tarzan and his mate, 1934” by Clara Henderson (Africa today XLVIII/4 [winter 2001] pp. 90–124).
Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan and the apes, the first Tarzan story, is 100 years old this year! Above, an early dust jacket for this classic; below, the original 1934 trailer for Tarzan and his mate.
BONUS: The film’s notorious river scene, for which the Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim temporarily replaced Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane.
Recent shifts in global film cultures and how we understand them inspired Intellect Books to launch the journal Transnational cinemas (ISSN 2040-3534) in 2010.
Dynamic new industrial and textual practices are being established throughout the world, and the academic community is responding. Transnational cinemas aims to break down traditional geographical divisions and welcomes submissions that reflect the changing nature of global filmmaking.
Launched by Edinburgh University Press in March 2011, The new soundtrack (ISSN 2042-8855; EISSN 2042-8863) presents cutting-edge academic and professional perspectives on the complex relationship between sound and moving images. The journal also encourages writing on more current developments, such as sound installations, computer-based delivery, and the psychology of the interaction of image and sound.
Alongside academic contributions, The new soundtrack includes contributions from practitioners in the field—composers, sound designers, and directors—giving voice to the development of professional practices. Each issue also features a short compilation of book and film reviews.