The Explanation
(for those who require one)

And, of course, that is what all of this is -- all of this: the one song, ever changing, ever reincarnated, that speaks somehow from and to and for that which is ineffable within us and without us, that is both prayer and deliverance, folly and wisdom, that inspires us to dance or smile or simply to go on, senselessly, incomprehensibly, beatifically, in the face of mortality and the truth that our lives are more ill-writ, ill-rhymed and fleeting than any song, except perhaps those songs -- that song, endlesly reincarnated -- born of that truth, be it the moon and June of that truth, or the wordless blue moan, or the rotgut or the elegant poetry of it. That nameless black-hulled ship of Ulysses, that long black train, that Terraplane, that mystery train, that Rocket '88', that Buick 6 -- same journey, same miracle, same end and endlessness."
-- Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

Unwanted Image #16


A scene now altered in The Pastoral Symphony segment of Fantasia
(Sequence directed by Hamilton Luske, Jim Handley, and Ford Beebe; Walt Disney; 1940)

20 comments :

swac said...

For what it's worth, you can see the original version of the sequence here. "Sunflower" shows up in a few shots, not just the one pictured here, and I'm guessing she doesn't put in an appearance on the latest resurrection of Fantasia from the Disney Vault.

Ed Howard said...

This whitewashing of the racist past is kind of a shame. As ugly and stupid as such images are, the only thing we accomplish by erasing them is contributing to the illusion that racism is dead or never existed. Perish the thought that we could see the original images and think about what they mean.

It's the same reason we'll probably never see a DVD with Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, and that's a BIG shame, since despite its nasty caricatures, that's actually a wonderful piece of cartooning.

swac said...

I'm with you on Coal Black, I've read in one of my books on cartoons (possibly Michael Barrier's, but don't quote me on that) that black audiences at the time loved the short, and there's a grey area where jokes about dice and razor blades are part of a folklore that also includes the blues song Stagger Lee, but have wandered over into the realm of stereotype.

I suppose we should be thankful that some Disney cartoons have appeared unaltered in their metal tin collector's sets (with the usual patronizing "These images were wrong then and they're wrong now..." disclaimer), like the fabulous Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, which had been kept under wraps for years because of its caricatures of well-known jazz musicians like Cab Calloway and Fats Waller (plus Stepin Fetchit and a gag that leaves Katharine Hepburn in blackface).

It's also online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBtpBZmy42c

Just don't expect to see Song of the South any time soon.

Timmy said...

There should be no debate on censoring. If there ever was anargument FOR it, then, I say: Everything post 1972. All film, video, photos, art, reproducted sound, and print. Reason? It's all pulluted.

swac said...

I suppose you could make an argument for taking out the black centaurette (I think she's actually supposed to be half-donkey) for the simple reason that she's just plain not funny, and a bit jarring to see back in context. But to pretend that it never happened, that's just plain wrong.

Using the same argument, you could also remove Ted Healy from the early Three Stooges shorts.

Timmy said...

I wonder, dear friend, to whom are you are mistakingly opposing? We are of one single mind on this, I thought.

swac said...

Oh, we are. But it occurred to me that the black centaurette seems so out of place in the sequence as a gag. I agree that we should be able to see the film as it was originally made, or at least have to option to view both versions of the sequence, but part of me wonders if the Pastoral scene would have been better off without her, artistically speaking.

Robert Fiore said...

I believe they remove Sunflower because the imagery is patently offensive. The way they remove her is like when they censor a nude scene on a TV version of the movie: a non-offensive portion of the scene is blown up to a larger size. What I infer from the way Disney does things is that they will show racial caricatures in DVDs aimed at an adult collector audience with an explanation by Leonard Maltin, but not to a general audience. Disney's tacit social contract with its audience in its family films is that they will do nothing that knowingly gives offense to any member of the audience, and when their past products do stray from this principle and they can't be cleansed of the offensive matter, they simply won't show them to a general audience. (Though the treatment of Indians in Peter Pan rather pushes this principle.)

My quick potted assessment of the major animation studios on the question of racial caricature is, Walter Lantz worse than Warner Bros., Warner Bros. worse than MGM, MGM worse than Disney, Disney worse than Fleischer, and UPA the only one with truly clean hands. Need I tell you which one was creatively destroyed by the blacklist?

swac said...

You're quite correct Robert, which is why Song of the South likely won't see release in North America any time soon, even though they saw fit to release it in Asia (VHS and laserdisc) and the UK. They won't put it out as a collector's-only edition because it's too well-known a film and someone will still go out of their way to be offended by it.

I don't know about Warner Bros. being worse than MGM, have you seen the Flip the Frog cartoons? Then there's the mammy character in Tom and Jerry (which has also been altered in later editions).

Then again, even when the more notorious examples are kept in the vault, someone will still find time to be offended by, say, the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp or King Louie in Jungle Book.

Robert Fiore said...

I think if you look at the production history of Song of the South you'll see that however it came out it was done in good faith (for instance, rough on reds as he was Disney's original choice to play Uncle Remus was Paul Robeson – and wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall and hear how that was turned down?), and the racial characterizations were done with the intention of being authentic. The problem is that any suggestion that the relative positions of the races were natural was in itself making a statement, and the aftermath of World War II was getting pretty late in the day to be making it. I think it will stay in the vault not because it's indefensible but because it's more trouble than it's worth. I haven't seen every MGM cartoon, but Warners when they got the devil in them was going some. Frank Tashlin could be brutal – check out his disc in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection series. (Warners' posture seems to be that they'll release a cartoon with racial caricature when it's done in passing but not when it's the main focus of the cartoon. And they bring in Whoopi Goldberg to tell you it's okay to watch it.) I have to wonder what got into Tex Avery when he made "All This and Carrot Stew" – every animator from that time had his own enlightenment level, and Avery's wasn't the highest, but that went far below it. On the other hand, Avery's "Pint Sized Pygmy," which is just as suppressed as "Carrot Stew," has a totally bad rap. Though the title character is a standard African homunculus, he clearly takes the Bugs Bunny role in that cartoon, and runs rings around the animal but constructively white stooge characters in it. You never know when it was going to turn up in those days – a main reason you seldom see the old Captain Marvel comics reprinted is that as clever and wholesome appearing as they would seem, they had some of the most vicious racial caricatures in comics.

Timmy said...

If you intellectual types weren't so informative, I'd censor you...

swac said...

The same goes for the "Inki and the Mynah Bird" series of cartoons, about a young native boy and his ongoing hunting misadventures. The shorts are quite charming, but for some it's hard to get around Inki as a caricature.

As for Song of the South, it's easy enough to get a copy; decent-looking bootlegs made from the Asian laserdisc have been circulating for years. I caught its last theatrical revival, in 1986. Neal Gabler's book on Disney reports Uncle Walt's feelings about the film thusly:
"(Screenwriter Maurice) Rapf was a minority, a Jew, and an outspoken left-winger, and he himself feared that the film would inevitably be Uncle Tomish. 'That's exactly why I want you to work on it,' Walt told him, 'because I know that you don't think I should make the movie. You're against Uncle Tomism, and you're a radical.'"

Fred said...

It's a shame things continually have to be sanitized for our protection. Should we stop reading Oliver Twist and The Merchant of Venice because of their anti-Semitic charicatures? Or should we show things as they were, understand the context and get on with our lives? Maybe people have to learn to stop being so over-sensitive. We are all so quick to take offense these days.

Timmy said...

Hi, Fred.

jnpickens said...

I agree with the above comments that censoring racist content just makes us ignorant that it ever happened. Apparently there is a man reprinting "Huck Finn" and taking out all the times the "N" word is used, which is silly.

I wonder, though, if the reason the Sunflower character was cut was actually, because of racism.

Fantasia was made in 1940. Only a year before, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney were blackfaced in "Babes in Arms."

I honestly think it was cut because it doesn't go with the scene. I've always thought that scene was about beauty, and to have such an obvious site gag doesn't really fit.

Christopher said...

I seem to remember Song Of The South getting a Theatrical re-release in the early 70s..So how is this worse than the blaxploitation films of those times?..Its selling the colored man for a show.

swac said...

I first saw Song of the South in the early '70s, and it did receive one final go-round on the big screen in the '80s.

As for Sunflower, she was left in Fantasia's reissues up into the '60s, but has been excised from prints starting with the 1977 reissue.

Christopher said...

Fantasia was a big stoner hit back in the early 70s..When it played the the theatres,the hipsters would turn out..I went to one of those showings but can't remember if Sunflower was in it..I was actually collecting classic black film material,posters,lobby cards,super 8 films,at that time..

Bill said...

It's a bit much to act like we're being deprived of culture "for our own protection" when images like this are edited out. it's not like anyone is pretending it was never made, here it is on the internet!

it's easy to say "get past it" if these images don't directly affect you. you're speaking from a perspective based on advantage. a lot of emotions and memories comes up when you see such a blatantly racist image.

now i love me some trivia, and i'm all for both the anthropological side and the "appreciating art for what it is" side of racist media, but there's a place for that. die hard fans can youtube all they like, if this scene was still in fantasia i wouldn't show it to my kids. it's a disney movie, those times are over.

swac said...

Seems this one lives up to the title of "Unwanted Image" on more than one level.