Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Baía in Song: "Na Baixa do Sapateiro" and "Você Já Foi à Bahia?"

One of the most hypnotic sequences of song and animation in Disney's oeuvre is the song Baía from The Three Caballeros. José Carioca, the cigar-chomping Brazilian parrot, asks Donald if he has ever been to the state of Baía. When he answers in the negative, José creates a picture in song of the sleepy region and its capital Salvador. Though our host is clearly from Rio de Janeiro - the term "Carioca" refers to people from there - the romantic image he paints of Baía can create a longing in anyone's heart for languid South American cities of 70 years ago.

The Three Caballeros (1944) and Saludos Amigos (1942), the two films to come out of Walt Disney's goodwill tout of South America, were as much steeped in the popular music of their time as Make Mine Music and Melody Time. All four films dated from the period of Disney's wartime "package" films, which took the route of bundling together an anthology of shorts built around music. They were equal parts heir to Fantasia and the Silly Symphonies shorts. For the two Latin American films, the popular music hailed from Latin America.

The song that Disney turned into Baía was originally written in 1938 as Na Baixa do Sapateiro by Ary Barroso. Translating to English as "In the Shoemaker's Hollow," it tells the story of a humble shoemaker in Salvador who holds out the torch of unrequited love for a dark-haired young lady. The Portuguese lyrics are as follows:
Ai, amor ai, ai
Amor, bobagem que
a gente não explica ai, ai
Prova um bocadinho, oi
Fica envenenando, oi
E pro resto da vida é um tal de sofrer
Ô lará, ô lerê
Ô Bahia, iaiá
Bahia que não me sai do pensamento
Faço o meu lamento, oi
Na desesperança, oi
De encontrar nesse mundo
O amor que eu perdi na Bahia
Vou contar
Na Baixa do Sapateiro
Eu encontrei um dia
A morena mais frajola da Bahia
Pedi um beijo, não deu
Um abraço, sorriu
Pedi a mão, não quis dar
Bahia, terra de felicidade
Morena, ah morena
Eu ando louco de saudade
Meu Senhor do Bonfim
Arranje outra morena
Igualzinha prá mim
Ai Bahia, iaiá 
Ray Gilbert rewrote the song for Disney, altering the lyrics to...
Oh Baía, when twilight is deep in the sky, Baiá
Someone that I long to see, keeps haunting my memory
And so the loneliness deep in my heart calls to you, calls to you! 
Oh Baía, I live in the memory of many dreams ago
When the stars were bright and you were mine alone
My love for you cannot die, though the oceans run dry
Or heaven's call from the sky, now you’re gone! 
Baía, can’t you hear my lonely call?
Morena, make my life complete again!
How I pray for the day when I'll see your smile
And my heart will beat again! 
Oh Baía, when twilight is deep in the sky, Baía
Someone that I long to see, keeps haunting my memory
And so the loneliness deep in my heart calls to you, calls to you!
Oh Baía... 
The alteration served Barroso well. After its release, the song was intended to be used by Carmen Miranda for her film Banana da Terra, but the licencing fees demanded by Barroso proved prohibitive. Disney's deep pockets could easily afford it, and in its rewritten form has been played and covered countless times.

Ary Barroso's original recording of  Na Baixa do Sapateiro

José decides that the pair must see Baía, and launches into a rendition of Você Já Foi à Bahia? Unlike Na Baixa do SapateiroVocê Já Foi à Bahia? was a direct and accurate performance. The title translates to "Have You Ever Been to Baía?" and José's rendition switches freely between Portuguese and English. The original was written by Dorival Caymmi in 1941, being successful on its release and hitting international acclaim after being featured in The Three Caballeros.

Dorival Caymmi's recording of Você Já Foi à Bahia? 

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Walt's Era - Part 2: Fits and Starts (1940-1942)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a smash success, redefining what animation could be in Hollywood. The film funding a brand new, custom built studio in Burbank, from which Disney artists could push their craft even further. The company, and the man for whom it was named, were on top of the world.

Disney, all smiles, at his new studio. Photo: Disney.
Disney's bread and butter was still the ongoing series of shorts featuring Mickey Mouse and his friends. The Silly Symphonies upped their game, with a noticeable rise in quality between the early half of 1937 and into 1938 and 1939. Wynken, Blynken and Nod, Moth and the Flame, Farmyard Symphony, and The Ugly Duckling learned from the lessons of Snow White, as did the one-off short, Ferdinand the Bull (1938). The Ugly Duckling (1939) ended up being the final Silly Symphony. That testing ground for new processes ran its course. Now Disney's attention was turned to feature film.

In this period between 1940 and 1942, we find a Walt Disney Productions trying to find its footing, experimenting and exploring with what an animated film can be. Creatively, films like Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi are triumphs (with The Reluctant Dragon sandwiched in there too). But these films also challenged Disney's credibility as a populist. Like any great artists, sometimes they innovated too far beyond the pale of what the audience was receptive to. It would take some time for them to settle on working formulas that allowed them to break new ground while responding to market forces. The raging war in Europe didn't help matters much, nor did the infamous animators strike that landed on Disney's doorstep on May 29, 1941. Disney was trying to figure itself out artistically and organizationally.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book - Part 3: "Tiger! Tiger!"

The original animated version of The Jungle Book ended with Mowgli's leaving the forest, lured to the man village by the beckoning eyes of a winsome girl. That coming-of-age story was subverted in the new live-action version, but both alike neglect to fill in what happened afterwards.

Kipling did, however, conclude his Mowgli chapters with the story of his life in the man village and his final confrontation with Shere Kahn. The aforementioned live-action version took bits and pieces of its story from across The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, and so Mowgli's faithful brother Gray and the buffalo stampede through the ravine were inspired by this chapter.

Historically, Mowgli was one of the inspirations behind Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, and we see that come to the forefront in this chapter. Both are ultimately inspired by Enkidu, the wild man of the 5000 year old Epic of Gilgamesh. In that most ancient of Babylonian writings, Enkidu represents untamed nature and the untrammeled spirit of man against the powers of civilization. He is brought to heel eventually, first by the temple prostitute Shamhat (the lure of the feminine, as exemplified by the girl in the animated Jungle Book) and then by combat with the warrior-king Gilgamesh. The wild man myth has endured through the millennia, sometimes as a cautionary tale about the need to suppress violent, natural urges, and more often as a romantic vision of savage nobility. The wild man character is usually brought into confrontation with civilization, to varying effects. Tarzan had his run-in, and discovered that he operates best on the fringes of both the wild and the civilized worlds, not truly a part of either. Mowgli makes his own discovery as to his place in the world.

Indian Village. Photo: Wellcome Trust.

This encounter of the wild man with society allows the author of any given tale to divulge his or her own thoughts about society. In this chapter, Kipling satirizes the caste system and the self-importance of the village's wise old men and so-called great hunters.

Again, the complete book can be found at Project Gutenberg.