Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Bedknobs and Broomsticks"(1971) Bayeux Tapestry-inspired Opening Title Sequence


In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d feature a film that stars an actress who absolutely loves Ireland and just so happens to be one of my favorite actresses ever- Angela Lansbury. Before I get incredibly sentimental over Angela, I just want to throw out there that she is perhaps one of the most versatile and talented performers in our time, who has met success in every medium she’s entered into. Who can match her combination of acting savvy, vocal ability and characteristically warm humor and wit? Anyhow, Angela also has a lovely little cottage in Ireland that she moved her family to in the 70s and she doesn’t have enough nice things to say about the beautiful Irish countryside and the warm-hearted Irish people.

I first fell in love with Angela when I was a wee tot- watching one of the most underrated Disney movies ever- 1971’s live-action/animated feature film, Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It’s a lovable movie about a prim British spinster (and witch-in-training) who is determined to learn a spell for “substitutiary locomotion” which she believes will help the British repel the feared Nazis from invading their shores.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks has suffered the fate of time for a few reasons beyond its control. It was cut and re-cut so many times; most people haven’t seen the movie in its entirety. It’s often compared to Mary Poppins and was in fact meant to be a follow-up holiday hit- which didn’t happen because the movie was recut so many times.  In fact, many members of the Mary Poppins crew reappear in Bedknobs and Broomsticks including the irresistible David Tomlinson and the music-writing Sherman brothers among others. Because it kind of flopped, a lot of people just assume it’s not worth their time- but trust me- it is!
I’ve watched and re-watched this movie so many times. I’ve continued to appreciate the humor and the wonderful music; but one aspect that I’ve appreciated in more recent years is, of all things, the title sequence. As per usual, the opening titles are accompanied by a beautiful orchestrated version of the soundtrack. 
A unique aspect of this scene (if you will) is the art that goes behind the titles- they’re incredible intricate and original. For this film, Disney employed an expert illustrator, David Jonas (see above) to design the titles. Jonas chose to base them, of all things, off the 11th century embroidered masterpiece, the Bayeux Tapestry. Perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when designing the title sequence for a Disney movie, but really it works.
 
In case you’ve never heard of it before, the Bayeux Tapestry (see above) was commissioned by the Norman Bishop Odo in order to commemorate William the Conqueror’s victorious conquest of England. It’s a massive tapestry which tells the story of the invasion in its entirety. It’s incredibly concise and complex, but it’s quite enjoyable to take in because of all the little details that were included. As it covers an invasion of England, it is quite an appropriate motif for the film, in which the antagonists are the potentially-invading Nazis. 
Jonas, who started as an illustrator in New York in the 1950s, was really quite talented. He moved to LA and began working for Disney later, working primarily as a storyboard illustrator and art director. He merged many aspects of the Bayeux Tapestry into the titles including many medieval themes as well as members of the cast including the Sherman Brothers.
He also “updated” the tapestry design and added portions of the film into it including Angela on the titular broomstick, the famous bed, and even the invading Nazis. He managed to keep all parts of a design faithful to the original design of the Bayeux Tapestry- including some subtle references that only people familiar with the Tapestry would appreciate. For instance, during his invasion title card, he put soldiers of different stylized sizes near each other, in a subtle reference to the quirky proportions the original medieval artists used on the tapestry
As you know, I love a great title sequence that helps set the stage and introduces thematic elements of the movie right off the cuff. And as you also know, I love the iconic designs of Saul Bass- but I think I might even enjoy the Bedknobs titles more- just because they’re so clever, so fun and really quite marvelous works of art of their own. They’ll give me an excellent, artsy excuse to re-watch the movie again…  

3 comments:

  1. I could watch Bedknobs and Broomsticks over and over again just for the title credits alone. They truly are beautiful...especially with the "old paper" background appearance. Those travelling minstrels don't quite look like the Sherman brothers but it was nice that he weaved in the occupations of the crew with the illustrations...the builders with the "art director" credits, the fortune teller with the "technical consultants". Very clever!

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    1. It is so nice to see that someone appreciates the Bedknobs and Broomsticks titles as much as I do. The effort they put into these titles is absolutely incredible. It's truly evidence of Disney's standards. I'm so glad that you enjoy the blog- I hope you keep reading and enjoying!

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