Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Will you hear "Song of the South"?

In Oriole news, Jaret Wright pitched well before leaving the game with a familiar-sounding shoulder injury, but got no help at all from his offense in a 3-1 loss to the Tigers. And now, bring on the Kansas City Royals! But, in more important matters ...

With support growing from multiple corners of the Disney empire, it seems an official DVD release of "Song of the South" may finally be in the works. And long overdue, in my humble opinion.

The controversy surrounding the 1946 movie is obviously nothing new. The portrayal of Uncle Remus, for which James Baskett received a honorary Academy Award, has never sat very well with a lot of people, and I can certainly see why. Though some erroneously place the movie as being in pre-Civil War days, it actually takes place in the Reconstructionist South. That said, I can see why people object to Baskett's portrayal of Uncle Remus as an old man who is happy with his life as a plantation laborer, whistling as he works for the man.

That is, I can see it now. As a kid, when I first saw it in the theater (or so my mom tells me; I can't quite remember everything from 1972, when I was 2 years old), I saw it a lot differently. Though I have the power of denial now, there have even been reports of me dancing in the aisles to its still very good songs.

According to the fine folks at Film Buff Online, the most recent push for a DVD release came this week from Roy E. Disney, the nephew of Walt and son of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney. Speaking at the 16th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival, where he was receiving the fest’s Inspiration Award, Disney stated that a home video release of the film is overdue.

“I’ve got a bunch of cohorts working with me to convince the powers that be that it’s the smart thing to do,” Disney said. Disney’s remarks come on the heels of a statement made by current Disney President and CEO Bob Iger at the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting last month in New York City that the company was reviewing the film for a possible release.

For a movie that had as many animation innovations as it did solidly entertaining moments, "Song of the South" certainly has had a tortured past. Although Disney announced in a 1970 Variety article that it was “retiring” the movie, it did receive additional theatrical re-releases in 1972, 1981 and 1986. Home video, however, has thus far remained taboo, with an illegal bootleg of a 1980s Japanese laserdisc release of the film converted to DVD being the only means of acquiring it.

Which is a real shame. Along with the Oscar for Baskett, the movie also took home the Best Original Song prize for “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” (and I defy you to now get through the day without at least humming a few bars of that little ditty in your head.) It also featured a pioneering style of filmmaking, becoming the first (I think) movie to combine animation with live action.

And, as an adult, I can understand that the subject matter is a bit troublesome, but consider the way it looked to the little kid that still lives in me. Baskett's Uncle Remus was a charming old man who just happened to be black. He told little Johnny and Sally fascinating stories about Brer Rabbit and Joel Chandler Harris' other creations that helped them deal with their parents' separation and their new life on the plantation.

There may be more to it than that, but that's what I saw back then. I'd love to have the opportunity to watch it again as an adult, to see if there's some context I missed, but for that to happen Disney will have to open the vault for this little gem. It's definitely about time.

Henry Hill speaks

James Choi over at is constantly sending me e-mails about their latest videos (not a complaint, mind you.) A lot of it is not up my alley, but from time to time something does peak my interest, like this that came in yesterday.

It seems there's a documentary coming out titled "Henry Hill: Confessions of a Gangster." Now, in case anyone has forgotten, Mr. Hill is the mobster-turned-government-witness portrayed by Ray Liotta in "Goodfellas."

I was unable to find out any information about when this movie might actually come out, and the title is definitely a little misleading. To me, "confessions" would imply at least a bit of remorse, but instead it's more than a little chilling to listen to Mr. Hill recount details from his days in organized crime. Here's a video sample of what he has to say. Peace out, and have an entirely bearable Wednesday.


kookiejar said...

I think you are right. Kids of today are mostly color-blind and they would be charmed by 'Song of the South'.

Nell Minow said...

Thanks so much for tagging my blog and especially for the kind words. It means a lot coming from someone whose judgment and talent I admire. Re some of your recent posts: One thing I always thought was very funny was that "Goodfellas" came out the same year as "My Blue Heaven" -- essentially serious and comic takes on the same situation from writers who are married to each other. "Goodfellas" was based on the book by Nicholas Pileggi and the underrated "My Blue Heaven" from a screenplay by Nora Ephron.

I'd like to see "Song of the South" released, with some extras putting it into context, and encourage families to talk about some of the issues it raises. Some of those stories are rooted in African folktales.

And don't let anyone tell you that appreciation for Rodriguez and Tarantino is immature! I'm in my 50's and a very respectable citizen and enjoy them both very much. We had a rule with our kids -- no one is ever allowed to make fun of someone for liking something. I think the burden of proof is always on the one who doesn't like it.

Reel Fanatic said...

I don't really mind being called immature from time to time, Nell ... I'm sure I at least occasionally deserve .. And I'm very happy to link to your blog, and I hope some people managed to find it, since I genuinely enjoy reading it

Marina said...

I saw the Henry Hill clip the other day and I must say that I was intrigued, if only to hear an insider perspective.

Jake Mabe said...

You're right on about "Song of the South." LOOOOONG overdue on DVD.

Heck, why don't they just put a intro from Leonard Maltin explaining the context of the times, blah, blah, blah, (similar to some of the Disney cartoon releases) and let's move on and make a great film available for home screening.

With all of the serious problems we have in this world, debating on whether "Song of the South" should be released on DVD doesn't seem all that important.

Divinity said...

I think "Anchors Aweigh" beats "Song of the South" by a year for combining live action and animation. Love that Gene Kelly! IMDB tells me that Disney refused to let them use Mickey as a dance partner so Jerry got the tap instead. Still sounded like Mickey, though. Sneaky.

bill said...

It's time to release Song of the South. From what I remember, it's less offense than "What Makes the Red Man Red" from Peter Pan or the Siamese song from Aristocats.

And I'd be fine if they'd just skip the lecture beforehand explaining why we'd be wrong to enjoy the movie and shuld feel guilty if we do.

jeremy said...

I'd definitely like to see Song of the South again. I remember seeing it as a kid and literally singing "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" in the aisles.
As for the Henry Hill clip--Henry lives here in Seattle. He is a derelict and a drunk. He talks about the mob with the fondness of a high school football star who is now a checker at the local grocery store.
Seeing what a tweaked out loser Hill was really shattered all of the glamour from Goodfellas and a lot of mob flicks (all except Godfather 2).
So I don't know if you'd want to watch a doco about him.

Reel Fanatic said...

Hmmm ... When you describe him like that, it certainly does take away some of the appeal, Jeremy ... I'm glad to hear to much support for Song of the South, since it's one of my favorite animated movies

Will McKinley said...

Revisionist history serves no one, particularly in these days of heightened racial sensitivity (Google "Imus" and "nappy haired hos" for more in this topic). American Movie Classic (back when they ran actual "classics") heavily edited the Little Rascals shorts for perceived racial incorrectness. But who was the judge of what was okay and what wasn't? It's a slippery slope when we start lying about our collective past...

Anonymous said...

"Song of the South" is long overdue to be released on DVD. I have asked Disney for years to reissue it. Having grown up in the 50's, before the Civil Rights Movement was really strong, this movie made a deep impression on me. As a white female in that era, we were taught to fear Black Men. When I saw "Song of the South" as a child, it completely changed my opinion of Black Men. Uncle Remus was a kindly Black Gentleman, who made the world a brighter place for everyone who saw the movie. After seeing that movie I no longer thought of Black Men as villains, but as kind friendly people, just like any other human being.Seeing "Song of the South" at the Drive-In with my family is one of my fondest memories of childhood.

Reel Fanatic said...

Up until I recently made the conversion to digital cable - so I could watch the Sopranos end - I had only AMC for "classic" movies, Mr. Mckinley, and you're certainly right that it's a pretty sorry station .. I now get TCM also, which I much prefer ... And your sentiments are very well put, anonymous one ... There are many things kids today could learn from this great movie

The Hutchinson Political Report said...

Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable

May 13, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A Statement from Earl Ofari Hutchinson, President Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable Praising Disney’s Decision Not to Re-Release the Racially Stereotypical Film, Song of the South.

“The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable praises the decision by Disney Studios reaffirming its position not to release for home video sale the 1946 racially stereotypical film, Song of the South. The film depicts blacks as happy-go-lucky, submissive, storytelling, servants and helpmates. The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable opposed the re-release of Song of the South without a disclaimer and a preface on the historic harm of racial stereotypes on American society. Disney’s decision not to re-release the film affirms that they are a socially responsible corporation that understands and is sensitive to the hurt of racial stereotypes. The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable will continue to monitor and work closely with Disney and other studios to insure, quality, fair and balanced productions free of racially and gender demeaning images and stereotypes.

Partial List of Endorsers:

Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable

Los Angeles Civil Rights Assn.

NAACP National Board Rep

Youth Advocacy Coalition