Notes and References


1. This paper would not have been possible without the generous help of Ms. Keefer and Ms. Fischinger at the Oskar Fischinger Archive. Not only were they extremely helpful in correcting erroneous information and providing facts not available in conventional sources, they graciously allowed the use of two images from the collection. I am very grateful for their help. Additional information about Fischinger can be found at the Archive website: and the website for the Center for Visual Music: I also owe thanks to Cecile Starr who encouraged me to discuss in greater detail about the music in Mary Ellen Bute’s films and who allowed the use of images from her collection.

2. William Moritz, “The Films of Oskar Fischinger,” Film Culture, No. 58-59-60 (1974), 50.

3. Interview with Mary Ellen Bute in AFI Report, vol. 5, no. 2 (Summer 1974), 41.

4. Gregory Markopoulous, “Beyond Audio Visual Space,” Journal of Film Content, vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 1962), 53.

5. Cecile Starr, “Busby Berkeley and America’s Pioneer Abstract Filmmakers,” in Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1883-1941, Bruce Posner, ed. New York: Anthology Film Archives, n.d., 79

6. William Moritz, Optical Poetry (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2004), 3.

7. Gesamtkunstwerke was a concept explained by nineteenth century composer Richard Wagner. Literally, Gesamtkunstwerke means “total work of art.” Wagner strove to fulfill this ideal of a total art work in his post-1850 operas, which he called “Music Dramas.”

8. Moritz, Optical Poetry, 4.

9. In Experimental Animation, Cecile Starr notes: “With Diebold’s encouragement, Fischinger turned to film. Between 1922 and 1926 he made a number of abstract films with different techniques: several reels of moving graphs, experiments with his wax-slicing machine, and some of his early Study films. He also made cartoon and clay-figure animation films at that time.” Robert Russett and Cecile Starr, Experimental Animation: An Illustrated Anthology (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976), 57.

10. Moritz, Optical Poetry, 7.

11. Ibid., 36.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., 214. There is a print in the Danish Film Archive that provides an ending for the film. A man named Ed Pelster obtained the rights to the last two measures of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and tacked them on to the end of the film. I have seen a video copy of this version and in my opinion, the addition of the musical and visual fragment does not, in fact, serve as a resolution to the contrasts of the film. Moritz mentions this print in Optical Poetry, 214.

14. Ibid., 78.

15. Ibid., 58.

16. William Moritz “You Can’t Get Then from Now,” Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art Journal, no. 29 (Summer 1981), 28.

17. Moritz, Optical Poetry, 75. There is another account of the situation which states that when Paramount informed Fischinger that the film was to be released in black and white, “Fischinger refused to allow the sequence to be shown in a different form from the one he intended.” Joan M. Lukach, Hilla Rebay: In Search of the Spirit in Art (New York: George Braziller Inc., 1983), 214.

18. Moritz wonders whether or not Fischinger had influenced this visual sequence in Fantasia or whether Disney drew upon Leisen’s work for Big Broadcast of 1937. Optical Poetry, 75-76.

19. In the Deluxe Commemorative Edition of the Fantasia home video, released for the film’s fiftieth anniversary, the accompanying booklet explains the process of Fantasia’s development. According to this source, Walt Disney wanted to create a film that would “be made without dialogue and without sound effects, depending solely on pantomime and the descriptive music.” Fantasia would allow “audiences to ‘see music and hear pictures’ in a way they never had before!”

20. Lukach, Hilla Rebay, 214.

21. Moritz does not see the Disney incident as a total loss, at least for Disney. He asserts that Fischinger’s animation, shown in dailies, influenced the staff at Disney. Dumbo, he argues, is full of tidbits taken from the animator. Fischinger’s influence in Pinocchio is somewhat more obvious as he animated the wand of the Blue Fairy. See Moritz, “Fischinger at Disney or Oskar in the Mousetrap,” Millimeter 5, 2 (February 1977): 25-28, 65-67 for a full account.

22. Moritz, Optical Poetry, 85.

23. Portions of letters from Fischinger and Rebay’s correspondence appear in Lukach’s Hilla Rebay, 213-216.

24. Ibid., 214-215.

25. Ibid., 214.

26. Cindy Keefer from the Oskar Fischinger archive was kind enough to read me correspondence between Fischinger and Rebay that supports the tension between the two and refutes Lukach’s rosy view of their friendship.

27. For more details of Fischinger’s financial troubles, see Moritz, “You Can’t Get Then From Now,” 28-32, in which the author notes Fischinger’s salary payments, his rent payments, the number of children he had, his reliance on aid agencies like the European Film Fund, and the incredible financial burden of copying and distributing his own films.

28. Moritz, Optical Poetry, 30.

29. Cecile Starr compared the use of geometric shapes in the work of both Fischinger and Bute to the human patterns used by film musical choreographer Busby Berkeley. Cecile Starr, “Busby Berkeley and America’s Pioneer Abstract Filmmakers,” 7.

30. Moritz, Optical Poetry, 30.

31. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.3 had been in Oskar’s mind for a number of projects before this one. He had considered it for a film synchronizing footage of the German countryside with music. After preliminary shooting, Fischinger felt that he was not good enough at filming the footage to go on with the project. See the filmography in Moritz’s Optical Poetry, 136.

32. Talk given by Mary Ellen Bute, Art institute of Chicago, 7 May 1976, quoted on accessed 27 February 2006.

33. Lillian Schiff, “The Education of Mary Ellen Bute,” Film Library Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 2, (1984) 54.

34. The Theremin is a unique instrument that uses electro-magnetism to create a field that, when penetrated by a hand or other object creates a sound. The sound has little attack and thus sounds eerie, the sound is not divided up into the notes we know in Western music so a hand when moving toward the magnet creates an upward scale that smoothly plays all the microtones between our recognized pitches. The result is something akin to the sound of a slide whistle. For more information about the instrument and its creator, the documentary Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, dir. Steven M. Martin (1993) is a wonderful source.

35. Mary Ellen Bute, “Abstronics” in Experimental Animation, 104.

36. Joseph Schillinger, “A Theory of Synchronization,” Experimental Cinema, No. 5 (February 1934), 29.

37. Certainly, the music has been used numerous times in horror films and therefore its frightening connotations are well-established. It is interesting to note that the same year that Bute animated the Toccata and Fugue, Stokowski and Walt Disney had begun work on Fantasia, a film that utilizes the same piece of music.

38. Starr, Experimental Animation, 104.

39. Ralph Potter put forth his own ideas about music that is both audible and visual in an article called “Audiovisual Music,” Hollywood Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Autumn, 1947): 66-78.

40. Mary Ellen Bute, “Abstronics: An Experimental Filmmaker Photographs the Esthetics of the Oscillograph” Films in Review, Henry Hart, ed. Vol. 5 No. 6 (June-July 1954), 265.

41. Moritz, Optical Poetry, 163.

42. Lewis Jacobs, “Experimental Cinema in America: (Part One: 1921-1941),” Hollywood Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Winter, 1947-1948), 124.

43. Jacobs, “Experimental Cinema,” 124.