Sunday, October 7, 2012

Toccata Redux: Visualizing Mental Objects

What’s this


? and this

flying discs

? and this

7 cathedral


In all cases, of course, one may properly answer: a frame from the first episode of Fantasia: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. But that’s not quite what I meant. I KNOW they’re frames from Fantasia. But what do they represent? Or are they just meaningless abstractions?

In his introduction to the segment Deems Taylor tells us they’re images
that might pass through your mind if you sat in a concert hall listening to this music...the music begins to suggest other things to your imagination. They might be, oh, just masses of color, or they may be cloud forms or great landscapes or vague shadows or geometrical objects floating in space.
They’re mental images then, the mind at work.

I was reminded of those images by two segments in Ratatouille. In the first, very near the beginning of the film, Remy is explaining how he tastes things. He takes a bite of something and we see these images; a bite of something different, different images. Then he combines the two and we get a taste explosion:

Rat 26 Remy's mind

Well, Remy gets the taste explosion, we only get visual images representing that taste explosion. Later in the film he gives his less sophisticated brother, Emile, a lesson. Emile’s taste explosion isn’t, well, it’s not an explosion. More like a fizzle:

Rat 27 Emile's mind

Now, it’s one thing to see just the images dancing before you on the screen, as in the Toccata episode. It’s something else when you see the images juxtaposed are with the creature whose mind they represent. The Toccata images may have been framed hypothetically as mental images, but that framing pretty much drops away when the episode proper starts. At that point they become just images. Further, some people in the audience, especially those who’re confused by the images, are likely to be thinking something along these lines: MY imagination? Humph! That may be how YOUR imagination works, but MY imagination is telling me to grab my ass and haul it outa here.

That problem goes away in Ratatouille because 1) you aren’t being asked to think of them as coming out of your imagination, 2) you’ve got Remy or Emile up there to remind you whose imagination is being visualized, and 3) the two scenes don’t last long. The work as visualizations of mind because, at every moment, they’re in visual contrast with something that isn’t mind. They don’t have to carry the ‘story’ themselves, whereas the Toccata images do.

Still, it’s interesting to think of those Toccata images as visualizing the mind. That’s pretty much what Taylor tells us, but that’s not (quite) how I’ve been thinking of them. I’ve been thinking of them as, well, as just images, images out of nowhere, images of nothing, just images. But if they’re images of mind, why that increased the scope of the whole film. We have an episode depicting the origins of life on earth, another depicting the passage of the seasons near a small pond, another showing dancing animals and and and and and this one, depicting the mind.

What does that do with my reading of the final episode, Ave Maria? It’s slow and meditative. From mind, in episode 1, to mindfulness in episode 8?

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