I have argued that Disney’s Fantasia is a signal work in a film culture that is fundamentally transnational. By transnational I don’t mean universal, or anything like it. I mean only that film culture at that time, the mid-20th Century, operated across national borders and, indeed, had been doing so since its inception.
Fantasia as a Singular Work
In 1976 Edward Mendelson published an article on “Encyclopedic Narrative: From Dante to Pynchon” (MLN 91, 1267-1275). It was an attempt to define a genre whose members include Dante's Divine Comedy, Rablais', Gargantua and Pantagruel, Cervantes' Don Quixote, Goethe's Faust, Melville's Moby Dick, Joyce's Ulysses, and Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Somewhat later Franco Moretti was thinking about “monuments,” “sacred texts,” “world texts,” texts he wrote about in Modern Epic (Verso 1996). He came upon Mendelson's article, saw a kinship with his project, and so added Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung's (note, a musical as well as a narrative work), Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, and a few others to the list. It is in this company that I propose to place Fantasia.
One other characteristic looms large in Mendelson's formulation. These works are identified with particular national cultures and arise were these nations become aware of themselves as distinct entities. This creates a problem for his nomination of Gravity's Rainbow as an encyclopedic work because Moby Dick already has the encyclopedic slot in American letters. He deals with the problem by suggesting that Pynchon is “the encyclopedist of the newly-forming international culture whose character his book explicitly labors to identify” (pp. 1271-1272).
Fantasia presents the same problem, for, like Moby Dick before and Gravity's Rainbow after, it is nominally an American work. But there is no specifically American reference in the film. None of the music is American, none of the segments are set in America nor refer to American history or culture. It is not, in any ordinary sense, a nationalist work, an expression of national identity. Rather, it is an expression of a naïve middle-brow universalism, unaware of the cultural specificities on which it depends.
Nationalism Gets in the Way
Nor is the golf played on American golf courses an essentially American game merely because American citizens play it on American soil. That the game originated in Scotland is one thing; that it is now played the world over is another. What that implies about cultural identity, I don’t quite know. But we’ve got to step back from the automatic practice of hanging national labels on cultural formations.
National languages are therefore almost always semi-artificial constructs and occasionally, like modern Hebrew, virtually invented. They are the opposite of what nationalist mythology supposes them to be, namely the primordial foundations of national culture and the matrices of the national mind. They are usually attempts to devise a standardized idiom out of a multiplicity of actually spoken idioms, which are thereafter downgraded to dialects, the main problem in their construction being usually, which dialect to choose as the base of the standardized and homogenized language.
However, given that the dialect which forms the basis of a national language is actually spoken, it does not matter that those who speak it are a minority, so long as it is a minority of sufficient political weight. In this sense French was essential to the concept of France, even though in 1789 50% of Frenchmen did not speak it at all, only 12-13% spoke it ‘correctly’—and indeed outside a central region it was not usually habitually spoken even in the area of the langue d’oui, except in towns, and then not always in their suburbs. In northern and southern France virtually nobody talked French.
Film Culture as Transnational
But above all things, these moguls ''wanted to be regarded as Americans, not Jews; they wanted to reinvent themselves here as new men.'' And in doing so, ''the Hollywood Jews created a powerful cluster of images and ideas - so powerful that, in a sense, they colonized the American imagination.''
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Note: The Wikipedia has a short entry on transnational cinema:
A key argument of Transnational cinema is the necessity for a redefinition, or even refutation, of the concept of a national cinema. National identity has been posited as an 'imaginary community' that in reality is formed of many separate and fragmented communities defined more by social class,economic class, sexuality, gender, generation, religion, ethnicity, political belief and fashion, than nationality.
The references are quite recent.