Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Butterfly Ball (1977)

          The symbiotic relationship between movies and rock music generated some oddities during the ’70s, and this obscure hybrid of concert footage, live-action scenes, and a single animated vignette is nothing if not odd. A musical extravaganza intended for children but featuring several hard-rock singers, the piece was put together by Roger Glover, the longtime bassist of UK band Deep Purple, but the process involved a few fits and starts. In 1973, an illustrated children’s book titled The Butterfly’s Ball, and the Grasshopper’s Feast was released. It was based on William Roscoe’s 1802 poem of the same name. As the title suggests, the story is a fanciful lark about a party for woodland critters. A short cartoon was made from one section of the book, and Glover wrote the accompanying music. This generated a minor UK hit single titled “Love Is All,” with vocals by heavy-metal howler Ronnie James Dio, and plans were made for a full-length animated feature. Yet by the time Glover finished writing songs for the proposed movie, production was cancelled.
          Undaunted, Glover staged a live concert in at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall, recruiting several celebrities to perform his song suite, which bears the abbreviated title The Butterfly Ball. Footage of the 1975 concert comprises most of this movie. The picture also features the “Love Is All” short, as well as weird interstitial bits of performers in animal costumes strolling through London. The film climaxes with a live-action version of the ball, at which the various animal characters sit around a table in a scene straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Despite Glover’s obvious passion for the project, The Butterfly Ball is inherently half-assed—it’s like watching the recording session of the soundtrack for an unmade movie, with glimpses of test footage suggesting what the movie might have been like. That said, the concert has appealing moments.
          Vincent Price, eschewing his normal horror-movie style, participated in the concert as narrator, sitting in a chair above the stage and reading the illustrated book’s whimsical lines. Each song has a different singer, so the film presents an eclectic range of vocal styles. Hard-rockers including David Coverdale put muscle into their numbers, while twee songbirds including model/actress Twiggy offer more ethereal sounds. John Lawton provides one of the loveliest vocals, for the gospel-tinged ballad “Little Chalk Blue,” and he also subs for Dio on the movie’s epic-length rendition of “Love Is All.” Alas, most of the tunes come across as weak imitations of the Lennon-McCartney songbook, with fanciful numbers such as “Sir Maximus Mouse” bearing their Sgt. Pepper’s/White Album influences far too obviously.

The Butterfly Ball: FUNKY

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