Wednesday 16 September 2009

The Singing Ringing Tree

For certain Brits who grew up in the 1960's and 70's, The Singing Ringing Tree occupies a special place in their hearts. Just the mention of it provokes avid discussion about school holidays, White Horses, Robinson Crusoe and a certain evil dwarf. So what is it about this 52 year old East German fairy tale that remains in the memories of so many people?

The story follows the exploits of a prince who asks for the hand of a beautiful but spoiled princess. She rejects his gift of pearls and demands instead a magical tree - the titular Singing Ringing Tree. The Prince goes off in search of the tree and eventually finds it at castle with an enchanted garden ruled by an evil dwarf who offers the tree to the prince at a price. If he fails to win the love of the princess he must return to the garden and the dwarf.

Like all fairy tales there's always a bit of suffering and the princess rejects the prince's gift and the poor lad gets turned into a bear for his trouble and the princess gets ugly as a result of a nasty old spell cast by the dwarf. The Bear carries the princess off back to the Dwarf-realm. Despite being dumped on at every opportunity by the dwarf, the Princess learns to love and with the help of some downright weird animals in the enchanted garden she overcomes the dwarf's power. As a result she gets lovely again, the bear turns back into a prince and the Singing Ringing Tree sings rings and they all live happily ever after.

So what's so bad about that? Well nothing really when you look at it in the cold light of day, but somehow the presentation on screen traumatised a generation and probably didn't help people of restricted growth integrate too well into society at the time.

Made in 1957 and first screened in Britain in the Sixties by the BBC as part of its Tales From Europe series, The Singing Ringing Tree (aka Das Singende Klingende Baumchen) was made in the former East Germany and directed by Francesco Stefani with music by Heinz-Friedel Heddenhausen.

Generously funded by the state, the Singing Ringing Tree was filmed in almost lurid colour with top quality production values for the time. Although originally filmed in German, the BBC added an English voice over to describe the action as it unfolded on screen. Whilst this idea was no doubt to save money by the strapped for cash BBC, the calm relaxing voice only accentuated the fairy tale aspect. It certainly needed to, as the dwarf was downright nasty and deeply scary and probably accounted for many a sleepless night.

Apart from the stunning visuals, a crucial aspect of the film was its score. Much of it is lush and romantic yet there are parts that are haunting and mysterious - particularly the scenes in the dwarf realm. Unlike the film itself, The Singing Ringing Tree score has never been released commercially but is a joy to listen to and may just have you hiding behind the settee or sobbing when you hear the tinkly theme tune.

If you want to see the Singing Ringing Tree, it's available on DVD and you can buy it here

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I still watch it now on d.v.d and im fifty eight. It has good morals, watch it and think. Great music, pretty girl with punk hair later on. Sad the poor fish was never saved.