Director: Franceseco Stefani
Screenplay: Anne Geelhaar, Francesto Stefani
Year: 1957
Starring: Christel Bodenstein, Eckart Dux, Richard Kruger, Charles Hans Vogt, Dorothea Tiesing
Country: Germany
Certificate: BBFC U
Run Time: 73 minutes

Filmed entertainment has a long history of shocking audiences; from 1896’s first moving picture, The Arrival of a Train, to the Mary Whitehouse baiting video nasties of the 1980’s and the BBC’s infamous 1992 film Ghostwatch, unexpecting audiences have frequently encountered sound and images that they aren’t prepared for and which indelibly leave a mark on their psyche. Maybe it’s the dark, unfiltered gore of films like Cannibal Holocaust, or the Sunday night scares of The Box of Delights; or, if you watched the BBC in 1964, you may have been utterly traumatised by the The Singing Ringing Tree.

Unsuspecting kids sitting down to watch this black and white miniseries, actually a 1957 German film split into three parts and televised as part of the BBC’s Tales from Europe series, were subjected to what was at the time a barrage of strange and unfamiliar imagery, a culture clash of the highest order that thoroughly confused and, in some instances, scared that young audience. Well, now Network are giving modern audiences the chance to relive that abject horror with this release of The Singing Ringing Tree, fully uncut on Blu-Ray!

Okay, so let’s get one thing straight; The Singing Ringing Tree is not a horror film – it’s not remotely in the same camp as Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal gore fest or even the most chilling of child friendly tales. What it in fact is is a bizarre and, at times, slightly dark fairy tale based in part on Hurleburlebutz by the Brothers Grimm. It tells the tale of a selfish Princess and her would be suitor, the handsome Prince. Her royal brattyness sends the besotted Prince and his horse to the fairy lands in search of the fabled Singing Ringing Tree, whereupon they are tricked and cursed by an evil dwarf. Turned into a bear with the realisation that the Princess was stringing him along, the Prince breaks into the castle, kidnaps her and drags her back to the fairy lands in order to teach her a lesson in being kind to others, all while the evil dwarf is determined to fully sabotage their burgeoning romance.

The Singing Ringing Tree is certainly an odd watch, with brightly coloured sets and costumes reminiscent of a pantomime it certainly has a visual feel that would be utterly alien to 1960’s British audiences, and a very European sensibility that it carries through its brisk 73 minute run time. There’s a somewhat expressionistic feel to the sets, from the sharp angles of the castle, to the styrofoam rocks of the fairy lands, this is often contrasted with some weird imagery in the shape of the Prince’s almost lycanthropian bear appearance to the strange, bug eyed goldfish that lives in the fairy kingdom river. On the surface it feels like it should be a fairly harmless kids movie, but every now and then something breaks that surface in a weird and wonderful way.

Is The Singing Ringing Tree a good movie? As a production from the 1950’s it’s certainly worth a watch for those who are curious (or have only ever experienced it through the Fast Show’s The Singing Ringing Binging Plinging Tinging Plinking Plonking Boinging Tree spoof sketch which accurately apes some of the films more bizarre moments) and the morality story at the films heart is as evergreen as any child’s fairytale, but I’m not entirely sure I’d put this on for a modern audience of children, not because it’s likely to scare them, but because there’s a distinct possibility that they will simply laugh at its dated visuals and pantomime stylings. That’s not to say it’s a bad film at all – there is a certain charm to it that remains, as well as some moments that genuinely amused me, however there are also some “of the time” visuals that are problematic today, from the oddness of the “evil dwarf” to some shots in which animals are being made to do things the’re obviously not happy doing (including one dove that’s clearly had it’s wing broken) there is definitely a very limited audience for the film. This release from Network is definitely a treat though, with the Blu Ray transfer allowing the brightness of the image and the jaunty audio to shine through far more than some of the much lower quality copies that have been floating around on the internet for several years. The Singing Ringing Tree is certainly a cinematic curio and it’s great to have a good quality version available for fans.

Bonus Features

  • Widescreen theatrical version with German audio or alternative music-only soundtrack
  • Fullscreen version with English narrated soundtrack or alternative French and Spanish soundtracks
  • Interview with a Princess: a 2003 interview with Christel Bodenstein
  • Image Gallery
  • Limited edition booklet by cultural historian Tim Worthington

Unfortunately, this disc is also quite thin on the ground with regards bonus features, offering widescreen or fullscreen presentations of the film alongside a handful of soundtrack options and an admittedly interesting 2003 interview with actress Christel Bodenstein who plays the Princess in the film. The English language track is a curio in its own regard; rather than dubbing the film, a narrator tells the tale over the top of the German audio as if reading a bedtime story. Other than these, however, the film also comes with a booklet which we sadly didn’t get a chance to look at.

It’s a rather anemic selection of bonus features for what is a curious cultural touchstone in the UK – it would, for example, have been great to have also had the option to watch the film serialised in black and white as it originally aired on the BBC. Sadly these limited extras do make this disc a pass to those with only a passing interest in the film.

The Singing Ringing Tree is on Blu-ray 18 October from Network

The Singing Ringing Tree
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