Form and Fairy Tale: the visual appeal of La Belle et la Bête

July 31, 2016 § Leave a comment

Christophe Gans’ extravagant French film adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” will be shown in select cities this September, and from the looks of the trailer, it’s right in line with the CGI live-action extravaganzas we’ve been treated to by Hollywood in the last handful of years.

Praised and awarded in Europe for its luscious production design, La Belle et la Bête is hardly the kind of film you could describe as “restrained.” But restraint isn’t really what the film industry has in mind for fairy tales lately; I’m immediately thinking of the bombastic giant-human battles in 2013’s Jack the Giant Slayer and Maleficent’s sparkly, fairy-populated Moors in 2014. It’s worth noting that La Belle et la Bête was also originally released in 2014, followed in 2015 by the much more understated (and more disturbing) Tale of Tales, directed by Matteo Garrone. (Warning: trailer below is NSFW) « Read the rest of this entry »

Film Preview: Le Petit Prince

December 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

Normally one to rail against major revisions/additions to film adaptations of classic literature, I am completely charmed by this trailer for the new French animated film version of Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince, and its added narrative of this little girl and her friendship with her oddball neighbor. If you’ve read the book, then you know that the narrator, the pilot, is addressing an unseen listener, and it’s conceivable that that listener might well look like the studious little girl given life in this new film. And by adding this framework, it seems to me that the filmmakers have captured the wonder of reading this book, either for the first time as a child, or as an adult lost in the pleasures of nostalgia. The shift in animation style between the “real” world and the story of the Little Prince is so lovely, portraying the story-within-a-story as something delicate and other-worldly. I can’t wait to see this!

 

Searching for Rapunzel: An Adventure in Googling

January 31, 2014 § 3 Comments

So, last week I was preparing to post a new entry on A Grimm Project, and I needed an illustration for “Rapunzel.” I have my favorite illustrators from different time periods, from Heinrich Lefler to Arthur Rackham to Paul O. Zelinsky, but I wanted to see if I could find something new, or that I had forgotten about. I did a Google image search. But I forgot the cardinal rule of finding illustrations of fairy tales on the internet: include the word “illustration.” If you don’t, here’s what you get:

Google image search 1/19/14

Google image search 1/19/14
Click to enlarge

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Saving Mary Poppins

December 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in "Saving Mr. Banks"

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in “Saving Mr. Banks”

Mary Poppins needs a hand this winter, and the internet, thanks to all that is snarky and determined to spread truth, is here to save her. The indisputably expensive new Disney film Saving Mr. Banks, as you’re likely aware, claims to tell the true story behind the making of the indisputably delightful old Disney film, Mary Poppins, based on the novels of P.L. Travers. It pits prudish, harsh, and critical Travers (Emma Thompson) against fun-loving monomaniac Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in the battle for the rights to produce the film. Disney woo-ed Travers for many years before securing her sign-off to make the film, and Saving Mr. Banks would have you believe that it’s because Walt finally got to the “core” of Travers’s psychosis in creating the character in the first place: daddy issues. It goes so far as to have Thompson beaming with pride at the film’s release, tears welling in her eyes.

But as you may also be aware, thanks to the diligent critics of the inter-webs, Thompson’s tears are a woeful misrepresentation of the true story that isn’t being told in the film: that Travers was devastated by the film. She fought Disney tooth and nail for five years, and you can bet that that fight was not just a charming sing-along by Richard and Robert Sherman and an escorted trip to Disneyland. It was surely much, much uglier. Walt Disney, to put it mildly, was not a nice man. He was a business man, one who insisted in his early films that only his name appear listed as animator, even when he had a team helping him. One who insisted on slapping his name in front of every title his studios put out, in case anyone forgot it. There would never be “P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins” — there would only be his, and in the end, though Travers fought him, she lost. That’s what this film is about. « Read the rest of this entry »

Why I Think I’ll Like Maleficent.

November 23, 2013 § 4 Comments

Angelina-Jolie-in-Maleficent-2013-Movie-Image

If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, you know that when it comes to fairy tale film adaptations, I am hard to impress. And when it comes to those made by the D-word, The Mouse, the corporation-we-must-not-name, I am skeptical at the very best. Fairy tales in film – well, it’s a long and complicated history. You could argue that the unstoppable popularity of 20th Century animated fairy tale films has kept these ancient stories alive in the public imagination. You could also argue (and I usually do) that the making of a fairy tale into a colorful, copyrighted commodity only serves to keep one version in the public imagination, and that more often than not, that one version is a very flat, very uninteresting version of that tale’s ancestors.

This isn’t a new argument – and because this argument has gained traction in recent years, we’ve actually seen film studios try to beef up their fairy tale adaptations, to make them darker and stranger. Examples: Snow White and the Huntsman, Red Riding Hood. Sometimes they succeed. Often, though, even these “darker” fairy tales are just as silly as the cartoons, a badly plotted action film wearing a sheen of recognizable names and familiar fairy dust to help sell it. They use grainier filters, but will often shy away from exploring the deeper levels of the fairy tales: the sexual awakenings, the illogical yet primal relationships between characters that make one evil and the other their prey.

There are very, very few fairy tale film adaptations that make me feel like the director and the writer wanted to explore something more, rather than simply repackaging a certain corporation’s vision into something sell-able for a new market.

So I was surprised by the recently released teaser trailer for Disney’s Maleficent, and how much I actually want to see the film. Like the Grinch hearing the Whos down in Who-ville singing, I cupped my ear. I didn’t feel the urge to immediately dismiss this. In fact, I was intrigued. « Read the rest of this entry »

That Place Between Sleep and Awake

February 15, 2013 § 22 Comments

I normally try not to address my WordPress Google search term users directly, because it could very well be interpreted as snark. Some do: take, for instance, Amy @ Lucy’s Football , who responds about once a month to the strangest search terms used to find her blog, and attempts to answer questions therein in hopes that whoever searched it once will search again, and find her answer. It’s hilarious, check it out.

I’ve thought about doing it before, but haven’t except now…one thing that is quite close to my heart keeps popping up, ALL THE TIME.

“You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you, Peter Pan. That’s where I’ll be waiting.”

Search terms used:

“Place between sleep and awake barrie quote”

“where in Peter Pan does it say place between sleep and awake”

“jm barrie place thats where ill always love you peter”

and on and on and on since the beginning of this blog.

And I have just one thing I’d like to say about these search terms: NO. NO NO NO NO no. « Read the rest of this entry »

A Warped “Barbe Bleue”

January 30, 2013 § 2 Comments

A very short post for you today, inspired by Will Schofield’s “Nitrate Nocturne” posts over at 50 Watts: Will has posted several of these images of decomposed film clippings from the Turconi Collection, on which the nitrate has warped, leaving behind surreal blotches that turn the film clippings into their own bits of abstract art. Scrolling through, this one in particular caught my eye:

11-turconi-18088_900

It’s a clipping from a 1907 film version of “Bluebeard,” or “Barbe bleue” by the Pathé Brothers Company (Pathé frères). The nitrate has warped in such a way that the doorway to Bluebeard’s murderous den appears to suddenly catch flame–but that’s just a coincidental effect. What’s really happening in the scene is that Bluebeard’s wife has opened the forbidden door, seen the other dead wives, and is turning away in horror. She’s easier to see in the top frame, holding her head in her hands. The nitrate is doing something very cool here, totally unplanned, and accomplished only by time and decay–it’s making Bluebeard’s wife’s inner horror look like a conflagration that overcomes her and the dead women behind her.

Cool, right?

I haven’t been able to find any surviving film online of the 1907 “Barbe bleue,” (though if you read French, you might be able to find a copy through this site). But if you’ve got the itch now to watch some early Bluebeard films, there’s always George Melies’s 1901 version, complete with Melies’s infamous special effects:

Enjoy!

On Hansel and Gretel & Good (Very)Old-Fashioned Humor

January 2, 2013 § 8 Comments

Ok, so have you guys seen this?

Hilarious.

I’m not even mad, I mean, how could I be? It’s hysterical. I can see how some loyal readers might expect me to get all up in some steampunky arms about the ridiculous-looking romp that will surely be Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you, because I’m too busy cracking up.

It looks like fun. I’m gonna see it. At least, I’ll Netflix it when it turns up on Instant, and take a shot every time a witch dies in an unexpected and hilarious manner.

Why?

Because there are times for snobbery and contextual hand-wringing, and there are times to just gather around the fire and laugh and laugh and laugh when someone tells a story about a witch getting her just gingerbread desserts.

There’s a misconception pretty widely spread about fairy tales which concerns their morality. When I was in graduate school and teaching freshman writing courses, I used fairy tales—namely, “Little Red Riding Hood”—as tools for students to learn about critical thinking and rhetorical narrative in a low-stakes setting. As we looked at the many iterations of LRRH, the students could see how some fairy tale tellers would manipulate the tale to serve their own purposes. Those purposes ranged from 17th century European court morality to 20th century feminist narrative-reclaiming. But the first thing I had to do for those students, before we dove into the tale, was erase their incredibly pervasive notion that fairy tales are inherently morality stories. Many of them showed me in their very first blog post that they believed that all fairy tales, regardless of edition, historical context, or even Disney film status, were intended to teach a lesson.

Not so. « Read the rest of this entry »

The “Jewish Exorcist Film” That’s Not Currently in Theaters: The Dybbuk, 1937

September 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

If you’re still in the mood for fuzzy cuddlies after my last post on Margaret Wise Brown’s “The Color Kittens,” then this post isn’t exactly for you. I’m taking a turn back to folklore land, and celebrating the release of Sam Raimi’s The Possession—which is being commonly referred to as “The Jewish Exorcist” by sharing with you what was actually the first “Jewish Exorcist” film—and before that, what you might call the definitive “Jewish Exorcist” play. « Read the rest of this entry »

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall: Who Has the Most Girl-Power of Them All?

June 20, 2012 § 12 Comments

Below is a freelance article I wrote after the release of Snow White and the Huntsman. Though it didn’t get picked up for publication this round (among other reasons, the fact that I misspelled the name of the magazine’s editor in the email wasn’t a winning move), I’m pretty proud of it, and want to share it with you–it’s not just a review of the film, but a comparison between the two Snow White films that came out this spring, and a call for more empowered and honest depictions of women in fairy tale films. Too tall an order? We’ll see…

So it’s pretty clear that 2012 is the year of the pure white virgin with gumption. Snow White and the Huntsman won the box office its first weekend over such nostalgic temptations as Men in Black III and Battleship—to really hook an audience, you have to go farther back than their middle school years. Way back. Two hundred years back, even. Many of you readers may be aware already that this year marks the bicentennial anniversary of the Grimm brothers’ Nursery and Household Tales. It seems that big-budget studios are helping audiences celebrate with last fall’s fairy tale themed shows Once Upon a Time and Grimm and films such as the upcoming Jack the Giant-Killer and Maleficent (a new take on Disney’s Sleeping Beauty).

The fairest tale of them all, however, is the one getting the most Hollywood attention: the Grimms’ “Snow White,” the inspiration for not one, but two feature films this year. The afore mentioned Snow White and the Huntsman, now in theaters, is a medieval fantasy epic starring Kristen Stewart as Snow and Charlize Theron as her black-hearted stepmother, Queen Ravenna. A darkly hued, adventure-heavy take on the fairy tale, Snow White and the Huntsman is interesting enough to warrant positive reviews on its own, but in comparison to this year’s earlier offering, Relativity Media’s Mirror, Mirror, is even more deserving of a closer look. The light-hearted Mirror, Mirror starred Lily Collins as Snow and Julia Roberts as her vain, tittering stepmother. Both films attempt—with varying degrees of sincerity, I might add—to endow lovely Snow with a little more bite as a feminine role model. But here’s the trouble: when fiddling with stories that have been told and retold for over two hundred years, it takes more than a princess with a sword to tell a tale that truly speaks to women.

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