Monday, June 24, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | The Man from Snowy River (1982)

Pax and I jaw about George Miller's (not that George Miller, though) Australian Western. One of us remembered loving it; the other remembered hating it. Have we changed their minds? Do we agree? What happened to Cookie's leg? A couple of those questions actually get answered.

Also: DC Comics discussion as Pax reads the early adventures of Bat Lash and I check out the beginning of the 2006 Jonah Hex series.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Nerd Lunch | Tim Burton Batman Movies

Four years ago, the Nerd Lunch gang invited me and Batman fan extraordinaire Jay Ryan to talk about all things Batman for the Caped Crusader's 75th anniversary. This week, the band got back together to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Batman '89 by focusing specifically on the two Tim Burton movies.

That's always a fun group to talk with and I had a great time revisiting both movies. Especially Batman Returns which I traditionally haven't liked, but found some new things to enjoy about it this time.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Mystery Movie Night | Robin Hood (1973), Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island (1983), and Return to Oz (1985)

Paxton Holley doesn't just join Dave, David, Evan, and I on the panel, he also picks the movies in this special episode about rogues, reruns, and rock monsters.

00:03:20 - Review of Robin Hood (1973)
00:16:17 - Review of Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island (1983)
00:30:08 - Review of Return to Oz (1985)
00:50:54 - Guessing the Connection

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The 10th Kingdom (2000)

Who's in it?: Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Father of the Bride), Dianne Wiest (The Lost Boys, Bullets Over Broadway, Practical Magic), John Larroquette (Night Court, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), Ed O'Neill (Married... with Children, Modern Family), Rutger Hauer (Nighthawks, Blade Runner, Ladyhawke, The Hitcher, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sin City), Dawnn Lewis (A Different World), Ann-Margret (The Flintstones, Stagecoach, The Train Robbers, The Villain, Grumpy Old Men), and Warwick Davis (Return of the Jedi, Willow).

What's it about?: An evil queen (Wiest) turns a prince into a dog so that she can take over his kingdom, but he escapes through a portal to modern day New York City (aka the 10th Kingdom) where he meets a young woman (Williams-Paisley) and her shiftless father (Larroquette).

How is it?: This TV miniseries has been recommended to me for a while by friends and family who know my fondness for fairy tales. And I was super excited by the cast, especially Williams-Paisley because I love the '90s Father of the Bride movies and she's great in them. I was also curious about its being an early example of fairy tale mashups before that became a popular thing to do. It predates Shrek by a year, the Fables comic by two, and Once Upon a Time by over a decade.

Sadly, I couldn't finish the first episode. It's not really a mashup of known characters. The evil queen is generic and the prince she's fighting is Snow White's grandson. The "wolf" (Scott Cohen) she sends to New York in pursuit of the escaped prince is also generic. I see from the cast list that characters named Snow White and Cinderella (Ann-Margret) eventually show up, but I didn't get that far. The lack of specific fairy tale characters was a minor issue though compared to the overall tone of the story.

It's very silly and full of slapstick. The Queen sends two parties to New York: first a group of trolls (one of whom is Dawnn Lewis) and then the wolf (changed into human form) that I mentioned before. The trolls are bumbling; no threat at all. The wolf is more persistent and successful, but he quickly "falls in love" with Williams-Paisley's character, by which I mean that his desire to eat her conflicts with his desire to have sex with her. That could make some fascinating drama and commentary on the Red Riding Hood story if it was at all taken seriously, but it's not and the wolf is just ridiculous. Reading ahead, I see that Williams-Paisley later falls in love with him, which is a development I'm not curious to see. Even if he weren't super creepy, he's still dumb and weird. I couldn't get into any of these characters or their story.

Rating: Two out of five Annie Banks.

Addendum: I've been hammering hard on these entries to get ready for the next Filthy Horrors recording, but a couple of things have happened to make me slow down. One is that we're recording the fairy tale episode earlier than I originally thought, so I don't have as much time as I thought I would. The other thing though is that the next thing I'm planning to watch is Shrek, which has its charms, but is more silliness right on the heels of The 10th Kingdom. Frankly, my enthusiasm is a bit deflated. There's still some stuff in the queue that I'm super curious and excited about, so I'm going to keep this project going, but I'm not going to try to get it all done before we record the FH episode. So this is the last entry probably for a week or so until I get past some other deadlines.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Fourth Chair Army Invasion | The Men in Black Trilogy

Are they excellent scifi comedies, disposable popcorn flicks, or a threat to all life on this planet? Annaliese Trammel, Chris Bailey, and I drill deep into the first three Men in Black movies as well as the comics (thanks to Chris!). We talk about what works, what doesn't, and what it all could mean for Men in Black: International.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)

Who's in it?: Drew Barrymore (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Wedding Singer, Charlie's Angels, Whip It), Anjelica Huston (Lonesome Dove, The Addams Family, John Wick: Chapter 3), Dougray Scott (Mission: Impossible II, but not X-Men), Patrick Godfrey (A Room with a View), Melanie Lynskey (Over the Garden Wall, Castle Rock), Timothy West (I know him from an adaptation of Bleak House, but he also played the same character as Patrick Godfrey in a TV version of A Room with a View), Jeroen Krabbé (The Living Daylights, The Fugitive), and Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger, The Hunger Games).

What's it about?: The "real" events that inspired the Cinderella legend.

How is it?: First of all, I love Drew Barrymore. I'm a big fan. And Angelica Huston is amazing as the stepmother who had the potential to become a good person if only she'd spent more time with Cinderella (called Danielle here) and her father (Krabbé). Huston's character clearly cares about her new husband, but loses him too quickly and the blended family never blends.

The entire cast is great and I love the weird addition of Leonardo da Vinci (Godfrey) to the story as a sort of romantic adviser to the prince (Scott). I mean, I disagree entirely with da Vinci's assertion that there is only one potential soul mate for each person, but he's such a charming, well-intentioned character and his ultimate advice is exactly what we want the prince to hear. And he makes boat shoes for walking on water.

I also like that Danielle's sisters aren't a homogeneous unit, but have their own personalities and that their mother has a favorite between them. It's not Lynskey's character and the result is that she gets a nice arc that most Cinderella stepsisters don't.

The deconstructive take is a fun experiment that succeeds. There's no fairy godmother, but Danielle has plenty of support to become her own fairy helper (including wings) and get herself to the ball. And it's cool that the whole thing is told in flashback by a descendant of Danielle to the Brothers Grimm, making this sort of an unofficial sequel to Terry Gilliam's movie about them.

The only think I don't like is that Ever After uses a standard romantic comedy plot to structure Danielle and the Prince's relationship around. It does this very well, but it's still annoying that their relationship is built on a lie she tells and that his discovering it leads to a tragic separation, followed by a dramatic apology and reunion. Again, the movie is really effective at pulling that off, but the predictability of it bruises an otherwise great adaptation.

Rating: Four out of five actually sooty Cinderellas.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The Wonderful World of Disney: "Cinderella" (1997)

Who's in it?: Brandy Norwood (I Still Know What You Did Last Summer), Whitney Houston (The Bodyguard, The Preacher's Wife), Paolo Montalban (Mortal Kombat: Conquest), Bernadette Peters (The Jerk, Annie, Faerie Tale Theatre), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Orville), Whoopi Goldberg (The Color Purple, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Victor Garber (Alias, Justice, Eli Stone, The Orville).

What's it about?: An updated version of the Rogers and Hammerstein televised musical.

How is it?: The Disney version makes some huge improvements over the original 1957 broadcast. First, it racially diversifies the cast in cool ways. It has King Victor Garber married to Queen Whoopi Goldberg in order to beget Prince Paolo Montalban and it just doesn't care how that works out genetically. It's a fairy tale. Likewise, stepmother Bernadette Peters' biological daughters are of different races. There are ways to explain that logically if you want to, but the story accepts it as normal. I like that a lot.

The production also fixes some of my issues with the way Cinderella herself was presented in the '57 version. Julie Andrews' character was especially powerless and I hated her song about how her only refuge is to retreat into "my own little corner in my own little chair." Turns out, Andrews and director Ralph Nelson affected my opinion about that more than I realized by having Cinderella sing the song mostly from her little chair. She felt very small and defeated. Brandy on the other hand (under the direction of Robert Iscove) is energetic and animated. She sings about being trapped, but she's bouncing all over the kitchen as she does it. She's not exactly subverting the lyrics, but she does demonstrate that she hasn't entirely given in yet, unlike Andrews.

Disney's version similarly overhauls the scene where Cinderella and her fairy godmother sing about the usefulness of wishing. In '57, Cinderella comes up with the outlandish ideas of hoping that a pumpkin turns into a carriage, etc., and then defends her dream to her apparently skeptical godmother. In '97, the godmother (Houston) plants the idea in Cinderella's head and nudges her towards the solutions she's looking for. The godmother is very much trying to get Cinderella to make decisions and take actions by herself.

That's similar to how Shelley Duvall's version of the story went, too. Houston's character insists that Cinderella is perfectly capable of winning the Prince over and escaping her horrible home life by herself (and those two goals aren't even necessarily connected); the godmother just gives her a supportive push.

As a production, the '97 version is top notch. The sets are great, the choreography around the songs is dynamic, and the whole cast is colorful and fun. I haven't mentioned Jason Alexander's role yet, but he's the royal... I don't know, steward? Party planner? Sidekick? He was a Grand Duke in the classic animated version. The guy in charge of planning the ball and eventually tracking down the owner of the glass slipper with the prince. Alexander is great as the stuffy, but sarcastic servant who deftly manages all the royal whims and protects the prince from the stepmother and her daughters at the ball.

Rating: Four out of five Bernadette Frickin' Peters

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Little Red Riding Hood (1997)

Who's in it?: Christina Ricci (The Addams Family, Casper, Sleepy Hollow, Speed Racer)

What's it about?: A short, artsy adaptation of "Little Red Riding Hood."

How is it?: I love the artfulness of it, but I've heard other viewers describe it as pretentious. It's more or less a silent film, narrated with a voiceover instead of having title cards. And it's filmed in black-and-white. But the most controversial choice is probably having ballet danseur Timour Bourtasenkov play the wolf. In the fairy tale, the wolf is a hyper-masculine figure to the point that some interpreters see his devouring Red as an allegory for rape. In contrast, Bourtasenkov's movements are sensual and seductive. He's wooing Red; not forcing her.

And Red reciprocates. Ricci is the perfect actor for this and seduces the wolf right back beneath a veneer of innocence. This isn't a Red who's learning to be wary. She's already quite confident and resourceful.

There's precedence for this interpretation in the oral tradition of the story. In The Annotated Brothers Grimm, Maria Tatar talks about a 19th century French version of the tale in which Red performs a striptease for the wolf and then escapes by going outside to relieve herself. In another version, the wolf puts parts of Grandmother in the pantry and invites Red to help herself, which she does. All of these things happen in this film. Red is especially deliberate and intentional about taking a bite of the Grandmother stew. She has the wolf exactly where she wants him.

Stories are funny creatures and oral stories have especially strange histories. It's easy to pin down Charles Perrault's point because he spells it out for you in his morals. And once you know what mattered to the Grimms, it's not that hard to figure out what they wanted their audiences to learn either. But nameless storytellers across a wide range of history are tougher to define. Was Red originally a trickster character who was modified by Perrault and the Grimms to become more innocent? Or was she initially innocent, but changed by some storytellers who wanted a more kickass version? Fortunately, there's a book by Catherine Orenstein called Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked that can potentially answer that. The subtitle is "Sex, Morality, And The Evolution Of A Fairy Tale." I haven't read it, but I'm going to.

Rating: Four out of five Red Riding Riccis.

Friday, June 07, 2019

The Grimm Brothers' Snow White, or Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)

Who's in it?: Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest, The Village), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Crusoe, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), and Monica Keena (While You Were Sleeping).

What's it about?: A widowed nobleman (Neill) marries an insecure woman (Weaver) with dark powers, but his daughter (Keena) is less than welcoming to her new stepmother, instigating a series of horrifying tragedies and betrayals.

How is it?: I'm not clear on which name came first, but the print I watched has The Grimm Brothers' Snow White in the titles and that's also the name on what appears to be the original poster (above). Every place else though, it's called Snow White: A Tale of Terror. But even though IMDb lists that as the "original title," it feels like a post-release marketing move; letting home video audiences know that this is a dark, horrific version of the classic fairy tale. Whichever was first, I like the version with the Grimms' name, because Michael Cohn's film is clearly working from their version as his inspiration.

Like in the Grimms' story, Weaver's character is the protagonist, at least at first. She's not a queen, nor are Neill and Keena a king or princess. This is a grounded version of the story that keeps the fantastical elements to a minimum. Snow White is never called Snow White, she's just Lilli Hoffman. Her father is Frederick Hoffman and her stepmother is named Claudia. The Hoffmans are wealthy, live in a castle, and are clearly influential in their area, but they aren't royalty. And though Claudia is a witch with a mirror, her powers have more to do with potions and sympathetic magic than actual sorcery. Her mirror's power is ultimately undefined, but the film leaves open multiple interpretations about it. I like to think that it's all in Claudia's head, but that's a tough reading considering that the mirror does affect another person at one point.

Claudia clearly enters her new marriage with good intentions, but when she's rejected by young Lili (played by a 12-year-old actor named Taryn Davis in those scenes) and Frederick continues to dote on his daughter and talk about how much she reminds him of his deceased wife, Claudia's low self-esteem becomes unmanageable and she starts plotting ways to increase her security in her new home. This is very much in line with the motivations suggested in the Grimms' story and it's impossible not to feel sorry for Claudia until she takes things too far.

There's no huntsman in this version. Instead, Claudia has a brother whom she orders to murder Lili. And when Lili escapes, she discovers a secret hideout in the forest belonging not to dwarfs, but to a group of bandits, many of whom have been unjustly outlawed and outcast for various reasons. Some of them have deformities, which causes Lily to question the value of physical beauty.

And that's the real message of the film. Lili has grown up hearing that she's beautiful, including the story about how her mom wished for her after seeing red blood on the white snow through a black window frame. The story of the wish is straight from the Grimms, but in the film it's a childish tale meant to make Lili feel loved and connected to her mother. Add that to a thousand other attentions and Lili becomes a bit spoiled and focused on physical attractiveness. Which then combats explosively with Claudia's hangups about beauty. By the end of the film, Lili has taken over as protagonist, because she's the one who learns something from these experiences.

This is never going to be a definitive version for me, because of all the deconstruction it does to the fairy tale, but it's a fascinating and powerful take.

Rating: Four out of five Sandra Bullock's sisters-in-law.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Freeway (1996)

Who's in it?: Reese Witherspoon (Friends, Legally Blonde, Monsters vs. Aliens), Kiefer Sutherland (The Lost Boys, Young Guns, The Three Musketeers, 24), Dan Hedaya (Cheers, The Addams Family, Alien Resurrection), Brooke Shields (The Blue Lagoon, Brenda Starr, Suddenly Susan), Brittany Murphy (Sin City), and Bokeem Woodbine (Underground, Spider-Man: Homecoming).

What's it about?: A modern version of "Red Riding Hood" in which a teenage girl has to deal with a metaphorical wolf on her way to her grandmother's house.

How is it?: Much darker than I expected, but that's probably on me. "Red Riding Hood" is a dark story to begin with.

Witherspoon plays an illiterate teenager named Vanessa Lutz who refuses to go back into the foster care system when her mom is arrested (again) for prostitution and drug possession. Vanessa steals a car and heads to the Interstate to find her grandmother, whom she's never met, in hopes of being able to stay with her. But when her car breaks down, she's given a lift by a seemingly kindly child psychologist (Sutherland) who turns out to be a serial killer. And then it gets weird.

There was a point in the film where it felt like everything was wrapping up, but it seemed early, so I checked the time. The film was only half over. To talk about this, I need to spoil a couple of things, but I won't talk about anything from the final act. If you think you might want to watch it though and remain completely clean going in, stop reading now. Otherwise, I have more to say about the plot and some of the themes of the film. I ended up liking the movie.


About halfway through the film (not even quite that), Vanessa gets away from Bob Wolverton (Sutherland) and shoots him a bunch of times. I mean, a bunch of times. She'd prefer to turn him in, but he's convinced her that it would be her word against his and that people would believe him. Class discrimination is a big theme of the film with Vanessa as a poster child for the disadvantaged. She's uneducated and has her own criminal background, but she's smart, brave, and oh so very capable of taking care of herself. At any rate, she believes that killing Bob is the only way to prevent him from hurting more girls.

Unfortunately, Bob lives. He's severely disfigured, but that and his upper-middle class status - with his attractive, supportive wife (Shields) as his spokesperson - enables him to claim victimhood from Vanessa. The sheriff (Hedaya) arrests her, there's a trial, she goes to jail... and the movie keeps going. (Woodbine has a small role as Vanessa's boyfriend; I just wanted to mention him in the Who's In It? because I really like that guy.)

Writer/director Matthew Bright made it really tough to root for Vanessa unconditionally. She's had a really tough life and I empathize with her a lot, but she ends up hurting some people that I wish she hadn't (not Bob; he deserves everything). I feel like that's Bright's point though and I enjoyed the conundrum that he and Witherspoon put me in. Vanessa is a great character, even if she isn't a total hero.

Rating: Three out of five badass Reese Witherspoons.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | Bad Girls (1994)

Pax and I are again joined by our wives Stephanie and Diane to weigh in on another women-centric Western, this one starring a Who's Who of '90s stars: Madeleine Stowe, Mary Stuart Masterson, Andie MacDowell, Drew Barrymore, Robert Loggia, and Dermot Mulroney.

Also: I watch Adam Baldwin in The Legend of 5 Mile Cave and Pax catches up to Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Snow White (1987)

Who's in it?: Diana Rigg (The Avengers, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Great Muppet Caper), Sarah Patterson (The Company of Wolves), and Billy Barty (Legend, Masters of the Universe, Willow).

What's it about?: A surprisingly faithful adaptation of the Grimm Brothers' story by way of Rankin-Bass specials and '80s fantasy movies.

How is it?: I wanted to see this because it's the one other thing that Sarah Patterson did in the '80s besides The Company of Wolves. And of course Diana Rigg as the Queen was irresistible. Billy Barty as one of the dwarfs sounded promising, too. I love him in Legend.

I got real nervous when the first character broke into song though. And a pretty bad song at that. This was made by Cannon Films, the notoriously low budget company, during the Golan-Globus era when they were cranking out stuff like Delta Force, the Sho Kosugi ninja trilogy, and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Not that those aren't all fun and great in their own ways. It just demonstrates the level of quality we're talking about here. And indeed their Snow White is fun and great in its own way, too.

That first song was horrible and none of the songs would make it into a Disney film, but a lot of them are charming enough. The best of them are about the same level of quality as a Rankin-Bass Christmas special. Any time the dwarfs sing is pretty cool and Snow White herself has a couple of good numbers. If that's really Patterson's singing voice, I don't know why she didn't have a longer career.

The dwarfs are pretty awesome in an '80s fantasy movie way. They look terrifying in the poster above, but the filmmakers spent some money on makeup, so the dwarfs are more than just costumes. They're charmingly acted, quite physical, and just generally a joy to watch.

Patterson is also good, though she's only in the last third of the movie. Snow White as a child is played by a younger, equally good actor named Nicola Stapleton who's gone on to have a successful TV career in the UK. She stays in the film up to when Snow White discovers the dwarfs' cottage; at which point years pass and she grows into Patterson. That interpretation is possible in the Grimms' story, which is vague about Snow White's age. She appears to be a young girl when the Queen orders her death, but is clearly of marrying age by the end. Where the growth takes place is open to interpretation and I like that this version makes an unusual choice with it.

In most ways Cannon's version sticks very close to the Grimms; sometimes to its disadvantage. Snow White comes across pretty dumb when she falls for all three of the Queen's appearances at the cottage. The Queen wears different disguises in each, but Snow White ridiculously takes the dwarfs' warnings extremely literally, so if they say, "Don't let anyone in the house," Snow White thinks it's fine to stand in the door and let a stranger comb her hair. This is absolutely in keeping with Snow White's intelligence in the Grimms' story, but I expect better out of adaptations.

And while Riggs' Queen is deliciously campy, the script isn't at all interested in her motivations as an actual human being. We're told up front that she's Evil and so she is. She's vain of course, but that's as deep as it goes. Similarly, the hunter decides not to kill Snow White for no other reason than because that's how the story goes.

With all this faithfulness to the source material, I was looking forward to seeing if the Queen would die by dancing herself to death in hot, iron shoes, but sadly the film doesn't go that far. It does have her show up at the wedding and die there, but it's due to a mistake she's made in her own anger, not because Snow and the Prince take revenge. It's satisfying, but like so much else with the film, it's not all that it could have been.

Rating: Three out of five droll dwarves.

Monday, June 03, 2019

The Company of Wolves (1984)

Who's in it?: Angela Lansbury (Gaslight, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Murder, She Wrote) David Warner (Time Bandits, the George C Scott Christmas Carol, Star Treks V and VI), and Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, The Musketeer, Underworld Awakening)

What's it about?: A sleeping girl (Sarah Patterson) dreams of another life in which she experiences an expanded version of the events of Little Red Riding Hood.

How is it?: This must have been on the shelves in the video store I worked in as a teenager, because I remember seeing it dozens of times in the '80s. I was so in love with the gothic aesthetic and the fairy tale and the werewolves and just the sheer weirdness of the plot. And maybe a little bit with Patterson herself.

It was directed by avant-garde filmmaker Neil Jordan (his second film) and it feels deeply personal. Jordan worked with novelist Angela Carter to adapt her short story by the same name. The structure is cool and strange with Patterson playing a modern girl named Rosaleen who's sleeping and dreaming about her and her family in medieval times. In the dream, her older sister (whom she doesn't get along with in real life) is killed by wolves, sending the forest village into a panic. David Warner plays her dad, Swedish actor Tusse Silberg plays her mother, and Angela Lansbury is her grandmother who of course lives deep in the woods by herself.

Inspired by the local interest in wolves, Grandmother tells Rosaleen lots of stories about wolves (which always turn out to be werewolves) and these are enacted on screen as well. So there are all of these stories within a dream, turning The Company of Wolves into sort of an anthology film. There's a werewolf transformation in every one and they're all different from each other and original. I don't think I've seen anything like them before or since.

The locations and sets in the film are wonderfully atmospheric and captivating, both the modern day manor and the medieval forest village. And Jordan does a great job depicting the wolves as both frighteningly deadly and alluringly social creatures, usually at the same time. Some films seem like they were made specifically with you in mind. This is one of mine.

Rating: Five out of five wedding wolves.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

"Little Red Riding Hood" by The Brothers Grimm

Illustration by "KC" (uncredited artist from a 1923 anthology)

The Brothers Grimm add a rescue story to the end of Charles Perrault's horror version, but otherwise their point is more or less the same: "Don't talk to strangers." When Red Riding Hood's mother sends her to Grandmother's house, she instructs, "Look straight ahead like a good little girl and don't stray from the path." Excessive curiosity it apparently a problem for the child, because Mom also says that when Red get to Grandmother's, she shouldn't "go poking around in all the corners of the house."

Of course, Red's overly curious mind also makes her dangerously trusting and it's the squashing of these traits that the story is all about. In fact, the Grimms include an epilogue in which Red makes another trip to Grandmother's and is again accosted by a wolf, but reacts with confidence and sufficiency, leading to a much different result.

There's a lot more that can to be gathered from the story. It's simple enough that scholars have assigned endless meanings to it. Some of them are ridiculous, like how the wolf eats Grandmother and Red whole because he's got pregnancy envy. Others I quite like, for instance how the cakes and wine that Red carries to Grandmother might represent Christian Communion.

I don't want to read too deeply into that one, but even if Communion isn't the intended meaning of the meal, the Grimms clearly state that the food is intended to heal Grandmother in some way, with the most natural reading being physical. When the wolf gets to Grandmother's house, Grandmother can't come to the door, because she's too sick to get out of bed. For all her naivety, Red is an heroic figure out to rescue Grandmother.

If the cakes and wine do represent Communion, then it just adds a spiritual element to Grandmother's physical condition. She's also sick in her soul and Communion is supposed to help with that. Lending some support to this idea is the Grimms' changing the location of Grandmother's house. In Perrault, she lives in a village on the other side of the woods, so that Red has to go through the forest to get there. In the Grimms' version, Grandmother lives smack in the middle of the forest. She's part of the Wild, which suggests that she may be lost herself, in a spiritual sense.

There's so much to unpack with this story. I'm looking forward to watching some adaptations and see how they handle it.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

"Little Red Riding Hood" by Charles Perrault

Illustration by Warwick Goble

Charles Perrault's version of "Little Red Riding Hood" is a straight up horror story. His stated moral for it is all about Stranger Danger. There's no last-minute save by a woodsman (even though some are mentioned earlier in the story as being in the area). The final words of the tale are:
"The better to eat you with." 
Upon saying these words, the wicked wolf threw himself on Little Red Riding Hood and gobbled her up.
His moral is equally terrifying. It includes a warning that "not all wolves are exactly the same. Some are perfectly charming [...] following young ladies right into their homes" and ends with, "Watch out if you haven't learned that tame wolves are the most dangerous of all."


Friday, May 31, 2019

Faerie Tale Theatre (1982)

In the '80s, Shelley Duvall produced an awesome series of fairy tale adaptations for Showtime. It was shot on video and the sets weren't always lavish, so the look doesn't necessarily hold up as top tier, but Faerie Tale Theatre had top talent working on it, in front of the camera as well as behind.

The sets were often designed to imitate the work of famous illustrators, so "The Frog Prince" looks like Maxfield Parrish's work, "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" is inspired by Norman Rockwell, "Hansel and Gretel" has an Arthur Rackham vibe, and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is based on NC Wyeth. I understand that the "Beauty and the Beast" episode was designed to mimic Jean Cocteau's excellent 1946 adaptation of the tale.

Duvall also got great directors to work on the episodes. Eric Idle directed "The Frog Prince," Roger Vadim did "Beauty and the Beast," Nicholas Meyer did "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," Tim Burton did "Aladdin," and Francis Ford Coppola did "Rip Van Winkle."

And the actors are a Who's Who of '80s (and beyond) celebrities like Robin Williams, Teri Garr, Hervé Villechaize, Jeff Bridges, Mick Jagger, Mako, Edward James Olmos, Anjelica Huston, Mary Steenburgen, Malcolm McDowell, Ricky Schroder, Joan Collins, John Lithgow, Pee Wee Herman, Carrie Fisher, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Lee, Jeff Goldblum... As impressive as that list is, it's maybe a third of the top-name people who appeared in these stories.

I watched three episodes for this project and I bet you can guess which ones they were.

Elizabeth McGovern (She's Having a Baby, Downton Abbey) plays Snow White and she's certainly beautiful, but her performance isn't as inspired as the true stars of the show: Vanessa Redgrave (The first Mission: Impossible movie) as the Evil Queen and Vincent Price (oh, you know) as her Magic Mirror. Price is charming and droll as he rolls his eyes at the Queen's vanity, but Redgrave is next-level amazing with the way she prances and primps in front of the mirror. I'm pretty sure Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs learned everything he knows about preening from Redgrave's Queen. She's marvelous and tragic as a woman who deep down understands that Snow White has replaced her, but is fighting it with every ounce of will that she has.

Other cast members in this one are Tony Cox (Spaceballs, Bad Santa) as one of the dwarfs, and Rex Smith as the Prince. Smith's coolest other role has to be Daredevil in the Trial of the Incredible Hulk TV movie from 1989, but he also appeared opposite Linda Ronstadt in the '83 movie adaptation of The Pirates of Penzance. He puts those singing skills to good use in Faerie Tale Theatre.

"Cinderella" has Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, The Bride) in the title role, Jean Stapleton (All in the Family) as her fairy godmother, and Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) as the Prince. A highlight of this one is how much time it spends building a relationship between Cinderella and the Prince. It shows a lot of the ball and Beals and Broderick do a nice job convincing me that they're falling in love. That's especially good since the theme of the FTT version is that Cinderella is perfectly capable of winning the Prince over by herself. The Fairy Godmother just gets her in the door.

There's also a fun bit between the stepsisters and the prince at the ball, since one of them is played by Edie McClurg. She was also Ed Rooney's secretary in Ferris Bueller the following year, so we get to see Grace hit on Ferris. Another actor worth mentioning is James Noble as the King. If you're familiar with the sitcom Benson, Noble is basically still playing Governor Gatling in this.

"Sleeping Beauty" was easily my favorite of the three episodes, mostly because it has Bernadette Peters as the princess and Christopher Reeve as the prince. It also keeps Perrault's Don't Rush Into Love as a theme and presents it in a really fun way. Most of the story is told in flashback by a woodsman to the prince and his squire (Ron Rifkin from Alias), but we also get flashbacks to the prince's past. We see both the prince and the princess trying to find potential spouses, but failing because their parents throw them at awful people, who are also hilariously played by Peters and Reeve. Other actors in this one include Rene Auberjonois (Benson, Deep Space Nine) and Sally Kellerman (MASH, Back to School) as Peters' parents, Beverly D'Angelo (National Lampoon's Vacation) as the evil fairy who curses the princess, and Carol Kane (The Muppet Movie, Taxi) as the good fairy who modifies the curse.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Fractured Fairy Tales (1959)

In the '50s, the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show had a segment called Fractured Fairy Tales, which were humorous adaptations of the classic stories. I wasn't around at the time, but Rocky and Bullwinkle were still in heavy syndication when I was a kid. And Fractured Fairy Tales was always one of my favorite parts of any episode.

I didn't want to watch all of them for this project, but I thought I might watch at least the three stories that I've read up to this point. I was surprised to find the silly, little spoofs actually insightful.

Like in the Grimm Brothers' version, "Snow White" focuses on the Queen and her obsession with holding onto the value her culture assigns her as a woman. When her magic (coin-operated) mirror sends her to the dwarfs' house to find Snow White, the princess isn't there, but the dwarfs have just opened a gym that they're happy to sell the Queen a lifetime membership to. When that doesn't return her to Fairest In The Land status, she goes back to the dwarfs again. This happens several times. Snow White is never there and the dwarfs have some new scheme to help the Queen find her value: dance lessons, health food, charm school. At the end it's revealed that the whole thing is a scam with one of the dwarfs working inside the mirror to drum up business and capitalize on the Queen's insecurities.

FFT's "Cinderella" is about appearances and materialism. Cinderella is actually pretty lazy and just wants an easy way to get the lifestyle she craves. (Her sisters are barely in it, but they're hardworking scullery maids, so Cinderella is solely responsible for her attitude.) The fairy godmother shows up to grant Cinderella her wishes, but there's a catch. Cinderella has to sell a huge supply of kitchen utensils by midnight or she'll lose her fabulous prizes. Meanwhile, the prince is going bankrupt and has to pay off his creditors by midnight or he'll lose the castle. When Cinderella shows up to sell the prince some pots and pans, he's fooled by her appearance and thinks she's rich. So while she's trying to get him to buy utensils, he's trying to get her to marry him, both getting increasingly desperate as 12:00 approaches. Both Perrault and the Grimm's versions are about more than marrying a rich prince, but Cinderella certainly uses appearances to obtain her escape from her stepfamily. There's a lot more to her than just looks, but the other characters in the story don't see that. FFT's commentary on appearances is a valid focus.

Finally, "Sleeping Beauty" also gets a materialistic makeover. It rushes through the early part of the story to get to the prince's arrival. We're told that he's supposed to kiss Sleeping Beauty (borrowed from Disney, possibly, since this episode didn't air until the early '60s), but the prince decides at the last moment that an awakened princess is after all just a princes. A sleeping princess is a novelty, so he turns the castle into a tourist attraction. That's darkly fascinating when I consider that the Grimms' version of the story is about pausing the princess' maturation process. In FFT, the prince keeps it paused even longer than it needs to be, simply for financial gain. And it occurs to me that modern Disney sort of does the same thing with the young teenage girls that it turns into stars.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Who's in it?: I was pretty dismissive of the casts for Snow White and Cinderella, but I'm starting to recognize some recurring voices now. For instance, Eleanor Audley who plays Maleficent was also the voice of Cinderella's stepmother. And Barbara Luddy who plays the delightful fairy Merryweather was also the voice of Lady in Lady and the Tramp and would go on to be the voice of Kanga in Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh films. Verna Felton is another fairy and came to the role with experience as Cinderella's fairy godmother (among other Disney roles like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland).

What's it about?: It credits Charles Perrault's version as its inspiration, but it's a very loose adaptation, restructuring the whole story around some familiar elements.

How is it?: I don't envy Erdman Penner and his fellow screenwriters for the job of adapting "Sleeping Beauty" for an all-ages audience. In both Perrault and Grimm, the themes are rather grown up. Perrault advises his audience to take romance seriously while the Grimms more or less celebrate puberty. But there's so much cool imagery in the fairy tale that it's begging for Disney to put it on the big screen. The result is a beautiful spectacle with a light story.

It's remarkable how great the characters are though. Maleficent of course is an A+ villain, but the fairies (Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather) are also super memorable and fun. Prince Phillip is the best developed and most Charming of all the Disney princes so far. And the film spends a surprising amount of time with the two kings Stefan and Hubert who pledged their children to each other as infants and are rethinking that decision now that their kids are older and able to think for themselves.

It's too bad that the title character doesn't have more to do. Aurora (named after the daughter of the title character from Perrault's version, while her alias - Briar Rose - is the title character of the Grimms') is beautiful and pleasant and has her own opinions about things, but she never gets to do anything about them. Penner and Company add a nice element by having Aurora meet Phillip before they're supposed to so that they fall in love without realizing who each other are. This calls into question the arranged marriage and leads to some nice teen rebellion, but of course it's all temporary and ultimately meaningless since the conflict isn't real. It's just an easily resolved misunderstanding.

Outside of just how gorgeous the film is (artist Eyvind Earle's concept designs and background paintings are breathtaking and it's amazing how successfully they're incorporated into the film), its hard to see the point of the story. No one learns anything. The stated message in the film is that Love Conquers All (primarily illustrated by Phillip's determination to defeat Maleficent and rescue Aurora, but also in the power of Love's First Kiss to awaken the princess, something that this film came up with as far as I can tell), but it's a hollow idea. Phillip and Aurora barely know each other, so while I believe that they're attracted to each other and have the beginnings of a fine relationship, it's too flimsy to hold the weight of the professed theme.

Rating: Four out of five crazy kids in love.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

"Briar Rose" by The Brothers Grimm

Illustration by Maxfield Parrish

The literal translation of the Brothers Grimm's "Dornröschen" is "Brian Rose" or "Little Briar Rose," but some collections just call it "Sleeping Beauty" since it's Perrault's title that most people know the story by. The Brothers have whittled down Perrault's tale though into what we recognize today. It's got a true Happily Ever After ending with no post-wedding adventures involving a monstrous mother-in-law. But it also removes a lot of the detail even from the familiar parts of the story.

Before I get into that, there are a couple of other changes that I found interesting. The fairies are changed to Wise Women and the King and Queen are much more accountable for not inviting one. They don't omit her for any good faith reason, but simply because they don't have enough gold place settings for all the Wise Women in the area. It seems like maybe there's a better way out of that dilemma than just blowing one off, but I'm no king, so what do I know. The rest of the banquet plays out mostly like it does in Perrault until it comes time for one of the Wise Women to modify the curse of the offended one.

She still changes the death curse into a hundred-year sleep, but there's no prophecy about a prince being involved in waking her up. And there's still certainly no mention of a kiss. It's just that the sleep has a hundred-year expiration date on it. And when the forest of brambles grows up around the castle, there's no explanation for why. It could be the kind Wise Woman protecting the princess like she does in Perrault. Or it could just be nature reasserting itself and taking over.

There's also no reason given for why the brambles turn to flowers at the end of the hundred years, letting in the first prince to come along, but that does seem to suggest that the bramble forest is more than a natural occurrence. Most likely it's part of the good Wise Woman's blessing. Readers are just left to figure that out for themselves.

Readers also have to figure out the point of the story for themselves, too. The prince finds the princess, immediately falls in love with her and kisses her and that's when she opens her eyes. The kiss doesn't break the spell; I imagine the princess lying in bed half-awake, but with her eyes closed like you sometimes do after a long, peaceful sleep. She may even have heard the prince enter the room, but ignored it, confusing it with a dream. She can't ignore the kiss though and that's what gets her back to full consciousness. The Grimms' just write that she "looked at him kindly" and the next thing we know they're getting married. The End.

So what does it mean? In absence of any specified meaning in the story itself, I'm going to modify the one given by Perrault. There does seem to be this theme around the princess' arrested development in the areas of romance and sex, but the Grimms don't moralize about it. They don't specifically warn readers against rushing into romance. In fact, rushing into romance is exactly what the princess and prince do once she wakes up.

So that turns "Briar Rose" into something of a fantasy about a young woman blossoming into maturity. Just as she reaches the threshold of sexual awakening, she's thrown into suspended animation and made to wait. And any potential mates will have to hold off as well. The title of the story supports this. The princess is nicknamed Briar Rose after the bramble forest that springs up around the castle during her sleep. She's cut off sexually; unattainable. But as she nears awakening, the forest that she's named after literally blossoms. The Grimms write that the flowers "open a path" for the prince. I don't suspect that all of this blossoming and opening language is accidental.

Like with "Snow White," the Grimms' point with "Briar Rose" isn't to teach a lesson. It's simply to highlight a reality. "Snow White" is a tragic example of the devaluing of women as they age. "Briar Rose" pauses the moment of a young woman's sexual awakening as something to be savored and celebrated. No wonder Disney made some changes.

Monday, May 27, 2019

"The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood" by Charles Perrault

Illustration by Warwick Goble

I love Charles Perrault for spelling out his morals at the end of his stories and telling me exactly what he wants me to get from them. In "Sleeping Beauty," it's all about delayed gratification and not rushing into romance. The young princess in the tale waits a hundred years for true love.

And true love it is. I was surprised by how much energy Perrault invests in developing the romance. This isn't Snow White where the prince simply sees a beautiful girl and immediately wants to possess her. And in Perrault, there's no Love's First Kiss needed to break the spell.

There are some other surprises in the story, too, so let me get those out of the way first. I'm most familiar with the Disney version and expected a certain amount of malevolence out of the being who curses the princess, but it's simpler than that. We're dealing with fairies and if there's anything they teach you in Fairies 101, it's that you don't slight them, even accidentally. When the princess' parents give a banquet to celebrate her christening, they neglect to invite an older fairy whom no one's heard from in a long time. They assume that she's dead or busy or something. When she shows up, they're embarrassed, but immediately try to correct their error by inviting her to eat. She accepts, but is offended again when they're short a set of the golden table settings they'd had made for the occasion. It's nobody's fault, but that's what happens when you get involved with fairies.

Like in the Disney version, one of the other fairies is able to hold back her blessing until after the child has been cursed. But in Perrault, it's a young fairy who suspects that the old fairy will do something nasty and so intentionally waits until last to bestow her gift. When the old fairy curses the child with death by spinning wheel, the young fairy changes it to a sleeping curse. She stipulates that the princess will sleep for a hundred years, but "at the end of that time a king's son shall come to awaken her." There's no kiss or even love required to break the spell; just the boy's presence.

And it's also the young fairy who creates the forest of brambles and thorns to surround the castle so that no one messes with the sleeping girl. The young fairy is really quite thoughtful and foresightful in the story. She's got dwarfs for servants and a fiery chariot pulled by dragons. I like her a lot.

A hundred years later, the kingdom has been overthrown and a new royal family has taken over. When the new prince is hunting in the woods, locals tell him the story of the enchanted castle and he realizes that the time is about right and he is a prince, so he goes to check it out. Again, nothing is said of marrying or even kissing the girl. It's really just an adventure that the prince is curious to see through. The bramble forest parts automatically and forms a path for him.

When he finds the princess, she wakes up. All it takes is his being in the room. And it's her who immediately falls for him out of gratitude. "Is it you, dear prince?" she says. "You have been long in coming!" And because of how she reacts to him, he starts to fall for her, too. Perrault says that the prince kind of stumbles over his words, but that the two of them talk for a good long time. "The less there is of eloquence," Perrault writes, "the more there is of love." That's pretty cool.

After a few hours of conversation, they decide to have supper and then go ahead and get married. So it is fairly whirlwind, but not immediate and certainly not the shallow, courtly romance that I expected from a story by an 18th century Frenchman.

Another surprise is that the story doesn't end with Happily Ever After, either. If romance is worth waiting for, it's also worth working through. Perrault reveals right away that something is amiss, because the prince keeps his marriage a secret from his parents for two years. He even has a couple of kids with the princess before his folks find out.

Turns out that the prince's mom is part ogre and prone to eating children. I won't spoil what happens when she finds out, but the story is short and easily available online. It's worth checking out. It's a cool fairy tale adventure in itself and I like the refusal of Perrault's whole story to paint romance as something easy.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Cinderella (1957)

Who's in it?: Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music), Ilka Chase (the original Ocean's 11), Kaye Ballard (The Hollywood Squares, Match Game), Alice Ghostley (Bewitched, Grease), and Jon Cypher (The Food of the Gods, Masters of the Universe)

What's it about?: Rodgers and Hammerstein adapt the fairy tale for live television.

How is it?: It gets off to a weak start, but picks up as it goes. The opening number has the whole kingdom singing "The Prince Is Giving a Ball," a silly, meaningless, little song that sounds more like Gilbert and Sullivan than Rodgers and Hammerstein. And then there's the characterization of Cinderella herself, who's played by Julie Andrews, but it's R&H who are the problem.

I'm prepared for and even looking forward to adaptations where Cinderella's only "action" is her kindness. There's power in being good to your enemies, but this Cinderella doesn't even have that. Her signature song is "In My Own Little Corner" where she sings about how her only refuge is to retreat into her imagination:
I’m as mild and as meek as a mouse
When I hear a command I obey
But I know of a spot in my house
Where no one can stand in my way
In my own little corner
In my own little chair
I can be whatever I want to be
I cut Disney's version slack in spite of "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes," because it's undercut by the rest of the film where Cinderella does take as much subtle action as her situation allows. Rogers and Hammerstein's character is only able to wish and dream and hope.

Her fairy godmother (charmingly played by Edie Adams, who also played Sid Caesar's wife in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World) is an actual godmother who's keeping her fairy background secret. So she has a previous relationship with Cinderella and comes over quite a bit. Which means that Cinderella hasn't suddenly won the attention of the fairy realm or finally earned something for herself. The godmother is super pleasant, but she comes across as just sort of being on the job (though looking after Cinderella seems to be a job she enjoys).

It's irksome when she and Cinderella share the song "Impossible: It's Possible" about the unfeasibility of Cinderella's wishes. In this version, it's Cinderella who spots the pumpkin and decides it would be really nifty if it changed into a carriage with some mice-horses to pull it. It's a crazy, dumb fantasy, yet Cinderella believes that if she can just hope hard enough, that maybe it'll come true. Her godmother tries to discourage her, so the song goes:
Such fol-der-ol and fid-dle-dy dee of course, is impossible!
But the world is full of zanies and fools
Who don't believe in sensible rules
And won't believe what sensible people say.
And because these daft and dewey-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes,
Impossible things are happening every day.
Setting aside that "fol-der-ol and fid-dle-dy dee" feels very ripped off from "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo," I don't like the comparison between actual magic and the everyday miracle of working to achieve something against enormous odds. Wishing that a pumpkin would turn into a carriage is not the same thing as overcoming adversity in whatever small way you can. And it makes Cinderella seem naive and rather useless when she confuses the two.

Even so, these opening scenes aren't all frustrating. Cinderella's stepmother (Ilka Chase) and stepsisters (Kaye Ballard and Alice Ghostley) are really funny. Especially the sisters. Ballard was a staple on '70s game shows Hollywood Squares and Match Game, so she's been making me laugh pretty much my whole life. And I'm fond of Ghostely from her role as the Stephens' housekeeper / nanny Esmerelda on Bewitched. Ballard's character is named Portia after the character from "The Merchant of Venice" and her mother insists that she be as intelligent as her namesake. She hilariously is not and Ballard gives her a great, hee-hawing, snorting laugh to underline it. Likewise, Ghostely's character is a gloomy woman named Joy. I enjoyed them both a lot.

And then, once we get to the ball, the rest of the play catches up and takes a lovely turn. I didn't expect much out of Cinderella and the Prince's (Cypher) romance, but they share a song called "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" that's engagingly profound. The Prince wisely doubts the love-at-first-sight emotions he's experiencing and tries to make some sense of them. Cinderella understands and reciprocates. They don't come to any easy answers, but through the song they ask each other, "Do I love you because you're beautiful or are you beautiful because I love you?" That's surprisingly insightful and touching and it got me on board with them as a couple. Not in a Happily Ever After sense, but I decided that they were at least asking the right questions to make their romance work.

Another cool song takes place the morning after the ball when the stepsisters debrief with Cinderella about their evening. The song is called "A Lovely Night." Cinderella, still pretending not to have been at the ball, describes what she imagines it would've been like to attend. The sisters pretend that Cinderella's fantasy is exactly what they experienced, even though they each only got a minute or two with the Prince and generally had a frustrating time. So Cinderella's singing about her evening and pretending it didn't happen, while the sisters are singing about it and pretending it did. I love the irony in that.

And of course Julie Andrews is amazing. The rest of the cast is great too. The Prince's parents get their own scenes, revealing that the ball is all the Queen's idea because she's worried about her son and feels he may be lonely. The King and Prince aren't that excited about the ball, but are going through with it to please the Queen. Despite their royalty, they feel like a real family that truly cares about each other.

Rating: 3 out of 5 funny stepsisters.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Cinderella (1950)

Who's in it?: Some cartoon people; a bunch of mice.

What's it about?: An animated, musical adaptation of Charles Perrault's version of "Cinderella."

How is it?: I love the mice and the stepmother is deliciously wicked, but I've often had trouble connecting with Cinderella herself and the apparent message of the film (offered in the closing lines of its signature song): "If you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true." That's ludicrous.

Having recently re-read Charles Perrault's fairy tale though, I think the song "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" undermines the actual message of the movie, which is borrowed from Perrault and legitimately profound. It's not mere faith or wishing that makes Cinderella's dreams come true; it's the kindness that she insists on putting into the world, whether it's to helpless animals or her foul, mean-spirited, persecuting step-family. She's lovely to them all.

But even though it takes that moral and other elements from Perrault, Disney's Cinderella does borrow from the Brothers Grimm in some interesting ways. Her kindness to animals leads to their helping her out in all sorts of ways, including pitching in with her chores, which is something that Cinderella's birds do in Grimm. The Disney animals also provide a dress for Cinderella to wear to the ball; another Grimm Brothers reference, though it ultimately doesn't last (in a truly harrowing, heartbreaking scene) and Perrault's fairy godmother has to step in.

It's the involvement of the fairy godmother and the prince in Cinderella's salvation that gives her a reputation for being helpless. But she deserves better than that. It's her kindness not only to animals, but especially to her enemies, that earns her the attention of the fairy realm and her adoption by a (god)mother who actually does care for her. It's a subtle kind of agency, but Cinderella is more active in her own salvation than she gets credit for. The prince doesn't rescue her either; he's just the prize that she gets rescued to.

Rating: Four out of five pumpkin carriages.

Friday, May 24, 2019

"Cinderella" by The Brothers Grimm

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

While the Grimms weren't averse to modifying old folk tales to suit the tastes of their contemporary audience, they also weren't intentionally using those stories to train children, unlike Charles Perrault. So where Perrault's Cinderella is a gracious and inspirationally kind character, the Grimms' version has a more combative relationship with her persecutors.

Perrault's stepsisters are vain and selfish, but they aren't particularly vicious toward Cinderella. They're uncaring without going out of their way to be mean. That's not the case in the Grimm version, where the stepmother especially lives to make Cinderella's life harder. She purposely dumps beans in the fireplace ashes, for instance, and makes Cinderella pick them out. When Cinderella begs to go to the ball, the stepmother sets impossible tasks as conditions for her permission, then reneges when Cinderella completes them. Because of this, we're allowed to feel okay about the violent end that the stepsisters come to in Grimm. They chop off parts of their feet to try to fit into the decisive slipper and then at Cinderella's wedding, birds peck out their eyes. These are the same birds that have aided Cinderella through the whole story, so at worst, she's complicit in the maiming. At best, she doesn't exhibit the forgiveness that Perrault's heroine does.

The birds are important to the Grimms' story and they're something that Cinderella herself seems to control on some level. There's no fairy godmother in Grimm; that's all Perrault who wanted to reward Cinderella's kindness by giving her a kind parent to replace her deceased mother. The Grimms sort of do that too, but in a darker way, as you'd imagine. In Grimm, Cinderella's mother is more directly active through her own grave site.

The Grimms' version borrows an element from Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's 1740 fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. (I don't know that Barbot de Villeneuve was their direct inspiration, but the similarity is clear.) In Beauty and the Beast, Belle's father takes a trip and asks his daughters what he can bring back for them. Belle's vain sisters demand clothing and jewels, but Belle humbly requests a single rose (and only when her dad insists that she ask for something). Of course, it's how he gets that rose that creates all the trouble for the family.

Cinderella's dad does the same thing and the stepsisters ask for the same clothes and jewelry. Cinderella copies Belle by asking for a plant, but it's a weird one. She wants a branch from the first tree to brush against her father's hat on the trip. He complies and Cinderella takes the branch to the backyard and plants it in her mother's grave where it grows into a tree. White birds nest in the tree and grant Cinderella wishes. They help with the impossible tasks created by the stepmother and they also provide Cinderella with the three, increasingly elaborate dresses she wears on consecutive nights to the prince's ball.

None of this is ever explained, but there's clearly magic at work. The difference between Perrault and Grimm is that the Grimms' Cinderella doesn't wait for another character, the fairy godmother, to come and help her out. This Cinderella is active. And possibly a witch.

Again, there's no explanation given for any of this in the story, but Cinderella is so specific about what she wants and how she goes about getting it. The only thing that makes sense to me is that she's planning it. She asks for the branch, plants it in her mother's grave, and then uses the tree - possibly with the aid of her dead mother's spirit - to rescue herself and take revenge on her stepsisters. Super cool and spooky. I'm betting there's not a film version that takes that approach.

Thanks to the Disney film, which took most of its inspiration from Perrault (even giving him a credit in the opening titles), Cinderella is often accused of being a lame, reactionary character. But that's not at all true in the Grimm version. The point of their tale isn't a moral lesson about gracious perseverance. It's a dark story of revenge inspired by the journey that children take as they grow and are ultimately separated from their parents. Cinderella's childhood was defined by doting, praising parents, but that died with her birth mother. She holds onto the spirit of those times though to help her through the more critical, demanding mother that she has to deal with as a teenager or young adult.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

"Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper" by Charles Perrault

Illustration by Marie "Rie" Cramer (1887–1977)

Charles Perrault was a 17th Century French author who, like the Grimm Brothers a hundred years later, documented oral fairy tales for a reading audience. Perrault's primary audience was children though and he included morals at the end of each tale so that young people would know exactly the lesson he intended them to learn from the stories.

With "Cinderella," Perrault wanted kids to understand the value of what he called, "grace." He mentions it a couple of time in the moral. He says that physical beauty is cool and all, but "grace is priceless and wins any race." And then later, "Grace is a gift that the fairies confer: Ask anyone at all; it's what we prefer."

What he's talking about is character. Yes, Cinderella is a beautiful woman and when she's dressed in the right clothes she gets all the attention at the ball. But Perrault argues that it's her kindness and humility that actually win the day for her. Her father is still alive in Perrault's version, but he's "completely under the thumb of his wife" and apparently oblivious to the way his daughter is being treated. Cinderella doesn't complain though and she's gracious in the way she treats her mean step-sisters, helping them get ready for the ball. Once she marries the prince, she forgives them and even procures noble husbands for them as well. This version of the story is all about patiently persevering through suffering. It's a valuable moral, though I question the assurance that everything will turn out okay in the end. Real-life circumstances don't always work out the way they do for Cinderella. But I do believe that patience and perseverance are their own rewards.

My fairy tale project is focused on the Brothers Grimm, but I wanted to compare Perrault's Cinderella to theirs, because they pull a whole different message from the tale. In fact, their Cinderella isn't patient or gracious at all.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | Five Bold Women (1960)

Pax and I welcome our wives, Stephanie and Diane to weigh in on the women-focused Western, Five Bold Women starring Irish McCalla and Jeff Morrow. Pax also shares a couple of Western comics he's been reading: the first volume of Stern from Europe comics and the first couple of issues in Dynamite's Man With No Name series. Meanwhile, I've been watching the contemporary Western, The Rider (2017) by director Chloe Zhao.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Who's in it?: A bunch of cartoons

What's it about?: An animated, musical adaptation of the fairy tale, "Snow White."

How is it?: Reading the Grimm version before watching Disney's affected my enjoyment of the latter. Disney's is still a great, successful adaptation, but I wasn't as over the moon about it as I usually am. On any other day, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a classic. It's amazing that it's 82-years-old. The animation is still top notch, Snow White is still utterly charming, the dwarfs are still hilarious, and the Queen is still completely terrifying.

As I wrote when talking about the Grimm version, the main character of the fairy tale is the Queen and I understand why she feels threatened. Her story isn't really appropriate as text for a children's film, though. Although it would have been possible to highlight as subtext. But Disney wasn't interested in that and I don't fault the filmmakers. It's just something I was thinking about as I watched this time and it dampened my enjoyment a little.

In other ways, it's a great adaptation. The prince comes out of nowhere in the Grimm version, so Disney makes a good call by introducing him earlier in the story and at least paying song-service to his love for Snow. The dwarfs of course are given names and personalities that are missing in Grimm. And the Queen's attacks on Snow are reduced to one, successful one instead of including the Grimm Queen's two, unsuccessful attempts that Snow stupidly refuses to learn from.

I don't know how I feel about sticking the Sleeping Beauty kiss in as the way to revive Snow White. She's revived by accident in Grimm, so I appreciate the attempt to make the prince more involved, but the Love's First Kiss antidote doesn't make a lot of sense. (Frankly, I'm not sure that it even makes sense in "Sleeping Beauty," but I'll wait until I've read the Grimm version of that before I decide.)

The Queen's death is far less horrifying in Disney than in Grimm, but it's still very powerful due to the sheer talent in the animation, score, and sound design. In all other ways, this is a faithful retelling of the Grimm Brothers' version with some extra singing and dancing thrown in.

Rating: Four out of five secret dungeons.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Filthy Horrors | Aaaand Poe

Darla, Jess, and I begin this episode in a haunted cemetery, an appropriate place to talk about one of our favorite writers, Edgar Allan Poe. After some talk about other horror we've been into the last month and a discussion of our own funerals, we dig specifically into "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Masque of the Red Death," and "The Raven." With side-trips to other Poe stories as well as our favorite adaptations of his work.

Please Note: It was windy at the cemetery and the sound overwhelms the discussion a few times during that section of the episode. We cleaned it up as best we could, but if it's bothersome, you might want to skip ahead to about 20 minutes into the show. At that point we've moved inside and the audio is clear for the remainder of the episode.


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