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.

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