|25th August 2005||#1|
Join Date: July 2005
A fairy-tale for our time
Perhaps due to the forthcoming release of Terry Gilliam's Brothers Grimm movie, fairy-tales are currently all the rage.
Whether Gilliam's film captures the untimely world-view of the original fairy-tales or not, it should at least help spur public interest in Old World folklore. It may even prompt a few individuals to actually go back and read the original stories; and when they do, they will enter an environment that--for all of its fantastical elements--is a far more authentic reflection of the human condition than the false reality that is generated by today's mass media.
As a case in point, we would like to share a few excerpts from one folkloric tale. This particular story was not, in fact, set down by the Grimm brothers, but rather, comes from a collection of Russian fables, titled The Russian Fairy Book. In its theme and structure, however, it is entirely similar to a Grimm fairy-tale.
The title of the story is "Vasilia the Beauty" and it begins in the customary way:
Once in a certain country lived a merchant. He had been married twelve years and had only one child, a daughter Vasilisa, whom everyone called Vasilisa the Beauty.
As so often happens in fairy-tales, Vasilisa's mother dies while the child is very young. But on her deathbead, with her last strength, Vasilisa's mother presents her daughter with a very special doll, and tells her to keep the doll forever--for as long as she does, Vasilisa will never come to harm.
The merchant married the widow, but he made a mistake: he did not find in her a good mother for his child. Vasilisa was the prettiest girl in the whole village, and the stepmother and the stepsisters were envious of her beauty. They treated her cruelly and made her do impossible tasks, so that she might grow thin under the burden and her complexion might turn dark under the wind and sun. Indeed, it was no life at all for her!
How fascinating to read that the very worst punishment which Vasilisa's stepmother and stepsisters can devise for her, in order to try and diminish Vasilisa's beauty (the beauty that they resent so much) is--essentially--working out and suntanning.
But Vasilisa bore it uncomplainingly, and every day she grew more beautiful and plump than ever, while her stepmother and stepsisters grew uglier and thinner from ill-temper.
How refreshing to read the words "beautiful and plump" joined together in the same sentence, with the implication that the latter term is synonymous with the former. And how interesting to find the words "uglier and thinner" similarly paired. The story pointedly asserts that the sisters' ugliness of character is evidenced by their increasing emaciation.
If anyone is curious as to how Vasilisa manages to avoid the drudgery that her stepmother seeks to inflict on her, it is Vasilisa's doll--the doll given to her by her dying mother--which performs Vasilisa's work for her:
The Doll would eat a little and then give her good advice and console her for her sorrow, and before morning came it would finish every one of Vasilisa's tasks. While she was resting in the cool air or gathering flowers, the beds were weeded for her, the cabbages watered, the pails filled, and the fire made. The Doll also taught her how to avoid sunburn . . .
As so often happens in fairy-tales, true beauty triumphs in the end:
Several years passed. Vasilisa had grown up into a beautiful maiden. All the young men in town sought her, though not one of them would so much as look at her stepsisters.
But Vasilisa faces considerable impediments along the way. As Gilliam's film will hopefully demonstrate, Old World fairy-tales do not merely devote themselves to the fair aesthetic of the Beautiful, but also revel in the dark aesthetic of the Sublime.
Vasilisa walked all night and all day, and only toward the next evening did she reach the clearing where stood the Baba Yaga's hut. The fence around the hut was of men's bones, and the posts were decorated with human skulls. Instead of door-posts were men's leg-bones; instead of shutters were arms; instead of a lock was a mouth with sharp teeth.
Later in the tale, the skulls' eyes gleam with an eerie light.
Fairy-tales are widely regarded as the stuff of youth, but they have a profound relevance for us today, especially in their original forms. Despite their reputation as the very essence of escapism, they actually lay bare the most extreme human motivations, and present them with unvarnished truthfulness.
|27th August 2005||#2|
Join Date: August 2005
Re: A fairy-tale for our time
I actually went to see the movie this evening, and was terribly disappointed. It didn't attempt to depict the essence of the Grimm's tales at all. Some of the visuals were interesting, but the story was a complete mess, and it had no sense of folklore or myth about it at all. The locations, costumes, and behaviour of the people was oddly disjointed - the movie is set in the early 1800s, but at times it looks more like it's taking place in the Middle Ages. And despite the half-timbered architecture, most of the film looks more like it was shot in the Ukraine rather than in Germany.
Worst of all, the lead characters all behave in completely modern ways, and express anachronistically modern attitudes and sensibilitudes. Ultimately, it seems to be a cross between Van Helsing and a satire. What a waste.
I was so frustrated that I walked out, which is a shame, because I wanted to see Monica Bellucci's part, although she apparently has little screen time.
I agree, though, that the one good thing about the film is that it might prompt some interest in folklore - but I hope no one mistakes this film for the real thing.
|28th August 2005||#3|
Join Date: July 2005
Re: A fairy-tale for our time
That is extremely disappointing to hear, but not entirely surprising. If the creators of any artistic adaptation (be they directors, photographers, writers, or editors) are not in sympathy with their source material, their work will usually miss the mark. The creator's ambivalence will be all too evident.
Similarly, plus-size publications succeed or fail based primarily on how sincerely their creators believe in timeless feminine beauty.
The best filmed version of a Grimm fairy-tale is still, of all things, a Disney movie. The 1959 adaptation of "Brier Rose," (a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty) is a flawed work, too much given to low comedy, but visually, it is a masterpiece.
The painted backgrounds in Sleeping Beauty authentically convey the ambience of the primordial forest that once covered Northern Europe. And it was in the shade of those mysterious, primeval woods that the myths and fables which the Grimms preserved for posterity arose.
Spengler writes in The Decline of the West that Germanic culture
found the first of all its symbols in the high forest of the Northern plains, the deciduous forest with its mysterious tracery, its whispering of ever-mobile foliage over men's heads, its branches straining through the trunks to be free of earth . . . the oaks, beeches and lindens with the fitful light-flecks playing in their shadow-filled volume are felt as bodiless, boundless, spiritual. (I, 396)
And the film actually manages to evoke this feeling:
Spengler further claims that
The forest stirrings and the forest solitude . . . completely dominated the Nature of Faustian man (even that of pre-Faustian Celts and Teutons) and imparted to their mythology its peculiar character. (I, 402)
These sensations are very much present in the Grimm tales, as Sleeping Beauty (alone among the Disney adaptations) indicates:
The film also adheres to a remarkably harmonious aesthetic, with its architecture and interior design strictly conforming to the true Gothic style that dominated the Middle Ages:
And it does not gloss over the dark side of European folklore, featuring elements such as a truly malevolent queen,
a Walpurgisnacht revel,
and perhaps the most impressive dragon ever conceived by Hollywood; a figure of evil worthy of rank with the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring:
And although Brier Rose herself is thin, her facial features are round, not oval, and her magnificent tresses possess the "voluptuous volume" that one usually associates with plus-size goddesses:
She is altogether the most attractive of Disney's heroines.
This all suggests a concept for what could truly be a memorable plus-size model pictorial.
Last edited by HSG : 30th August 2005 at 04:35.
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