Sunday, 29 April 2012

Incredible Soundtrack #22: Kevin & Perry 'Go Large' (Fay/Pope)

The music attached to a film creates the environment, I believe, moreso than the literal environment on-screen ...

Incredible? That might be a bit much, but I do know that at the time, this was a great soundtrack. Two-discs from the film, compiled by Judge Jules. I bought the CD when I was 17 and someone borrowed it, and it never returned ... until I saw the CD for £1 in Worcester earlier this year. Listening to it again brought back many memories and I think anyone who was a teenager through the millennium will appreciate the classic tracks on the CD. Additionally, its not available on itunes, yet so you really do have to hunt this one down ...

What is interesting about this soundtrack is how Harry Enfield tried to choose songs which were current and top of the dance charts at the time. A film that has evolved from a sketch on a TV-series - Harry Enfield and Chums - is a quick turn-over, so the production was fast enough to justify new songs which would remain popular when the film was released in the summer. I didn't choose the obvious tracks from the film - 'Big Girl' is an awful song, and we all know it. Eyeball-Paul (Rhys Ifan) and his songs were good, but I selected songs which I personally still enjoy listening to and reek of that late 90's, early 00's, sun-soaked, young-and-desperate, fun-in-the-sun sound.

Disc 1: Track 10 - Ayla (DJ Taucher Mix) by Ayla - These are the only versions I could find on YouTube, so sometimes they are extended versions. This song specifically has a great steady build-up and seems to capture the feeling of simply looking-out and enjoying sunshine - before turning into a must-dance-to-this dance track.

Disc 1: Track 19. - Follow Me by Lange Feat.The Morrighan - The whole, female-vocalist-over-a-vibrating bass and twinkly-melody reminds me of either Toca's Miracle or Sash!, both stand out in the late 90's as they were simply played so much! 

Disc 2: Track 10. - Sunshine by Yomanda - This one takes at least a minute to start-up, but again, captures the feeling of Ibiza. Unlike the other two tracks, I think this track needs to stop after about a minute.

And hey, if you wanted to watch the entire film well it is actually on YouTube, free-of-charge, to watch right this moment. So all you Brit-Ibiza- Holiday folks can relive the year 2000 in all of it's Harry-Enfield-and-Kathy-Burke glory!

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Friday, 27 April 2012

The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)

"The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges."


Every year the BFI have a 'Birds Eye View' season whereby they focus on important moments in cinema when women became fundamental in the evolution of film. Back in 2009, the season focused on screwball comedies, screening brilliant films such as It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday and The Philadelphia Story. I managed to watch a few of these, but missing out on The Philadelphia Story, instead I hunted it down on DVD. I remain in awe of Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant - so a film that stars two-out-of-three in the same film was clearly a must-watch. With regards to Hitchcock, he beat The Philadelphia Story for Best Picture with one of his first US-based film: Rebecca. In addition, Empire Magazine noted how JJ Abrams watches The Philadelphia Story prior to making any of his films - I can't see much Mission Impossible 3 and Super 8 in here, but I appreciate the sentiment.

Oscar Success, but No Cigar

This film is one, of many, from the 'Golden Era' - 1939 and through the 40's - in Hollywood. The screenplay, by Donald Ogden Stewart, won at the Oscars alongside a 'Best Actor' win for Jimmy Stewart. As previously mentioned, it was nominated for 'Best Picture' but lost out to Hitchcock's Rebecca.

As I often find myself referring to some sort of connection to Dawsons Creek, I’ll get this out of the way early. If I am right, Pacey named his boat 'True Love' before setting off at the end of Season 3 with Joey - sailing off into the sunset. Returning conveniently for the new school year and Season 4 of the programme. 'True Love' is also the name of the boat Tracy (Katherine Hepburn) and Dexter (Cary Grant) sailed away on for the summer after their wedding in The Philadelphia Story.

But, much like Jen's Gram, I prefer the Frank Capra films. The Philadelphia Story is produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, as opposed to any screenplay or direction from him and I would argue All About Eve is better too. We also have Cary Grant, whom I would argue wasn't really utilised. Cary Grant can play magnificent roles - the influenced-Ross-in-Friends paleontologist in Bringing Up Baby, the I-take-no-shit newspaper-man in His Girl Friday - whereas here, he simply helped out a little and only really shone in two sequences. The first was when he told Tracy his view on her 'Goddess' and 'Queen' self-image, and the second, was when he told her exactly what to say in the final sequence. Katherine Hepburn, unlike Grant, was magnificent. Her presence alone demands your attention. Despite roles in classic films such as Bringing Up Baby, Katharine Hepburn had been deemed 'box-office poison' as the films were often commercial failures.

This was a comeback role for her, and she was well-aware of this as she accepted the film-rights from Howard Hawks. It is fascinating to see her catlike features and well-spoken, but arrogant tone of voice, matched to this role of the 'well-educated-but-vain' character.

Charm and Art

Despite Hepburns's dominance and intent, James Stewart, as Macauley Connor, was the real star - this is a character who starts off cynical and frustrated about how the Lord family lives, whilst even after an arc whereby he falls for Tracy and managing to bring himself to ask her to marry him, he is wise enough to realise why she said no to his proposal. His charm and 'artistic' attitude shows a clear insight into the mind of the working-man who strives to simply see a day, or experience the beauty of the world - such a fleeting romance with a "Goddess" woman such as Tracy Lord is an experience, but then he moves on to establish a more meaningful relationship with his photographer friend. In addition to this, Macauley Connor is supposed to strike a parallel with George Kittredge (John Howard), who is of a similar working-class background. Maybe, this is how Kittredge and Tracy first started out. Both see her as the flawless Queen, whereas Dexter is the only one who steps up to the plate and tells her how it is.

From Theatre to Cinema

An issue with many films of this period, is the clear theatrical connection. Hitchcock quite happily accepted this when making Rope and Dial M For Murder, the former appearing without a single 'cut', whilst the latter was released briefly in 3D, to imitate the stage. Written by playwright Phillip Barry, the problem arises in The Philadelphia Story whereby you can see that it is based on a play – for example, the majority of the film is set within one house and I am sure more could have been made of the 'grounds' of this affluent family. Considering Cukor had Cary Grant, and failed to truly ‘adapt’ the play technicially, you then move onto criticising the narrative, whereby the simple – almost sexist attitude – of a single, upper-class woman, surrounded by all these men begins to grate. Like Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind, do we really give a damn? If she thinks she is so special then she doesn’t need a happy ending. Possibly a bit harsh and, to give credit to the story, she doesn't get together with the pauper, instead settling for the one person who understood her initially. I would like to think of myself as more of a Jimmy Stewart rather than a Cary Grant, so I'm probably just looking out for the little guy.

Critically Referenced ... and Influential

Interestingly, The Philadelphia Story was adapted further to become a musical in High Society. But, only a year prior, a French-film, Le Regle De Jeu was released. Unlike The Philadelphia Story, The Rules of the Game – the English-language title - is more respected in critical circles, and it indeed, it does hold much more depth with regard to the allegorical nature of its plot. But it would be an interesting contrast to this. Both set within the High-class society, portraying three men of differing classes, in love with a central female character. Maybe that's an essay for a Film Studies student: Renoir's Le Regle De Jeu VS Cukor's The Philadelphia Story. It might not hold up though considering how close the release dates are. At any rate, anyone interested in Classic Cinema will need to check this out.

But watch Mr Smith Goes to Washington for better Jimmy Stewart, and watch His Girl Friday for better Cary Grant … and watch better Hepburn with Bringing Up Baby. And watch better George Cukor with his [uncredited] direction on Wizard of Oz. In fact, don’t start with The Philadelphia Story at all … watch the other films first.

This post was originally published on 14th June 2009, but it has been updated and adapted for this edition on the 'Classic Columb' for Man I Love Films

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Incredible Soundtrack #21: Titanic (Horner)

The music attached to a film creates the environment, I believe, moreso than the literal environment depicted through the visuals...

I recently watched Titanic in 3D at the Waterloo IMAX. I am personally a huge fan of the film and watched it twice at the cinema, multiple times on my sisters VHS, many times on the first-edition single-disc DVD and a few more time on the not-so-spectacular-4-disc DVD boxset. Chance are, I'll get it on BluRay. It goes without saying that I bought the soundtrack and, though not a huge fan of Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On', I think Horner's score has some great sections. But I write with a slight frustration as the one thing I cannot stand is 'fake' instruments. You know what I mean - fake 'aaah' choirs and fake strings. You know from the pacing of the note that it is a 'type' of sound attached to a keyboard, rather than an actual choir. That's why I hate the track 'Southampton' ... but other tracks uuse much more orchestra, rather than fake 'aahs'.

4. Rose - When I first heard the album, this was my initial favourite track. I'd put this track on any day, over Celien Dion. Much more subtle and gentle. I think I played it too much, because the 'my-heart-will-go-on'-theme simply became a little bit too overbearing after a while, but it is the theme of the film, so this is the only way I will ever listen to it. Soft, subtle and romantic.


7. Hard to Starboard - This track begins with that falseness I mentioned in the opening paragraph, but as soon as the song gets 1-minute in, the pace picks up as percussion sounds the fear and panic we see in the film. Its that balance between the grand, epic size of an iceberg approaching the ship combined with the fast-pace reactions and alarms sounding off on the ship. One is slow and steady, one is fast and busy - a great track.

13. An Ocean of Memories - This is the final track in the film as the camera pans over old-age Rose sleeping before fading into a revisit to the ship sleeing at the bottom of the ocean, before taking her back to 1912 and meeting Jack again. I love the way the music captures the beauty and vastness of an ocean, before harking back to the theme of the film. It recaptures the final moments of the film and the life Rose was able to lead due to Jack's sacrifice. A great finish to the film that Horner scored so well.

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Thursday, 19 April 2012

Alien: Resurrection (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1997)

"My mommy always said there were no monsters. No real ones. But there are."


In a similar way to Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection aspires to be so much more that what it is. Huge themes tackled before - capitalism and the maternal-connection Ripley has with the alien - are explored throughout the film shows how thought-through the project was. But I have a feeling the crazy idea about swimming-aliens was more a producer demanding more 'action' rather than considering the thematic-neccessity. Indeed, Ripley is literally 'one' with the alien (one-step up from merely holding the alien in her chest, a-la Alien 3), but this is not the Ripley we know - light-years from Lt Ellen Ripley. She is Number 8. Weyland-Yutani had 'created' her in order to clone the Alien Queen itself.

Harking back to Alien, instead of the Nostromo crew we meet space-pirates on board the ship 'Betty'. They are outsiders, akin to the low-paid workers in Alien, but they carry weapons and will happily use artillery much like those troopers in Aliens. But one member on board 'Betty' is clearly not as violent ... but she has a clear agenda and purpose. Call (Winona Ryder) has a different motive in coming face-to-face with Ripley Number 8.

Disability and Euthanasia

Rather than dissecting the film piece-by-piece, I shall aim to highlight themes which seemed to offer a very unique perspective to the alien universe. In Alien: Resurrection we are introduced early-on to the moral conflict regarding cloning - and whether it is ethical to create a human for the purposes of science. Brad Dourif portrays a creepy, sinister doctor who clearly holds corrupted ideals about life and science. He obsesses over the aliens and is fascinated by Ripley. We see how she is treated strangely, and indeed she acts strangely - has Ripley ever been so menacing? But of course, she is not Ripley - she is an Alien and Ripley mixed-up.

Combine this initial set-up, with the fascinating sequence when Ripley decides to destroy all the previous attempts at cloning. Ripley 1-7. It is a tragic scene as we see a human-creature struggling to breath and stay alive ... but, in a similar manner to The Fly, it begs to be killed. Ripley and the crew are in the uneviable position to eradicate the efforts. Though maybe the use of a flame-thrower was a little excessive. It even harks back to a scene in Alien 3, whereby Ripley asks Dillon to kill her.

Both the contrasting elements of creating and taking life - cloning and killing - also connect to that first crucial plot-point in Alien: "Crew Expendable". How much do we value life? Can we be in a society that prides itself on the creation of life, in terms of cloning, when we are also so proud that we dictate the death of someone else. These are huge questions that are tackled by Whedon's script - and which make the film so strong. Even Vriess (Dominique Pinon) is the first character in the franchise who is disabled - using his wheelchair throughout as he cannot use his legs. He is part of the outcast crew, grouped with the pirates, but the choice to have him disabled is clearly noting the value of life in a society that hints at creating 'superior' beings (Experimenting on aliens and combining them with humans) and places no value on the life of 'less-important' (E.g. The crew of the Nostromo). 


One problem of Vasquez in Aliens is how she, in terms of femininity, is a 'male-version' of a woman opposed to strong-female, who is feminine in her manner and character. Alien: Resurrection on the other hand has many female characters. Amongst the pirate-crew, we have droid 'Call' who is understandably ambiguous - but feminine in her manner, whilst there is also Sabra (Kim Flowers), who is not only co-pilot on the ship, but she can clearly handle a fire-arm. Clearly she can handle herself but she is also romantically-involved with Elgyn (Michael Wincott), as we see in a very revealing scene. Though not explicit, there is a clear diversity in the characters onboard 'Betty', and a very clear opposition to the all-white crew who lead the scientific experiements on board the Auriga.

Flaws and Future?

Again, I point my finger firmly in the direction of Jimbo Cameron. In all honesty, the 'crew' seemed to be custom suited to have a connection to Alien and Aliens - whilst the multiple aliens on board the Auriga is creating an environment that has multiple threats to be tackled by a military group. Initially anyway, before they are 'evacuated'. This is all about the action--packed tone of Aliens - the same producers who wanted to hark back to Camerons sequel, probably suggested the swimming-aliens and flame-thrower elements. Could you even imagine a swimming-alien in Prometheus? chasing the crew through water? I think not.

Though, the final act does include a last attack from the 'alien-human' which quietly reminds us of the one-alien-on-a-ship dynamic in Alien, it has tried very hard to imitate the action-and-chase dynamic of Aliens. Much like Alien 3 though, I appreciate the depth and scope of this final act - it's not just an average film. Well, maybe it is. Maybe the depth and scope I enjoyed has been watered down so much with 'action-sequences' that it becomes too bland. Having said that, I know many people who would highlight Alien: Resurrection as the best of the sequels - not me. I would deem Aliens as the worst - and not just because of the flaws I found in the film itself. Aliens is the worst because it ruined the following two sequels - the success of the action-nature of Aliens meant that producers (by the sounds of things) constantly changed directors and writers intentions by forcing them to squeeze in action elements destroying what was intended. The conflicts prior to production of Alien 3 was no-doubt due to the expectation that the third film would continue Camerons story of action-and-guns, whilst Alien: Resurrection attempted to mangle the two concepts from the first two-films together... and sadly failed.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Monday, 16 April 2012

Dumbo (Various Directors, 1941)

"Did you ever see an elephant fly?"


Like my assumption that Pinocchio was merely a story-about-a-puppet-with-a-long-nose (it is anything but...), I could not really recall the story of Dumbo. I could remember a circus ... and the bit when he jumps out the fire-house ... and I knew the song "When I See An Elephant Fly" very well from a Disney cassette I had as a child. The first thing I noticed before watching was how short it is - only 1-hour 4-minutes! The Disney Studio lost money on Pinocchio and Fantasia, and to make matters worse, strikes hit California. The hey-days of the Hyperion Studios - whereby artists would work into the early hours of the morning - were over. In addition, a number of artists had joined the studio from the East Coast and they didn't have the same work ethic as Walt Disney.

A Stork Delivers Dumbo

A wholly American story, the film was an adaptation of a story by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, and adapted by long-term Disney-writer Joe Grant. It also featured something Disney himself adored: trains. The story begins as a Stork delivers a new baby to Mrs Jumbo (Hardly the most imaginative name there!) and the baby Elephant - though incredibly cute, has enormous ears and is nicknamed Dumbo. He is taunted by the other Elephants and, due to his large ears, he is mocked by visitors to the Circus. Mrs Jumbo gets angry, bordering on madness, and is isolated. Dumbo though, with the help of his mouse-friend, manages to literally break-free from the constraints of the circus and manages to reach his full potential.

The story is so tragic - we witness a child being bullied by adults, before losing his mother. Walt and Roy had lost their own Mother in 1938, whilst their Father passed in 1941. To imagine Walt and Roy observing the artists portray Dumbo losing his Mother is difficult to imagine ... but conisder how they were working on Bambi too must have been truly unsettling.

Modern American Tale

Thematically, it is a very American story. There is excessive colour with a vibrant landscape - nowhere near as dark as Pinocchio. There is a capitalist-edge, as Dumbo - and all the elephants - are effectively employees working for the Circus. The Circus does not treat them well - isolating his Mother and humiliating Dumbo by dressing him as a clown.

But the look of the film is 'cartoony', it ignores the more classical and European elements of the previous three films. In fact, one of the stand out sequences is the surreal dream-sequence when Dumbo gets a little tipsy and see's dancing pink elephants - defined outlines and neon colours dominate the screen as characters dance across the screen. Elephants morph into snakes and morph again into a belly-dancer, and then again, into a floating circle before opening as an eye. A parody on Surrelism maybe, but it clearly was 'of its time' as the 1940's became a point whereby Surrealist artist Salvador Dali began promoting himself moreso - before working with Disney on the only-recently-finished Destino. Despite this interesting use of animation, the film had to save money on its animation by using large watercolour back drops and cutting back on the special effects - indeed, compare the animation of water in Pinocchio with the animation of water in Dumbo and you can see a significantly 'cheaper' quality. Disney knew that this film was all about the story - and it is indeed what makes the film unforgettable.

Flawed but Memorable

More caricature than realism, the film primarily used artists who worked on the Silly Symphonies and therein lies the importance of this film. The animators working on Dumbo, in many cases, decided to cease working for Disney after the film - despite their work in the previous decade. Some of the greatest animators, referred to as the 'Nine Old Men', were genereally working on Bambi, but the animators and artists who taught the 'Nine Old Men' were working on Dumbo. Specifically, Art Babbit, Bill Tytla and Walt Kelly - all of which worked on the first three-feature Disney films.

The crows are a very small part, but their characterisation and song, are definately one of the films highlights. I would argue the film is flawed - a little too 'loose' for me in its animation - but it has a beautiful story, with an incredibly cute elephant at the centre of it. And I guess that is why it was so successful, and crucially, a financial success for the Disney studios...

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Sunday, 15 April 2012

You May Have Missed This ...

A best-friends Wedding (Congratulations again Matt and Kerry!) and a holiday to Zagreb has kept me busy over the last week, so this is why it was an ideal opportunity to re-publish the analysis of Pinocchio and Fantasia, following the previous writing on Disney. But, I had to ensure that Flickering Myth was kept up to date so, to catch up on these posts I direct you to the site for the following comments on critics Mark Cousins, Charles Gant and Peter Sciretta.

Cousins has written about the IMDb - and the control they have over dictating his film The Story of Film as a TV-series when it has never been explicitly stated to be such a thing - though, any 15-hour film has to be cut down to be on TV...

Sciretta highlighted, again, on /Film that Total Recall (2012) has yet another piece of publicity - a commentary track to go with the trailer ... which initially had a teaser for the trailer. Too much trailer-talk for me!

Finally, Charles Gant wrote briefly about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and how, as a remake of a Swedish film, it didn't make as much money as predicted. Perhaps it is because it was a huge budget for an explicit film which will only garner a certain market ... or perhaps we are getting more comfortable with international cinema and most of us who were interested had already seen the Swedish version.

I'm trying to write about Dumbo now, and then shortly afterwards a little bit on Bambi. And then some Alien: Resurrection for the folks at Man, I Love Films.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Alien 3 (David Fincher, 1992)

"Why? Why are the innocent punished? Why the sacrifice? Why the pain? There aren't any promises. Nothing certain. Only that some get called, some get saved."


I love how this film starts. Acknowledgement of the past yet re-establishing Ripley as the lone wanderer, forever to drift through space - Weaver herself states that she believed Ripley is a "solitary person". The happy ending that finished Aliens is no more - Fincher (who would go to direct the ever-pessimistic Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac) is behind the camera. Walter Hill and David Giler dictates that Newt and Hicks are dead - and Ripley is now (Its not a dream this time folks!) impregnanted by an alien - and she has the Queen Alien growing inside her. Alien 3 was famously a troubled production - possible stories considered included a plot whereby Ripley became a minor role and Michael Beihn's Cpl Hicks became our lead protaganist whilst another plot involved a planet made of wood and inhabited by Monks. Directors considered included a possible return for Ridley Scott and newcomers Renny Harlin and Vincent Ward. It really sounds like producers wanted to make a truly incredible film but simply couldn't trust a directors singular-vision to follow-through on. At the very least, you can tell from the outset that as flawed as Alien 3 is, it clearly harks back to the single-alien killing off humans one-by-one ... rather than an overblown, excessive 'action-war' movie. In addition, unlike Aliens, Alien 3 actively tries (and fails) to tackle bigger issues than simply survival - possible themes about disease and evil, faith and class, are all touched upon. The unevenness of the film, I believe, is an attempt at ensuring the film had a certan 'pace' and 'action' that imitated James Cameron's interpretation on the franchise. But Fincher's version was trying to honour Ridley Scotts vision - and so you have a flawed-film ... that aches to be so much more.

The Evil Inside

The story takes place on an industrial, lead-refinery whereby it is inhabited by a group of convicted criminals - effectively a maximum security prison. Ripley crashes down on the planet, Newt and Hicks are dead, and a face-hugger attacks a dog (an Ox in a 'Special Edition' version of the film). During a ceremony that cremates the bodies of Newt and Hicks, the alien is born of the canine and consequently begins to kill off the prisoners one-by-one and Ripley comes face-to-face with the alien but is not killed...

Ripley, with the Queen inside her, is immune to the alien ... but she knows the creature is growing and she knows that the other alien needs to be killed. The very nature of the story bears a constant theme about evil inside a human. Does such a thing exist? Interestingly, akin to the themes of Ang Lee's Hulk (Green, alien-creature inside a human), the film seems to constantly refer back to the idea about biological and hereditary evil. For example, the convicts have changed their perspectives through the religion they have adopted, but we question how true they are to their beliefs as Ripley is threatened and attacked by a small group. In another instance, the character of Clemens (Charles Dance) is shown as a character who has been rehabilitated - he committed a crime and is held accountable for it. Dillon (Charles S. Dutton) is equally held on account of being a "murderer and rapist of women" but he leads the prisoners on the inside and ultimately sacrifices himself for another.

I am also aware of an interpretation whereby the 'evil inside' represents cancer or AIDS? The imagery within the film depicts bodies with little hair whilst the Queen inside Ripley constantly seems to eat away at her and cause her to become worse and worse throughout the film. Akin to these diseases, you cannot fight it and it preys on anybody- weak or strong. The AIDS parallel continues further as the main setting is amongst men who are isolated from society - potentially highlighting the gay-community in the 1980's and early 1990's. Society discriminates them and hides the prisoners from view. The prisoners look for answers too and turn to celibacy and faith - even adopting 'routines' but it is still not enough - the alien will still reach them.

This interpretation can be supported further as the 'birth' of the 'disease'/alien is juxtaposed with the cremation of the Hicks and Newt - the two characters who made the family unit. Dillon, a prisoner says:
Why? Why are the innocent punished? Why the sacrifice? Why the pain? There aren't any promises. Nothing certain. Only that some get called, some get saved...
Crisis of Faith?

Briefly, the adoption of faith by the convicts is equally interesting. Does it highlight how people trapped and isolated develop faith while Ripley, unlike the convicts (except Dillon perhaps?) accepts death gladly and gives her own life for the future and life of others. Opposed to dying for a spiritual cause, Ripley dies for a human and earthly cause. Unfortunately, I have not seen Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, but I understand that this film is an inspiration for Alien 3. At any rate, like Ripley, Joan of Arc was a martyr - so the martyrdom of a woman of faith is contrasted nicely with Ripley - a martyr of no-faith ... except her constant-faith in humanity.

The Capitalist Underbelly

The one thing that constantly challenges Ripleys faith in humanity is our favourite company - Weyland-Yutani.Weyland-Yutani, equally representing capitalism and the authority of those in power, portrays a very sinister attitude towards that small sentiment within Alien. "Crew Expendable". What is the value of an employee in comparison to the value of a businesses financial wealth. What is the value of a soldiers-life - have they not accepted the 'risk' of death and gambled their chances? And finally, what is the value of a convicted-felon? A murderer ... a rapist ... can we place a value on their life? Interestingly, I have only watched Werner Herzog's three-part series Deathrow about the very question about the state taking a life - and the nature of capital punishment. Alien 3 tackles it in allegory and within the concept of a more sinister evil at work - not the alien - but the power and control of others.

The underlying tension regarding a Medical-Evacuation crew due to 'save' the convicts is revealed to save the alien instead. The trust Ripley had for Bishop at the end of Aliens is destroyed as Bishop II is sent to comfort Ripley ... revealed as a liar, sent to save the alien. Where is the human element? Where is love for one another? What is the future of the world if these are who control it?

David Thomson writes how the "prison is Dickensian: the inmates are shabby, eccentric, startling characters who share in a type of subdued, oppressed state". The capitalist-stance manages to control these archaic and traditional attitudes to life - and erases the history that humans have created.

Fincher's Vision

David Fincher was brought to the project late-in-the-day. Much of the story was adapted and changed throughout production. Fincher does not discuss the film much, but he spoke to MTV and stated the following:
My notion was that the third movie would be Ripley's acceptance of the notion of sacrifice. She'd had the Me Decade of the first movie. She'd come from the periphery of the story. Anybody could be the commander as long as they stuck to their guns and had a moral compass. And then the second movie she found a maternal instinct. And then I wanted the third one to be that she realizes that it's not about her generation. It's really about the future. The notion was to put the monster among the wretched. She was going to galvanize the wretched to self-sacrifice. Giving up their lives to save people who had banished them and should have been outside their scope of interest and that they would find some value in dying for the right reasons.
One thing that Fincher's film did reveal is Ripley's first name: Ellen. The name she was given at her birth - the name her admirers and family would refer to her by. Lt Ripley is her professional, company name - but Ellen is her personal and human name.

From the corrupted script Fincher was handed, he gave the third film a warmth of colour. The idea of fire and heat, throughout the film almost gave the impression we were in hell. When the filmis edited together and, I would assume the CGI was incomplete, Fincher showed long sequences from the perspective of the alien itself - chasing the convicts around the wide-corridors and sewers of the complex. Yes, I prefer Alien 3 to Aliens - not because it is consistent or perfectly made; it is not. But Aliens aspired to be an action movie - a balls-to-the-wall shoot-em-up. It lacked substance and depth. Alien 3 tried so hard to be something more meaningful and with a depth that rivalled the first film - and that ambition alone, combined with such hard work from Fincher on his debut feature film, cannot be ignored. Personally, if I think about an iconic shot from the alien franchise, it is from Alien 3. I don't think about Ripley suited-up for me to quote "Get away from her, you bitch!" and if I was to choose a sequence I would obviously choose Kane's chest-bursting in Alien - but I don't think I could choose a single shot from that sequence that effectively represents the bloody on Lamberts face and the alien looking-around. I choose the moment the alien holds its face next to Ripley - saliva dripping from its mouth, the inner-mouth millimetres away from Ripleys face as she holds a scream in. That single shot - the tone, the fear, the look-of-Ripley, are all down to David Fincher and the team on Alien 3.

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Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Fantasia (Various Directors, 1940)

"Now, look - will the soundtrack kindly produce a sound?"


As mentioned during the week, this film was bought for me as a birthday present. For a long time I was keen to watch - or rewatch - the Disney 'Classics' Canon. Fantasia is a funny film as many people dislike the film - vividly remembering The Sorcerer's Apprentice with Mickey Mouse but not-so-keen on sequences like the 'soundtrack' whereby the composer converses with a vertical line that shimmers and changes shape according to the instrument played. You win some, you lose some I guess.

The Filmmaker as an Artist

Having recently taught lessons on the artist Wassily Kandinsky, I was amazed to see various theories that he believed discussed in the film Fantasia. To clarify, Kandinsky was "fascinated by music's emotional power" - music had no constraits or literal form, whilst at the time, to some extent, Art did. Kandinsky experimented with the idea that Art could be as expressive, abstract and emotionally involving as music creating art pieces that contained a musical playfulness and resonance. The very first thing Fantasia 'teaches' us, is the connection music has with art. Deems Taylor, who 'narrates' each segment states:

"What you're going to see on the screen are the designs and pictures and stories that music inspired in the minds and imaginations of a group of artists."

He even goes further to explain 'three different types of segments'

"First, there's the kind that tells a definite story. Then there's the kind that while it has no specific plot, it does paint a series of more or less definite pictures. And then there's a third kind, music that exists simply for its own sake ... what we call "absolute music". Even the title has no meaning beyond a description of the form of the music. What you will see on the screen is a picture of the various abstract images that might pass through your mind if you sat in a concert hall listening to this music" 

For a family film starring Mickey Mouse, this is hugely informative and filled with art theories associated with 'high art' at the time. Kandinsky died in 1944 at the age of 78, so it is safe to assume that his theories and artistic practice was clearly known in the art world by 1940. It'd be nice to think that maybe, just maybe, Kandisnky watched Fantasia. If he did, I'd be very interested to know his opinion. In an attempt to see if there was any quote from Kandinsky on the film I found a short blog post that managed to see the connection I have seen between Kandinsky and Fantasia too.

Access to Classical Music

The conductor Leopold Stokowski introduces many segments and, to add to the feeling of watching an orchestra, we see the orchestra set-up and prepare at the start. An interval additionally shows the orchestra 'leave the stage' before re-emerging (and even engaging in a little playful improvisation) before the second-half commences. I believe that Disney wanted to bring the beauty of classical music to the masses. I know here in England, it is not neccessarily easy to find a full orchestra play classics if you don't live in London. So in the big, expansive US of A I assume it will be even more difficult. If you live in small little town in Utah, to 'experience' the Philadelphia Orchstra playing Tchaikovsky is unlikely - so every effort has been made to make you 'feel' like you are watching a live show. The hustle and the bustle of the set-up, the opening curtains, the 'improv' playing and lack of camera-movement as the Orchestra are seen. We don't move through the orchestra or see out into the audience - everything is from the front, sometimes in close-up to focus our attention to a detail, but ultimately from the front. Reminds me about Dial M for Murder, whereby Hitchcock attempted to use 3D to make it appear that you are looking up to the action 'on the stage'.


Despite the good intentions of the filmmakers, it is clear that some sequences work and some do not. Obviously, The Sorcerers Apprentice is iconic and unforgettable. The fact that the purpose of the sequence was to re-establish Mickey Mouse after he became a little less popular at the time, clearly worked a treat. The animator Fred Moore even added white's in his eyes to give him more opportunities to express himself - the 'character' being the centre-point to much of Disney's success. But the 'soundtrack' sequence as a literal soundtrack  - a vertical line - changes shape and colour to demonstrate the different instruments, feels a little out of place. But again, as weak as this one sequence may appear, I think it is 'teaching' us the different sounds - what exactly does a clarinet sound like? The sequence literally goes through different instruments and shows us the sounds they make.

Another sequence is based on 'Science'. I felt that this was quite groundbreaking in how it depicts the beginning of the earth through to the extinction of dinosaurs. I vaguely remember this sequence as, pre-Jurassic Park, I was a huge dinosaur fan and this was one of the view visual associations I could have. I think the ground-breaking element resided in the presentation of evolution 'for kids'. I know that, even now, many children simply do not 'believe' in evolution, but it is clear that Disney is trying to ram this reality home: "And that story, as you're going to see it, isn't the product of anybody's imagination. It's a coldly accurate reproduction of what science thinks went on during the first few billion years of this planet's existence. Science, not art, wrote the scenario of this picture."

Innovation and the Future

This was the third Disney film - following Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Pinocchio. One thing that is exceptionally clear from watching the special features of these earlier films, is how much innovation Disney brought to animation. The first feature-length animation in Snow White, fascinating angles and uses of colours to show dream sequences - Disney's work with Dali on Destino. It truly is awe-inspiring to see such amazing talent on screen. Fantasia for all its inconsistencies, again presents us with a broad range of incredble animation - from the abstract shapes, colours and ideas that open the film, through to the fun and engaging The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Nutcracker Suite. The science lesson in The Rite of Spring and the 'introduction-to-ballet' we have with the Dance of the Hours and to finish with the incredibly scary and sinister devil in the Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria. Whether it works or not (21st Highest Grossing Film of All-Time when adjusted for inflation through the multiple re-releases it has had since its release in 1940... I think this means it worked...) is not so much the point as it is an fascinating idea and stunning to observe - either showing one sequence or watching the whole 'experience'. Another ground-breaking release from Mr Disney.

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Sunday, 8 April 2012

Pinocchio (Various Directors, 1940)

"Give a bad boy enough rope, and he'll soon make a jackass of himself."


As an Art teacher who loves cinema, I firmly believe Walt Disney is one of the most important artists to film-making. Indeed, on Waking Sleeping Beauty (a documentary about Jeffrey Katzenberg's influential phase at Disney between 1984 and 1994), they note how even Spielberg himself attempted to imitate the Disney-formula (By producing An American Tale, The Land Before Time and, in conjunction with Disney, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) during a time whereby Disney itself was losing its credibility. Harking back to the first-five unforgettable films - Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi - it really is clear how important Disney is to animation, and how the style of Disney itself changed and adapted through the years. 

Basic Three-Act Structure

As a story, what is strange about Pinocchio is how it is clearly separated into three different 'acts'. The original story The Adventures of Pinocchio by Collodi was serialised and this is clear in Disneys version as the story shifts gear dramatically between sequences - held together by Jiminy Cricket. The first act portrays Geppeto's workshop and Pinocchio coming to life when the Blue Fairy visits - leading to the puppet show organised by the evil Stromboli. The second act begins as we are re-introduced to the Fox and the Cat, who take all the badly-behaved boys to a place called 'Pleasure island' whereby the the boys who smoke and drink are literally turned into donkeys. Again, Pinocchio manages to escape and we fall into the final act - whereby Geppeto is stuck inside a whale. Jiminy Cricket, like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves introduces the story from a book under the wistful idea that "Dreams do come true".

Incredibly Relevant

How fascinating that the story is still incredibly relevant today! Leigh Harline, Paul J. Smith and Ned Washington are responsible for the music and consider the celebrity culture and attitudes of teenagers when reading the following lyric:
Hi-diddle-dee-day An actor's life is gay It's great to be a celebrity An actor's life for me Hi diddle dee dee You sleep till after two You promenade a big cigar You tour the world in a private car You dine on chicken and caviar An actor's life for me!
The idea that in 1940, the 'evil' characters sang about how an easy life is the life of a celebrity. It is clear that this is not entirely true and that fame comes at a cost. We can see that the Fox and Cat are uneducated and disastrously poor. Considering that Jiminy Cricket sings about 'dreams coming true' on the one hand, on the other hand we have characters who tell us that life can be easy, when they are clearly leading a hard and difficult life without education or a steady-income. I know many children - and adults - have very warped ideas about fame, and they will often link fame with their 'dreams' of being rich. In reality, it is not so simple - and the contrast between these two ideas is shown clearly in the film. Personally, I am amazed at how much Disney managed to sneak into the film. Consider a kids film now portraying our lead character, who your children can relate to, smoking and drinking alcohol. The incredibly sinister character who steals children to take them to 'Pleasure Island' truly sets the stage for deeper social and emotional issues.

Smoking, Drinking, Vandalism and Violence

The [very-obvious] moral to the story is how children who like to smoke, drink, vandalise and openly get involved in violence eventually turn into jack-asses and work in mines - or any other lower-paid job. Pinocchio, despite the lessons he learns in the first act and his good heart, is easily swayed towards these vices - and not necessarily because he is personally attracted to them but because he is influenced by others around him. Maybe it is a very simplistic attitude towards social disadvantages, but I would like to think that the clarity in Pinocchio turning to these vices (only for he himself to feel ill and become a jack-ass) shows how it is our decision to turns these things down which truly makes our character. Jiminy Cricket can advise Pinocchio as much as he can, but unfortunately it is his decision and no one else's...

Indeed, there is a huge difficulty in knowing and defining what is right and wrong when you are a young child. You need help and you often learn from mistakes - but it is the love of your family which will support you in this (Geppeto never gives up hope with Pinocchio and the Blue Fairy gives Pinocchio many chances).
Incredible Characterisation

As noted on another blog (Film Nitrate), the characterisation of Clio and Figaro is hugely underrated. Clio - the beautiful, feminine fish who dances and shows-off her golden fins whilst Figaro is an impulsive, jealous, masculine animal. He plays but he has a heart of gold. It is clear that even in sidekick characters (E.g. The Cat alongside the Fox) the stupidity and slapstick humours ensures the story moves along swiftly - could the tramp-like Cat be attributed to Chaplin's The Tramp? Inevitably, these purely comedic roles must have influenced future Disney films: Zazu in The Lion King, Iago in Aladdin ...

The Truth about Pinocchio

Prior to watched Pinocchio, I could only recall the long-nose-when-lying sequence. I thought that this was an integral part to the film that surely became a focus point of the narrative. It is not. In fact, this one sequence could be taken out of the film and it wouldn't make much difference. The sequence is simply pointing out the moral: "Don't lie". That's it. Pinocchio is so much more that a wooden-boy-who-lies. It is about the challenges a child has when growing up, the temptations around them and how to choose the path of goodness and the choice to fall in with wrong crowd.

The artistry is hugely influenced by nineteenth-century European architecture and specifically the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany. Disney artist Gustaf Tenggren created many images to root Pinocchio in historical artistic styles. In the same way that these artistic images are now forever-associated with Pinocchio, I can only hope that themes remains as timeless as they are today.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)

"These people are here to protect you. They're soldiers"


I will set out my objective clearly: To strip Aliens of all of its credability. I want to reveal how fatally flawed it is. How it is appalling that so many viewers argue Aliens as the strongest in the franchise, when if we really analyse it and compare it to Alien or The Terminator, both are superior and offer unique and profound points, whilst Aliens is a rehash of previous Cameron topics - dare I say it, is Aliens a dry-run for Terminator 2: Judgement Day? Whilst, in terms of what Ridley Scott set-out in Alien, Cameron completely ripped up the rule-book and ran off on a tangent that took the franchise the wrong direction. I think Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection are both attempting to claw back the credability of the first film ... but their hands are tied behind their backs as they always try to make the film more 'action-packed' like the second film. In this months Empire magazine, Ridley Scott notes how he was always fascinated that none of the sequels explored the space-jockey starting-point he had set-up. A wealth of material (which he intends to use in Prometheus) was waiting for a filmmaker to capitalise on, but none of them did. It took Scott to really get back to the true starting point of the franchise. James Cameron thought "right, a sequel - we need more aliens, more guns and more military ... stuff".

Moral Compass

A clearly controversial (and debatable) starting point ... and maybe a little unfair. It was unfair, I can appreciate James Cameron. I think what Aliens does clarify - and expand upon - is the clear anti-capitalist argument that was touched upon in AlienAlien touches upon the nature of the term "crew expendable", but this time it is about the importance of family. In fact, the very nature of a maternal role in Ripley is set-up in the very first act, as Ripley gives birth to an alien ... before waking up. It is a dream. Then we are told in no uncertain terms that a substantial amount of families have lost contact ... they are all dead. The aliens are destroying families and it is Ripley who needs to restore and create the family-unit. And she successfully does this by establishing a relationship with Cpl Dwayne Hicks (Michael Beihn), and becoming a maternal figure to Newt (Carrie Henn).

Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) is the 'Ash' of this film. Not that Burke is a robot, but he is very much detached from his human emotions. It is established early on that Burke is not to be trusted and we find out, as the film progresses, that as Ash was happy to break quarantine rules in Alien, Burke will actively release a face-hugger in the hope that it can be transported home and further experimented on. In contrast, the robot Bishop (Lance Henriksen) is played as untrustful but we see as the film progresses that his heart is in the right place. Or, a better way to put it, his circuits are running properly [insert robot-version of the phrase here].

James Cameron-isms

Cameron ups-the-ante, by utilising the various alien-features to great action-effect. The acid-blood becomes a huge danger - especially for the military unit attempting to kill the aliens. The face-hugger is not just a creature that leaps on a face - we now see the tentacles flailing and slapping around, whilst we see a facehugger held back as the penetrating tube that slips down the throat is desperately trying to find its way into a humans neck. This exploration of the creatures really builds on what we know - never had we seen the creatures become so fast and dangerous. Alien is very-much about a creature killing off a crew tactically, one-by-one, whilst in Aliens it is brute force and relentless attacking. As much as I may appreciate these elements, it is very-much the old sequel-story - more aliens, more attacks, more close-ups, etc. The beauty in Alien was how we didn't see these things - we knew about them, and were shown a dead facehugger as Ash delicately operated on it, but we didn't see it leap around much or show-off its features. Thats not to say there was no place for it, but imagine if we had a similar small-scale story to Alien second-time round and the horror-element still played a part (opposed to turning it into action), you could still see a sequence whereby we saw a little bit more about the movement and skills of the creature - but this sequence alongside the relentless attacking of the aliens themselves just makes it a part of a mass-army attack opposed to a unique element to a subtle exploration of the aliens. Fascinating as it is, the film as a whole is built upon the idea of excess - which is completely against the subtlety of Ridley Scott's original. Remember, all the interesting aspects of the alien itself were set-up in the original - the only 'new' aspect was the Queen. Who simply looks like a queen-bee. How original.

Even James Cameron didn't bring much new to the table. The Terminator was only two years prior and had many similar concepts and designs. In The Terminator we have Skynet and in Aliens we have Weyland-Yutani - the corporation in a futuristic environment against the common working woman - Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley respectively. Even the designs of the machines in the military-team in Aliens would not look out-of-place on the barren landscape in the post-apocalyptic 2029 that begins The Terminator. The excessive use of guns and miltary-grade machinery is akin to the excessive use of force the T-800 applies when tracking down Sarah Connor. Even the finale of both films almost imitate each other as they are both set in industrial environments, across multiple levels and heights, with blue-and-white lights shining through unneccessary but 'looks-cool' gas in a nightime-setting. When Ripley ascends in the never-ending lift, you almost expect her to come face-to-face with Arnie, instead she becomes The Terminator and dresses up in her mechanical-outfit to take on the queen alien. Maybe Cameron looked at Ripley-as-Robot and thought: "What about The Terminator as a good guy?"...

Simply Not Good Enough

Consider at this point how you are realising how Aliens is clearly repeating everything Cameron himself created in The Terminator. Add to this the standard of the acting - specifically, the child-actress in Newt (Carrie Henn). This is the heart to the film and you can see, clear as day, how she is reading and acting off simple direction. She hides and is mute initially and very slowly opens up as the film goes on to reveal a very 2D character. Then, to make matters worse, in terms of 2D characters, lets consider the entire military unit. "Loose-cannon" Hudson (Bill Paxton) with his popular imitate-me lines: "I say we grease this rat-fuck son-of-a-bitch right now." or "We're on an express elevator to hell; going down!". Then we have Sgt Apone (Al Matthews) who constantly refers to the unit as "sweethearts".  Butch Pvt Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) with her huge guns and destructive attitude - we all think "Wow, what a strong woman! Could she [*shock*] be stronger than a man?". To top it off we have the Lt Gorman (William Hope) as the under-experienced but more-senior positioned character - we all think "how can he be leading this team!?". An incarnation harking back to many World War II films as senior leaders do not understand the role of the regular soldier. These characters are flat and 2D - there is nothing more to them. Family? Loved Ones? Previous relationships? Previous missions that changed them? Understanding of aliens? Understanding of earth? Nothing - they are set-up for one purpose: to become meat for the aliens to chew on. They mean nothing. (oh, and we can endlessly quote them)


But, as a fan of Jurassic Park, I cannot help but see the clear comparison. The conflict of interest regarding company morals and ethics; is it right to experiement on creatures and play with science - and act as God (again, a theme due to come up in Prometheus). Even visually, when the aliens are at the door and when Hudson dies - both have a striking similarity to Jurassic Park. Hell, even the offices look like the Ingen company offices whilst Burkes clothing seems to be from the same shop as Dr Alan Grant.

Furthermore, I think films like Aliens are what must have created and directly-inspired games such as Quake and Doom. So often we see from the point-of-view of the soldiers - often through the cameras on their heads. The relevant data appearing on the left and right, as the guns lead into the centre of the frame. Throw in the industrial and alien environment and we find ourselves in the territory of alien-shoot-em-ups Doom, Quake and - after Goldeneye - Perfect Dark. Maybe James Cameron should be in gaming-industry instead.

Alien Tangent

There is one obvious echo and link to Alien when the characters run through the halls with alarms ringing out, it reminds you of the final act with Ripley in the first installment. But you can simply see how James Cameron simply took the film and franchise in a completely different direction. Even the planet LV-426, whereby the colonies live, is nothing like the spectacular, artistic creation by H.R. Giger in Alien, and I wouldn't be suprised if this Giger-world is what Ridley Scott loved about the franchise - not the action-and-guns that became a staple of the franchise in Aliens and Alien: Resurrection. Think about Blade Runner - despite some great action-sequences, it is very much about the look of a world combined with profound and fascinating talking-points that established the film as a Sci-Fi classic. Alien, equally holds its own as it is an environment which had never been seen before combined with a creepy, horror-take of the Sci-Fi genre ... the action was not important, but it became important because Jim Cameron made it so in Aliens.
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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (Various Directors, 1937)

"I'm awfully sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you. But you don't know what I've been through. And all because I was afraid."

Three years in development, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is a milestone in cinema history. It is one thing if you are the studio who created one of the first sound-cartoons in Steamboat Willie, even a bigger deal if you are one of the first to use technicolour for Flowers and Trees, but what about a feature-film that could rival live-action. Max Fleischer had made an animated feature titled Einstein's Theory of Relativity, but Walt Disney wanted to make a film that could be seventy or eighty minutes long and, crucially, is accessible to everyone. Chaplin moved to features before and Disney had to too because shorts were simply not as financially effective as features. But moving from an 8-minute comedy-short is a bit different to a story with depth, narrative and comedy that lasts the length of a feature ...

Structuring a Feature

Like future films, Walt Disney decided to bookend the film with the opening of a live-action book - it ensures that the story begins as clearly fantasy and it is clearly seen as a traditional fairytale. Based on Grimms short-story, Disney had seen a silent-version of Snow White as a young boy and it stuck with him until his own version. Disney begins the story from the perspective of the Evil Queen realising that she is not the "fairest of them all" and, in fact, a young maiden cleaning the steps and singing-as-she-cleans, is the "fairest".

Silly Symphony #48: The Goddess of Spring (1934)
Snow White herself would always be a challenge to animate - she needed to be human and real opposed to playful, cartoon animal. Prior to the feature film, one Silly Symphony named The Goddess of Spring provided the opportunity to animate human - and the female form. Unlike future princesses, Snow Whites look remains a little dated with an incredibly pale face and a voice that is high-pitch. On the one hand, this may be archaic but on the other, it gives the film an incredibly unique element. Snow White, in comparison to the range of other princesses, looks different and classical in her look, whilst she sounds sweet and operatic in her voice.

The plot has huge scope and emotion - so it was brave for Disney to choose the subject matter. Comedy was available within the characters of the dwarves and the animals - but the lead roles of Snow White, the Evil Queen, Huntsman and Prince are never seen as comedic, and need to hold the story effectively with an emotional depth. We need to be able to relate to these characters and understand their challenges - in fact, could an audience relate to animation at all?

Ineffective and Effective Animation

Famously, the Prince is not animated as well as future characters. You can tell that the exceptionally limited use of the Prince combined with his dull, flat characteristics meant that his character has always been seen as one of the weaker aspects to the film. Unlike the Prince, the sequence involving the Huntsman took six-months to plan - and ensured an audience would get emotionally involved with the life and death of the animated characters. The very specific planning of the scene - the Huntsman dropping the knife, Snow White with her back to the Hunstman showing her vulnerability - all these facets became incredibly important. To move from this sequence rooted in character, and then portray Snow White running through the woods as trees turn into hands and wooden logs turn into alligators, shows how well the film was directed and constructed. The specific scene in the woods also owes something to the German-Expressionists of the time as the shots become distorted and off-balance to represent Snow Whites fear, whilst the shadows are akin to F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, and are purposeful in highlighting the impending evil.

Fast-paced action ensured that there was no 'fat' on the story - but it was still a fantasy story that live-action could not reproduce. As an example of this juxtaposition, consider how Snow White herself has interesting charactistics that also make her ambiguous in her age. She has a childlike fascination with playing (even stating how the dwarves house "looks like a dollhouse"), while she is also romantically interested in the Prince. This ensures her character is pure fantasy in how she changes her attitudes to suit the situation - but we still relate to the human elements of her character.
Ludwig Richter Illustration of Snow White

Even the animals hold very human characteristics - birds have a clear father-mother-child dynamic, which Snow White understands and even reveals aspects of her own personality when conversing with the woodland creatures. A tortoise gives the impression that he is sleepy and has a character and the keen chipmunks run amok - so excited to meet and greet this new visitor to the woods. We feel real sympathy for Snow White too - despite the fantastical element of the animals joining her in the forrest - and this continues as we meet the dwarves and understand each of their characters too. Again, this balance of accessible human-emotion and character with fantasy and fairytale is what makes the animation so engaging.

The European Link

The look of the film, though vey unique in the look of the animals and dwarves - harking back to the Silly Symphonies and short-features - also had an influence from the Grimms stories themselves. Ludwig Richter, in his depiction of Snow White in the book, shows Snow White with a fondness and friendship with the animals. In one image, it is clear that Disney has turned to these images for reference as you can see the parallel in the sequence portraying the Evil Queen (in old lady mode) give Snow White the apple.

Segovia Castle in Spain
Robin Allan notes in 'Walt Disney and Europe' how Ludwig Richter "anticipates the old world charm that Disney searched for and achieved". Even Segovia Castle in Spain is seen as allegedly the inspiration for the Evil Queens castle - and you can see how! Europe has an old-world charm that often lacks in American History, and Disney clearly knew his artists - especially as a few were even hired to work for Disney. Specifically Albert Hurter and Gustaf Tenggren became important go-to men for the animators as Hurter would check animations before they were adapted into sequences, whilst Tenggren would create backgrounds that show fantasy, European landscapes.

Subplots and Finale

The Evil Queen, initially is a beautiful woman (though dressed in a suitably 'evil' robe) but - as the film progresses, she becomes more obsessed with the death of Snow White and therefore becomes uglier. The clear association with evil-thoughts becoming expressed and characterised on the surface feeds into the character. Whilst, in comparison, the character of Grumpy begins as somebody apparently "against" Snow White, but his good-heart and efforts to impress, are not ignored and eventually, a single kiss is what melts his heart.

The film remains a clear example of the incredible skill in animation at the Disney studios - and we could easily delve deeper into the animation of the dwarves themselves or the stunning soundtrack taht includes classic Disney songs "Heigh-Ho" and "Someday My Prince Will Come". Even the movement of the animalsis something to write in-depth about. It is clear that Disney and Co were firing off all-cylinders and the movement of each and every animal shows how capable the animators are at filling an image with depth and movement. The woodland creatures are so important to the story too - as they direct Snow White to the dwarves cottage in the first place!

One thing which I think is worth noting, and that our modern-eyes will not pick up on, is the use of 'camera' in the film. At the time, a camera could only move in certain ways for live-action but animation - obviously - could move in whichever way it wanted. The scene portraying the Evil Queen turning into the Old Lady shows the "camera" move 360 degress around the queen, the colours and shapes almost burst out of the screen! This was simply not possible with live-action at the time - and it shows how informed the animators were. They wanted to top live-action and "use of camera" had to be considered if you are going up against the feature-length nature of a live-action film. Disney ensured the animators were up-to-date, watching the latest films and combining their understanding of Picasso and Matisse, with current trends in theatre and film. Practitioners and directors such as Stanislavski would be compared with Charlie Chaplin and the acting of Charles Laughton.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is much more than simply a kids story - it is full of brilliant technical achievements which consequently influenced others. Everything from the odd lyrics in a Beatles song (Snow White singing "I'm Wishing" and The Beatles "Do You Want To Know A Secret?") to cinematography and animation itself. This film single-handedly changed cinema forever.
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