A cold, hard analysis of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

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FINAL

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Even though certain movies might have been made decades ago, usually I can enjoy them in the age I’m in, in the here and now. But for me to fully appreciate Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I think I’d have to have been part of one of its original audiences in 1937. I first saw the movie during its 50th-anniversary re-release, and I’m afraid that the — forgive me — sexual politics of 1987 sort of laid the movie bare for me.

Yes, I can easily appreciate its technical aspects. The fluid, hand-drawn animation — an element that seems to drift further away in modern movies — is truly something to behold. And the rich and funny characterizations of the Seven Dwarfs — something that was thought impossible for a feature-length cartoon (of which, of course, this was the first) — remain distinct and enjoyable.

But then there’s the little matter of…Snow White.

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She is the movie’s heroine, the groundwork upon which Disney laid the foundation for the movie’s premise, its reason for being — and I’m afraid she comes off as too much of a simp for me. I can understand her being frightened in given situations. (Who couldn’t get chills from the scene where Snow White scampers nervously through the dark forest and is seemingly menaced by every tree?)

But at some point through all of these adventures which Snow White proves worthy to survive, couldn’t she have developed just a bit of a spine? At no point in the movie is she not entirely dependent on someone else for her well-being — the Wicked Queen, the woodsman who spares her life, and those damn dwarfs. And of course, the prince who awakens her with “love’s first kiss.”

And what about those dwarfs, and the shortchanging they get? After tending to her every need for Disney knows how long, she gets swept off her feet by that one-kiss prince, after which Snow White is perfectly content to abandon her wards, and they her. As the Wicked Queen would say, “Bah!”

We all have particular movies where we can appreciate the skill and talent that went into them, and yet we’re still left baffled as to their wide popularity. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it appears, is my cross to bear.

How the critics stole Christmas

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Like most people who love Chuck Jones‘ TV adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I’ve been watching it since I was a kid, and I can never get enough of it. (The less said about Ron Howard’s ghastly movie version starring Jim Carrey, the better.)

I wish I could find a fresh way to describe how much this cartoon delights me, but I can’t. So instead, I refer you to a very enjoyable blog titled Tralfaz, which dives deeper into the creation of animated movies and TV shows than I would have ever thought possible.

Click here to read the blog’s surprising account of how some contemporary TV critics sniffed at what has long since become a holiday classic. If you ever get too full of yourself as a blogger or critic (and I can be as guilty as anyone), remember that the work you’ve critiqued will probably last long after you do.

 

MONTY PYTHON SPEAKS (2000) – The Pythons’ story in their own words

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Monty Python member Michael Palin says, “I think there’s a danger in Pythons analyzing their own work. I think we shouldn’t do it.” Unfortunately for him, he and the other Pythons spend 315 pages doing just that in the delightful Monty Python Speaks.

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick history. Monty Python is the collective name for a group of five Britons — Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin — and a transplanted American, Terry Gilliam. They are responsible for 45 of the funniest half-hours ever broadcast on television (in Britain beginning in 1969, America in 1974) and some equally inventive movies. Chapman died of cancer on the very eve of the group’s twentieth anniversary — “Worst case of party-pooping I’ve ever seen,” said Terry Jones.
For Python fanatics (I count myself among them), the new book is akin to the Holy Grail that the group sought in their infamous 1975 movie. The surviving group members and many of their associates are interviewed by David Morgan, and as befits their comedic style, the Pythons are quite open and frank about the group’s highs and lows. Among the many illuminated topics and tidbits are:

* Graham Chapman’s alcoholism, about which he was quite open himself. (While filming one of their movies, Michael Palin came across a half-empty bottle of gin belonging to Chapman. Palin had seen the bottle completely full earlier in the day.)

* Their first American TV appearance. It was on a 1972 “Tonight Show,” where guest host Joey Bishop introduced them with the immortal line, “This is a comedy group from England. I hear they’re supposed to be funny.”

* Python didn’t have a chance in America until a PBS station manager in Texas–“Dallas, of all places,” says Cleese — took a chance on them. Friends of the station manager were afraid his station would get burned down.

* Their then-manager absconded with the funds from their 1980 appearance at the Hollywood Bowl. They made no money from the gig until they released their 1982 movie of the concert.

* When ABC-TV brutally edited three of their TV episodes for a 1975 special, the Pythons sued the network, on the grounds that they’d rather make less money than have someone else censoring their work.

The ABC incident points up two concrete truths about Python:

(1) Like them or not, their particular world view is uncompromised, and their fans appreciate their honesty.

(2) Said view shouldn’t be left in the hands of people who just plain don’t understand them. The people who would “sanitize” it are the same kind of people that Python’s comedy satirizes.

But maybe I romanticize Python only because I grew up with it. I completely don’t get the followings for later work such as “South Park,” but I can still recite reams of Python dialogue. For others with similar bents, the book is must reading.

Your Saturday morning cartoon

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Did you know that the Looney Tunes troupe did a parody of Casablanca? It came out in 1995 and is titled Carrotblanca (starring guess-who). It was originally released as a curtain-raiser for a forgettable Warner Bros. family filim, The Great Panda Adventure.

When I first heard about this release, I was dying to see the cartoon; the pandas, not so much. So one day on my lunch hour, I drove to my local bijou, dutifully paid full admission, sat through Carrotblanca, and left to go back to work. It was worth every dollar of my movie ticket.

Carrotblanca is 14 minutes long, an epic by Looney Tunes standards. It was produced by Warner Bros. during their brief “cartoon renaissance” period of the 1990’s, when someone in the front office got talked into actually making decent theatrical cartoons again for a while. (Chuck Jones did his final theatrical work during this time.) And in the grand style of Jones’ mock-epic The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1949), this cartoon features practically every member of the famous Looney Tunes ensemble, from famous to peripheral. Enjoy!

Two weeks until THE HAPPY NEW YEAR BLOGATHON!

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Got a favorite movie with a New Year’s Eve theme or subplot? Celebrate it with our upcoming blogathon — because old acquaintances should not be forgot! Click here for more details.

The strange case of Mira Sorvino

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Let me preface this by saying that I am not casting aspersions on actress Mira Sorvino, any other actress who might have suffered any form of sexual harassment from former Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein, or by extension, any woman who has found the nerve to speak for herself in light of the #MeToo movement. It’s a badly kept secret that women have suffered such harassment in the workplace, including Hollywood, for far too long, and I’m truly glad for any woman who finds her voice in this matter.

However, there is something that has puzzled me ever since I saw Woody Allen’s comedy Mighty Aphrodite (1995, and produced by Miramax when Weinstein headed it), in which Sorvino co-starred and for which she won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress.

(SPOILER paragraph follows.)

The movie’s premise that sports writer Lenny Weinrib (Allen) and his wife adopt a child, whom they name Max. Max eventually reveals himself to be a very gifted boy, and Lenny becomes obsessed with finding out whom Max’s birth mother is. To Lenny’s surprise, he discovers that the woman is a porn star and prostitute named Linda Ash (Sorvino). (The scene where the two first meet is embedded below.)

Throughout the years, I have enjoyed Allen’s wide range of movies — from his “early funny films” (as one of Allen’s own movie characters derisively calls them) to his thoughtful dramas and “dramadies.” But when Linda Ash appeared on the scene in Mighty Aphrodite, my enjoyment of the movie dribbled away.

The general consensus is that actresses love appearing in Allen’s movies because he writes well-rounded female characters (a prime example being one of my favorite “Woodys,” Hannah and Her Sisters). But by contrast, Linda Ash is a grating stereotype. She speaks in a high-pitched voice that’s enough to shatter brass, and her idea of humor is a wall clock whose pendulum shows a pig fornicating another pig from behind.

As previously noted, Sorvino won an Academy Award for this role. In her acceptance speech, she thanked Allen for writing such a “beautiful character” for her.

Did this all occur in some alternate universe? Allen writes a tone-deaf dumb-blonde part, and not only does Sorvino play it to the rafters, but she even regards it as a gift?

Again, I don’t mean at all to belittle Sorvino’s suffering at the hands of a sexual predator. But did she not know what she was getting into going in?

When the allegations against Weinstein first came out, Allen said that he hoped Hollywood would avoid “a witch hunt atmosphere” where “every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself.” When those remarks were roundly treated by the press and the public as less than sympathetic to female victims, Allen walked back his comments and said, “When I said I felt sad for Harvey Weinstein, I thought it was clear the meaning was because he is a sad, sick man.”

Maybe part of the problem is that most of the movie-making industry is self-delusional. An acclaimed comedy giant writes a very demeaning female role. An actress accepts the role and later acknowledges it as “beautiful.”

No wonder everyone in Hollywood is so shocked — SHOCKED!! — at all of the recent harassment allegations. They’ve been saying Up Is Down and Wrong Is Right for so long, they’re knocked sideways when someone actually tries to right the course of the ship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GET HAPPY: THE LIFE OF JUDY GARLAND (1999) – Engrossing Garland bio is anything but happy

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According to Gerald Clarke’s Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland, at one point, the famous actress looked at the doctors who were treating her for drug abuse and declared, “There is something you fools do not understand. I am an addict. And when I want something, I can get it.”

Unfortunately, between Garland’s celebrity status and her appetite for self-destruction, this comment proved all too true. Men, drugs, food, and (though one wouldn’t think this would be desired) people who belittled, cheated, and abused her — she had it all, which probably accounts for her death at age 46.

Clarke admirably details Garland’s life from its beginning, when she was born Frances Gumm and indoctrinated into the family show-biz act commandeered by her mother, to its sordid end, where she was on her fifth marriage and died of an accidental overdose. Clarke often adopts a sob-sister tone when deconstructing Garland’s career — he is given to extensively quoting John Milton, and he calls one of Judy’s manipulators an “artful Iago.”

But Clarke succinctly catches Garland’s appeal to vast audiences (some of them blatantly gay) and shows that in the destruction of the phenomenon called Judy Garland, she was as much to blame as anyone. The book also provides a nice mini-bio of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio where Garland toiled for 15 years and was robbed of her childhood.

This is a must-read for Judy Garland fans and show-biz buffs alike.