Monday, March 3, 2008

The Great Movies: "Beauty and the Beast"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Beauty and the Beast 
Jean Cocteau, 1946.

A French adaptation of the fairy tale. It is a special effects spectacular in its way, with lots of splendid costuming, sets, effects, and photography. Although ostensibly a children's movie, it is rife with Shakespearian gestures (which I caught) and, apparently, chockablock with Freudian symbolism (which I didn't).

I was very impressed with the technical sophistication of this film from the early 1930s, until I realized it's actually from the mid-40s. Then I got a little less impressed, particularly with the jerky editing and clumsy transitions. The schmaltzy music, with its flagrant abuse of the "celestial chorus" concept, is a pretty tough sell for a modern viewer as well.

But the sets, which integrate human arms, faces, and torsos into the architecture of the Beast's mansion, are pretty boss, and the elaborate fairy tale costuming is pretty slick too, if you are into either fairy tales or costuming. I'm not, myself, but I did like the Beast himself a lot. He's a real triumph of make-up, or costuming, or something.

The end of the movie is both predictable and incomprehensible, but that's par for the course in a fairy tale, I guess. The handsome prince, when he arrives, is pretty disappointing; if I was Beauty, I'd lobby to get the Beast back. I guess a lot of women feel that way, after a few years of marriage.

Plot: Imprisoned in a Beast's mansion, a beautiful young woman develops Stockholm Syndrome, or learns to see the inner beauty of her captor. You make the call.

Visuals: Fairly undistinguished in the "real" world of Beauty's family home, but slick, sleek, and beautifully photographed in the magical environment of the Beast's home.

Dialogue: In French, with the kind of subtitleing where you can just tell that the character is saying something like "Why would you choose to hide away in that dank, damp, castle in the forest, trapped with that bizarre animal, that brute, that less than human thing?" but all you are seeing on the screen is "How can you stand him?"

Prognosis: If you like old movies and fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast might be for you!


Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this in years (had other business on screening day), but would gladly watch it again, if only for the hallway sconces in the Beast's palace: rows of candles, each held by a very elegant and animate human arm. Lovely.

Northwest trivia: Jean Cocteau did the most fantastic of the nine Theatre de la Mode stagesets in the permanent collection of Maryhill Museum, which were made to jumpstart the French fashion industry after WWII with lovingly-clad mannequins at one-third scale. . . No, really! See witchy photo at . . . And where the Sam Hill is Maryhill? Yes, that's the one.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

I watched that version in college. I couldn't read the subtitles cause I was half-way back, so I fell asleep. I slept more than I should of in class. I think that's why I fail your quizes.

Rebel said...

I don't know... I like the one with the singing & the CGI. ;)