Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Magic Mirror Man

In the DEFA film the magic mirror does not have a face but instead glows and speaks to the queen whereas in Disney's Snow White the magic mirror is a dramatic face that as we discussed in class speaks to the heterosexual desires of the wicked queen. Of course it is a male · characterized with a deep voice and portrays something or some force almost demonic or evil. Literally surrounded by smoke and mirrors the mirror makes the audience question who the force is behind his decisions/ proclamations. Similarly in the DEFA film, there is no face or voice but the outer edges glow - this difference in personifying an object versus imbuing it with a voice and light change the tone of the messages but also keep alive the mystical and magical elements that are completely absent in the 1916 Marguerite Clark film. In both the DEFA film and Disney's we get the sense that there is a special force but only in Disney do we really feel that the mask is deceptive and wise but in service to something evil. In our Gilbert & Guber reading the mirror is the voice of patriarchy that judges women and creates self doubt/ self worth or lack thereof in woman – here its as though Disney wanted to dramatize their theory whereas in DEFA that component is absent besides the voice. The fact that this character is a mirror of course begs the question, are these the delusions of a crazy queen? Well yes partially but they also reflect the socialization of our society. You could arguet that the mirror is herself and what she has been hearing is herself saying these narcissistic things until day she looks in mirror and realizes her adolescant daughter is fairer and she can’t lie to herself anymore – her own voice no longer tells her she is beautiful. The self that is returned to her by the mirror is the person she gets back is what she hears with relation to male voice without something behind it – its not one person and its not behind her. In the DEFA film this is the same concept but the vivid personification that literally gives a face to our socialization is absent and actually further provokes the question- is it us?

The differences between the Grimm brother's magic mirror and Disney's are fairly stark. The mirror in the Grimm's version is mostly just that: a mirror. This mirror just so happens to have a voice and never tells a lie. Other than that it is perceived as just a mirror. The Disney version has a much more personified version of the mirror. It contains a mask surrounded by a veil of smoke from within the mirror. The mirror itself almost seems to contain another world. The mask itself is lit from underneath giving it even more of an ethereal effect. The mask's expression seems to move between comedy and tragedy, giving it yet another level of mysterious appearance. We need to ask ourselves why Disney would make these obvious and distinct decisions when he chose to animate the mirror. The unknown and constant fluctuation between tragedy and comedy lend the mask to take up an appearance of a shifty evil character. The light from below is that of fire, possibly implying that the mask is a spirit from hell. No detail of the mask that Disney added lends itself to being a good character. The mask appears as a tortured soul in the Queen's service. This is a fairly deep and twisted leap from for Disney to make from just a plain mirror.

The Pluralized Queen vs. The Disney Queen

Over the course of several different versions we see the Queen portrayed in wildly different fashions. Whether its the violent, sexualized version from the Disney film, or the more mundane, comedic, ridiculous version from the 1916 film, the way these different "authors" chose to portray the Queen reveals a lot about the story they were trying to tell, as well as reflecting the global context within which the films were made. In Disney's version, his Queen with her pale, striking features and blood red lips evoked the image of 1930's starlets. She was the manifestation of the dangerously irresistible woman, beautiful but dark. The Queen from the 1916 Lasky film was more a figure to be laughed at. She's not overly threatening, but rather just a bumbling fool. The threatening nature normally assigned to the Queen as one figure is given over to the Witch, while in the Disney film, the Queen retains both these powers. While the Queen's transformation proves horrifying, the 1916 film never reaches that level of horror. This is further shown in the end of each film, where in the Disney version the Queen dies in a terrifying scene when lighting strikes the cliff face where she intends to crush the dwarfs with a rock. The terrible storm emphasizes the danger of the sequence, one which terrified me greatly as a child. This ending though, legitimizes the Queen as a threat. She was so villainous, so powerful, that only an act of nature was enough to ensure her demise. The Queen from the Lasky film however never reaches this level of intimidation or terror. As her punishment, rather than death, she only loses the beauty that was never hers to begin with. In an odd twist, the evil witch attains her desire of long lustrous hair. It's interesting that by the end, the witch's success is supposed to be seen as an overall positive thing. This was the same women who ordered for the Queen to bring her Snow White's heart. This is more evidence of the Lasky film subverting the violence of the story through the use of pluralizing the "Queen" character. As their motivations are not combined, they can be reconciled, while in the Disney version, all evil is encapsulated in one figure which must be destroyed.

Magic Mirrors

I think that the different representations of the magic mirror in the Disney and the DEFA film are really interesting. As we talked about in class today, the mirror in Disney takes the voice of a male. This is an important distinction as a male's opinion is more meaningful in determining her beauty. The mirror in this film is very much humanized as the masks has eyes nose and a mouth that moves when he talks. On the other hand, in the DEFA film, the mirror just looks like a regular mirror that lights up and really has no human qualities except that there is a voice that plays when it lights up. I think that both of these representations of the magic mirror are reflective of the film in which they are apart of. DEFA films show the artificiality of the fantasy world. This can be seen in the fake looking sets and props that they use within the movie. There is no real attempt to create the illusion of magic and the viewer is constantly aware of this. The mirror within this film looks like an ordinary mirror. Though there is voice that is somewhat all knowing, there is not near as much of an attempt to create such a fantastical object. The mirror in Disney is also very reflective of Disney themes and of his desire to implement his own morals. The masculinity afforded to the mask along with the sexuality of the stepmother show the rigid gender roles that are present in his other films. Also, the fact that he uses caricature that was anti Semitic goes along with the idea that he was always trying to fit in his morals within his films.

She's a witch!

The transformation of the stepmother into an old hag has always been a bit puzzling to me, as it seems that such an intelligent woman could have chosen a more appealing disguise with which to ensnare Snow White. Nevertheless, the “character” of the hag (if she can be called a character) raises a number of interpretive issues for the reader/viewer. For one, it is easy to see her as the “true embodiment” of the stepmother, despite the fact that she contradicts one of the defining features of the queen (Grimms: “She was a beautiful lady”). The point seems to be that her concern for beauty literally drives her to make herself ugly (albeit temporarily, in her view); the Disney version metes out a rough condemnation of this behavior by killing the woman off in hag form. On the other hand, though, the old hag offers a much fuller expression of the stepmother’s craftiness and malice—whereas before she can just order proxies to kill off Snow White, the hag can (nearly) accomplish the deed herself. Ultimately, however, this brief display of increased power really only lets the queen heap more condemnation on herself, as it is through her actions that Snow White changes from a powerless refugee to a powerful new queen.

Having the witch as a character distinct from the stepmother was a fascinating innovation of the 1916 film. In some sense, it absolves the stepmother of a few crimes; in the Disney and Grimm stories, she simply wants Snow White dead, but here she is forced to collect the girl’s heart by the new witch character. Again, the witch plays an important role in the story’s rendering of judgment on the queen, literally making the stepmother pay the price for her vanity even while comically sharing that same character flaw (e.g., getting the “pigtails” or showing off her new hair at the end of the story”). However, the idea of the witch/hag being the true embodiment of the stepmother is weakened a bit in this interpretation. The queen does associate and struggle with the witch as she might with her own internal desires, but the fact that the witch herself points out the queen’s true ugliness (in the warning about not breaking the mirror) doesn’t make the viewer see the stepmother in a more evil light so much as it makes us pity her. So instead of reflecting viewer condemnation back onto the queen, the witch in this film seems to absorb it. Who, then, is the true villain: the beauty “addict” or her enabler?

(If the latter, it’s interesting that the patriarchal voice of the mirror plays the exact same role.)

Snow White

I wanted to compare the character of the queen/witch in the movies. I found it interesting that these are separate characters in the 1916 version, they are the same person in the Disney version, and in the 1961 version, there is no witch. I believe that taking out the witch makes the film less fairy-tale like. I feel as if the witch represents evil magic. If you take this out, the story does not seem as magical or as evil. It is true that the stepmother does try to kill Snow White several times, but she does not seem as evil as the stepmother in Disney who is a witch. If you have an evil person, that sucks. If you have an evil person who also has magic powers that they can use for evil, I'd run and hide. So, I think that taking out the witch in the 1961 version takes away from the story. In the 1916 version, there are two separate people. This also takes away from the evil of the stepmother. As we mentioned in class, the stepmother just seems stupid to get herself into a dangerous deal. She must kill Snow White not because she wants to, but because she made a deal that she would. Therefore, she doesn't seem as evil. If the witch were the person actually going after Snow White, that would be more frightening than the stepmother. Yet, the witch simply tells the stepmother what to do, so this takes away from her evil as well. Having 2 separate people splits up the evil. Neither character seems as evil as they could be. This means that the ending is satisfying, but not as satisfying as it could be when good prevails over evil. Therefore, I like the Disney version the best. I could simply be biased because I grew up loving this movie, but the stepmother seems to be the most effective at portraying evil that must be overthrown. She is the same person as the witch. I would be most afraid of the evil stepmother trying to kill me who has evil powers that she could use against me than the other two stepmothers in the other films. I just found this interesting. I feel as if it is more rewarding that good prevails over evil if the evil is extremely frightening.

Snow White Characters

I really wanted to say something about the depiction of the mirrors because I thought that the mirror as the patriarchal voice of judgment or as a woman's voice of vanity was really interesting. Unfortunately, I suppose that the mirror isn't quite a character so, I'll just review the character of the huntsman. I couldn't help but admire the huntsman in the 1916 Snow White and the 1961 Snow White. In both versions, the huntsman regrets to have to inform Snow White of the Queen's intentions and resolves to kill a beast instead and return the beasts heart to the queen. Lasky's Snow White (1916) had a little more sustenance to him. You could see his devotion to his children reunited his family in and trapped the guard to retrieve the keys. In the 1961 version of Snow White, (if my memory serves me correctly), he told the prince Snow White's fate and set out with the prince to find Snow White. He helped the dwarf to blow the horn, showing his virility and masculinity in the same fashion that the huntsman in the 1916 version did. Even though the huntsman's character is relatively minor, he does his part to keep the story going and display some morality of character (since he is supposed to be the saving grace for the female).