Ever After: A Cinderella Story, 1998

So, long time, no see, huh? Oops! I have a bunch of posts saved in my drafts I was trying to ‘perfect’. Well, they’re never going to get posted that way, so I’m just going to go for it and start posting again.

In my early teen (or possibly pre-teen) years I went through a period where I was obsessed with Drew Barrymore – I know I’m definitely not alone in this. I cut out pictures of her from magazines, I hunted down a copy of her book Little Girl Lost, I had a poster-picture book (some of the pages made it to my wall, others were just perused) and I tracked down as many of her movies as I could at my local video stores.

I don’t remember exactly what age I was when this happened but I know that I had pictures from Ever After: A Cinderella Story cut out from magazines and stuck on my school diary. And I know that I saw it at the cinema. In fact, I’m fairly certain I saw it twice. I instantly fell in love and, to this day, it remains a favourite.

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Then I grew up and realised that so many women around my age list it as a favourite, as well – in Sarah Hentges’ book Pictures of Girlhood she notes that it’s often cited as the favourite Cinderella retelling by feminists. (And many, no doubt, cite Barrymore as an important part of their childhood and/or adolescence.)

I find it interesting that this film both subverts and upholds fairy tale tropes (many of which we are familiar with through watered down Disney versions of the folk tales, if not always the original tales themselves). Danielle is not your Disney version of Cinderella – she not only saves herself (from Pierre le Pieu played by Richard O’Brien who does slimy so well!) but also saves the prince when they meet a band of travellers who try to rob them.

Danielle asks if she can have anything she can carry and, when assured she can, simply picks Henry up and puts him over her shoulders, and begins to walk off with him. The result is one of my favourite scenes of all-time. The astonishment of both Henry and the travellers at Danielle’s actions could be seen as poking fun at a woman doing such a thing, but I just think it shows Danielle’s ingenuity and courage.

Danielle also saves Henry symbolically: from the ennui that threatens to overtake his life and by making him see that his privilege is something he can use to help other people, rather than the cage he believes it to be.

Danielle may not have complete control of her life, but she is not simply waiting around for someone else to complete her life or make her happy, either.

Unlike Prince Charming and Cinderella, who only meet at the ball and dance together, Henry and Danielle get to know each other over a series of meetings and Henry falls in love with Danielle for her personality. There is no love at first sight, here. But there is love under pretense – Danielle’s personality is all real, but Henry believes her to be the Comtesse Nicole de Lancret, not the servant she truly is. When Henry finds out who she is he shuns her but eventually realises his mistake (after being scolded by Leonardo da Vinci, an amusing adition to the tale) and goes to save Danielle…who has already saved herself. (As I mentioned earlier, from Pierre le Pieu.)

“In all my years of study, not one tutor has ever demonstrated the passion you have shown me in the last two days. You have more conviction in one memory than I have… in my entire being.”

Henry to Danielle, whom he thinks is Nicole

Henry also gets a lot more personality than the early Princes Charming of Disney. And Dougray Scott with that floppy, swoopy hair. Swoon.

Anjelica Huston is fantastic as Rodmilla, the not-very-nice-but-not-entirely-evil stepmother, who is clearly more complex than the mean woman of fairy tales; she was a woman abandoned by the death of her second husband and has become increasingly desperate to keep up appearances.

Another trope we see in Ever After is the virgin/whore dichotomy, though it is more subtle than in other films. Danielle is rarely, if ever, presented as sexualised, even when she is kissing Henry. This is possibly due in part to the younger target audience, but she is also often associated with nature and can be read as ‘pure’. This is largely  in direct opposition to Marguerite who is flirtatious and overtly sexual at times. The camera never ogles Danielle, but it does highlight the provocative nature of Marguerite’s outfits.

Rodmilla and Marguerite are still punished (for their ambition and vanity as well as their cruelty to Danielle) but in such a way that allows Danielle to show her compassion. At least they didn’t have their eyes pecked out, right?

And, just as in the tales we are familiar with, there is still the ‘happily ever after’, though as the voiceover of Jeanne Moureau says, it’s not important whether or not they lived happily ever after, but that they lived.

Like all media, it’s not perfect. Sarah Hentges has cited it as the favoured Cinderella of feminists, while still critiquing the problematic aspects, and others have dismissed it as a feminist retelling entirely. Me? I think Danielle fits in well with the (pop)feminist rhetoric of the ’90s, and I still see her story as a refreshing retelling of Cinderella. The film will always hold a place in my heart because of childhood nostalgia, too. And I will never be over that iconic ballgown. Sigh.

 

Girlhood in Australian Films?

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been looking at movies that deal with girlhood in one way or another as part of my thesis. It got me thinking about how much of the discourse around this area is centred on the USA (and, within that, as mentioned in Hentges’ book, white, hetero, middle class, and so on). It’s understandable considering how American films tend to dominate the mainstream and many of the authors I have found are, themselves, American. So, I thought it would be interesting to look at girlhood in Australian cinema. Some films that immediately came to mind included: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Looking for Alibrandi, Starstruck, Hey, Hey, It’s Esther Blueburger, Travelling Light, Somersault, Caterpillar Wish, Sleeping Beauty, Muriel’s Wedding and possibly aspects of Strictly Ballroom and The Sapphires.

Pia Miranda in Looking for Alibrandi, 2000

Pia Miranda in Looking for Alibrandi, 2000

I thought I might write a series of posts about some of these films – instead of all of them, together, because that would be an incredibly long post – and how they fit into what I’ve read on girlhood in cinema. In all honesty, I tend to get ideas like this and then lose steam so my interest may wane but then it may come back. I haven’t done any research into what other people may have written either on the topic in general, or on these films specifically, so if anyone has any suggested reading before I go off on my own search that’d be ace. Also, is this kind of thing something others would want to read?

Abbie Cornish in Somersault, 2004

Abbie Cornish in Somersault, 2004

I’ve rather lost direction with this blog – though, to be honest, I’ve never been very certain of it from the beginning – so maybe I need to refocus myself and this idea relates to my thesis so it could help me keep on track with that, as well.

 

Also, for anyone interested in an Australian run feminist film zine then I suggest checking out Filmme Fatales, ASAP!

Movie Books | Pictures of Girlhood

As part of my thesis I’m looking at movies about girls. Yeah, that’s super vague but it leads me on to the point of this post. So, writing about movies about girls means I need to read what others have written about them (which I would do for personal interest anyway but now it’s actually ‘for’ something. Huzzah). I’ve got a list of books to get through and the first one I read was Pictures of Girlhood: Modern Female Adolescence on Film by Sarah Hentges, published in 2006. I figured, seeing as I have an incredibly neglected movie blog, I may as well do some half-arsed mini ‘reviews’ on the books about movies as I read them, if anyone is interested.

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It’s an easy read and great as an overview because of the sheer amount of films covered in its 233 pages (the filmography at the back lists 91 films I think, I kept losing count) which meant that some films are glossed over while others are discussed in more detail (which included the author summarising the entire plot in the text and making some comments on the plot details).

The scope is American films (mainly, there are some from other countries) made in the ’90s, again, mainly as films dating back to the ’50s were mentioned. And one of the best aspects of the book is the discussion of the limitations of girlhood as presented in American cinema. There is little surprise that it is largely white, hetero and middle to upper class. It wasn’t just mentioned once, however, and the fact that this limited presentation of girlhood was returned to again and again by Hentges was important to me. I also liked that Hentges was able to discuss problematic aspects of films while still acknowledging their empowering points, too. And, of course, Hentges does discuss films about girls on the margins (girls of colour, poor girls and girls who do not identify as straight) but notes that these films are almost always ‘independent’ or non-mainstream. She also covers the limitations of these films, themselves.

One thing that irked me was that some plot points were inaccurate and it made me wonder what other inaccuracies there were about films I hadn’t seen. They were only small things – that Les in Bring it On didn’t seem to know whether or not he was gay when the film is explicit, in my opinion, about his sexuality, referring to Verena as the only girl in The Hairy Bird who still has her hymen when the quote is actually about how Tinka is the only girl who doesn’t have her hymen and I believe a quote from Mean Girls was attributed to Saved! (Though both films were being discussed at the same time, so it’s easy to see how that could happen.) Maybe I’m just being picky but it was something that bothered me though not enough that it stopped me from enjoying the book. And not enough that I wouldn’t recommend it.

The only other problem was that, because so many films were discussed, I started to lose track of which characters were from what film when they were discussed later in the book, out of context. A little reminder may have helped.

As an aside, I was a bit baffled by her discussion of But I’m a Cheerleader! as she describes it as nearly Hollywood-like in its happy ending – my interpretation of her tone was that this was a bad thing? Surely girls who are not straight need stories with happy endings about them, as well? Of course, I could have read her tone wrong. And it is unlikely to read a book, or even article, and agree with every point or interpretation the author makes.

Aside from those issues, and obviously disagreeing with some points, I felt like this was an important book. There are definitely a lot more texts being written on women in film, feminist film texts and other similar books but (and it could just be my limited reading) I still feel movies about girls are viewed as less important so books like this are important. If that makes sense. It’s also given me a list of even more films that I want to watch! Whether or not I can find them all is another thing, of course.

Has anyone else read this book? Or maybe similar ones? As I said, I’ve got a list to go through but I’m always keen for more.

Playtime, 1967

Well, hello readers! Today I have my first guest post, from my lovely friend Hannah. We both share a love for film and our taste in movies overlaps quite a lot. Hannah has written about Tati’s Playtime which, shamefully, I have not seen, yet! But it’s at the top of my list, now…

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Playtime (1967) has been described as Jacques Tati’s most ambitious film, shot in 70mm with a 5 track stereophonic sound, Tati created his own city, with the help of over a hundred workmen in the outskirts of France, nearly bankrupting himself in the process. There was much gossip about the expense of the film, but as he pointed out at the time, to hire the likes of Sophia Loren or Elizabeth Taylor it would cost the same to shoot. This has to be my favourite Tati film, being an old fashioned sort I’m always drawn to people that have a unique antiquated way of existing. Playtime is Jacques Tati’s masterpiece, he’s the reason why I got all teary eyed sat in my stuffy university class; he filled me with hope and wonder at the prospect of studying cinema. He is my hero to put it simply.

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Playtime centres on a non-descript Paris, but you would never know it because the landscape is so generic, so sterile you’d be hard pushed to identify what country you were in. Only glimpses of the beauty that Paris has to offer are seen through swinging glass doors or reflections of clouds on skyscrapers. Tati also lampoons tourism as one tourist says triumphantly ‘ I feel at home wherever I go’ – indeed she is at home, because all the modern buildings that prevent people from being truly together all look the same. In the tourist office American holidaymaker Barbara gazes at the posters for other cities which all have the same generic buildings.

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Tati scatters his gags through each and every single frame; his use of long shots in the film requires the viewer to be attentive to what they are watching. Although the infamous Monsieur Hulot features in the film he is not the main attraction. Monsieur Hulot is the eccentric old fashioned gentlemen whose presence always leads to chaos, without him even realising! In Playtime, Tati created a film in which every character is vital to the plot.

Tati’s fantastic use of sound for comedic effect is prevalent throughout, the film starts out in what looks like a hospital, all stainless steel and clomping clogged nurses, we then hear a muffled tannoy announcement, but low and behold it’s a flight attendant, we are in fact at an airport.
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And that’s Tati’s point, Playtime satirizes how dependent and lost we have become with our modern commodities, how it stops us truly communicating with people and enjoying the moment we are in. Tati satirizes modern technology but at the dénouement with the congested roundabout that turns into a merry go round he shows that if people can adapt the new modernity to their lives instead of letting it consume them, everyday can be Playtime.
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The Virgin Suicides, 1993

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The Virgin Suicides was one of those movies I didn’t ‘get’ when I first watched it. And I think not ‘getting’ a film is a valid viewing – there are various reasons why a film may go over our heads or not speak to us at a certain time and on my first viewing that’s what happened with this film. I guess I was about 16 or so myself when I watched the film with a friend and…I just don’t know entirely why I didn’t like it. Why I didn’t connect with it.

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Maybe I’d been expecting a different kind of movie, not having read the book then (which I also didn’t enjoy much on first reading), or maybe it just wasn’t the right time for me. But last year or so I knew I needed to watch it again. And I finally got it. It seems so very strange to me that it took becoming an adult (though I don’t feel very ‘grown up’) to understand a movie about teenage girls. I suppose it’s not very different than watching a beloved film from your childhood only to realise you can no longer understand what it was you enjoyed about it.

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“We knew that they knew everything about us, and that we couldn’t fathom them at all.”

Of course, it’s fair to say that we mostly see the Lisbon girls as the boys saw them and there is always that distance between the viewer and the sisters. This could be disrupting for some and is possibly why so many people view the film as ‘incomplete’. (The story of the Lisbon girls is meant to remain a mystery to the viewers as it was to the neighbourhood boys who were fascinated with and enamoured of them.) Todd Kennedy, in his article Off With Hollywood’s Head: Sofia Coppola as Feminine Auteur, describes the sisters as characters “whose identities exist only insofar as they are defined as the objects of masculine desire.” He goes on to say that Coppola subverts this objectification when Kirsten Dunst, in the opening title sequence, winks directly into the camera. I definitely agree, at least in part, with Kennedy’s description yet (even when he talks of subverting that notion) I feel it is a bit reductive.

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The scene where Mrs Lisbon forces Lux to get rid of her records, and the pure anguish on Lux’s face as she has to part with her beloved records, is a scene that just stuck with me – and then when the boys play records to the girls over the phone. There’s something very poignant about both scenes. The importance of these possessions as part of Lux’s identity, that she is forced to destroy that part of herself, and then the boys playing songs as a way to speak to the girls. I don’t know. (Though the scenes appear the other way around, don’t they? Ha. Oops.)

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A lot has been said about the visuals of Coppola’s films (indeed some will say that there is nothing below the surface of her pretty aesthetic, especially in later work, which Todd Kennedy also addressed in his article) but it’s impossible not to say something about the way this film looks. It’s the perfect visual embodiment of nostalgia – dreamy, warm tones! lens flare! soft focus! complemented by the perfect score by Air and carefully selected soundtrack of period tunes – and also looks quite a lot like snapshots from the 1970s. Nostalgia is clearly a big part of this story, and the undercurrent of both horror and fascination that the boys felt, and clearly still feel as men is an interesting counterpoint.

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“Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.”

I think this film is the perfect example that sometimes a first impression of a movie may not always last. That sometimes it’s more to do with the wrong time or place than the wrong film for you. I’m not saying people should revisit every film they’ve ever disliked, and I’m certainly not going to do that, myself but this has proved that I can be more open to reexamining my initial views of a film. There was at least a decade between first viewing the film and not liking it, to revisiting it and falling in love with it and when you consider how I may have changed in that time, it doesn’t seem so unlikely that an opinion can change too. Plus I’ve been more and more drawn to things that deal with ‘girlhood’ of late, perhaps because of the sense of uncertainty that they tend to entail and I’ve been feeling a bit tumultuous and unsettled within myself lately. But that’s a bit more personal that I like to get on here (and illustrates how I am so pants at being anything other than emotionally involved when it comes to talking about films).

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“What lingered after them was not life, but the most trivial list of mundane facts: a clock ticking on a wall, a room dim at noon, and the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.”

Part of me is kind of embarrassed to admit I didn’t get this film at first. That it wasn’t a formative part of my teen years as it was for so many (what films were significant to me? Maybe The Hairy Bird, Dick, – both of which also star Kirsten Dunst-  Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, Ghost World…if we are just sticking to films that deal with teenage girls) but I’m glad that I’ve come back to it after all these years. I suppose the reason I didn’t connect with this film at first will remain as much as a mystery to me as the Lisbon girls were to the boys in the story.

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“She was the still point of the turning world, man.”

I could probably write a lot more about the film but I’m not sure exactly what else to say, just yet. This is just barely coherent as it is. It is almost an overwhelming task when I sit down to right about a film that has affected me like this one eventually did (and, it’s better late than never, don’t they say?)

“So much has been said about the girls over the years. But we have never found an answer. It didn’t matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls… but only that we had loved them… and that they hadn’t heard us calling… still do not hear us calling them from out of those rooms… where they went to be alone for all time… and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.”