“Like alchemy and the neoclassical medieval and Renaissance pagan revival among the intellectual elite, similarly, folk tales for the unlettered, preserved ancient and esoteric religious elements” (from “Roses, Apples and the Fairytale Mushroom”, The Hidden World by Carl AP Ruck, Blaise Daniel Staples, Jose Alfredo Gonzales Celdran and Mark Alwin Hoffman).
The pagan, shamanistic folklore of pre-Christian societies survives within classical European fairytales — the most noteworthy of which have been appropriated by Disney’s family-friendly tradition.
This year has witnessed a massive resurgence of cinematic interest in fairy tales. We’ve got it all, from werewolf-inspired Red Riding Hood to sexy, adult renditions of Sleeping Beauty. Also, let’s not forget the three Snow White adaptations currently in development. These have taken an increasingly darker turn, reminiscent of the tales of the Brothers Grimm.
The Brothers Grimm played a big part in transforming the pagan folklore they collected into a more acceptable format. Yet these tales — a far cry from anything Disney has to offer — are rife with violence, sex and unhappy endings (essentially, enough to satiate contemporary audience and industry demands). In the Grimm versions, Ariel dies of heartbreak when her prince marries another woman; the king rapes Sleeping Beauty while she sleeps; the wicked queen in Snow White seeks to cannibalise her beautiful stepdaughter. In 2011, the film industry revisits these themes, hoping to turn them into box office gold.
The three Snow Whites
“Lips red as blood, hair black as night, bring me your heart, my dear, dear Snow White,” narrates Charlize Theron as the evil queen in Snow White and the Huntsman (set to release 2012), who seeks to devour Snow White’s heart in Grimm-style cannibalism. In addition, the gratuitous violence, gorgeous cinematography and generous helpings of explicit scenes with Theron (Kristen Stewart is still a little fresh in our minds) make this interpretation a must-see. Salon.com reports; “At this year’s Comic-Con, Charlize Theron likened her ‘evil queen’ character in Snow White and the Huntsman to a ‘serial killer’.”
The other comedy-romance rendition, Mirror, Mirror, starring Julia Roberts (evil queen) and Lily Collins (Snow White) offers a less sumptuous trailer; Roberts’ fake British accent is best described as downright unnerving. Meanwhile, Disney embarks on its own Snow White project titled The Order of the Seven. “This time, the Snow White figure is protected by seven warriors in 19th century China”, reports nymag.com.
Yet these films (set to release in 2012 and 2013 respectively) seem less about revival and more about keeping with the ‘fairy tale’ trend that’s taken film industries by storm.
This modern, Australian art house flick takes the rape of Sleeping Beauty to a whole other playing field; this is perhaps the most haunting and memorable adaptation yet. Meet Lucy, a university student, who signs up with a reticent escort service to make ends meet. Lucy’s employer, a formidable and striking older woman, prepares a special concoction that puts her prize girl into a deep slumber. Enter old men, who pay handsomely to have their way with the beautiful, sleeping girl.
Red Riding Hood (RRH)
The least impressive of the bunch is RRH which comes as a racy, horror flick for teens, with hot love interests and a werewolf thrown into the fray. This is RRH “True Blood” style, a substance-less mass of aesthetic jelly jiggling with cheap punch lines, a hunky wolf and way too many shots of Amanda Seyfried looking pensive and mesmerising in an overly emphasised red cape. The movie’s only saving grace has little to do with the movie itself: as an interpretation, the movie proves that our old fairy tales have enough enduring thematic content to remain relevant to the contemporary film.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2011.