Posted on Friday, March 30th, 2012 by Jordan Hoffman
In college I was assigned to read something that argued all stories can be boiled down to a handful of classic texts. I never actually did the assignment, but when I explained to the professor I was sure the crux of the argument was merely a variation on essential lessons I’d already learned I was swiftly given an A.
This week Tarsem and his team of amazing technicolor dreamcoats are serving up an oddball version of the Snow White story with Mirror, Mirror. It’s not a particularly good film, but it isn’t awful either. It will eventually sit nicely on the shelf of strange cinematic extrapolations on classic fairy tale stories, which, as luck might have it, is the topic of this week’s TBMYPHS.
So close your eyes, my pretties, and get ready for a nice hybrid of creepy violence and overwrought moralism.
Freeway (1996); Matthew Bright, director.
I was an early adopter of Reese Witherspoon, already a fan of her work as the young wife to the very old Oliver Reed in the “not McMurtry-canon” Return to Lonesome Dove miniseries. (Yeah, I know – my tastes are all over the road sometimes.) It was her performance in Freeway, however, that got everyone’s attention.
Her turn as the sexy, violent and crafty “Little Red Riding Hood” opposite Keifer Sutherland’s Big Bad Wolf is what shot her into stardom. (Note: the film itself wasn’t actually seen by many in theaters, but it got a lot of people yapping, was a home video hit, and landed her some choice roles.) Freeway is a great sample specimin of post-Tarantino 90s American indie: a little bit sleazy, a little bit smart.
Krysar (The Pied Piper of Hamelin) (1985); Jiri Barta, director.
A few weeks back I devoted a whole column to Czech cinema but, truth is, I just scratched the surface. I’m pretty sure the boss isn’t walking past your cubicle, so take a few moments to watch the opening chunk of Jiri Barta’s gorgeous and creative version of the Pied Piper tale. Mixing live action (real rats!) and stop-motion, the architecture and citizens of Hamelin are rendered in woodcuts reminiscent of medieval art. No, you aren’t missing the subtitles – after an opening intro, the entire film’s dialogue is like the parents from Peanuts. It is one of the most meticulous feature films I’ve ever seen.
La Belle et La Bete (1946); Jean Cocteau, director.
Disney’s Mrs. Potts sang “tale as old as time” and she wasn’t kidding. This version of “Beauty and the Beast” is mysterious, magical and poetic. I produced a genuine wonderment-generated gasp the first time I saw the “living candelabras” in Jean Cocteau’s film. (I was also a little boy living alone in a train station at the theater with Chloe Moretz.)
Do yourself a favor and rent the Criterion version, then watch it again with Philip Glass’ opera on the alternate audio track. It’s like an artier version of watching The Wizard of Oz timed to Pink Floyd.
Cindefella (1960); Frank Tashlin, director.
Speaking of French Renaissance men like Jean Cocteau, what about the Gallic nation’s favorite son Jerry Lewis?
In this one, the evil step-parent, heartsick servant and proprietary footwear all get genderbent. Cinderalla? CinderFELLA! (Did I mention this guy is a treasure in France?)
Jerry Lewis is certainly an acquired taste (the only thing I know that can clear a room faster is the music of Captain Beefheart) but this is actually one of the better ones. Take a look at the video embedded above, but maybe skip directly to the 2:44 mark. (Oh, and those are the swingin’ sounds of the Count Basie Orchestra you’re hearing.)