Cinema in new lights: where tolerance and art meet face to face

There are two primary reasons I find cinema fascinating. (1) As different art mediums come together in cinema, the limitations it places on those artists forces a particular sort creative thinking; and (2) since film is multi-faceted, people will love and approach it in unique and personal ways.

The Wizard of Oz, 1939

 

First: Putting boundaries on the artist

While I love to write, and I love photography, I think the cinema has become my favorite art medium. It is so limited, and yet so free. In the greatest pieces of cinema, actors master their particular art (whether film, television drama, sit-com, or documentary) while weaving together the skill of writing with the beauty of the visual art. All artists can come together in the cinema. It is so more limiting than designing clothes for a model, paintings for a gallery, or music for a symphony. There, the art is allowed to reach whatever heights the artist can imagine. The endless possibilies are incredible. Here it is restricted. It must be applied. The artist must bend to the purpose. If the artist can bend to the purpose, while still remaining true to the art, while still keeping the highest quality, here I think the artist has also achieved something incredible, in a different way. Both are necessary. The ability of any artist to adapt from an environment of total creative freedom to an environment filled with boundaries shows the adeptness of the artist.

Time and again 1939 is considered the greatest year of cinema. It brought us Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Little Princess, Midnight, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Women, and Wuthering Heights. The list goes on and on. What happened that year? The production code began to be enforced. Censorship was on. The writers and directors had to make appealing art within the limitations of that production code and it is known for producing several of the greatest movies of all time.

The Women, 1939
The Women, 1939

 

 

Second: A multifaceted medium

What interesting things happened with an art form that has so many facets? People approach it from different directions.

To be specific, I am not a fan of the Disney machine. I think that is primarily because I am sensitive to psychology, perspectives of culture and marketing (from a psychological perspective) and what message is given through those lenses. In my opinion, Disney uses consumers to make a profit. It frequently sends a message of the uselessness of fathers and the requirement of either a passive female or aggressive, who needs men, feminists. Complementarity is not explored. Religion is excluded. Costumes are sold. Princesses engineered to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. As the culture has changed, Disney has changed.

Snow White, 1931

 

Frozen, 2014

 

I spoke recently to a lover of the theater. Her view is totally different. Why wouldn’t it be? Other than Rogers and Hammerstein, in the past 50 years who has brought theatrical music to the general public? Disney. She thought the music from Frozen to be of incredible quality, harking back to the Disney Renaissance.

Since I approach the film differently, I see different things. Neither is right or wrong. Just as life is made better by the variety of worldviews, so we can take what we want out of a film and enjoy it in our own personal way.

Going further with the concept of the personal, there are limitations beyond the creators’ control in film. With a painting, the artist places’ his stamp on the image of the model. So in a way, it is the painter we see, even though he sought to represent the model. In a novel, the reader places his own image on the descriptions. Readers are either delighted or angered by the choice of actor to play the role, or the manner of the actor depending on how it aligns or disfigures their mental image of the character.

This brings us to the point. Like photography, cinema brings us real people. We are drawn or experience aversion to people and their manners. For example, I an a fan of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” I love the courage and desire for personal development of the main character. I love the subtle and over-the-top humor, the multitude of cultural and iconic references. I love the strength of the female lead, whose existence is not dependent on other male characters. It’s a great piece of television in my eyes. A friend who also loves cinema dislikes the show because of the main actress. That happens. Not all personalities can be attractive to everyone. If they are, that is when you end up with mega-stars.

This is also experienced in theater, Even in theater, an actor who is more than just “a body with a voice,” viewers creates the character in his or her image. My husband and I have watched a filmed theatrical version of Into the Woods and really love it. We watched the recent film by Disney, so ready to love it, and were sorely disappointed. Why?

Into the Woods, 2014

We had in our minds the portrayal, energy and comedic timing of the theatrical actors. Disney movie just did not compare.

Into the Woods - into-the-woods Photo
Into the Woods, Original Cast

Does that make less of the experience of someone else watching it?

No, not at all.

Might one be objectively better?

Possibly. But also possible that it was our personal experiences that led to enjoyment or displeasure.

Conclusion

The discussion could go on and on. Cinema provides us with a special place, wildly boundless and yet full of boundaries for those who help to create it. It is deeply personal from the personhood of the actors to the personalities of the viewers. There is something for everyone.

I might have actually liked Frozen…

Have you seen this song “Life’s Too Short” which was created but then cut from the movie Frozen? There were many paths considered for the plot of the movie Frozen. This was cut as the story was developed. Please watch it and read on.

I think I would have really liked Frozen if they had gone in this direction. If you follow this blog, you know I’m not a fan of the movie. Here are the reasons why “Life’s Too Short,” a song full of deep and complex ideas and interpersonal dynamism, made such an impression on me.

Reason 1: I think this song demonstrates what strained sibling relationships are like.

Good movies/stories show insight into relationships no matter how fantastic the setting. Poor story telling either doesn’t go deep enough or makes caricatures of those relationships and the people in them. Is it realistic that Anna and Elsa should not know each other at all, spend six, eight or ten years separated by a door, unwilling to play, even after their parents who separated them died? Is it realistic that Elsa should be crowned queen after being locked up in this way?

It is more realistic that they would know each other, have some relationship, albeit is a very strained one. There is the desire for a relationship but an inability to quite connect because they don’t fully know or accept a part of who Elsa is. So as it is, is it really a happy ending the way the movie goes? They still don’t know each other but they’ve finally become aware and acted on their love for each other. Then what? I think the next step would more likely be what this song portrays. Just as I dislike movies where we spend one and half to two hours waiting for people to date, I disliked this movie. The real drama happens when relationships start.

Reason 2: If a person decides to take the “screw you, this is my who I really am” approach to things, there are some very real and painful consequences for everyone involved.

Elsa left her responsibilities as queen on her coronation day. In the song she will be only happy if Anna joins her in her new life. She won’t back to a life of hiding. It’s Anna’s mistake to think the only way Elsa can return is through hiding (wearing the gloves) but it’s the mistake of Elsa to think the only other alternative is to leave entirely. This dichotomy hurts people. The interaction reveals assumptions and expectations. Elsa’s choices and Anna’s ultimatum (which is really just a lack of understanding) damages relationships.

Number 3: Good stories commit to who their characters are, for good and ill and allow consequences to their faults/virtues to develop.

If we consider the musical Into the Woods (I have not seen the film, I am referencing the musical), the Baker’s Wife is basically a good person, but she has utilitarian beliefs (willing to lie to get the cow because have a child is a greater good than a boy’s friendship with a cow). That utilitarian belief leads to her dismissal of her unfaithfulness towards her husband with the prince as just a moment in the woods. There are consequences for her perspective.

Frozen does not commit to its characters. Elsa let’s go of all she has known, she’s a liberated person and there are no personal consequences that move the viewer. Personally, I believe Disney did not want to make her a real villain, even for a little while (reconciliation could still be the ending, sprinkling in conversion), because of the marketing opportunities to having two new princesses.

With this song, Elsa becomes the villain because she prioritizes her freedom over everything else, without regard to what or who she left behind. It’s implicit in the story as it is, but you have to search for it. By and large, she is treated as good and and as a victim without negative emotional weight to her choices.

Good stories have complicated people, good and bad, which is like life. This plot direction would have made the favorite song, “Let it Go,” a deeply complex song, sung from Elsa’s perspective but ultimately shown to have disastrous consequences when seen from a broader perspective. “Life’s Too Short” causes us to feel more for Anna when juxtaposed against Elsa, although it still succeeds in making us feel the hurt of both sisters. It makes that goal of the movie more successful by casting a little more judgment on their choices.

Number 5: Lastly, from where do we take our identity?

Who am I? Does my value come from my athleticism? What happens if I get injured, lose a leg, or my ability to run because of a heart condition? Who am I then? Sometimes when a person has been told to hide who they are for so long, they ruminate on that feature and it becomes a defining characteristic. I’m an artist! I’m a lesbian! I’m a Democrat! But these are features of our personality and parts of our life, very important features and important parts, but parts nonetheless. Our wholeness and value come from something permanent and lasting, from being made in the image of God as human beings. Seen in this framework, we can negotiate the rest, make it work, see where it fits.

Have you ever seen the stop animation film, Santa Claus is Coming to Town? You can still have the misunderstood villain by having a real villain who experiences a conversion. Sure, it’s simplified here, but the concept is important. It’s a concept mostly lost in modern storytelling.

I’m not saying Elsa should put on the gloves. But a resolution of this crisis might show that she repents of her choices to abandon everything, return and work through both her feelings of rejection (while others learn to accept who she is) and also learn to use and adapt her powers to her frame of life. It has less an “us against them” feeling and more “us against ourselves” which is something the greatest dramas in history portray.