Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Review:Beauty And The Beast (1946)

A 1946 poster (unknown, 2011)
  • Native Title: La Belle et la Bête (the beauty and the beast)
  • Primary Language: French
  • Format: Black and white
  • Year of release: 1946
  • Director: Jean Cocteau
  • Budget: Unknown
  • Film Length: 96 minutes
  • Production Company: DisCina
    Beauty and the Beast is an adaptation of the classic 18th century fairytale of the same name. It is one of those timeless stories that at its core could be described as the idea that all the wealth and power in the world means nothing without comeone to share it with.

   The film follows the story of Belle, the daughter of a successful merchant who ended up in poverty some time ago and has had her and her brother work to keep their finances afloat while her two sisters waltz around in extravogent finery and act like the wealthy well-to-do gentry that they still think they are. One day word reaches the merchant that a single ship of a fleet thought lost returns to port and the merchant travels out of town only to learn that the goods were impounded to pay for his debts much to his annoyance as he had promised gifts for his daughters upon his return. Because he did not even have enough for a bed for the night he risks travelling back in the pitch black where he stumbles across a hidden palace overgorwn with weeds and vines.

Avenant may be an oaf who thinks himself perfect for Belle, but
at least he has a heart for her unlike Gaston (Ewing, 2011)
    After stabling his horse and heading inside, he discovers a meal all ready for him, to which he dines on with suspicion, spending the night. When he wakes up the next morning he promptly leaves only to stop and pick a conveniently-emerging white rose, which angers Ba Bête - the palace's only resident. Bête appears before the merchant and announces his displeasure but after hearing the merchant's pleas he offers an ultimatum that he could live so long as he brought one of his daughters back to the palace to die in his stead, offering him a white stallion to return home on which would bring him back if he did not fulfil lhis promise within three days.
    Not wanting her father to die, Belle sneaks into the stable and mounts the horse, whsipering into its ear the phrase that would bring it to the palace, which she explores before fainting upon first sight of the beast. It happens to be a film that has no clear primary antagonist per se. "What makes this version of The Beauty and the Beast notable is that there are no real villains. There might be characters that the audience doesn’t like, but everyone has a legitimate motivation, even if
what they do might end up being wrong."
(Erwing, 2011) Avenant is a stark contrast to Disney's Gaston from the 1991 adaptation as while they are both oafs who are shown to be ladies men smitten with Belle, at least Avenant acts charming while Gaston is simply a brute who seems to think Belle would fall for him purely because he is the village stud with huge muscles and sexy hair. And Belle's sisters its probably debateable. They don't seek direct harm to Belle nor do they have anything to do with the events that lead up to Belle's capture. Their only truly malicious acts that could make them villains are their manipulations of Belle after she comes home and their lust for her riches (but at no point do they explicitly want her to die. Even their manipulations are to keep her fro mthe beast while Avenant goes on his quest for her love).

Beast may be a repulsive and a savage monster but he's got an
amazing wardrobe and sense of fashion! (Bradshaw, 2014)
    One thing that struck me about the beast is that for a monster he is surprisingly elegant. For msot of the time he walks with quite a regal posture and is a very eloquant speaker despite his gruff and monstrous voice. So from the off there's the possible indicator that he retains some form of humanity within him. The scale of his home, the elegance of the fine outfits he wears he comes across as a very hansome beast. His appearence as a lion-like creature combines impressions of savagery and regality, the latter aided by the extravogent outfits he adorns himself with. But there is still an animal within him as it is implied that he has a habit of going off to kill animals offscreen and drinks from water sources like a cat. There may also be hints of a feeling of shame in his outfits as he always wears gloves and his figure is broken by very wide shoulderpads, long flowing cloaks and an elaborate piccadill which would break up his silhouette and hide much of his mane when viewed from the back as well as accompanying his mane when viewed from the front.

    Beast's palace is beautiful and also surreal in its designs. The main hall and the main corridor we see is quite minimalist, its features hidden by dark colours that allow the shadows to blend with the walls, bringing out the pillar-flanked windows and doorways. In a way, the living statues (each played by extras with painted arms and faces) could be described as being presented as more "realistic" than anything made of stone at the implied time period, indicating how much care and attention to detail was taken into carving and perhaps to add to continuity the statue in Belle's room also appears to be a person with facepaint even when it is in the background of a shot. Another possibility of these statues is presented by Roger Ebert "are they captives of the Beast, imprisoned by spells?" we are given no indication, but if so then it adds a very sinister twist to the nature of Beast's castle, but they are definitely suppoed to be animated by magic of a sort.

Possibly a bit too over-the-top a way to end the film. (Black, 2012)
    It is a very fantastical story; lots of billowing smoke and tricks performed with wires and reverse playback to add a sense of enchantment to the world. In a sense, the smoke (there is one scene where a pearl necklace turns into vines when held by someone other than Belle) could be interpreted as the film's equivilent to the "farity dust" like graphic of later productions and it does work. The wispy smoke has a certain magical feel to it as the "magical residue" rises up and scatters into the air. Its not entirely overdone, with "Marvellous surreal effects [that] live on the mind’s eye long after the lights go up: the beast’s smoking paws; a living mantelpiece; the billowing white drapes as Belle is carried along a castle corridor, seemingly without moving her feet; and ethereal human arms brandishing candelabra." (most of it portrayed in a ocnservative way whilist other magical classics might show the magic with lights or a glitter effect, smoke, fades and moving inanimate objects (most of them quite conservative in doing so) are the only real signs of magic at work in this film. Although the final ending, where Beast takes Beauty into the clouds I felt that may have been too much. The film looked good enough to end with Beauty and Beast living the rest of their lives in his castle rather than him flying her up to paradise like Superman, which probably came off as a little cheesy or silly but it's not the only time, another really noteable one being when Belle wishes herself back home and is forced though a small hole in her father's house while wearing an enormous noblewoman's gown it almost looks like she's being pushed though while she is wrapped in a padded  frilled duvet.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Mark,

    Another well-considered review :)

    Just be careful of typing so fast that your words end up strung together, here for example,

    '...he risks travelling back i nthe pitch black'

    And don't forget to reference after the quote!