Beauty and the Beast: A Tale for the Ages

3.

In 1946, Jean Cocteau filmed La Belle et la bête in France. Cocteau, 1889 to 1903, was a Renaissance man who worked in almost every genre of artistic expression: he was a poet, novelist, dramatist, essayist, film writer, director, painter, and sculptor. Best known as a writer, he associated with many of the most creative people of his time. Particularly important for our discussion, he often adapted myths and legends in his work. His screenplay was based on the old Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont fairy tale. His work can be identified by his use of surrealism, which tried to find a reality above the surface or within the surface of what the reader or film-goer is seeing. Cocteau and other surrealists tried to suspend the discipline of conscious or logical reason, aesthetics, or morality in order to allow for the expression of subconscious thought and feeling” (Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Third Edition.)

The terms “Fairy Tale” and “Folk Tale” are often confused. As defined in The Harper Handbook to Literature, Second Edition, a fairy tale is written or created, “a story of dire trials and rescue by witches, ogres, fairies, and other magical beings.” The Folk Story, on the other hand, was an oral folk story forming part of the folklore of a community, generally less serious than the stores called myths. In preliterate societies, virtually all narratives were either myths or folktales: oral histories of real wars, kings, heroes, great families, and the like accumulating large amounts of legendary material.”

Roger Ebert, the late film critic, said of Cocteau’s film of the fairy tale that “It is the most magical of all films. . . alive with trick shots and astonishing effects, giving us a Beast who is lonely like a man and is misunderstood as an animal.” The tone of the film, and the film is very surrealistic, is “established in haunting images, and bold Freudian images to suggest emotions in the subconscious of his characters.” The Beast’s castle is a strange, confusing place. When I watched some of the film recently, my impression of the castle is that of a dream (or a nightmare.) The heroine, Beauty, wanders through it haphazardly, sheer draperies blowing out, muscular arms without bodies holding lighting fixtures, the Beast appearing and disappearing, statues that are alive, and music, sometimes dissonant and moody, accompanying what is playing on the screen.

If you would like to read Ebert’s review of December 26, 1999, “Beauty and the Beast,” you will learn more about the surrealistic touches in the film, and then if you want to enter Cocteau’s dream world, you’ll be prepared. Ebert remarks that “Cocteau wanted to make a poem, wanted to appeal through images rather than words…” Although the story of Beauty and the Beast was old and familiar, “its surface seems to be masking deeper and more disturbing currents.” This is obviously one version of the story not meant for children.

 

Beauty and the Beast: A Tale for the Ages

Two.

Today we go a little farther into the story of the beautiful and dutiful young girl and the ugly Beast. Last time I included the second version of the tale which is longer and more detailed. One of my readers loved the story and found it be indeed charming. Another reader thought it somehow familiar and he had seen it before. Even so, he enjoyed reading it again.

Picking up on the appearance of Beauty and the Beast in books over the years, we discover the famous Andrew Lang who put together the Blue Fairy Book of 1889, in which he included Beauty and the Beast. The Jeanne Leprince de Beaumont and Lang versions were widely reprinted. Here is a link to Lang’s book in which you can listen to more than thirty tales including Beauty and the Beast. I think you’ll enjoy this link: http://www.loyalbooks.com/book/the-blue-fairy-book-by-andrew-lang.

If you read the book version of last time or listen to this second link. you will find that these stories have an obvious moral in them. That is one important reason why they were composed. Our story presented an enchanted castle, a ferocious Beast who frightened both a kind father and his beloved daughter who would do anything to save her father, and magical happenings. What better way to learn what it was to be a good person than reading a story like this? The motif of a good girl who goes through a frightening experience and then falls in love with a Beast who turns out not to be a monster even though he looks that way, and then is redeemed for his sins and turned back into the handsome prince he was before, was certainly an enjoyable way of teaching children to look below the surface before judging people by the way they look. And there is much more in these tales which are meant to be instructive.

Next time, I’ll talk a little about literature as opposed to folklore and then we’ll go on to Beauty and Beast in films.

Beauty and the Beast: A Tale for the Ages

This morning I’m writing a literary post here that focuses on my appreciation of the very old fairy tale, “Beauty and the Beast.” The lush new cinematic version has recently appeared and I’m sure theater-goers are rushing to see it. But I happened to know that the story can be traced back of Greek mythology and has made numerous appearances all over the world, including reprints of the original story in English (the best coming from the University of Pittsburgh), new versions of the story, and even an opera. In the next blog, I’ll be writing about some of those versions, and I hope my readers will be inspired to not only read the material contained in my links but also go to see the new Disney movie with a fuller appreciation of the tale.

Gabrielle Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve is credited with her original story published in 1740. It was included in book entitled La Jeune americaine, et les contes marins. The story is the length of a novel and written in the prevailing style of novels of that time. After she died, her story was rewritten by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and published in 1756. Beaumont’s Magasin des enfants was intended to instruct young girls in moral lessons. Since she gave no credit to Villeneuve, it’s often assumed that Beaumont is the first author of the tale.

Let’s stop here for a treat for everyone who loves fairy tales. Click on this link and up will come the very famous English version from the University of Pittsburgh. Thank you UP for the tale and Wikipedia for the above information.

Please go to http://pitt.edu/~dash/beauty.html.

Tomorrow I’ll continue with more about the tale and its later versions, including one of my favorites, the television series set in New York City featuring another Beast, this time named Vincent.

Outstanding Film about Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders

My friends all know me as a movie buff besides a writer of mysteries. I’d like to tell you about a movie I saw a couple of nights ago that was so good it kept me in my chair for close to three hours. No, that’s not exactly right. I got up once at the bidding of my cat who reminded me rather strongly that it was time to get his night dinner ready. Now I’ve seen so many movies in my life that I can tell when I’ve seen an outstanding film, one that stays in my memory, one that I could talk about at length, bring up in an English class as an example of craftsmanship. “Rough Riders” is one of those. It is a television film, first shown in two episodes in 1997. John Milius directed it with the script written by him and by Hugh Wilson.

Before it started, I did a little fast research. The main character is Teddy Roosevelt and his organizing the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry unit that would go to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Having read about this president, I already knew that he was sickly as a child, had bad lungs, and terrible vision. I had always wondered how he could go to fight a war with his physical problems. But from my reading I also knew that he was indomitable. He resolved to live the toughest, most challenging life he could, and this opportunity to build a unit of fighting men whom he would go with to Cuba and fight along with seemed to be just right for his ongoing quest to be as strong physically and morally too as he could be. Those who enlisted in Mr. Roosevelt’s unit, as we see in the film, were willing to endure the rigorous training that would result in them knowing how to, having the will to, kill other men. One scene is especially grizzly to me. Sam Elliott, a trainer, asks his group how many of them have had to kill something or someone. Only a couple have killed an animal; no one has killed a man. The men train fiercely to be able to do this. When they get to Cuba and face the enemy with its heavy weapons, they change into killing machines themselves, and we see that change. As we watch them mowed down, we remember that just a while ago, we saw them shooting at targets. The background for the battle scenes was gathered from diaries and military dispatches that survive, so the battles are realistic. We know that this is modern battles are often fought too, the soldiers milling about from time to time, not sure of what to do next, not sure how to react to the enemy pulling some unexpected tactic, not sure of what do to when their friends are dropping right and left of them. Another thing I liked about the movie was that the soldiers in Cuba are from all walks of life. Hamilton Fish was a familiar name to me since I am a native New Yorker. When he walks into the training ground, sticks out his hand, and courteously introduces himself, I knew already about his rich, influential family in New York. Some of the soldiers are already fierce riders of different kinds. One person is supposed to be a polo rider in a former life. Some have owned their own horses and know a thing or too about riding. And the horses are shown in battle very realistically, sometimes being shot to death and collapsing while the rider may or may not die along with the horse. The clash of the opposing forces of men and horses is shown realistically as well. Men have fought this way for centuries, the poor horses forced into war. I’ve mentioned here that the film depicts many different types of men who are fighting in this war. The Buffalo soldiers are there too. And especially interesting to me are the people who are not soldiers but writers and other types covering the war for their own purposes: William Randolph Hurst, Stephen Crane, Frederick Remington. All of these people are shown getting along with everyone else as they go about their business of actively fighting the enemy in the midst of the shells or scribbling reports so the people at home will understand what is happening to Americans in Cuba

The list of actors in this film is full of veteran actors of superb acting ability as well as younger  actors who have displayed their acting abilities. Everyone puts 1000% into their roles to get them right, it seems to me. While we become engrossed with individual soldiers, of course the most important role is that of Theodore Roosevelt, played by Tom Berenger. And he is fine and true, according to what I’ve read about Roosevelt.  To portray Roosevelt’s personality as he has been shown in biographies and do it so that the audience accepts this man/boy for his bravery, his warm feelings for his comrades, his great desire to do this thing right, to find out how to fight this war, how to somehow stay well and all the other things it will take to participate in the great event and represent our country well and nobly, must have been one of the hardest roles ever played by Mr. Berenger. It would be easy to overact and portray Roosevelt as a good-heated, naïve, rich man. I encourage everyone reading this entry to make an effort to see the film. You will never forget it.