Friday, 11 May 2007

Carmody Wilson reviews her ten favourite films, part 5

Sleeping Beauty
USA 1959

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Screenwriter: Charles Perrault, Erdman Penner
Runtime: 75 min
Certificate: U
DVD Distributor: Walt Disney Home Video

“S” is for Sleeping Beauty. Just like every child from my generation I viewed a great number of animated cartoons, but none of them comes even close to the beauty of the illustrations, the intricacies of the music, the evil of the villain and the sheer heartstring-tugginess of the whole thing put together. I remember first watching this on a Sunday night when “The Disney Hour” was regularly programming awful pap like “The Shaggy Dog” or “Herbie The Lovebug.” To me, anything animated would have sufficed, but from the opening credits-the medieval music, the castles, the oldness of it all-I was rapt. I held on to that memory, and many years later, when I watched the film again, I was equally struck by all that unfolded before me. Sleeping Beauty is the perfect animated film.

First of all, it’s just filled with great art. The layout and the sheer depth of the backgrounds alone colour the story and propelled me immediately into the 14th century, into that middle European kingdom beyond the clouds. The colourful flags, the people in their huge hats and strange, medieval costumes, the masonry; it’s all so complete. I love that I can see etchings on stone. The people are something else too. Briar Rose/Princess Aurora was drawn in a way that no Disney heroine has been done since. She has the elegant nose, the fine chin and the hair of a true fairy princess. Prince Phillip is so handsome, gallant, and whimsical that I swoon a little every time he dances with his cape in the forest. And Eleanor Audley as Maleficent? Chills. When she proclaims herself as “Mistress of all evil”, I really believe her.

For me, again, what really does it is the music. “I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream…” dies away on my lips whenever I’m feeling particularly romantic. Based on Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Suite, the score shifts and melts in and around all the hustle and bustle of the script. It’s timeless, beautiful, and perfect, a sublime way to bookend such a wondrous animated experience.

You Can’t Take it With You
USA 1938
Director: Frank Capra
Screenwriter: Robert Riskin, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart (play)
Runtime: 126 min
Certificate: U
DVD Distributor: Sony Pictures

My viewing of “old” movies has been extremely limited. It has only been in recent times that I have been able to sit back and inexpertly enjoy the pleasures of the odd madcap, musical misunderstanding movie made in the 30’s,40’s or 50’s. There are some very distinct pleasures associated with these films, namely observing the outmoded class structures, antiquated social norms, and listening to that strange, other-worldly mid-Atlantic accent that everyone from Grace Kelly to Greer Garson adopted. This recent discovery of the pleasures of the cinema of my parents’ time has led me to make a curious discovery: these films aren’t merely exercises in “time warp” viewing; they can actually be filled with real people in identifiable situations! With this in mind, I now announce my only “oldie” in the top ten: Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You.

Sure, sure, the story is a bit far fetched, but it’s lovely. Having first read the play, I was pleasantly surprised at how expertly all of the craziness was applied to the film. The two scenes that most endure in my mind are the date scene, where Jimmy Stewart’s Tony Kirby takes Jean Arthur’s Alice Sycamore out for dinner and goads her into screaming in the establishment restaurant, and the scene where the Kirbys arrive unexpectedly early for dinner. The sheer energy and calamitous cacophony of the latter mixed with the tender, naturalness of the former are the twin emblems of comedic perfection that make this film one of my favorites. Tony is so, by turns, cautious and sassy with Alice that their chemistry is real and I fully believe that he’ll turn his snooty family around into accepting those unorthodox, socialist misfits that are his girlfriend’s family. And I just love Jean Arthur’s squeaky voice. This, in combination with the music, clapping, dancing and shouting, makes me laugh, laugh, and laugh again, every time I see it.
This concludes Carmody Wilson's top ten.
Thanks for reading!

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