Inspiring fairy tales
The Film Culture module asks the student to consider the part of myth and fantasy within the various genres of cinema and how this has influenced many aspects of the way we consume content, from the comic-strip and illustrated novels that spawned the Marvel franchise, to the contribution of Japanese cinema. When cinema embraces the fairy tale and speaks to audiences of all ages – invariably with animation, but not always, the experience of cinema can be truly immersive. As a kid I remember being horrified by the hunter killing Bambi’s mother and experiencing both fear and wonder at the look and voice of the wicked witch in Snow White. The stories from the Brothers Grimm, read to me as bedtime treats – perverse or what – live with me still for their horror, cruelty and moral compass. As films they became even more disturbing.
Perhaps we have become emotionally anaesthetised by the hegemony of Hollywood’s take on myth – not another super hero or heroine conforming to a predictable narrative and our senses overwhelmed with cliche’d visual effects and all the merchandising and star-gazing that accompanies pure commercial ambition and the world of Disney. Thankfully there are still films made that are pure fairy-story, the most recent being Matteo Garrone’s just released in the UK, Tale of Tales. Inspired by a 17th-century poet Giambattista Basile who himself was admired by Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, the film tells three stories about three monarchs, two kings and a queen. Between them they embody all of the deadly sins, each living in their own amazing castle. The landscapes are breath-taking, real yet unreal. Where visual effects and location combine is seamless and pure cinema. This film really needs to be seen on a very large screen indeed!
Garrone has a Tarantino-like fascination in referencing his work through the minds and images of others, although in this case his sources come from many aspects of the arts, literature, illustration and Italian cinema. He quotes Fellini’s Casanova made in 1976 and the uniquely Italian style of Giallo, a genre inspired by Italian pulp fiction of the twenties and thirties and made popular internationally when Mario Bava directed The Girl Who Knew Too Much in 1963. It should be noted however that the term ‘Giallo’ for Italian film-goers refers to any type of slasher/horror/thriller in the Hitchcock mould such as Psycho and Vertigo. A Trip to The Moon by George Méliès is discussed in the course and Méliès cinematic style inspired the underwater scene of the slaying of a sea-monster. A diligent student will for sure see and say, “Ah yes,”.
In Tale of Tales there are too obvious homages to American animation, in this case Garrone reverences Pixar with his sea monster and giant flea having great, soft eyes. The Ogre is redolent of Disney and a cave monster made me think of Tolkien. But it is the series of satirical etchings of Goya, Los Caprichos, that Garonne says helped him most. The film is visceral; a series of scenes that have aesthetic links but feel much closer to Pasolini than Disney; mythical for sure and fantastical to a degree. Italian cinema has a long line of great auteurs and Garrone is arguably the latest and as powerful and brilliant as his own heroes, Fellini included. Still only in his mid-forties, there isn’t a film of his I haven’t really loved and I would urge any student on the course to take time to acquaint themselves with his work including The Embalmer (2002), First Love (2004), his masterpiece Gomorrah (2008) and Reality (2012). There is an excellent interview with Garrone recently published in The Guardian here, which if you haven’t seen the film yet is worth reading before settling into your cinema seat for wonderful treat.