Wednesday, November 13, 2013

UPDATED: Maleficent 2014

Why make this film? With all the new, original stories flooding Hollywood, why go back to a film from 1959 for material today? Maleficent is the "untold story" of Disney's most iconic villain from the 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty which presents us with a rather technical grammatical problem regarding the synopsis: it's "told from her perspective," but we know the screenplay is written by John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini (and some other writers) who both worked on Snow White and the Huntsman (Amini also did the screenplay for 47 Ronin coming out) and the evil queen (Charlize Theron) didn't technically have the story told from--technically--her perspective (compared to, for example, Mirror, Mirror with Julia Roberts in the evil witch role, who had more personal perspective). Why is this technicality an issue?
The official synopsis is: Maleficent is the untold story of Disney's most iconic villain from the 1959 classic "Sleeping Beauty." A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land's fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal - an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king's successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom - and perhaps to Maleficent's true happiness as well,..." Maleficent is one of four "villain" stories as of late: both Mirror, Mirror (Julia Roberts, Lily Collins) and Snow White and the Huntsman (Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth) focused more on the evil stop-mother/witch queen of the Snow White tale and next year we will see Kenneth Branaugh's Cinderella, starring Cate Blanchett as the step-mother of "poor Cinder-rellie." This pattern exceeds coincidence, so we have to ask the obvious--and, therefore, the most rewarding question: "Why?" The valid but vague answer is that these three women (the queen witch from Snow White, the sorceress from Sleeping Beauty and the evil step-mother in Cinderella) have been chosen by artists (specifically, film makers) to embody some evil or harm in society/culture today. Another pattern we see in this trend is that of the established super-star taking the role of the villain, rather than the role of the virtuous heroine,... imagine, just to put this into context, if Judy Garland had played the Wicked Witch of the West, and Margaret Hamilton played Dorothy,... so, yea, things have changed, and there has to be a reason for that. To this mix, I think it's only fair to add Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters and Famke Janssen's witch role superseding the Gingerbread Cottage witch (we certainly learn more about the witch in this tale, but it's not exactly as "linear" of a narrative in comparison to the original as the others are, but it is following the same trend: they got the established Janssen to play a witch, whereas the lesser-established Gemma Arterton plays Gretel, the heroine). At this point in my thinking on the topic, it doesn't appear--as I am thinking of it right now--that the situation with male characters and actors has followed the same path: Robert Downey Jr plays both Iron Man's Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes; in Star Trek Into Darkness, Benedict Cumberbatch--a sky-rocketing actor--plays Khan, but the narrative mostly follows Kirk (Chris Pine) and we can say the same of Fast and Furious 6, GI Joe Retaliation, The Dark Knight, The Wolverine, The Hobbit, James Bond in Skyfall, (an exception to this--the only one I can really think of off the top of my head, is Pain and Gain with Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg, where we do identify with the male villains who are played by established actors, rather than the victim that no one likes) Thor the Dark World (Tom Hiddleston as Loki is a major actor as a villain, but the film mostly follows Thor and our sympathies lie with him as the main character) and probably several others I just can't think of at the moment, but established male actors are still playing heroes (and that's the desired role for men) as opposed to villains. Again, why? Men traditionally symbolize the active principal of the economy or production, whereas women typically symbolize the "motherland" (particularly relevant in these cases as these women are in "mother-like" roles that have gone sour, including an updated Maleficent who, according to Aurora in the trailer has been "watching over me" her whole life, which is an eerie mother-role and quite different from the original Disney film they did when Maleficent lost track of Aurora until the day of her 16th birthday). This, again, feeds into our opening observation in this caption, that these female-villains have been recognized to be a vehicle for a specific evil plaguing society today, one having to do with the role and identity of America (instead of the economy).
When a viewer watches a film, or reads a book, listens to music, etc., they enter into an agreement with the artist to "willingly suspend disbelief" in exchange for the story they are going to be told. What that means is, I am not going to sit back and critique everything being done or said (you know those people who are like, "That doesn't look real," "Ninja's can't fly," "There aren't any dragons," etc.,; NOW, there is a limit to disbelief, for example, poorly done special effects, or gross outrages against morality, in other words, artists have an agreement to uphold and the audience has a right to hold them to it); I am going to enter into the world the artist wants to depict to me so the artist can do the critique of society/me, not myself do the critique because art is a metaphor to supply culture with a conscience and the ability to reflect upon what it does/doesn't do. Part of getting me to suspend my disbelief willingly is to provide me with a character with whom I want to identify with, a character to whom I can pin my emotions and hopes, my own identity. Is that Maleficent?
THIS is NOT the look they decided to go with for Maleficent: whereas the original Disney animated character had a green face as Jolie sports in this poster, Maleficent had the high, sharp cheek bones that are missing from this poster (her face has a more natural, smooth shape to it). Again, my Photoshop was on the stolen laptop, so I apologize for not being able to put the images side-by-side, but the "green Maleficent" is almost more "serpentine" and animalistic whereas the pale white Maleficent above appears more vampiristic and death-like. Why? We have to appreciate the difficult role film makers will find themselves in with re-making this story: most people are familiar with the Disney version, so they have to retain elements they know will draw in an audience, while still "updating" the film and making it relevant for today's viewers, so the film makers have to understand, in essence, what viewers refuse to acknowledge: What is it we "love" about the original Maleficent that we don't want to admit to because she's the villain? That is the task these film makers (and anyone doing a re-make) has to face and confront, somehow encoding the new sufficiently to invoke the old and capitalize upon audience's recognition of that. One aspect missing from the modern Maleficent is the color purple (at least as we have seen her so far); why is purple important to Maleficent? Purple is the color of both royalty and suffering. Since it was so expensive and time-consuming to produce, only royalty could afford material dyed in purple, so it has always been associated with them; for 2,000 years, since Jesus is the King of the Jews, and the King of Kings, and He made known His kingship of love during His Sorrowful Passion, purple has always been associated with suffering as well, because a good king suffers for his people, he doesn't make his people suffer for him. Maleficent wears purple because she is the exact opposite: she is the royal mistress of Satan but she spreads suffering to others rather than taking it upon herself for any redemptive value. So far thusly, however, we have not seen Maleficent wearing purple whereas it and black are her dominant colors in the animated version. The green face has not been retained from this early poster but it deserves exploration. Like all colors, green has a positive and negative symbol: green either means hope, as in the green rebirth of spring, or that something has died and rotted, like mold. If Aurora is supposed to be a future hope for peace and stability, then it follows that Maleficent is the opposite of that, something which has died and decayed. Again, they didn't go with this green coloring, rather, a pale, deathly-white, more like a vampire.
Is she going to be a big part of the film? Is she going to have character development? OR, will she be the main character with whom we are actually meant to identify with, i.e., the villain and thus we, too, are the villains of the story? These are important questions. As we discussed in an earlier posting on newly released images of Maleficent, from the synopsis provided, that appears to be the situation: she defended her country (patriotism) from an invading army (Obama's socialist revolution) but was betrayed (by politicians not upholding their oaths to protect the Constitution who sold out the country instead) and sought to destroy the king's child (Obama's legacy in Obamacare) but realizes that, if she will become a socialist, too, she will be happy living off food stamps with a government-issued phone they monitor constantly,.... OR IS THIS THE STORY?
Patriots, like myself, aren't afraid of being seen, and we certainly have gone to great lengths to be seen and our message heard, specifically about the corruption and ruin Obama is bringing to this country; but ask yourself this, did you have ANY idea there were so many communists and socialists living in America who have stepped out of the darkness since 2010? A known communist is now mayor of New York City, would that have happened before 2008? Absolutely not! When we see young Aurora (played by Vivenne Jolie-Pitt, the scene is discussed below) running through a field chasing a butterfly, she's headed directly for a cliff,... since Obama took office, Americans have become all-too familiar with a political state known as the "fiscal-cliff" which this country has been run-off several times, just like the little girl we see blissfully running in the scene (again, this is discussed more below). At the same time, Aurora--at least in the trailer--says "You've been watching over me my whole life," and we could see this as a valid description of socialism in America as it has been applied by the federal government, especially in areas such as the auto industry and farming through subsidies (and even student loans for college). In this case, when Americans say, "Yea, we know socialism, it's great, it keeps us from falling off the cliff so the government can come and bail us out whenever we need it," but then for the real, ugly face of socialism to show itself, for it to actually step "out of the darkness" as it really is and not just as a kind of "fairy godmother" (that's another fairy tale) is a frightening experience, and a significant change from Disney's original animated film (in the original, Aurora and Maleficent never meet face-to-face). Now, a major characteristic of Maleficent: why the high cheek bones? The original and adapted versions have this characteristic, so it must be significant. What is the most familiar saying about cheeks? "Turn the other cheek," and we know, this is something Maleficent doesn't do, at all. In the 1959 version, she hasn't been invited to the christening of the infant princess, so she curses the child; yea, that qualifies as "extreme behavior." The extreme cheek-bones of Maleficent reveal to us how easily she takes offense at the slightest slight and how heavy her retribution is, rather like the police state created under socialism (consider, if you will, that a guy was fired over a tweet that criticized Obama over Benghazi, and an Obamacare operator was fired just for taking a call from Sean Hannity; no one was fired over in any of the scandals/felonies Obama's office has committed, but two people where fired over these two trifles). What about Maleficent's characteristic "horned hat?" Why did they retain that? Maleficent means "evil," and she is the self-proclaimed "Mistress of Darkness," or, in other words, a bride of Satan, who himself traditionally has horns BECAUSE Satan uses our own animal passions and instincts against us to cause us to sin; what does Maleficent have around her neck in the image above? Fur. What does the neck--where her collar is--symbolize? What leads us in life, so Maleficent is led by her animal instincts/passions (which probably includes revenge; but, you might say, animals don't take revenge and that's a good point, they don't; what "animal instinct" means regarding humans is how humans act instead of acting within the Grace of God. Maleficent, being evil, will take offense and make someone pay for it; Christ, when he was persecuted and mocked, turned the other cheek and taught us to do the same, giving a blessing instead of a curse, whereas Maleficent gives a curse instead of a blessing.
I do NOT know anymore than you do, dear reader, but there are a few issues that appear to be worthy of our attention as possibly leading the film in an altogether different direction: namely, the spinning wheel, the briar patch of thorns Maleficent creates in the trailer and history.
So, what about these little fairies? Have we seen them before? Yes, in Oz: the Great and Powerful, when Oscar lands in Oz. I can't say a whole lot about this scene, given that it is not contextualized, however, we know they are sent by Maleficent (and if you are wondering, it doesn't appear that the traditional 3 good fairy godmothers are in this film, as they were in the animated version; it's possible their characters will show up in other ways, but it doesn't look like they will be as we are familiar with them). Now, this fairy is unnatural in at least two ways: first, it's a fairy, and fairies don't exist (witches exist, but fairies don't); secondly, it's like it's a mermaid, with the tail "fin" it has going at the bottom of its body, which is also unnatural, so, there is the element of delight, as we can see by Aurora's face, but should she be delighted, or is this a bit of something candy-coated to set her up so she can be harmed, now being in a vulnerable position? After all, Aurora is "in the dark" in this scene, and maybe in more ways than one.  
Both versions retain the use of the spindle of the spinning wheel as the "vehicle" of Maleficent's curse against Aurora, however, they appear to go about the introduction of it quite differently. In the original, Aurora is put into a trance by Maleficent and led up a staircase and then Maleficent makes a spinning wheel appear magically and Aurora pricks her finger on it. Symbolically--and we will discuss this in great detail when we analyze the animated version prior to the release of this new film--Aurora pricking her finger symbolizes the loss of her virginity, the spindle being a phallic symbol and the skin of the finger breaking and bleeding replicates the breaking of the hymen (trust me, the story totally lends itself to this reading). In Maleficent, however, a brief glimpse offers us a very different approach,...
In today's world, this could just as easily be a heap of discarded computers, cell phones, televisions or video game consoles. During the medieval period--roughly about the time the story appears to be taking place--just about everyone apart from the nobility were lower-class, and, therefore, bound to provide and spin their own wool (or other fibers) to clothe themselves (some communities would have had spinning goods be a part of their monthly rent to their landlords, the nobility). The spinning class is the perfect example of how a class of people--specifically, women--were bound forever in the lower-stratums of society during feudalism--what many people coming to America in the colonial period were fleeing--and probably the fate of Aurora herself had she not been born noble because class mobility did not exist in any form (and this really comes out in the original animated film, when Prince Philip wants to marry a peasant girl and his father won't let him because Briar Rose is a peasant; likewise, Aurora didn't want to find out she was the princess because she couldn't marry the young man she had met in the forest, so their class identity was creating the conflict; again, we will discuss this much more in depth later, but I would like to say that I don't think the 1959 version was about class conflict, however, these were elements all ready present in the story we are familiar with and to elaborate upon those elements might be the reason for remaking the film today). On a totally different note, please note the color scheme: this particular shade of blue, with the hazy lighting and gold spindle, is echoed in Aurora's bedroom where she sleeps. The color scheme could be described as "peacock," because of the blues and golds, and because peacocks are usually the colors associated with royalty (we have all ready seen this in Mirror, Mirror with Julia Roberts who dresses in a white peacock feathers with her red ball gown whereas Snow White dresses as a swan). Why would this be important? Depending on what point in the film such color variances begin to be employed, the peacock would go against the symbol of the,... raven? Or is that a small buzzard/vulture Maleficent has? Probably a raven (which we have all ready seen in The Raven with John Cusack) which is a symbol of death. Why is this important? IF the peacock colors are used, or if there is a peacock anywhere in the film, that has the potential to become a powerful sub-text of the plot aiding us in a deeper interpretation and understanding of the characters and events.
This heap of discarded spinning wheels is unusual--most people today aren't even familiar with what a spinning wheel is--and Aurora is about to prick her finger on the spindle. Now, the interesting thing is, Aurora is royalty (we don't know if she is whisked away and raised in the forest, as she was in Disney's animated film, or she stays with her family in this one) but spinners--those who take raw fibers, such as cotton, wool, linen, etc. and spin them into useable fibers in the production of clothing--are from the laboring class, and a hard life of work that Aurora would be spared since she is royalty. Additionally, the spindle she pricks her finger upon looks like it's gold (it certainly isn't plain) and that might add a dimension into this conflict between her royal class (to whom gold is given) and the lower class of the spinning wheel, in other words, is the REAL CURSE Maleficent throws against Aurora that of having her royal status removed and having to become a laborer and subject to the pains and occupational hazards of being in the working class? Let's hope she hasn't had her health insurance canceled.
Vivenne Jolie-Pitt making her film debut. In the trailer, at 0:21, we see the full shot of this scene and the blissful little Aurora heading straight for the cliff as she chases butterflies,... what does this mean? Well, it's easy to see this as a youthful America, children symbolize the future, and us "chasing our own dreams," even as we head towards the cliff of destruction, in other words, did government subsidies make is possible for Americans to "chase their dreams" with GI Bills, low interest-rates, subsidies and seed money loans, so they wouldn't fall off the fiscal cliff and the American dream die, IF, as the trailer wants us to believe, Maleficent is somehow standing watch over little Aurora and going to save her? As the trailer plays, we hear Aurora say to the shadowy figures she confronts in the dark forest that she knows who she is because "You've been watching over me my whole life," and that Aurora knows this person has saved her so Aurora therefore trusts her; well, why not? Who would continuously save a person only to kill them later? This potentially reveals another major break with the original animated film: Maleficent knows exactly where Aurora has been her whole life, instead of having lost track of her while she grows up, it appears--in a highly sinister twist--that Maleficent has been sparing Aurora again and again so that her "death" will fulfill Maleficent's prophetic curse, her destruction of the beloved princess, a sign of hope for all, grown up only to be destroyed.  IF IF IF Maleficent symbolizes socialism, then this kind of a scenario the film creates helps adamant capitalists like myself better understand why some people are being so easily duped by socialism today: the real "ugly face" of socialism has been kept from them, and they--like Aurora--have only seen the softer, more fairy god-mother-like qualities of the programs that have perhaps saved them or helped them, not realizing that the real danger which we have all ready seen in Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters. Hansel (Jeremy Renner) has to take insulin shots because he has the sugar sickness, given to him by the witches to "make him grow" just as Democrats are so fond of feeding the economy with stimulus money to make it grow, then become addicted to the stimulus.  
Another aspect of the trailer I think important is the patch of thorns we see Maleficent summoning with her evil, green, vaporous magic. This is obviously to keep someone out, or someone locked inside. Now, if Maleficent were a symbol of capitalism--and we are just doing a critical exercise at this point, I have NO IDEA which was this film is going to go, there are just numerous aspects that have taken me by surprise--the growing of a thorn wall would not be in keeping with capitalism and trade: capitalism requires a lack of borders and boundaries because trade has to take place for capitalism to be successful (there always have to be new markets to be tapped) whereas socialism ALWAYS builds walls and barriers to keep their citizens in and the greater world out (North Korea, the Berlin Wall, the Chinese, the Iron Curtain during the Cold War and restricted travel visas) because the socialist leaders don't want their people escaping because they need the workers to be their personal slaves. So, when we go to calculate Maleficent's character according to her deeds, the creation of this thorn patch will be a huge element to consider and how it influences the narrative.
What's missing from this trailer? The men. There is Aurora's father, King Henry and his son Prince Philip, so where are they? Is this going to be like Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman in being a film about women? It would make sense to be so, because--as we have said countless times--men symbolize the active nature of the economy, production, whereas women symbolize what gives birth to that production, the motherland. So if Maleficent focuses more on the role of women, it's examining more the real essence of America, the real nature of what America was created to be rather than what we just happened to become through survival and adaptation. The fewer the men in the film, and the slighter their roles, that will actually increase the importance of what we do see them doing and their purpose.
Last, but not least, is history. Usually, some kind of time-frame is established in these films, so even though it looks "medieval," that is just encoding what is happening to us today. Aurora's age, Maleficent's age, the year of a battle, etc., all these things can help us navigate through history and try to understand which era of American history the story intends to invoke, which will create a context for the story. This is also true regarding the 1959 story; someone on Youtube was kind enough to post this: all the clips of Maleficent from the Disney film, so, to help your memory, you might watch even a few seconds of it and consider how different the new trailer is:
Eat Your Art Out, The Fine Art Diner
P.S.--Seeing Maleficent in snow and a winter setting emphasizes her relationship to death and barrenness, like the never-ending winters in Mirror, Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman and even the upcoming Frozen.