Friday, July 25, 2014

An Introduction to the Fabulous World of Silent Cinema

I love silent cinema. Or maybe I should say that I love cinema period, and can't understand why most movie lovers, even classic film buffs, are reluctant to watch silent films. Today, "silent" has become a designation of genre, despite the fact that silent cinema is enormously varied, and most people who watch silent films are specifically silent film fans. This is a great pity because there are literally hundreds (and there would be thousands if more had survived) of great silent films out there to discover and most people have seen, at most, The Artist, a pastiche of silent film techniques that exaggerates and mocks, reinforcing common stereotypes about silent cinema, poking fun at what may be antiquated, but is hardly ridiculous or kitschy. I wouldn't even call The Artist a true silent film; it's rather a sound film made without sound.

The best way to start exploring silent cinema is to start watching comedies. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were the two greatest comic actors of the silent era (and frankly of cinema since its exception). Anyone who thinks that silent film acting lacks subtlety need only watch the expression in Keaton's eyes when his long-lost father bullies him in Steamboat Bill, Jr. or Chaplin covering his smile in the final heart-wrenching scene of City Lights. Both actors created personas that they portrayed across films and both were masters of physical comedy and pantomime. My personal favorite Chaplin film is The Kid, but City Lights and Modern Times are not far behind, while as for Buster Keaton, whom I absolutely adore, I recommend Our Hospitality, The General, and Sherlock, Jr.

Another hugely popular film genre of the silent era was the swashbuckler and the greatest swashbuckling star was undoubtedly the rakishly handsome and insanely athletic Douglas Fairbanks, who epitomized the genre and is still being copied in films like Pirates of the Caribbean today. Fairbanks would star in a number of Dumas adaptations, but the best (and also his last silent film) is The Iron Mask, a suspenseful adventure film (costarring Eugene Pallette, familiar to classic movie fans for his extraordinarily gravelly voice). Fairbanks's best pirate feature is The Black Pirate, an enormously influential film with stunts that still impress by today's standards, while The Thief of Bagdad, filmed on the biggest set in Hollywood history, is a stunning example of creative story-telling, gorgeous color tinting and magnificent sets and costumes, and a lot of footage of a shirtless Fairbanks.

America's sweetheart during the silent era was Mary Pickford, her only real rival to the title being D. W. Griffiths's favorite, Lillian Gish. Pickford was an extremely gifted actress, her slim physique allowing her to convincingly play children until well into adulthood. In fact, it was Pickford, along with fellow film stars Gish and Janet Gaynor, that pioneered a naturalistic acting style, one that continues to influence cinematic acting technique today. Her films are extremely varied, from lighthearted comedies to melodrama, but she often played characters with considerable spunk. My personal favorites are Daddy-Long-Legs, a lovely film about a young orphan girl given the chance to go to college, and The Love Light, an exciting wartime melodrama set in Italy.

With The Birth of a Nation, D. W. Griffiths profoundly changed the course of cinematic history. He also made one of the most deeply racist films ever granted the title of classic. I personally find the politics of The Birth of a Nation too abhorrent to permit to recommend the film, but Griffiths was a very gifted filmmaker and many of his other films are well worth watching. Broken Blossoms is my especial favorite, with Lillian Gish in a heartbreaking and ultimately terror-inducing performance. The film tells the story of an abused young girl (played by Gish) who takes refuge from her drunken father with a gentle Chinese immigrant. While it is unfortunate that Richard Barthelmess - a white actor - plays the role of Cheng Huan, Griffiths almost seems to be apologizing for the racist politics of his earlier film by making his Asian protagonist a deeply positive force against the utter evil of Gish's (white) father. Other great films by Griffiths include Orphans of the Storm, set during the French Revolution, and the massive Intolerance.

World War I inspired filmmakers to confront the enormity of the conflict from which the world was still reeling. The most iconic of these is The Big Parade, which has recently been beautifully restored. Much of the visual vocabulary of war films was established in this stirring and politically ambivalent drama about a young American soldier who meets and falls in love with a pretty French girl. The very first Best Picture winner, Wings (also recently restored) is about rival pilots and features extraordinary aerial footage of dog-fighting. It's also a chance to see silent film icon Clara Bow. Both of these films have comedic exposition and then move on to shockingly realistic war footage, of a sort that wouldn't be seen again until Kubrick's Paths of Glory, released in 1957. In 1918, Griffiths directed his war film, Hearts of the World, at the front, including actual footage of battles he witnessed. Unfortunately, this film is not widely available.

Thus far, I've concentrated on American silent cinema, but great films were being produced all over the world. In Sweden, Victor Sjostrom directed The Phantom Carriage, a morality tale with some of the most impressive special effects photography of the time. In France, Germaine Dulac directed her experimental film, The Smiling Madame Beudet, widely credited as the first feminist film ever produced. In 1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer filmed The Passion of Joan of Arc, in my opinion, the greatest film of all time. In Germany, Fritz Lang directed the first feature length science fiction film, Metropolis, a stunning Art Deco depiction of a disturbing dystopian world, and F. W. Murnau directed his devastating masterwork, The Last Laugh. In Russia, filmmakers like Eisenstein, director of the exhilarating Strike! and the influential and stirring Battleship Potemkin, and Dovzhenko, director of the kaleidoscopic masterpiece, Earth (sometimes referred to in in English by its Russian title, Zemlya), were revolutionizing the new cinematic medium with experiments in montage and narrative technique.

But to finish up this all-too-short introduction to silent cinema, I would like to tout G. W. Pabst's 1929 masterpiece, Pandora's Box, one of my all-time favorite films. Starring Louise Brooks as Lulu, a seductive woman whom no one, man or woman, can resist, the film is a fascinating exploration of female sexuality, power, and male fear. But this is just the beginning - the marvels of silent cinema are numerous and varied. One only needs to start watching!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hayley Mills at the Disney Studio

Hayley Mills starred in six Disney films between 1960 and 1965, her pert personality, up-turned nose, blonde hair, and British accent accentuating the squeaky clean image both of the actress and of the studio that gave her her greatest screen successes. The daughter of great British actor John Mills (best known stateside for his starring role in David Lean's Great Expectations), Mills had only one film under her belt when Walt Disney spotted her, but she had boatloads of personality and was exactly the sort of child actor that thrived at the Disney Studio. Her first film there was Pollyanna - the best film she ever made and without doubt one of the finest ever produced by Disney.

The original novel by Eleanor H. Porter was enormously popular when it was first published in 1913, but its saccharine moral message and maudlin sentimentalization of children has made it decidedly unpalatable for modern readers (even this one, with my considerable tolerance for sentimentality). Disney asked David Swift to adapt the novel for the screen (he would also direct) and Swift delivered a screenplay vastly superior to the novel, stripping it of its most egregious sentimentalities and instead creating a complex, albeit idealized, portrait of an American town in the relatively idyllic years prior to the first World War. Hayley Mills was joined by an extraordinarily stellar ensemble cast including the incomparable Agnes Moorehead, Jane Wyman, Adolphe Menjou in his final screen performance, and Karl Malden. Part of what makes Pollyanna such a fabulous film is that the child characters are not idealized. Although Pollyanna may play the Glad Game and be determinedly optimistic, she is nosy, chatty, and has something of a temper; her misbehavior comes as a blessed relief. While in the novel, Pollyanna is something of a Little Nell, thank goodness she behaves like a human child in the film. Mills would be awarded the Juvenile Award by the Motion Picture Academy for her performance.

A year later, Mills starred, two times over, in the ever-popular The Parent Trap, a comedy with surprising depth about identical twin sisters separated by embittered divorced parents, also adapted and directed by David Swift. The politics of The Parent Trap are as conservative as one would expect, but the film, despite its determined message of the importance of the united family, is addressing and exploring what happens to children of divorce in a creative and entertaining way that has more depth than one might expect. Once again, Mills was joined by an extraordinary cast, including Brian Keith, Maureen O'Hara, and veteran character actors Una Merkel, Charlie Ruggles, and Leo G. Carroll. The film is also a technical tour de force, completely convincing the viewer that Mills is really two different twins. The Parent Trap is a prime example of Disney filmmaking, delivering the sorts of shenanigans that kids enjoy while also giving the adults a substantial plot surrounding the older characters and their marital problems.

While both Pollyanna and The Parent Trap are acknowledged classics, Mills's third film at Disney has faded into obscurity, though it is available on a no-frills DVD. In Search of the Castaways, based on a Jules Verne novel and costarring Maurice Chevalier and Wilfrid Hyde-White, has not aged terribly well due to its deeply uncomfortable racial politics. The plot concerns the children of a missing sea captain who appeal to their father's boss to reply to a message found in a bottle found in a shark, ostensibly written by their missing parent. The studio pulled out all the stops in terms of the special effects, though certain sequences may seem laughable now, but the vintage special effects, fun songs, and charming performances from Chevalier and Hyde-White cannot overcome the deep discomfort of colonialist and racist politics. Both Andean natives (of an unspecified group) and the Maori are portrayed as barbaric, less than bright, and easily manipulated. This a great pity because the film has much to recommend it, but I can easily understand why Disney has let it fade into the background.

Mills's fourth film, Summer Magic, is by far the worst of the six. Based on a mawkish novel by Kate Douglas Wiggin (writer of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm), the film is so extremely backward in its politics that it's hard to imagine anyone over the age of ten being able to take it, even in 1963. Dorothy McGuire plays a widow forced to relocate to a provincial town in Maine with her three children (the youngest boy is particularly insufferable); Mills plays her daughter. The main conflict comes from the arrival of snobbish Cousin Julia (Deborah Walley) and the well-intentioned truth-coloring of the house's caretaker (Burl Ives). The most offensive scene features Walley and Mills singing the nauseating song, "Femininity," in which the girls exhort each other to "Walk feminine, talk feminine/Smile and beguile feminine/Emphasize your femininity/If you want to catch a beau." Aside from the bad grammar, that's quite possibly the most disgusting thing ever uttered in a children's film.

Mills was growing up, and the studio was now challenged with how to cast her in roles that acknowledged that she wasn't a kid anymore, but that weren't yet genuine romantic leads. Her next film, The Moon-Spinners, plainly shows that this was not a conflict they quite understood how to deal with, though the film succeeds in entertaining. The rather convoluted plot follows a young girl, played by Mills, vacationing on Crete, who, drawn to a handsome, haughty young man (Peter McEnery), pursues romance and finds herself in the midst of a violent plot. Eli Wallach and Pola Negri (who was convinced to come out of retirement) add some much-needed spice and conviction to the rather outlandish story. Mills's youth (she was eighteen at the time, though she seems younger) lends urgency to her plight and also makes the story more convincing, her vulnerability creating an empathy that would otherwise be lacking.

Mills's final Disney film was a wacky comedy, That Darn Cat!, a romping police procedural in which Mills's cat is the key to solving a kidnapping. Costarring Disney regular Dean Jones as the rather hapless policeman willing to rely on a teenage girl's cat (always referred to as the "informant") to solve the case, That Darn Cat! is dated, but in the most charming way, its hairstyles, costumes, cultural references, and slang coming off as kitschy. Despite the silliness of the premise, director Robert Stevenson manages to inject the film with a good dose of suspense. The title song by the Sherman Brothers and sung by Bobby Darin is the cherry on top of this terrific 60s comedy, one of the best the Disney Studio produced in the 1960s.

After That Darn Cat! Mills's contract with Disney ended and she moved on. Though her first film post-Disney, The Trouble with Angels, has a decidedly Disney sensibility, Mills then tried to move away from her wholesome image. Though her career has lasted decades, she has never equaled the successes that she had as a child with the Disney Studio. In a fascinating twist, Mills was in fact considered for the role of Lolita in 1962, a role that certainly would have propelled her career in the opposite direction, but Walt Disney dissuaded her from taking a role in such conflict with the persona cultivated at his studio. Had Mills taken that role, she would certainly have a very different place in the public memory.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The 6 Best Live Action Disney Films of the 1990s

The 1990s saw the release of a number of great Disney animated films, including Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (which I would argue was their last great animated film), but the studio also released a fairly impressive number of good live action films among the dreck of badly advised remakes (frequently of Disney films from the 1960s), sequels, and live action reboots.

Muppet Treasure Island (1996) is probably one of the weaker Muppet films, but it has much to recommend it. The opening song, "Shiver My Timbers," is one of the best pirate songs to be found in any pirate film, witty, silly, but also quite atmospheric. The Muppets don't translate as well to this story as they do to A Christmas Carol, with many of the characters, particularly Miss Piggy, shoehorned in, though there are a few new characters that liven the cast, including Clueless Morgan, Old Tom, Real Old Tom, and Dead Tom. Tim Curry as Long John Silver lends the film an edgier quality and much of the dialogue by Jerry Juhl, Kirk R. Thatcher, and James V. Hart is very funny. Despite its flaws, Muppet Treasure Island is solid entertainment.

A particularly unusual Disney outing, Frank and Ollie (1995) is a very charming documentary film about best friends and Disney animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who worked on every great Disney film from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on, until their retirement in the 1970s. Both men are warm, sweet, and frank, and the story of their friendship is even more compelling than the many anecdotes about the making of the films, what it was like working at the studio, and Walt Disney himself. I loved this gentle, lovely, but never cloying film, and cannot recommend it more highly to any enthusiast of animation.

Starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker (who gives by far her best ever performance), and the incomparable Kathy Najimy, Hocus Pocus (1993) is an irreverent, endlessly quotable Halloween comedy about some teenagers who accidentally revive three witches intent on sucking out the lives of all the children of Salem. Any kid who grew up in the 90s is likely to have fond memories of this one, but it's well worth re-watching as adults because so much of the humor, from Madonna references, sex jokes, and pretty much everything that comes out of Bette Midler's mouth, certainly went over my head, and I would imagine this was the case with most kids.

One of Disney's most successful dramatic films, Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991) is based on Sonora Carver's memoir about her career as a horse diver during the Great Depression. Its period recreation is impeccable, with beautiful almost sepia-toned cinematography by Daryn Okada, and an astute selection of period music complemented by Mason Daring's score. The understated performances by Gabrielle Anwar, Michael Schoeffling, Cliff Robertson, and Dylan Kussman render the film touching, rather than sentimental.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) was the first Muppet film made after Jim Henson's untimely death and the filmmakers were clearly intent on making the best possible film in tribute to his memory. They absolutely succeeded; the only Muppet film that tops The Muppet Christmas Carol is the first Muppet film, The Muppet Movie. The lovely, clever songs by Paul Williams are as great even as the classic "Rainbow Connection." The casting of the Muppets is absolutely brilliant: Gonzo as Charles Dickens (accompanied by his pal Rizzo the Rat as himself), Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as Mrs. Cratchit, and Fozzie Bear as Fozziwig, Scrooge's first employer. Michael Caine's performance as Scrooge is as great as, if not even better, than Alaistair Sim's in the 1951 adaptation. The Muppet Christmas Carol also retains more of Dickens's original text than any other adaptation. This film is far too easily dismissed as kiddie fare and it deserves a greater critical reputation.

The best live action film released by Disney in the 1990s was Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993). Although it's technically a remake of a 1963 film (not currently available), the film stands on its own. Don Ameche, Sally Field, and Michael J. Fox provide the voices for the three pets, who separated from their beloved child owners, determine to get home through the wilderness of the Rockies no matter what it takes. This is the kind of film that Disney does best - a heartwarming story about family and the love between children and their pets, a paean to sincerity in the face of cynicism. But it's very difficult to dismiss the film out of hand, precisely because what might at first appear to be maudlin and preachy cuts right to the heart of anyone who has ever loved a pet.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Most Fascinating Fictional Books I Wish I Could Read

Though fictional books pop up in books of every genre, they are most frequently to be found in the fantasy genre. There are few things more tantalizing for the devoted reader than these imagined books, whether they are books of magic, fairy tales, philosophy, or fiction. These are some of the most enticing fictional books I've come across in my own reading.

J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter is loaded with fictional books, each one more enticing than the next, from Madcap Magic for Wacky Warlocks and The Hairy Heart: A Guide to Wizards Who Won't Commit, to Men Who Love Dragons Too Much and cookbooks like Charm Your Own Cheese, not to mention the many Hogwarts textbooks, like  Quintessence: A Quest and The Philosophy of the Mundane: Why the Muggles Prefer Not to Know. Rowling has in fact provided us with three real versions of fictional books mentioned in the series: Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. All three of these short works are charming and funny additions to the Harry Potter series.

In the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, there are a number of fictional books. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy discovers the faun Tumnus's library, which includes Nymphs and Their Ways and Is Man a Myth? But by far the most enticing book described in the series is The Magician's Book, a magical work of spells, enchantments, and a mystical and beautiful story that cannot be remembered, read by Lucy as part of a quest in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. (Laura Miller has written a wonderful reflection on her complex relationship with the Chronicles, fittingly entitled The Magician's Book - I highly recommend it for fans of the series, particularly those who have felt "betrayed" by a realization of its allegorical religiosity.) I do not however have even the slightest desire to read Prince Caspian's grammar textbook, Grammatical Garden or the Arbour of Accidence pleasantlie open'd to Tender Wits by Pulverentus Siccus.

Susanna Clarke's brilliant alternate history fantasy novel, Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, describes as many alluring books of magic as one could wish for, including, How to Putte Questiones to the Dark and Understand its Answeres, Treatise Concerning the Language of Birds by Thomas Lanchester, and most importantly, The Book of Magic by the Raven King. Yet another tantalizing work of magical lore, The Book of Three, is to be found in Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain. Edward Eager, in the last of his fantasy novels for children, Seven-Day Magic, starts his story with a group of children finding a battered, worn book in the library, which not only records what they say and do, but takes them on extraordinary magical adventures. Another talismanic book, The Neverending Story, the title of both Michael Ende's novel and the mysterious book read by his protagonist Bastian, integrates its reader into itself, until the reader is both protagonist and author, perhaps even the book itself.

In several of Madeleine L'Engle's novels, particularly A Swiftly Tilting Planet and An Acceptable Time, a novel by a character called Matthew Maddox, The Horn of Joy, acts as a sort of MacGuffin in the quests of Charles Wallace and Poly O'Keefe. Though fairly little is revealed about the story, we know that it concerns the early settlement of the American continent and a passionate love story.

Though fictional books in fantasy novels prove particularly fascinating, there are a few particularly tantalizing fictional books in non-fantasy literature. I would love to read A Hundred Saints for Travelers by Dunstan Ramsay, protagonist of Robertson Davies' brilliant novel, Fifth Business, as it sounds like a most fascinating work of hagiography, a genre of which I am rather fond. I am even more enticed by Anthony Trollope's Dickens parody, The Almshouse by Mr. Popular Sentiment, mentioned in the classic novel The Warden - had Trollope actually written it, I would bet that it would have been one of the funniest literary parodies ever written. I would love to read any of these intriguing fictional works, if only they existed.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales at the Movies

As a child, I had a gorgeous over-size edition of Andersen's fairy tales, with a gold-embossed green binding and stunning color illustrations. It was far from a complete anthology, but I do recall that it contained "The Little Mermaid," "The Ugly Duckling," "The Snow Queen," and "The Fir-Tree," among others. I had a number of other books containing Andersen tales, including "The Little Match Girl" and "The Nightingale." Andersen's fairy tales have a delicate and ethereal quality, even when the events described are fairly violent, and they are set in a decidedly eighteenth century world, divided into three classes, strongly influenced by bourgeois values. Contrasted with Perrault's elegant and ornate fairy tales and fables or the Grimms Brothers' rather blithely brutal and pseudo-medieval stories, Andersen is decidedly a horse of a different color. Though "The Little Mermaid" is by far the most influential and frequently adapted of Andersen's works, a good number of his stories have been successfully adapted for the screen.

One of the saddest of Andersen's tales, "The Little Match Girl," has proved rather resistant to successful adaptation, perhaps because of our current cultural allergy to sentimentality, but probably more due to its unmitigated tragedy and the deep discomfort of a story that portrays poverty in all its bleakness. Originally meant as a plea for suffering children, the story is intended to discomfit the reader, but such serious subject matter has been increasingly hounded out of children's literature as too upsetting. Nevertheless, in 2006, the Disney Studio released a stunningly gorgeous adaptation, set to a piece by Borodin and without dialogue, that qualifies as an art piece rather than a cartoon. It's a lovely piece of work, proof that the Disney animators are capable of a far more varied style than their recent feature efforts might lead one to believe.

Decades earlier, in 1939, Disney released another short cartoon based on an Andersen tale, "The Ugly Duckling." The last in the Silly Symphonies series, "The Ugly Duckling" is a superlative example of the power of animation to inspire potent emotional responses. Although the ugly duckling's desperate striving for a family and acceptance is accompanied by the sort of highly visual humor typical of the cartoons of the series, the story's tragic elements give the nine minute piece an unusual depth and pathos. It is in this portrayal of genuine emotional pain, even in the context of a minor cartoon, that the Disney work differentiates itself from the animated output of other studios of the time.

Most decent adaptations of Andersen fairy tales are to be found in Shelley Duvall's marvelous television series, Faerie Tale Theatre; out of the twenty six fairy tales in the series, six of them are Andersen adaptations. One of the finest of these is "The Emperor's New Clothes,"  starring Alan Alda and Art Carney as the two swindlers who take the vain emperor (Dick Shawn) for a ride. It's a deliciously witty rendition of the fairy tale, my particular favorite addition being the army - consisting of one man due to the high expense of the ludicrously ornate uniform. Andersen's original tale is quite short and this adaptation creates a charming world, one that still manages to reflect seriously on money, class, and privilege. The best episode of the unfortunately short-lived series is a witty and highly stylized adaptation of "The Princess and the Pea," starring Liza Minnelli and Tom Conti, with Beatrice Straight and Tim Kazurinski in supporting roles. Though too short to be considered a feature film and clearly made on a low budget, the screenplay (by Rod Ash and Mark Curtiss) and the performances make up for it in grand style. "The Princess and the Pea" may be my favorite fairy tale adaptation of all time.

Less successful is the Faerie Tale Theatre adaptation of "The Nightingale,"a bizarre version of Andersen's exotic Oriental fantasy. The strangest choices made for the adaptation are the almost exclusive casting of white actors in the major (Asian) roles, including Mick Jagger as the emperor and Bud Cort as a courtier that seems to have epilepsy, and Shelley Duvall lisping away as the voice of the Nightingale in a voice that seems to have been plumbed from the depths of The Shining-induced nightmares. Also less successful is "Thumbelina," starring Burgess Meredith and Carrie Fisher. The limited budget of the series is particularly evident, and, although the production team makes a valiant effort to create a convincing world for the diminutive heroine, the actors costumed as animals lack the magic they might have had on the stage. Nevertheless, "Thumbelina" has some delightful moments, particularly when Burgess Meredith as the classically inclined mole sings a song about his loathing of progress, both philosophical and technological.

The series' adaptation of "The Snow Queen" stars Melissa Gilbert, Lee Remick, and Lance Kerwin and veers between an eerily beautiful rendition of the strange story and an overly whimsical depiction of the mischievous devil who breaks the cursed mirror that is perhaps too reflective of the 1980s, but it is overall a strong adaptation that embraces many of the more fanciful elements that wouldn't normally make the cut in a conventional Hollywood production. (Though I have not actually seen Frozen due to the sickening cultural over-saturation of that nauseating song which I will not deign to name, even a cursory glance at a synopsis reveals only the most tenuous of connections with Andersen's "The Snow Queen.")

The Faerie Tale Theatre adaptation of "The Little Mermaid" has some very amusing dialogue (though perhaps not always for the reasons the authors intended). Pam Dawber as the mermaid and Treat Williams as the prince are unfortunately rather weak, but Helen Mirren as the human princess and rival for the prince's affections and Karen Black as the sea witch both give lively and entertaining performances. The episode's main strength is that it has Andersen's original tragic ending, as well as Andersen's differentiation between the soul-less merpeople and human beings, essential to understanding the enormous moral courage required of the mermaid, who bargains not only for a human body but for a human soul.

Disney's The Little Mermaid has proved to be one of the most popular of their films. It diverges from the original fairy tale in numerous ways, like most of their fairy tale adaptations, but the most significant change is the ending. Disney rejects completely the tragic ending, instead giving the sea witch more complicated and villainous ambitions and ensuring that the prince heroically defeats her, thereby, in the logic of fairy tales, "earning" the little mermaid, who has in turn "earned" his love. The Disney adaptation is thoroughly conventional, eschewing any religious overtones, particularly any of Andersen's allusions to souls. That being said, The Little Mermaid is a great work of animated cinema, though not a great adaptation of Andersen.

The greatest film, however, inspired by an Andersen story is without doubt Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger's The Red Shoes. The producer-director duo created many masterpieces, including The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus, and The Canterbury Tale, but the most enduringly popular of their films (and the favorite film of Martin Scorsese) is The Red Shoes. The fairy tale operates as the metaphorical telling of the literal plot of a young ballet dancer, passionately devoted to her art form and her desire to pursue it, but torn by the demands of her love for the composer who has composed the ballet that has made her famous - an adaptation of the Andersen fairy tale. The twenty minute ballet at the center of the film is one of the single greatest cinematic sequences of all time and it is incontestably the greatest cinematic ballet of all time.

While certain fairy tales seem to invite constant adaptation, Andersen's fairy tales, with the exception of "The Little Mermaid" (both Joe Wright and Sofia Coppola have announced plans for live-action adaptations), have not been embraced like of those of Perrault or the Brothers Grimm. Many resist happy endings, many are sentimental, but they are all lovely stories, and though they may pose challenges to filmmakers, they are wonderful subjects for cinematic adaptation.