Sunday, December 4, 2016
FIRST "BEAST" STILL BEST
Pluck we therefore from the vast garden of time a masterpiece from 1946, Jean Cocteau's cinematic rose Beauty and the Beast. Filmed in glorious black and white on nitrate stock that exudes a contrast-popping gleam unavailable in the digital age, it is the story of a man on the brink of ruin who stumbles one night during a storm on a magic castle in the forest. When the master of the castle, a powerful Beast (Marais), angrily appears, the man is required to choose between losing his life, or allowing one of his three daughters to take his place instead.
Two of the daughters are greedy and spoiled. But the third, Belle (Day), shows her worth: "I'd rather be eaten alive by that monster, than die of grief at your loss."
Simple but effective special effects showcase filmmaking at its purest. Just by using slow motion when Belle enters the shadowy castle, white curtains waving along the hall as she advances toward the camera without walking, to the low moans of an otherworldly chorus, tell us everything we need to know.
Because it's a French film, non-French-speaking audiences can enjoy a sense of verisimilitude. (Norse gods in Marvel movies speaking prestige British dialects undermine the atmosphere.) And perhaps best of all, it's not a musical.
Anthony Hopkins said of Hannibal, one of the movie sequels to The Silence of the Lambs, that the popularity of the franchise was basically due to being Beauty and the Beast. Maybe so. The TV show starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman had a cult following for years. Upon reflection, Terminator 2 may arguably contain some Beauty and the Beast-like aspects. In 2017, Disney is releasing a live-action re-make of the cartoon musical, starring this time Emma Watson as Belle.
More important than the mere facts of the story, however, wherein a beautiful woman falls in love with a rich guy even though he's fuzzy and has fangs, is the sheer look and sound of the 70 year-old classic. It speaks to us in the language of dream. Watching La Belle et la Bete is a lesson in the art of film, and a potent reminder that movies don't need computer-generated effects, huge explosions, giant budgets, pre-existing merchandising tie-ins, or sequels to resonate effectively and inspire viewers with movie magic.
To watch the best copy freely available online, Google the title of the film and the year followed by Veoh.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Starring Jean Marais,
Written and directed by Jean Cocteau
Runtime 93 minutes