For the Love of Fairytales

Let me Tell you a Story

“The Princess Bride” (dir. Rob Reiner 1987) is a cult classic which uses the classic bookending of a narrator telling the story. What draws interest is the unimaginable success of this film, which at its roots is just a grandfather telling his grandson a story. What I want to explore within this post is what makes this film so universally enjoyable.

A Bit about the Narrative

“The Princess Bride” induces the audience to be drawn into the world of fairy tales, exactly as the grandson is within the film.

This is also adapted from a book of the same title and is similar in both its events and dialogue. As in the book, the world of the film aims to find engagement between the audience and the characters.

The Mystical

“The Princess Bride” was filmed in a time when “computerized models and computer graphics technicians” (Corrigan and White 69) where used to create realism within the mise-en-scène. However, Reiner used both a constructed set as well as location to set the scene.

These choices in setting were not to promote realism and recognition, but to bring life to an entirely make-believe world. The presence of the Rats of Unusual Size:

and the Shrieking Eels:

are present within the world of the film instead of being computer generated to add depth to the fairytale. This creates a more visceral viewing experience but is also an obvious theatrical feature. It portrays a filmic reality which is clear in its constructed nature and fantasy.

The Personality

Dialogue and performance play a huge role in the success of this film.

The dialogue is full of one-liners which add humour and likeability to the characters. What makes the dialogue within “The Princess Bride” so original is its contrast between the realism of the narrator and his grandson, which grounds the outlandish fairytale narrative being told.

And the whimsical nature of dialogue in the fairytale which provides a fantastical, humorous, ridiculous quality to the film.

Along with this, the performance of each individual character reveals the fairytale, surreal qualities of the story. This is especially seen in the three kidnappers, the giant, the Spaniard and the conniving (but small) Sicilian and the fact that there is a man named ‘Humperdink’. This film is built upon fairytale stereotypes brought to life as both over-the-top and outlandish as the fantasy world they are derived from.

In equal measure, the realistic performance of the grandfather/grandson relationship once again provides grounding and contrast to the novel being portrayed in the film.

The Art of the Story

“The Princess Bride” draws attention to the ridiculousness and artifice within the fairytale realm, but also engages us by speaking to the child-like love of story-telling within most audiences. It’s grounding in reality and the knowledge of its construction allows us to be swept away in the imagination and excitement of fairytale adventure.

Works Cited

bospices. Movie vs Book vs Fairytales: A Comparative Analysis of The Princess Bride. 29 June 2011. online. 27 April 2015. <https://teamredundancyteam.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/movie-vs-book-vs-fairytales/. >.

Corrigan, Timothy and Patricia White. The Film Experience: An Introduction. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s., 2012.

The Princess Bride. Dir. Rob Reiner. Perf. Cary Elwes, Robin Wright and Mandy Patinkin. 1987. Film.

 

Backdrops and Flashbacks

Let me tell you a Story

There are three stories present within “Saving Mr Banks” (dir. John Lee Hancock 2013), the story of Walt Disney’s adapting of P.L. Travers “Mary Poppins”, the story of P.L. Travers childhood and finally, the actual story of “Mary Poppins”. The reason I have chosen this film is the way it handles these stories within stories as it doesn’t use the typical bookending with a narrator.

A Bit about the Narrative

Not only is this a film with stories within stories, but it is also a film about making a film. It is in this way that the narrative of the original “Mary Poppins” is incorporated as it serves as a part of the filmic reality and is a backdrop for events in the main storyline.

The final storyline is that of P.L. Travers childhood in Australia which is necessary to provide insight into the inspiration for “Mary Poppins” (dir. Robert Stevenson 1964).  

Point of View

This film means to tell the story of P.L. Travers from the subjective view of Travers herself as both an adult and a child.

As the younger P.L Travers, known as Ginty, leaves on a train bound for Allora there is a point of view shot looking out as they move further away from their home, which then tracks backwards to reveal Ginty’s family sitting in the train. The shot gives the audience a sense of Ginty’s solitude and also foreshadows her dislike of change and travel later in her life.

Repetitive shots of Ginty and the older P.L. Travers can be seen in mid-shots, establishing shots and even shots from a bird’s eye view.

But almost always depicted alone or set apart. This is a visual representation of her solitude, adding to the idea that the only person Ginty truly felt close to was her father.

Often, there is a point of view shot from P.L. Travers, then a reverse shot to emphasise her distaste in what she is experiencing.

Intermittently, we were able to see what P.L. Travers saw, and her reaction to it. This was to create the separation between what Disney was creating, and the characters Travers thought they should be.

This shot, for example, is a mid-shot with both P.L. Travers and Walt Disney but the eye lines do not match. Travers is noticeably above Disney, showing she is firm and steadfast in her beliefs and won’t be swayed even by a man who is one of the most successful businessmen of his generation. The real P.L. Travers was known to be an unfriendly, unyielding woman, but the film is able to depict her in such a way that audiences can sympathise with.

Travers Goff and Aunt Ellie

Through flashbacks, the audience experiences P.L. Travers early life and how it inspired her novel. Similarly described by Corrigan and White, the flashbacks dissolve from a shot of P.L. Travers in real time, to that of Ginty, a conventional way of connoting memory within the film (151). These flashbacks serve the narrative motivation by introducing Ginty’s family who play a pivotal role in determining P.L. Travers protectiveness of her characters.

Travers Goff (played by Colin Farrell) was portrayed as a man both whimsical and irresponsible in equal measure.

The arrival of Aunt Ellie in a time of great desperation in Ginty’s life provides explanation to P.L. Travers rejection of the whimsical. For her, the character is based in realism and it serves the narrative by explaining why Travers wanted to hold onto the serious tone in her novel as well as the light.

To Finish

“Saving Mr Banks” aims to provide insight into the life of P.L. Travers and the making of Mary Poppins” through the use of flashbacks. This non-linear plot uses flashbacks to achieve its engaging depiction of this creative endeavour and keep it close to its true events.

Works Cited

Corrigan, Timothy and Patricia White. The Film Experience: An Introduction. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s., 2012.

HistoryvsHollywood.com. Saving Mr Banks (2013). n.d. Website. 27 April 2015.

Saving Mr Banks. Dir. John Lee Hancock. Perf. Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. 2013. Film.

 

Believing in the Story

Let me tell you A Story

Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” 2012 is also bookended by a narrator, who also is a character within the story, and describes a fantastical, surreal adventure which captures the imagination.

This film does not strive to display artificiality, but tempts you to believe in it, treading the line between naturalistic and theatrical treatment.

A bit about the Narrative

“Life of Pi” was adapted from Yann Martel’s novel of the same name. The narrator, Pi, is also the main character in a film which utilises a framing story, flashbacks and voiceover.

The narrative aims to leave the audience with the greatest question: Was it all real or not?

Atmospheric Realism

There is nothing realistic about the setting, which in itself is a smorgasbord of cool visual effects including the tiger.

However, realism is prevalent in “the psychological and emotional accuracy” (Corrigan and White 70) of Pi as a survivor after a shipwreck. The reality of his struggle is present in the costuming (the slow degradation of his clothes), depiction of Pi’s body (his starvation and dehydration), and acting.

The psychological and emotional verisimilitude contrasts the dazzling special effects which connote wonder and fantasy with its incredible sets, bold colours and illuminations.

Events such as this are what remove the narrative from realism into the fantastical:

“Frontal lighting, sidelighting, underlighting and top lighting are used to illuminate the subject from different directions in order to draw out features or create specific atmospheres around the subject.” (Corrigan and White 82) source: https://insidetheframestorieswithinstories.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/808fe-life-of-pi-fish.png

The Tiger

As a part of creating an atmosphere of realism, the filmmakers aimed to create an image which felt like a tiger within the reality of the film. What they set out to achieve was to make the tiger “as uncomfortable as Pi would be,” (Hogg, Westenhofer and Rocheron) as it discovers itself surrounded by water.

CGI was used to have the multiple animals interact with each other in a way which emulated Pi’s story and the true events of his shipwrecking. In addition, the CGI within the setting of the ocean and sky are sympathetic to the events and emotions of Pi. The imagery is meant to connote to the audience Pi’s emotions. For example, there is a moment in the film where the sea is calm and the clouds open up to reveal a setting of great beauty together with desolation and loneliness. More commentary on the visual effects can be found at Flickering Myths.com.

Voiceover

With voiceover, it is quite clear the audience is being told a story. The subjective voiceover of an older Pi also organizes the events of the film, posing the psychological question of the film. It reveals the necessity of the creation of the story as a way of dealing with the harsh reality of being set adrift.

“So which story do you prefer?” –Adult Pi (Khan, Irrfan)

In this case, voiceover is meant to communicate the message of the film. It also depicts the constructed, metaphorical nature of the story.

“Step Four: Disregard steps one through three.” –Pi Patel (Sharma, Suraj)

The voiceover of young Pi Patel provides a subjective view into his inner thoughts and is meant partly to add humour but also for insight into his experience and realism of events as the protagonist feels them.

Real or Not?

The use of a narrator encourages the belief in the unlikelihood of the story told and Lee adds to this by creating realism. This film is also contemporary in the way it creates an empathetic link between Pi and the audience, as the audience gains more insight into Pi’s experience, the more it fosters belief in the fantastical.

Works Cited

Corrigan, Timothy and Patricia White. The Film Experience: An Introduction. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s., 2012.

Hogg, Trevor, Bill Westenhofer and Guillaume Rocheron. Flickering Myth. 24 February 2013. online. 26 April 2015.

Life of Pi. Dir. Ang Lee. Perf. Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan. 2012. Film.

 

A Look at Artifice

Let me tell you a Story

I chose to begin with the more contemporary film, particularly this one, for its stylistic treatment and the use of a narrator. The narrator in this movie, and couple of others I’ve chosen, is visual confirmation that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a story told within a story.

There are many other ways of doing however, for example:

The use of voiceover can be seen in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenebaums” 2001

The film “Saving Mr Banks” which I am looking further into a bit later, uses flashbacks as its story within the story. The blog Let’s Schmooze written by Douglas Eboch looks at this further.

A bit about the Narrative

The Grand Budapest Hotel” (dir. Wes Anderson 2014) is the most contemporary film I’ve chosen. It’s stylistic features underpin the artificiality and the sense we are being told a story. The continuous sense of being inside the frame/box reinforces the theme of a story within a story.

Colours and Shapes

For this particular film I am going to focus on the colour palette and the aspect ratio used.

As defined by Corrigan and White’s The Film Experience, theatrical mise-en-scène is defined as the creation of “fantastical environments that display and even exult in their artifice and constructed nature”(89). They further define it in a way that I believe best identifies Anderson’s intentions:

“The mise-en-scène takes on an independent life that requires confrontations or creative negotiations between the props and sets and the characters.” (Corrigan and White 89)

The aspect of mise-en-scène in this film which I find most visually prominent is the colour palette.

The idea of the constructed, of the surreal, is rampant. At first glance, establishing shots of settings such as the one above made me think of puppet show sets.

If you look at other Wes Anderson films, you’ll notice a theme between them. Oddly enough, the characters in Anderson’s film Fantastic Mr. Fox 2009 actually are puppets animated with stop-motion. Wes Anderson’s film hold determined stylistic choices which present a particular look and feel; you can read more about it at David Bordwell’s Film blog.

The colour palette is meticulously planned and executed so that everything matches and compliments each other within the shot. This is a purposeful choice. The filmic reality created by Wes Anderson is independent, not following the laws and nature of society it revels in the artifice.

A peek at the cinematography:

The story of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is told from three different points in time, within this film we are not only being told stories within stories, but we visually see the translation from each time frame.

The aspect ratio emulates the screen the particular audience of the timeframe in the film would be familiar with.

Corrigan and White defines three types of Aspect ratio:

“Academy ratio- standardized in 1932 by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The image ratio was 1.33:1 and was the standard from the 1930s until the 1950s. This ratio is similar to that of a TV screen, a square image much like a window or a picture frame.” (107)

This was used for the scenes set in the 1930s

“Widescreen ratio- used from the 1950s and ranged from 1.66:1 to Cinemascope ratio 2.35:1” (Corrigan and White 107)

These were used for the portions with the author, both old and young.

The framing in this film is paramount in creating the atmosphere of artifice, of peering into the story as it is being told to us. The theme of being within a frame, within a story is physically played out in the manipulation of the aspect ratio. These visual cues are what take this narrative to its contemporary level.

It’s a Film about Telling a Story

Of course, all films tell a story. What I mean is, this is a film in which the characters within the world are telling us a story. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” captures the adventure, romance and most importantly, improbable nature of the fictional tale. Every decision made in regards to building the world of this film are related to crafting the imaginary and bringing life to fantasy.

Works Cited

Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. Observations of Film Art. 26 March 2014. online. 21 April 2015.

Timothy Corrigan, Patricia White. The Film Experience: An Introduction. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s., 2012.

The Grand Budapest Hotel. Dir. Wes Anderson. Perf. Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham and Amalric Mathieu. 2014. Film.