Tuesday, October 16, 2018

State of the Art: Horror in the 21st Century.

Looking at the state of the horror genre in the early years of the new era, I can’t help being reminded   of what it was like growing up.  Horror fiction was my gateway drug.  It was the genre that got me to pick up my first book somewhere around the age of seven.  The first author I was ever aware of was a fellow named John Bellairs.  He’s long gone by now, but he has a movie out in theaters as I write this.  He also led me from his own work (it was The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, as I recall) onto the next step.  That would have been the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, written by Alvin Schwartz and brought to mind-screwing life by the fundamentally disturbed illustrations of Stephen Gammell (it also helps that George S. Irving seemed to have the perfect voice for these stories on audio tape.  If I live to be a million, I’ll still remember his rendition of “Mi-Ti-Doughty-Walker”).
It’s Schwartz’s form of the horror tale that I’m reminded of the most going over the current landscape of the genre.  It’s hard to tell whether horror fiction is in a slump or currently enjoying a quiet underground success.  I hope the latter is the case.  Not only would such a situation keep the torch lit, it could also act as spur to any young talent to take a shot at carving out a name for themselves.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Children’s Gothic Adventure: An Analysis of 101 Dalmatians.

We’ve been studying Disney’s 101 Dalmatians with the goal of a closer look at several facets of the movie.  These are the elements that require a better in-depth study than the ones you can find in a simple newspaper review or on YouTube.  So far, we’ve covered the original book that the film was based on.  We have also made the case that the film deserves to be seen as more than just a kid’s flick. 

In the last post of this series, I made the case that the film should properly be seen as part and parcel of sub-genre known as psychological horror.  In other words, what I ask is what happens when we look at the film as a straightforward stalker thriller?  The last post was a set-up.  The ground rules for this particular genre were laid out.  I also introduced the film’s most iconic character, Cruella de Vil, as exhibit A as the main reason why the film fits in nicely with works like Wait Until Dark, or Peeping Tom.  This entry is meant to be the pay-off.
In this essay I intend to drive the point home.  I hope to prove that Dalmatians operates in well within the boundaries of the Gothic psychological thriller.  To do this, I’ll have to show the thematic connections and allusions the film has with others of its type.  There are two sources that I think help set the context for how Disney’s feature should be viewed and, more importantly, read, in terms of their basic setup and conflict.  Those films are the original 60s version of Cape Fear, and the last is Clint Eastwood’s first foray into the psychological thriller, Play Misty for Me.  

 In this case, the conflict revolves around what happens when ordinary people find themselves confronted with a sociopath bent on destroying the protagonists at any cost.  The plot layout is simple enough that we can isolate and focus on the connective strands of all four films based on an examination of their protagonists and villains.   The final piece of the puzzle comes from examining the characters and their narrative as part and parcel of a Gothic setting and story.  It’s surprising how much you can discover about a story just by examining the genre it’s related to.  The Gothic underpinnings of Dalmatians add a final folktale ingredient which manages to tie all loose ends together.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Children’s Gothic Adventure 2: A Look at Disney’s 101 Dalmatians.

In the last post of this series examining Walt Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, we unpacked the film’s origins, and made a brief comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of both the print and screen versions of the story.  There were several other aspects of the book I forgot to mention, such as how the film handles the two henchmen, or the fact that the villain had an actual husband in the book.  Perhaps the reason no time was spent on these plot elements is because they were so minor as to make little impact in the original book itself.

This post will deal with the Disney film itself.  From now on, any attention paid to the source material will strictly be in service to examining how a third (maybe even fourth) rate book can be turned into an A-class film for both kids and adults.  The best place to start is with none other than Uncle Walt, and a hitherto overlooked aspect of his talent as a filmmaker.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Children's Gothic Adventure.

A Children’s Gothic Adventure: An Analysis of 101 Dalmatians.

What’s there to talk about?  It’s Walt Disney, after all.  No other figure in the history of entertainment  has ever been scrutinized and studied with such care and detail by both fans and critics.  Perhaps the Beatles are the closest comparison in terms public awareness.  While the company he started has waxed and waned with the times and fashions, very little has been able to shake the public image of Uncle Walt.  The difference is public awareness doesn’t equal public knowledge.
When most people think of Disney, their minds go automatically to their favorites, whether it’s a classic like Snow White, or an out of the way entry like The Black Cauldron or the even more obscure Saludos Amigos.  The trouble is that seems to be as far as most of us can go when it comes to assessing Disney as a storyteller.  We don’t know art, we just know we like (insert Disney film of choice here).  The good news is that it turns out Walt is the sort of filmmaker who bears up under close scrutiny most of the time.  In particular, once you get the hang of it, you begin to notice some interesting facts about Disney’s strengths as an artist.

The idea that Disney conjures in our minds most of the time is of stories full of magic and enchantment that the whole family can enjoy.  This seems due mainly to a preference by most audiences for material like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, etc.  The reason these straightforward fantasies have such an enthusiastic following begins to make sense when you realize that most of the people who go to see these films are parents with their kids in tow.  Because the company has been so good at drawing in the child demographic, it makes sense that Disney would get a reputation as a kid’s entertainer.  This reputation has taken on such larger than life proportions that Walt’s other qualities have, almost by necessity, been shoved aside, or else swept under the rug.  This ignores the other side of Disney as a Gothic artist.

There are several films in the Disney canon that illustrate this idea.  For now, I’d like to examine several narrative facets of Disney’s 1961 production, 101 Dalmatians, in the hopes of getting audiences to pay more attention to the textual nuances of the film.  I’d like to examine the movie in terms of its inspiration, its narrative influences, and how it fits in to the genre of the Gothic thriller.  I hope to uncover aspects of the film that have not been discussed before.  With any luck, it could help audiences view a fan favorite from a fresh perspective.