View Single Post
far from home...
Join Date: Aug 2005
Grim Fairy Tales
By INGRID SISCHY
Published: August 28, 2005
An over-the-top banquet is in full swing, but the heir to the kingdom, an ever-so-handsome prince, is not eating. ''I was thinking how odd the world is,'' he confesses. A pal laments, ''They say it will stop turning.'' No, says our prince, ''the fairies will never let it happen.'' This deliciously hopeful moment is just one of many memorable passages in Jacques Demy's 1970 movie, ''Donkey Skin,'' one of the kookiest, most vibrantly colorful pieces of celluloid to ever come out of France. The film has become such a cult favorite among artists -- it stars a singing, jaw-droppingly gorgeous Catherine Deneuve and was recently re-released with a restored print (overseen by the director Agnes Varda) -- that I predict it's only a matter of time before it crops up as an inspiration in fashion. How can designers resist a plot in which the heroine asks for a dress the color of the weather -- and gets it? John Galliano, do I hear you taking out your scissors?
No wonder the film is such a lightning rod. It taps into the zeitgeist so beautifully. Not since the Victorians have we seen so many artists working with the iconography and narratives of fairy tales; some are picking up on childhood classics, while others are inventing new stories. From Paula Rego's odd, touching paintings to Amy Cutler's spellbinding scenarios to an ever-expanding group of contemporary photographers, including Justine Kurland, Anthony Goicolea and Anna Gaskell, who imbue their images with a sense of magic, as well as menace, this body of work seems to be a response to our anxious world and the inevitable question, How can we believe that there will be a tomorrow, let alone a future in which people live happily ever after?
In the same way that the Victorians plumbed the natural world as an antidote to the threats posed by industrialization, today's fairy tales are another sort of paradigm for getting through what appears to be impossible. As the artist Kiki Smith pointed out to me recently, contemporary artists set scenes in forests or other Arcadian environments that are obviously outside the culture, clearly removed from class, race and money and free from the hold of technology. With Smith, who is probably the most groundbreaking of the breed, politics is never far away. Explaining the collective mood, she said: ''I was walking down Madison Avenue thinking about the fact that we are at the height of a most glamorous period, with so many people in sequins and jewels. And I realized that what this is about is covering the blood.''
There is no writer who has done more for our understanding of the impact of fairy tales on our evolving consciousness than Bruno Bettelheim. I remember my pleasure when I learned from Bettelheim's influential book ''The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales'' that one of Charles Perrault's most popular heroines had a serious fan in Charles Dickens. ''I felt that if I could have married Little Red Riding Hood I should have known perfect bliss,'' the writer is said to have confessed. I wonder what he would have made of Miwa Yanagi's 21st-century take on his imaginary bride.
What's immediately striking about Yanagi's view of Western fairy tales (she is from Kyoto, Japan, and established her critical reputation with a series of performance photographs called ''Elevator Girls'') is how she alters the usual implicit distance between generations. All of her characters have the slightly icky look of an inbred clan. Little Red Riding Hood and Grandma hold each other as if for dear life. Nowhere is this give-and-take between those who have lived and those who still have it all before them more touching than in Yanagi's rendition of Rapunzel. A waterfall of hair overwhelms the scene while a scissor threatens; it's a picture of what it means to be ''in it together'' if ever there were one.
In a recent interview, Yanagi explained that she never thinks about her work in terms of posterity. What she is after is more urgent. ''I only realize that there is something when I feel my heart stir,'' she said. Which makes me think of the last line in Marina Warner's compelling study ''From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers.'' She writes: ''The faculty of wonder, like curiosity, can make things happen; it is time for wishful thinking to have its due.'' Let's get out our wands.
Photos which accomponied the piece (all by Miwa Yanagi):
Little Red Riding Hood
Pics also from nytimes.com
Last edited by DosViolines; 31-08-2005 at
View this member's profile
Post a comment to this member's profile
Send a private message to DosViolines
Find More Posts by DosViolines