Thursday, July 10, 2014

Disney Princess movie watching (and blogging) update

I realize I kind of stopped blogging about my Disney-watching experience so here’s a quick update: first off – this is a great article that contextualizes exactly what Disney was up to during and after its “dark age” i.e. the thirty years between the release of Sleeping Beauty (59) and Little Mermaid. (89). I learned a lot of stuff about the company I did not know.
Since I include Disney’s version of “The Little Mermaid” in my class I am very familiar with that movie. (I especially like pointing out to my students that Ursula’s appearance was based on that of the actor/drag queen Divine). So I’m not going to blog my watching experience of it except to say that I really like certain aspects of the movie (Ursula! – the language play – the song “Part of Your World” ) and dislike others: the narrowing down of Ariel’s focus on getting Eric to fall in love with her and the extremely patriarchal ending where she gets handed off to him via her re-masculated dad. 
Probably the most detested secondary article I have my students read is a heavily psychoanalytical reading of the movie that focuses a lot on Freudian notions of sexuality—Ursula’s death is a symbolic act of penetration (instigated by Eric no less) and the father undergoes symbolic emasculation when Ursula lays her tentacles on the phallic trident. Despite the student’s dislike of the article it always seems to generate fruitful and enlightening discussions of both the movie and the fairy tale.
As the internet article I linked to earlier mentions the next big Disney flick after Little Mermaid was Beauty and the Beast, which I did see at some point when it first came out. I got really bored when I started to re-watch it and so just gave up on it. (My old dislike of feature length animation started to kick in big time…) One thing I disliked was how the movie differed from the most popular version of the tale (and the one we read in my class), by Jeanne Marie Le-Prince de Beaumont. There were no sisters, whose inner 'ugliness' highlighted her “beauty” as in Beaumont's version, and thus the fact that she is to blame for the father being taken to task by the beast, because she requested a rose as opposed to something material falls away. It also was a reminder that I really really need to watch the Jean Cocteau version from 1946. (I have always meant to but as yet have not).  I think I started watching (and enjoying) Lars von Trier’s Melancholia instead. Caus that’s how I roll…
Moving on to the Disney movie I think I watched slightly before Beauty and the Beast since it was available on streaming as opposed to only as a dvd (The bigger the hit the less likely a movie will be available for streaming) – Pocahontas (1995). I actually kind of liked it (or at least did not hate it as much as I thought I might...) despite its completely fantastical take on Early American history. Apparently when it first came out it was totally eclipsed by The Lion King that came out at almost the same time, and was the biggest animated hit Disney ever had. I liked the talking tree, and the song Colors of the Wind and was not too bothered by the idealized perhaps even exoticised depiction of Pochahnatas herself.  That being said it’s not a movie I'd want to see again. 
I do realize I have skipped over Aladdin (1992), which I'm not sure whether I’ve seen or not. I think I may have. I know it has funny bits because Robin Williams voices the genie. The reason I skipped it is that I have to get it on dvd, so it will take me a bit longer. After that the next official Disney princess is Mulan 1998 which I am waiting to see when I'm in the right (mellow?) mood I need to be in to at least halfways appreciate these flicks. I could also watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) since it's on/in the streaming menu-but I think I'll focus on the actual Disney Princess movies first. Oh and I'm not going to waste my time watching ANY of the sequels to the actual movies....enough is enough! 
This has been my go-to list for all the Disney movies and it reminded me of the fact that both Tim Burton and Hayao Miyazaki have made films that have the Disney name/brand attached to them in some fashion. While I have seen some of Tim Burton’s movies I'm not sure I've seen any of the ones with the Disney name. And as shocking as it may sound I don't think I've ever watched a Miyazaki movie-despite intentions to do so. I will do so as soon as the time and mood etc. is right-promise! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959)

I liked Sleeping Beauty much better than Cinderella. The comedy in this one seemed less irritating to me. And I have to confess I have a strong childhood memory of seeing pictures in a book taken from the Disney film (especially of the three good fairies) and being enthralled by them – trying to decide which color-fairy I liked the best. I kind of liked how Merryweather kept bickering with the bossy one. (Pink/blue/pink/blue)
The visual look of the film also appealed to me. Apparently it was the last Disney film to use hand-inked cels. I was drawn to the scenery which was done by Eyvind Earle.
I also liked the music better—what’s not to like about Tchaikovsky?

And of course Malificent was magnificent….Who knew about the dragon!?!? Supercool. I loved how her little crow side-kick (Diablo?) got turned into a crow-gargoyle. Even the proverbial goons were kind if entertaining. All in all not a bad movie. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Link to a review of Michael Kimmel's book "Angry White Men"

Because of my ocd-tendencies I have to read every Sunday New York Times book review cover-to-cover which means that right now I am reading one from November 2013. In it I found a review of Michael Kimmel’s book “Angry White Men” which sounds very interesting and of course made me think of the recent terrible killings that took place in Isla Vista, CA.  This is the sentence from the review I find myself dwelling upon the most: 
But Kimmel also strains a little too hard for a tidy sociological explanation, arguing mightily (and pointlessly) against the idea that these attackers were singularly deranged or psychotic. Like the suicide bombers he compares them to, one can be both uniquely psychologically vulnerable, a total outlier, and yet tuned in to a broader cultural trend.”
 On the one hand I agree with the statement. On the other hand (and this probably means I should read the book!) the second sentence seems to be an equally “tidy” explanation of what happened and a way of shutting down the conversation that perhaps need to be had regarding these outliers as well as the broader cultural trends. I'm also wondering what role the (social) media plays here in the promotion and/or creation of these trends. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Some off the cuff thoughts on Disney’s Cinderella (1950)

I do feel the need to preface these thoughts with a reminder to people that  a) I did no grow up with Disney the way that many Americans have, b) for some reason I am slightly biased against animated Disney movies. – I just don't seem to like/love/adore them as much as many or most of my students do. Part of this maybe because I simply do not care for feature-length animated movies in general. On the other hand I remember with fond affection many animated TV shows such as The Bugs Bunny Show (loved Sylvester and Tweety Bird), Rocky & Bullwinkle, the Hanna-Barbera shows like Top CatHuckleberry HoundThe FlintstonesThe Jetsons,The Wacky Races.
Anyway so here goes: my main issue with Disney's Cinderella was/is – who is its supposed audience? Is it a kid’s movie through and through? – or is it a movie geared towards slightly older girls? The large role played by the mice and birds (who I thought were charming in the beginning but got a bit boring as the movie progressed) plus the very broad and caricaturist depiction of the step-sisters and even the King and his faithful side-kick the Grand Duke (Who reminded me a bit of the Little Mermaid’s Sebastian except he wasn’t a crab of course…) all seemed more directed towards younger kids.
And then you get Cinderella herself – who again I thought was charming in the beginning but who began to grate on me as the film progressed—I couldn't help thinking she really did feel she was better than the sisters because how could she not? To me she came off more as a coquettish 1950’s teenager who was trying to be good than someone who was inherently good….And so -- who was or is the audience for the romance part of the movie? — Hubby Bill referred to this part of the plot/movie as “the girly stuff” – which of course he never really liked much. So I’m just wondering what little girls make of that part—does it make them want to be “belles of the ball”? Princesses? Is this where the “anti-Disney” twitter feeds get it right in their insistence on the fact that this part of the narrative frames young womens' expectations in a narrowly consumerist, shallow and heteronormative way? (Along the lines of  “my whole goal in life is to be thought of as pretty by men and nab a handsome prince-like fella?”)  Of course this is 1950 and I know that the Disney movies tweak their narratives to adapt to changing cultural norms and values. (Which is why I’m trying to watch these movies in the order of their release).  On the other hand I wonder how much things have changed. (I’m looking at you The Bachelor/the Bachelorette).

When we discuss the Perrault and Grimm versions of this tale in the fairy tale class (full disclosure—I’m somewhat biased towards the “romantic” yet dark/cruel Grimm version) we do dwell on notions of “inner” versus “outer” beauty—i.e. the fact that the step-sisters in the Grimm version are explicitly described as “schön” – beautiful on the outside but “garstig” on the inside — i.e. where it counts? In the Disney version they’re just silly…they’re not as explicitly cruel as they are in the Grimm. The step-mother takes on the role of the cruelly mean one in the Disney version which for me made her seem disconnected from her daughters.
I did like the opening song and of course bibbidi bobbodi boo is a great "earworm".....  
One last pet peeve--am I the only one who thought Cinderella looked better with her hair down - before she got all gussied up for the party? -I did not care for her up-do.
I’m excited to find out that Kenneth Branagh of all people is directing a new non-animated version of Cinderella, with Cate Blanchett as the evil step-mother—it is scheduled to be released in March 2015 and until then all we have is this total “teaser’ of a trailer for it…

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Planets & pocket diaries: Thomas and Warren De La Rue

A Physics professor from Albion (Hi Nicolle! J) asked about why there was a picture of Jupiter in one of the little pocket diaries belonging to my great-great grandmother, Charlotte Lane.  And so I took a closer a look at it and the answer is really quite fascinating. After some pages pertaining to different calendars (the Hebrew calendar / the Mohammedan Calendar), plus a very detailed Calendar for England that lists such important events as the end of Pheasant shooting (Wed. Feb 1st) or the day the King of Sardinia was born (March 14) and numerous other tables to do with measurements of various kinds there comes a very detailed section entitled “astronomical phenomena”. This part lists information about the planets, eclipses, occultations visible at Greenwich, eclipses of Jupiter’s satellites(!) and then a detailed description of where each of the planets will be in the night sky throughout the year. It talks about other stars too: Algol and Mira Ceti. Then finally we come to a section entitled: “The Planet Jupiter”—which starts out as follows:

“The engraving, which we this year present to our readers is the result of a careful examination of the physical peculiarities of the planet Jupiter made by Mr. Warren De La Rue, with the aid of a fine reflecting telescope, thirteen inches in aperture, on October 25th 1856.”

Warren De La Rue's description of the planet Jupiter.

As it turns out Warren De La Rue was an astronomer known particularly for his astronomical photographs! And not only that but he was the son of Thomas De La Rue, who was the producer of these little diaries and of course to top it all off they were both from Guernsey (or as this youtube video calls it "the stunning Bailiwick of Guernsey") —ground zero genealogically speaking for many of my ancestors. And you thought the only good thing to come out of Guernsey were cows…. ;-) 
It seems more than likely that Charlotte's pal -- "dear Lord Saumarez" who gets more mentions in the diaries than her husband (whom she routinely refers to as Taylor, as opposed to Philpotts....) gifted her these diaries because they too both haled from said stunning Balliwick. I haven't figured out yet how they both came to live within walking distance of each other on the main land--coincidence? 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Introducing my great-great-grandmother - Charlotte Barbara Taylor (neé Lane)

The Lane Pedigree
My great great grandmother was Charlotte Barbara Taylor neé Lane and she definitely was the genealogist in the family. I’m fairly certain she created the Lane pedigree you see here, which has – along with the two other pedigrees that have been passed down to me (and my sister) been keeping me busy genealogically speaking ever since I began pursuing this hobby.  

Charlotte Taylor in the pedigree

Charlotte Lane (whose mother was Elizabeth Le Mesurier – the Le Mesuriers are an ancient family from the Balliwick of Guernsey –a British crown dependency in the Channel Islands. Elizabeth’s brother John was the last hereditary governor of Alderney- the northernmost channel Island) married Philpotts Wright Taylor, whose uncle was Joseph Taylor who founded the Taylor Port Company in Porto, Portugal.
I have found out quite a bit about one of Charlotte’s sisters Louisa Lane Clarke, about whom I will write more in another post.
My sister and I at the bottom of the tree. 

I’m including in this post pictures of three little pocket diaries I have, that belonged to Charlotte. She got them as gifts from Reverend James Saumarez, 2nd Baron de Saumarez, whose father had been an admiral in the Royal Navy and who was the first Guernseyman raised to the peerage in 1831. One of them is open to the page where she documents her son Arthur’s sudden death on the 12th of July 1859. He was only 18. 
Small diary that belonged to Charlotte Lane

Sad news
Inscription: "from dear Lord de Saumarez".
And here's a link to a blogpost all about the Lane's that I happened to stumble upon (I'm sure whilst internet sleuthing my family one day) and that led me to request photocopies of the stash of letters the history man talks about here--obviously I have some information that he does not - but these letters are also a wonderful addition to the family archive that is slowly taking shape. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Rheumatoid arthritis update

So back in March I received the “official” diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis. After some rather extensive dental work I got done during the second week of January I experienced what in retrospect must have been a severe flare of rheumatoid arthritis. My hands were the worst: swollen, extremely sore and stiff and more or less useless—getting dressed took a long time. (buttons! pulling on pants!). I needed those grippy things for everything-doors, bottle opening etc. My knees were also not good and at first I also got bad headaches and just generally felt miserable.
A picture of my puffy right hand during the worst of the flare
The day after a follow-up visit with my dentist, where a newly made crown was found to not fit quite right, my left knee became so sore and stiff I had a hard time walking. This of course really scared me.
This was all happening against the back-drop of the “polar vortex” and I'm sure the weather played a factor in the flare.
The slightly odd thing is that even at the time of my first appointment with the rheumatologist in February I was already slowly getting better, i.e.experiencing less pain. And since the lowest of the low which was probably the three weeks back in January (after the initial dentist’s visit) I have been on a gradual trajectory of less pain-a slow upward slope towards relative painlessness.
This is probably why at the visit in March I balked at the idea of going on Methotrexate- a strong medication often used for RA but also for treating certain cancers. It can have strong side effects including vomiting, diarrhea and nausea. I was busy with teaching and the idea of being laid low on the weekends due to this med made me very sad. I therefore decided to not go on it and just continue with taking prescription strength ibuprofen when the pain warranted it.
Now after a follow-up visit I decided to give the methotrexate a try. My doc kind of talked me into it—she poked around a bit and kept saying – this joint is swollen and that joint is swollen. She made me move my shoulder around a bit in a way that hurt. (My most stubborn pain areas have been my left arm and shoulder).

At least now I’m not as busy and can take it easy on the days I take it –which are going to be Tuesdays. I took my first dose last Tuesday and felt quite dizzy and woozy but also mentally quite good. My stomach was a bit upset but I did not really feel nauseous and I did not lose my appetite which was good.  Apparently it can take a while before one notices an improvement which makes sense if one is only taking it once a week. My next appointment with the doctor is in July and I assume she will run some tests to make sure the methotrexate is not adversely affecting the liver. Until then I hope the side-effects will remain tolerable, and that I’ll perhaps notice an improvement in my (already pretty tolerable) pain situation.  Only time will tell…..

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Art and artists in literature

As part of the background preparation for the fairy tale course I teach I've been reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard and enjoying it immensely—Vonnegut is a really good story teller, who keeps things interesting on different levels—plot, bigger themes, and characterization. I highly recommend it!  (It's a fictional first person account of the life of the equally fictional abstract expressionist painter Rabu Karabekian). 
Anyway it has gotten me thinking about what other novels, or shorter fictional texts are out there that deal with painters or illustrators. The first one I just happened to stumble across a review of is one I have yet to read: William GaddisThe Recognitions which apparently deals with a master forger of artists like Hieronymous Bosch.
Another shorter “artist’s story” is Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kröger, where the main protagonist is a writer (of a sort) but in its fourth chapter he has a crucial discussion with a female Russian painter, who was apparently based on the real artist Elisabeth Iwanowa Epstein.
My final example of a text that focuses this time on a painting itself as a spring board into a meditation on many other topics is Terry Tempest William’s Leap – which is described here as an “unexpected pilgrimage through the landscape of a painting”. The painting at the center of the narrative is Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delight's. 
I'd be interested in hearing of other examples of fictional or essayistic texts that focus on visual artists and or their creations. I'm sure there are many.