Opening Gala

Hippfest got officially up and running with Maurice Tourneur’s THE BLUE BIRD, accompanied by the weird and charming burbling, tooting and mumbling of ensemble Sonic Bothy, who, as Fiona noted, seemed to be scoring the film damage as well as the film, a cheeky approach which could have been distracting but was delightful.

The film really shone, in all its tattered glory — I’ve always found it gorgeous, but Maeterlinck’s allegory, like a lot of allegory, seemed heavy. What became clearer on the big screen, with a crowd and an artful soundtrack, was that every damn thing in that movie is both beautiful and creepy. Maeterlinck’s fantasy world is most disturbing when it’s trying to be sweet — the ancient dead grandparents waking from afterlife coma because their descendants have thought of them (for the first time in months); the parade of happy dead children descending the stairs; the disgusting palace of luxuries; the zone of unborn children waiting around in veiled heaps for a boat to take them to their respective wombs (apparently they just SIT — for YEARS — and as in the sequels, mysteriously they’re all white). The spooky Palace of Night is actually less unsettling than the purportedly sweet bits. This makes it sound like we didn’t enjoy the film but we LOVED it. For its peculiarity rather than its moral depth or its story.

We learned that the platonic ideal of a cat is a dude dressed in a cat costume, and is STILL an asshole.


2 Responses to “Opening Gala”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    Something that struck me about the play (I actually read it in my drama geek teens, looking for a public domain item I could adapt) was how the children were accompanied by human avatars of most of the stuff in the kitchen. I got they represented virtues of home and hearth, but it seemed an excessive number of sidekicks for a quest.

    The one actual line I remember came when they were all shuddering in the Palace of the Night. Only the cat was calm, saying simply “I know what’s what.”

    The silent version was on TCM a while back. It was visually impressive, but I still kept trying to find some specific purpose to those companions, presented as straightforward humans as opposed to essences of whatever.

    Of course I saw the Shirley Temple version on TV as a kid, a would-be “Wizard of Oz” with unfortunate pretentions. They boiled the entourage down to loyal Dog and untrustworthy Cat (Gale Sondergaard), and included the dead grandparents, the discontented trees (followed by a big special effects forest fire), the spoiled wealthy (including Nigel Bruce), and the monumentally cringy children waiting to be born (one unhappy boy, implied to be Lincoln, knows he’s going to be martyred). To top it off, Shirley was almost too old for this sort of thing, and the script demanded she be unpleasant early on.

  2. Yeah, Maeterlinck’s play doesn’t seem well constructed — this swarm of supporting characters who don’t contribute anything or have personalities or arcs. And yet the “no place like home” ending might have influenced The Wizard of Oz because it’s something added at screenplay stage and not present in L. Frank Baum.

    Anyway, this time I was sort of charmed by the ineptitude of the story along with the high gloss of the production.

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