So, the month and the year is over and, as I promised, here is a fast run-down of different remarkable Aschenputtel adaptations. I mostly kept it to movies, but be aware that there are also takes in different fairy tale shows and even a whole anime based on the story. Though I am pretty sure that I missed a few good ones, due to the sheer number of them. For example I didn’t know that…
is apparently a very influential in Russia. The Soviet film from 1947 was even considered important enough that it was colorized in 2009. Honestly, I don’t think that the colorization added anything, like most movies which underwent this treatment it now just looks fake and cheap, but the plot itself is very interesting in that all the characters in the movie are very aware that they live in a fairy tale world. A lot of scenes come off more like a parody, but there are some really good zingers in the dialogue which, I suspect, work even better in the original language. If there are any Russians under my readers, I would be happy to hear about their experiences with this movie. What I really liked about it is that the scene on the ball is fairly long, allowing the romance to play out properly at the ball and not, like it is often done nowadays, beforehand.
The Slipper and the Rose
…mostly made this list because it was recommended to me. And I can see why. Made in 1976 I suspect that everyone who grew up with the movie would love it for its great actors and sets and above all the Sherman Brothers songs. Thus said, I have a long list of issues with this take on Cinderella. Germma Craven is very charming in the role, but the movie doesn’t allow the character any agenda of her own. In a way it isn’t even about her and focusses way more on the woes of the Prince – I guess someone thought that if you can get Richard Chamberlain he just has to be the most important character in the room. But that is no excuse for not allowing Cinderella to make any decision on their own. She is constantly pushed in one direction or another, first by her family, then by her godmother, then by the advisors of the kingdom and then by the godmother again. It’s kind of annoying. I give the movie credit for not pretending that a slipper which fits automatically leads to a happy end, but the way it deals with the question how a Prince can marry for love is solved so quickly, roughly the last 20 minutes of the musical feel kind of tacked on.
Speaking of musicals, I originally didn’t intend to talk about…
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Mostly because the only version of it I knew where the one from 1997, and I don’t like this one at all. Yeah, sue me. But I really have a hard time to take it seriously, the costumes and sets are so over-the-top, the effects are so cheap, they take me out of the movie (especially when Whitney Houston levitates beside the carriage…wth is that?) and I really, really didn’t like the songs when I watched this movie. For me, they were either shrill and annoying or sung too breathy to even understand the lines properly. But I did my research and discovered that this is actually a remake. So I watched the version of 1965. Which I didn’t like either. Nothing against Lesly Ann Warren, but there is something really fake about the way she plays Cinderella. I would also categorize it as one of the more problematic versions when it comes to the details in the story. Somewhat feed up I gave the 1957 a shot, and I absolute loved it. Granted, I more or less like Julie Andrews in every role she is in, she is such a talented actress. And her voice used to be divine! This time around, I actually liked the songs. I don’t know what it is, but the soul tunes Brandy Norwood added to the songs really, really didn’t work for me – and considering that her take on said songs was the first I heard, she had every advantage in the world. But listening to Julie Andrews made me want a recording of this performance. In addition, this version has a talk between Cinderella and the Fairy Goodmother I really like, about the role of dreams in our lives. The talk is in the remake, too, but very, very cut down to a degree that all meaning is sucked out of it. In addition, the 1957 version obviously had a smaller budget, but the lack of CGI, distracting costumes and overwrought set actually lends itself to the story way better. The result is simple but charming.
One country which has cranked out a number of adaptation of this fairy tale is naturally Germany. Lotte Reiniger even released the first animated short of it as early as 1922, the same year Disney did its first animated take (hers is better imho). Everyone who reads my other blog, Movies and Lyrics, knows that I adore her work and this one is no exception. But take a look for yourself…I even found an English version (the score is was added later on, though, but I like this recording because you can hear the reaction of the audience):
Otherwise, there are no less than four German TV-productions simply called….
And they all manage to be very different. The oldest one is from the Fritz Genschow fairy tale movies run, released in 1955 in Germany and 1966 under the title “Cinderella” in the US. Yes, they even dubbed the movie. I was surprised by this, too, but then for its time, it is fairly good. It’s colourful and approaches the story with a sense of fun without loosing the magical aspect of it. A good watch if you like the fairy tale, though nowadays a little bit dated.
The main reason I bother to mention the 1989 take is because while I actually don’t like the movie, it is kind of remarkable. It is bizarre, intentionally so. It actually doesn’t change one word of the fairy tale, but it adds a number of details. For example after Aschenputtel turns up in a sliver dress for the first ball, all the other guests also dress in silver and are shocked when she wears a golden dress the second time around. The sets and the costumes are often kind of “off”, for the lack of a better word, the movie often feels like a surreal dream. And I honestly like those choices, it makes for a very unique and interesting look. What I don’t like is the cast and a number of acting choices. In this version Aschenputtel is so demure, it feels fake which in turn makes it hard to route for her character. Especially since there are a number of situations in which she could better her lot just by speaking up, and telling her father how she is treated.
Currently there are no less than two fairy tale productions ongoing in Germany. ZDF started with “Sechs auf einem Streich” with the intention to replace the fairy tales movies which are on rerun around the holidays with something more modern. Their version of Aschenputtel was released in 2011, and, as usual for the series, it is a very modern take on the story when it comes to the tone, but still traditional when it comes to the setting. After all, it is not like Germany lacks in any way on old castles. In this case I like the take on Aschenputtel, but for my taste the Stepmother is a little bit too over-the-top evil to everyone. It’s not bad, but for from being my favourite.
But before the ZDF managed to get to Aschenputtel, the ARD and WDR beat them to the punch and released their take one year earlier, as part of the “Märchenperlen” (Fairy tale pearls) series. I am not quite sure why those two channels are currently trying to outdo each other with those fairy tale adaptations – they are usually working together since they are part of the state financed programming – but I certainly can’t complain. The picture I picked to present Aschenputtel for this article is actually from this movie, which I feel is a really good combination of the best elements of prior adaptations, adding a few Perrault elements into the mix. The Prince is maybe a little bit boring, but he actually wants to marry this time around to keep the kingdom out of the hands of his crazy (not evil, just crazy) uncle, which is a nice change from the usual stories built around this character. And Aschenputtel mostly wants to go to the ball because she loves to dance and maybe meet the nice valet again she happened to encounter a few days ago (who is naturally the Prince). All in all this movie manages to be modern while still keeping the fairy tale feel in the story.
I think that is one of the three key elements one needs for a good adaptation. This is not a story one can tell while being cynical about it, it needs to feel romantic to a certain degree – a good soundtrack always helps in this regard. The stepmother needs to be a convincing character, it must be believable that she would be able to keep Aschenputtel under her thumb. But the most important element is always Aschenputtel herself. The character needs to be likable, but above all it should be allowed to have agency. And I don’t mean that she has to be outspoken or ride through the woods for this. That is the popular shorthand for “see, she is kind of independent”, but actually means nothing if Aschenputtel is not allowed to make any decisions in the story. It doesn’t matter if those decisions pan out or not, the important part is that Aschenputtel should never just accept her fate as a given. Or, to put it in Disney terms, it doesn’t matter if she can free herself as long as she keeps hammering against the door. That is what the story is truly about, to never give up hope and work towards your dreams, whatever they are. Well, that and that kindness is a source of beauty which comes with its own set of rewards.
Quote: “Bäumchen rüttel dich und schüttle dich, wirf Gold und Silber über mich.” (Quake and shake my little tree, throw gold and silver over me.)
And thus I conclude this little article series. If your favourite version wasn’t covered, feel free to talk about it in the comment section. Or do your own top five list of the best takes. I refrained from doing this because I already have a difficult time to rank my top four, which are all great in their own way.
What was not so great was the year 2016. Less on a personal level, but for the first time my optimism for the future is in jeopardy. I thought that we had learned enough from our history to know how high the price can be if you listen to those who will offer you simple solutions to very complicated problems. I guess I was wrong. This year I will have the opportunity to cast my vote, and I desperately hope that enough other people will hand onto their sanity to ensure that it matters.
And I hope that we all will experience 2017 as a better year than the last one. Because in the end, it will be our decisions which will shape the future. Therefor I intend to embrace the new year as positively as I can. But until then I end this year in this blog with a wholeheartedly…
FUCK YOU 2016!!!!