The fourth and final video in my series on sea level rise in…

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

The fourth and final video in my series on sea level rise in Carpinteria.

If you want to watch all four videos from the beginning, start here.

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Into The Woods

Monday, January 5th, 2015


So I went to see the movie of Into The Woods yesterday. I hadn’t ever seen the musical on stage so I didn’t have any particular expectations. I enjoyed it, but found some of it problematic, and it’s hard to know if some of the problematic aspects were due to the compression of the story to fit into a 2 hour film.

The highlight, though, was probably the man-pain song.

[spoilers below in my not-very-articulate comments.]

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I loved reading your perspective on the movie. Most of the points you raised are things I never thought of while watching the musical, and then didn’t mind when I saw the movie, though I’m not sure how much of that is based on the differences between the movie and the musical, and on the differences between you and me of the past (since I first saw the musical about 20 years ago).

I guess one way to find out would be for you to now watch the musical, though based on your mixed reaction to the movie you might not want to. For my part I’d certainly encourage you to try if you’re willing; the movie is significantly truncated compared to the musical, and the longer version includes (among other things missing from the film) a reprise of the “Agony” song you liked, with an additional layer of wry commentary on the princes’ rivalry.

Spoiler-y discussion below.

I’m interested by your concern about ableism. Are you saying the creator of the songs (Sondheim) or book (Lapine) were being ableist when they included the blinding of the wicked stepsisters and of Rapunzel’s prince? They were intentionally referencing the darker elements from the Grimm fairy tales, which as far as I know do include those features. In the musical my sense is that those elements are treated in a lighter way (at least with the stepsisters). Is it the lighter tone that makes it seem ableist? I wonder if the nature of movies as a medium makes it harder to pull that off. Overall there’s a more realistic, and therefore darker, tone that comes through in the more macabre parts of the movie. I didn’t mind it, possibly because I knew it was coming and had been pre-conditioned to treat it lightly because of my experience of the musical. But I wonder, if I’d only seen the movie version, if I would have been bothered more by it.

On the issue of Woods-as-symbolic-of-sexual-danger, I definitely agree that that’s there in the storyline of Red and the Wolf, but I’m not sure it extends as far as the Baker’s Wife’s experience in the second act. The Baker’s Wife wanted that experience; it was the fulfillment of the wish she articulated in her earlier song with Cinderella, and even after it’s over she seems to have accommodated herself to it and to appreciate it having happened. So in that sense the woods were not operating as a symbol of sexual danger as much as a symbol of possibility, both good and bad.

Similarly, I don’t think the story punished her for what she did, though I can certainly understand drawing that conclusion. Especially in the movie, where the second half of the story is significantly compressed compared to the musical, it’s hard not to draw causal lines between the events. Without giving away too much about the musical, though, I got the sense that what happened to the Baker’s Wife was part of a larger series of tragedies that actually extends farther than it does in the movie, such that it wasn’t so much a direct result of her experience in the woods as it was just an unfortunate incident in an ongoing wave of badness that affected all the residents of the kingdom without being directed at any of them in particular.

In the same way, I didn’t see what happened to the Baker’s Wife as being just an arbitrary plot manipulation to give the Baker a personal growth opportunity. The Baker’s story, in particular (along with the Witch/Rapunzel story, to a lesser extent) really did suffer in the movie compared to the musical. Watching how things played out for them in the second half, I gave the movie a pass, because I was coming to the characters with a more complete knowledge of their stories than the movie had time to show.

None of this excuses the movie from the requirement that it work as an adaptation for members of the audience unfamiliar with the source material. That was always going to be a challenge, both because of the reduced length and because of the more-realistic tone of a movie compared to a musical. I do think that at least some of the things that didn’t work for you would become less problematic after viewing the musical. But whether or not you give that a try is, of course, up to you.

Oh, and on Meryl’s attractiveness before and after her transformation, I had a reaction that was more or less the mirror image of yours: I thought the bigger challenge the movie struggled with was conveying her “youth” and “beauty” afterwards, rather than making her look “old” and “ugly” beforehand. But again, I’m coming from having watched significantly younger and more-conventionally glamorous actors like Bernadette Peters (who was about 40 when she did the musical) and Vanessa Williams (who was 41 when I saw her) in the role. If I’m doing the math right, Meryl was 64 when she filmed the movie. And in the movie the camera is so much closer, such that the transformation is harder to pull off, because as you say, both before and after, look: it’s Meryl. Whereas on stage you can get away with a lot more in terms of makeup and costume and body language to make the change seem more dramatic.

Anyway, thanks again for sharing your thoughts about the movie, and please let me know if you decide to see the musical. :-)

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