Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Beauty, A Beast, and A Ring of Fire...

(Photo:  Lisa Erin Brown)
This past Sunday was a lovely and mellow one.  Throughout the preceding week, I was more than excited about the "ring of fire" that was going to appear in Sunday night's sky.  Unfortunately, I would not be seeing it 'in person', and would have to settle for the two live streamed feeds I located on the world wide web. A bummer, but it was better than nothing.

After rising on Sunday morning and having my usual cinnamon raisin bagel with a spread of low fat cream cheese, I fired up the PS3 console to watch a DVD I had received on Saturday.  I had seen this particular movie a few times in the past, but periodically I like to watch it again.  The movie is Jean Cocteau's production of "la Belle et la Bete", or for those that require a translation, "Beauty and The Beast".  No, it doesn't fit completely into my current silent film kick as it isn't a silent film, but it is an artistic masterpiece that has the requisite elements of fantasy and escapism which are key in pulling my over extended brain away from my day to day stresses.  Over the last few weeks I have visited a number of places.  The drama filled lives of two women as portrayed by Louise Brooks; the Dystopian future of Metropolis; the dark and sinister world of Jekyll and Hyde; the battle between good and evil as expressed in the life of Faust; and Sunday I was to step into the dark fairy tale world of Beauty and the Beast.  Every foray into that artistic and magical realm is as captivating as the last.

"La Belle et la Bete" begins with a preamble being scrawled across a blackboard.  Below, the original French is followed by an English translation:
(Jean Marais)
Filmed in 1946, by one of the most notable avant-garde artists, Jean Cocteau, "la Belle et la Bete" has a creative sophistication that makes it stand out as an early example of special effects make-up, and an example of over all art direction that puts some of today's films to shame.  French actor and close friend of Cocteau, Jean Marais, had triple duties in the film.  (He appeared in most of Cocteau's films.) Marais plays 'Avenant', suitor to Belle and best friend to her brother, 'The Beast', and 'The Prince'.

I can only imagine what early "prosthetics" were made of.  (I have seen various interviews with actors who have worn some of the make-up pieces of today, and some have complained about how uncomfortable and damaging the adhesives, etc., can be to the skin.  I can only imagine how rough it would have been in the early years of film make-ups.)  The Beasts make-up is effective and impressive.  Actually, all of the characters within Cocteau's world are impressive, down to the figure heads on the fireplace, and the female statue in Belle's bedroom.  During her initial walk through the magically alive castle, Belle (played by Josette Day) looks appropriately...well...freaked out.  I don't blame her.  It's an alien world, both beautiful and frightening.

(Belle and the Beast)
There are some changes to the original story line.  In this version Belle has one brother ('Ludovic') instead of three, and her brothers closest friend, 'Avenant' (played by Marais), is trying his best to woo her.  In the original (as I has been so long since I read the original version), Belle's father does find his way to the Beasts castle when he gets lost in the woods, and he does pluck a rose for Belle and the Beast says he must pay for the rose with his life.  After some pleading, the Beast relents and says his horse 'Magnificent' will take him home.  The Beast also says that one of his daughters must take his place.  After he arrives home and tells the story of the castle and the Beast, Belle volunteers and returns to the castle.

(Josette Day)
Over time Belle's feelings for the Beast go from revulsion and fear, to fondness.  Upon learning that her father has fallen ill, the Beast allows Belle to return home to see him, but only for a week.  The Beast gives her two magical items:  a glove that when worn will transport the wearer to wherever they wish to go, and a key that unlocks "Diana's Pavilion" which holds the Beasts true wealth.

Seeing how well Belle is doing, her rich garb makes her sisters envious, and her brother and Avenant covetous. Belle divulges everything she has experienced, including the purpose of the key.  Avenant and the brother form a plan to go to the Beasts castle to steal his riches from the Pavilion.  Stealing the horse 'Magnificent', the two men go to the castle and locate "Diana's Pavilion". Fearing a booby-trap on the door, they climb to the structures roof and break through the glass ceiling.  Avenant drops into the room where the statue of Diana that guards the treasure shoots him with an arrow.  At that moment the curse switches, and Avenant's body takes on the form of the Beast while the Beast becomes the image of Avenant.  Now that the Beast is once again a man, he takes Belle to his faraway kingdom, where she will rule with him.  The two fly off into the sky.  That is the bulk of the story line tweaks.

I can't recommend this film enough.  It has so many elements that appeal to me on a number of creative levels.  As for the story, at it's heart it is the classic fairy tale.  Drama, romance, mystery, fantasy.  It is in the original French with English subtitles.  Don't let that discourage you from seeing it.  I watch a lot of subtitled films, and some have a tendency to flash on the screen too quickly which detracts from enjoying the film.  That's not the case here.  The subtitles do not take anything away from enjoying the film.  I am not a big fan of dubbed movies, as so much of the mood and emotion injected by the actual cast is lost.  With the French dialogue intact, nothing is lost.

"La Belle et la Bete" served as some nice filler for my day as I waited for eclipse time to roll around.  I found what appeared to be the only two live feeds available.  The first one that covered the initial eclipse from Mount Fujiyama in Japan was a bust.  The pictures above will illustrate why it was a failure. Clouds as far as the eye could see.  A proverbial carrot was dangled a few times as a hole with a few shafts of sunlight would appear here and there, but clouds would come along and fill it in.  I felt bad for the crew that traipsed up the mountain to set up the solar equipment meant to capture the big event.  I kept checking back to it for the first thirty minutes or so.  Once it was completely obvious that we weren't going to see anything from Fujiyama, I focused on the other site that was centered on the Western United States. They had a few cameras set up in the three main states that would be in the eclipse's path.  That coverage began at 8:00 PM.  This is an example of what I saw:

Not as impressive an experience as I would have liked.  Was I glad to see the eclipse happening?  Yes.  Seeing it in person would have been my preference, but it was what it was.  Not entirely "magical", but seen nonetheless.  There are a number of really beautiful shots taken along the Moon's path that night. Some of my favorites follow, all of them credited to the Associated Press/AP.

(Top Left:  Taken Sunday, May 20, 2012 @ Papago Park, Phoenix, Arizona;
Top Right:  Photo by Shuji Kajiyama, Taken Monday, May 21, 2012, @ Waterfront Park, Yokohama near Tokyo;
Bottom Left:  Taken Monday, May 21, 2012, A sunrise, coastal township Gumaca, Quezon Province, south of Manila, Philipines;
Bottom Right:  Taken Sunday, May 20, 2012, Roswell, New Mexico)
There is another Eclipse coming up that will happen on June 4th, 2012.  There won't really be anything to see from North America.  Everything I have read says that it will be visible from the Pacific Ocean, including New Zealand, Hawaii, eastern and central Australia, and parts of eastern Asia.  This one is a "penumbral eclipse" which means the Moon passes through a portion of Earth's penumbra (shadow).

Hopefully the next eclipse of note will be visible from my neck of the woods.


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