Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Magic Realities Reconsidered: Ever After

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Magic Realities Reconsidered: Ever After

Article excerpt

By contextualizing the film Ever After in terms of its revisions of the classic versions of the Cinderella story and of Renaissance ideas of social reform, this study presents the contemporary Cinderella as an imaginary construct of several layers of cultural history and of literary and artistic subplots.

The narrator in the introductory frame of the 1998 film Ever After, the Grand Dame (played by Jeanne Moreau), criticizes the Brothers Grimm (played by Joerg Stadler and Andy Henderson) for presenting the "little Cindergirl" as only fuction, that is, as entertainment for children, and not as a presentation of historical facts. As evidence for the relevance of her criticism, she produces two references. First, she points towards the portrait of a young woman of the sixteenth century, Denielle de Barbarac (Drew Barrymore), on whom, she claims, the legend of Cinderella is based. Second, she produces the magic slipper that functions as a visual and historical artifact. The narrator's criticism comments on the publication history of these tales, (1) but is also goes much further. She reinvents the Cinderella figure by assigning to her the role of a Renaissance pre - Revolution revolutionary. Her overcoming of social marginalization is linked to a female empowerment independent of a male lover's interference.

Ever After reinvents the fairy tale as a fictional herstory, a story of revolutionary moments that reflect the political apathy of France's royal class. By removing the fairy tale from the margins of so-called high culture, the film places it in the centre of Active history. The film, as historical fiction, places the tale's Cinderella in the French Renaissance but presents this period as a pastiche of various philosophical and art historical references that transgress historical boundaries. The plot is thematically charged with historical references that are simultaneously undermined by the film's pastiche style. The Grand Dame criticizes the Brothers Grimm for creating fiction from history, although she herself fictionalizes history without critical reflection. This essay examines the complex tensions of these various narrative and visual fictionalizations of fictions, or adaptations of adaptations. The mise-en-scene of the "family legend" (Preston 202) that the Grand Dame passes on to the Grimms also functions as a commentary on female power. Drawn from idealizations of both Renaissance and Romantic culture, this cinematographic romanticization takes the place of the spectacular magic of the traditional tale. However, the film's self-absorbed Hollywood aesthetics obscure the layers of cultural constructedness.

The term magic reality refers to the genre that folklorist Stith Thompson classifies also as "wonder tales" (Folktale 67). Jack Zipes suggests that these wonder tales should be seen as a cross-cultural phenomenon. They are "contaminated" (Zipes 845) because they combine elements from several cultures. They are not marked by the "purity" that the Grimms claim for the tales in the preface to their 1819 edition of the tales ("Vorrede" 13, 14, 18, 20). Instead, they are characterized by oral and literary traditions and are marked by the cultural context of their formation. However, Zipes points to one aspect of these tales that unites them: "The wonder tales were always considered somewhat suspect by the ruling and educated classes. The threatening aspect of wondrous change, turning the world upside-down, was something that ruling classes always tried to channel through codified celebrations like Carnival and religious holidays" (847). The Cinderella figure of Ever After presents such a threat to the upper class, and especially to her stepmother and stepsister. Her magic power lies in her courage, which helps her to overcome her social marginalization.

In all traditional Cinderella tales, magic agents initiate the reader into social liberation and act as mediators between two realities: the corrupt social reality and the redeeming magic reality. …

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