Fairy tales were reviled in the ﬁrst stirrings of post-war liberation movements as part and parcel of the propaganda that kept women down. The American poet Anne Sexton, in a caustic sequence of poems called Transformations, scathingly evokes the corpselike helplessness of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, and scorns, with ﬁne irony, the Cinderella dream of bourgeois marriage and living happily ever after: boredom, torment, incest, death to the soul followed. Literary and social theorists joined in the battle against the Disney vision of female virtue (and desirability); Cinderella became a darker villain than her sisters, and for Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, in their landmark study The Madwoman in the Attic, the evil stepmother in “Snow White” at least possesses mobility, will, and power—for which she is loathed and condemned. In the late sixties and early seventies, it wasn’t enough to rebel, and young writers and artists were dreaming of reshaping the world in the image of their desires. Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan had done the work of analysis and exposure, but action—creative energy—was as necessary to build on the demolition site of the traditional values and deﬁnitions of gender.
Over the holidays, I go to the movies. This year I saw two of the critically praised releases of the fall, The Artist and Puss in Boots. Both of these films have relatively simple narratives. In The Artist a successful silent-film actor falls out of favor with the advent of the talkies, and a young actress with a crush on him passes him by on her way up the ladder of success. Puss in Boots is a revisionist collage that steals recognizable characters from a variety of literary sources, principally the eponymous seventeenth-century fairy tale by Charles Perrault, and fuses them together. Both of these films cull elements from earlier films and familiar narratives—and both succeed, in part, because of the joy of recognition we get when we see motifs from our collective imagination tweaked in new ways. But the most prominent aspects of each of these films are the technical approaches to their subjects. One is an old-school silent film, and the other uses cutting-edge computer animation, but technology is the star of both, albeit a star that is worked into the fabric of each movie so as not to overpower the performers. Read More