Contrast is the key to a good story. When two ends of a spectrum are forced together, the resulting interaction merely highlights their differences. Because two characters come from such different backgrounds, their misunderstandings of each other add conflict, which is essential to any story. Good vs. Evil. Right vs. Wrong. Rich vs. Poor. These familiar dichotomies have been used countless times in numerous plots. Perhaps the reason for this is the timeless nature of contrast. Another such contrast is that of Man vs. Woman. One is uncouth and primal; the other is refined and sophisticated. When this contrast is taken to its logical extremes, we arrive at the contrast of Beauty vs. Beast. While this contrast is generally relegated to monster movies, this week’s two films show some successful uses of the “Beauty and the Beast” plotline.
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours
Monster movies sit right on the edge of horror films. In the early days of cinema, these pieces would be comparable to the science fiction pulp that was never taken seriously but was still popular, nonetheless. Most of these pieces would feature some enormous animal or mutated monster with a scantily-clad woman in its clutches. While these films do follow the “man vs. nature” plotline, the contrast of a woman to the monster invokes another layer on top of this common theme. The innocence of a woman taken away by a monstrous beast can be a metaphor for many things and is often a soapbox to comment on society as a whole. That being said, King Kong truly set the stage for many of these monster films, most of which only try to imitate the perfection achieved back in 1933.
Part of the timeless notoriety of King Kong (1933) comes from the special effects it utilized, many of which were years ahead of their time. These effects were able to bring an enormous gorilla into our world and have it interact with the people who invaded its habitat. Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) was reluctant to bring a woman along on his next nature film, but since audiences wanted a dame on screen, he hired Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to come on an expedition to Skull Island. Once there, the natives kidnap her to offer a “golden” sacrifice to their god known as “Kong.” While the crew of the ship fights to regain Ann, Kong also fights to keep her. In the end, the crew wins, and Kong is carted back to New York, where his obsession with Ann leads him to climb the tallest building in town: the Empire State Building. When Kong is shot down, Denham remarks that “it was Beauty killed the Beast.”
Beauty and the Beast
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours
Inside every man lurks a beast. Most can control their baser urges and interact with the fairer sex in everyday situations. However, whenever we act out of line, we can be accused of being a “beast.” That being said, sometimes we are misunderstood and merely long for a woman to get to know us better to see that we’re not that bad. After all, women can make men do foolish things sometimes (like climb the Empire State Building, for instance). Unlike the aforementioned monster movies, fairy tales have beasts in a more romantic context. These beasts tend to be men who found themselves in unfortunate, magical circumstances and therefore a beast in exterior context only. For the beautiful woman who can see past the rough outer covering to the tender heart within, many riches (both literal and metaphorical) await her.
Once again, part of what sets this film apart from its counterparts is the excellent special effects used to create the magical grounds where the Beast (Jean Marais) whiles away his time. One day, a man (Marcel André) appears in the forest surrounding the castle, lost, penniless, and tired. The magical castle leads him inside where he falls asleep, only to be awakened by the roar of the Beast. In his hasty retreat, he remembers a request from his daughter, Belle (Josette Day), and takes a rose from the garden. This triggers the Beast’s appearance and a bargain to trade the father’s life for the imprisonment of one of his daughters. Belle takes it upon herself to be held by the Beast, eventually learning the tragic circumstances of his transformation. She is released for a week when her father falls ill, but this event triggers the death of the Beast at the hands of both Belle’s brother and her suitor.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 beauties and beasts