Let’s Talk About Disney

AladdinDisney

I didn’t get around to watching The Little Mermaid (1998). It might be because – on a very basic level at least – I really don’t want to subject myself to the experience. Eighty-three minutes of phallic symbols? Sigh. I did however make time for Aladdin (1992), which is screening today at 2pm. My viewing experience hasn’t really inspired me to continue on with Pocahontas (1995). I’ve also seen Frozen (2013), screening today at 4pm, and I have to say, not only wasn’t I impressed with its half-hearted attempt to revise gender roles, but I don’t think it hits even the mark of the more recent Disney/Pixar collaborations such as Brave (2012). The absence of Pixar is, in my opinion, glaringly obvious.

Okay, so my aversion to Disney classics is evident and it has already been well documented on this here blog. The intention of these blog posts though was to create discussion and debate – lively, healthy and respectful – about Disney films and their ideological underpinnings. At the Astor we screen a lot of content that we might – as a group or individually within our group – see as problematic. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want people to enjoy the films – far from it. When we love something we share that passion with you. When we have reservations we share those too. We want you to do the same.

Pocahontas-1995-Movie-Image

So, instead of offering a reading of Aladdin (and selfishly saving myself the unnecessary pain of continuing in this painful plight), we invite you to make a case for one or more of the films. Tell us why – without simplifying the argument by suggesting that film is for ‘entertainment’ or that discussing agenda and ideology is ‘reading too much into it’ – you think the films deserve their place up on the big screen. Convince us that Disney is ideologically sound. That might be the biggest challenge we’ve posed yet but, if you’re passionate about the films, we want to hear why!

Email your answers, no more than 400 words, to: rsvp@astortheatre.net.au

The most convincing argument will win you a double pass to see Pocahontas next Sunday at 1.30pm!

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

Little Moments of Magic – The legacy and legend of Hayao Miyazaki

Every time we program Studio Ghibli films there is a really positive response to the announcement and an equally positive turn out at each of the sessions. So when Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement from filmmaking (video below), we knew immediately that we would have to run another season of his films.

Each time we screen any number of the beautiful, enchanting works brought about by the incredibly talented people from Studio Ghibli, we are touched by the joy we see our audience experience. One of my own personal favourite memories surrounding a Miyazaki screening – I believe it was for The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) for which Hayao Miyazaki is credited as a writer – happened before the magic of the movie had even begun…

THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY

Because we are dedicated to screening these films in their original Japanese language with English subtitles instead of dubs (wherever possible!) and because families with young children often attend these sessions – not always aware of the language specifications – we make a point of mentioning at the ticket box to patrons with small children that the films will be subtitled rather than dubbed. Looking out of the glass window into a foyer full of people all eager to purchase tickets I was surprised to see a small hand on the counter stretched up from below. As I couldn’t quite see the person attached to the hand, I peered through the gap in the glass and looked down to find a child of surely no more than five or six, beaming. I said to the child – and accompanying parent – that the film would be subtitled in English. Concerned that I might now be disappointing a child on one of their earliest cinema outings, I braced myself for the potential tears and  tantrums. Instead, I heard the following, “Yes, I know. I’ve watched lots of Studio Ghibli films. I love Miyazaki.”

With Miyazaki comes moments of magic and astounding enchantment that you just can’t find in or around any other animated films.

We can’t wait to fill our foyers and our auditorium again with hundreds of people gushing passion and joy for what are simply some of the most beautiful films ever made. What a wonderful month of Mondays we have in store!

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

HAYAO MIYAZAKI – A LEGACY OF DREAMS starts Monday November 11th and continues across a further three Monday evenings, concluding December 2nd.

Peter Pan

Last week I wrote a post about Cinderella (1950) and whilst a lot of people disagreed with me that the film was overly problematic, the discussion on our Facebook page was thoughtful and lively – which is fantastic, thanks to everyone who commented intelligently and engagingly. This week I’m going to offer up a few things that bug me about Peter Pan (1953). I hope the conversation will continue because at the Astor something we believe strongly is that films should inspire healthy debate and great conversation!

Another of the ‘English’ Disney flicks, Peter Pan is a little less concerned with class than Cinderella – although it does posit the family’s RP accents against some of the pirates’ more regional ones to demarcate clearly who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’, but I digress … still, it hits on two major issues that deserve attention: race and gender.

imagesLet’s take gender first. Inexplicably none of the other females anywhere in the film seem to like Wendy, and they have very little reason to instantly find her quite as threatening as is clearly the case; Tinkerbell and the Aerial style mermaid (who seems particularly unimpressed with Wendy wearing a nightgown) both take issue with Peter bringing her to Neverland. Furthermore, Tinkerbell who makes a foolish error in listening to Captain Hook does so because she is so easily pitted against Wendy who Hook, knowing how jealous women can be, masterfully orchestrates. Another instance is of Wendy becoming cross when Peter dances with Tiger Lilly. If this film is anything to go by then women are silly beings filled with jealousy who cause nothing but unwanted distraction in otherwise good fun adventure. Even when Wendy walks the plank as a sacrifice for Peter and the boys, it’s only barely enough. Her only redemption seems to be that she has a purpose which is to ‘take care’ of the boys in a maternal manner. Skills such as sewing are apparently where women can be of use.

indexThen there’s the disturbing depiction of the Native Americans who apparently love the white man and learn much from him. The words in one of the songs during this sequence only credits the Native Americans once, and for being able to take on the white man’s way no less: “The In’jin, he sure learns a lot!” Further still the tribal ceremony is shown as a childish dance for immature children who refuse to grow up, so that they might play dress-ups and assume the ‘Indians’”identity, mockingly and fleetingly, for good sport. “Follow the leader wherever he may go”, indeed, and who might the leader be? Why, the white middle class man, John, of course.

One of the major points raised against my criticism of Cinderella last week was that the film was made during a different time. Sure, racism and sexism was more rampant back in the 1950s. With that in mind, I’d like to acknowledge that Peter Pan was made in 1953. Still, we’re screening it in 2013…

The rest of the conversation I leave to you… and I genuinely look forward to the discussion, but please, be tasteful and thoughtful in your replies, remember to talk about the topic rather than attack individuals. Ta!

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

Peter Pan screens at the Astor on Sunday September 29 at 2pm.

Why I Don’t Like Cinderella

I’ve always disliked Cinderella. Despite my otherwise quite excellent ability to suspend disbelief and engage in great fantasy, Cinderella has always been a lie too far…

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First of all, I should admit that no, I do not have and I have never had an awful stepmother and two hideous stepsisters who locked me away and forced me to wait on them and then do all the house chores. Still, we all have our own instances of hardship and when these hardships occur in life there really aren’t chirping birds, helpful mice and fairy god mothers hanging around desperate to help us out – or at least this hasn’t been the case for me. But it’s not so much the implausibility – of this animated fairy tale – that bugs me. Even I can be reasonable about how silly that would be. No, the trouble with Cinderella really is to do with both the title character’s attitude and the broader attitude of the film’s central message.

indexLet’s start with the lady in question. She’s all grace and no fuss, just ‘grin and bear it’ kind of thing. This is a terrible attitude for anyone hideously oppressed to assume but made all the worse here because it’s apparently, according to the ‘wonderful world of Disney’, traits that are specific to femininity. Instead of using either her abilities or ingenuity to find a way out of her desperate situation she just waits around all beautiful and helpless until others intervene. What kind of a message is this for young girls watching with eager eyes? What’s worse is that it takes a man – of the monarchy no less – to save her from her incarceration, through marriage. Because what young women should be watching is a film that does little more than advocate the three M’s: masculinity, marriage and the monarchy.

Sure the mice are cute and the animation is better than just okay, but such negative ideology is embittering.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre. Ed’s note: We still believe you ought to see the film for yourself, agree or disagree with us and decide for yourself where you stand on the issue of its ideology. That said, in the interest of full disclosure, this ‘ed’s note’ is written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre. Make of that what you will!

Cinderella screens Sunday September 22nd at 2pm.

The Wizard of Oz

I remember the first time I ever watched The Wizard of Oz (1939). I must have been around 5 or 6 years old and I still remember the exact events of that afternoon. I was spending the day with my grandmother during my school holidays and we were sitting around in the lounge room. From what I can recall, these were the Pre-Foxtel days, so Nan didn’t have cable at the time and naturally, there was nothing on TV. So, Nan put on a video of a movie that she said was one of her all time favourites – one that she remembered first seeing when she was about my age and has loved ever since. At first I was put off by the film’s black and white opening. “Is this movie in black and white?” I remember saying, almost dismissing the film. “No. Only this first part.” Thank god I stuck with it because, little did I know then, but this was going to be a pivotal point in my life and a seminal moment in my love for cinema and filmmaking.


As soon as Dorothy opened her bedroom door and stepped into that wonderful Technicolor Land of Oz I was instantly captivated. As the camera began to track through Munchin Land; past the shiny leaves and shrubs, over the sparkling blue river and across to the centre of the Yellow Brick Road; I was mesmerized. I remember my exact response – “You know what Nan, I think I’m going to have to borrow this video.” At that moment I had been introduced to ‘cinema.’

Whenever I’ve described my love of The Wizard of Oz to anybody I’ve always used the same phrase – There was never anything like it before, and there has never been anything like it since. And whether you believe that statement or not, it’s absolutely true. Being 5 or 6 when I first watched it, of course I had never seen anything like it before. And now, 15 years on, I’ve never found a film, old or new, that has captured the same energy, the same heart, the same soul and the same loving filmmaking as Oz.

The one thing that strikes me about Oz is the fact that it refuses to die. The story has been around for 111 years now, and the film was released 72 years ago. And the fact is that it remains timeless, a classic, a favourite amongst young and old. There is no other film so old – with exception of Walt Disney’s animated classics – that you could put on the television and expect a young child to enjoy and want to watch over and over again. How can a film of 72 years age be so widely accepted by such a broad range of viewers today? You couldn’t imagine a 5-year-old sitting down and enjoying, say, Casablanca (1942) or Gone With The Wind (1939).
The fact is – it remains timeless, familiar and accepted by younger generations because its themes, its characters and its style are still so much a part of today’s culture. There’s a reflection of values here that is still so very much emblazoned in the minds of today’s people and its characters are so familiar and so recognizable to you that you could swear they were reflections of yourself. This is why Oz is timeless, and why a child could sit down and not know that the movie was made well before their parents and even grandparents were born.

The Wizard of Oz was constructed back when films were made out of love, made from blood, sweat and tears, back before Hollywood became so overruled by movie moguls and people out to make a quick dollar. Sure, Louis B. Mayer – head of the MGM studios, and Jack Warner – head of Warner Bros. were all for making money and making big pictures that could gain revenue, but these two hard-heads never, EVER, signed off on a film that they didn’t believe had credibility. They never signed off on a film they thought they could just simply make money off, but films that they believed would be popular, films people would love to see, films people would enjoy and films that they would like to make. Oz is the product of the fairytale early days of Hollywood, back when Hollywood was known as “The Dream Factory,” before money, special effects and blockbusters took over. And for this reason, the film means so much more to me and to the history of cinema.

Oz
was made as MGM’s live action answer to Walt Disney’s Snow White And the Seven Dwarves (1937). Mayer wanted his audience to experience the same love and the same joy as they had when they visited Disney’s cartoon dream world. Regardless of the fact that it was nominated for a flurry of Oscars (losing out mainly to MGM’s other epic Gone With The Wind, directed and released by the same director, Victor Fleming, in the same year) Oz did quite dreadfully on its original cinema run. It wasn’t seen as a ‘flop’ but it barely made any revenue, it was seen simply as “just a movie.” But over the years, Oz was re-released over and over again and played annually on television – introducing itself to new generations with each showing. It was then that people realised “hey, we have a classic on our hands” and further cemented it into the history of film classics. It’s because of this that Oz has been deemed the most watched film of all time.

Regardless of its status as a film classic Oz does suffer from mixed reactions. It is often an understated and overlooked film gem and usually finds itself just missing out (usually to Gone With the Wind – the films major competitor still to this day) or just making the cut in the occasional “Best Movies” lists – but at the same time, finds itself near the top of others. It’s listed at #129 on IMDb’s list of “Top 250 Films” but is listed at #6 on the American Film Institute’s list of “100 Years… 100 Films.”

The Wizard of Oz, more than any other film has shaped the way I and many others see cinema. Oz has taught me that a film doesn’t need to make money to be successful, just as long as the makers love it, and nurture it and the viewing public do so likewise.

Oz is an odd film for a guy to hold as their favourite movie of all time, but given what the film means to cinema and means to me personally I think it’s fairly justified. I say with no regret, no embarrassment and no trepidation that Oz has always been and will always be my favourite film of all time. And I, like many others, will revisit this film to the day I die, not only to help me in my endeavours to make films, but also in my endeavours to find myself, and like Dorothy, find my place in the world.

Since my first viewing of Oz I have seen it in many formats and editions. I have seen it on VHS and have seen the special restoration it received for its 65th anniversary DVD and the crisp, clear and beautiful 70th Anniversary Blu-Ray restoration. But nothing can come close to seeing Oz on the big screen. I saw Oz at the Astor Theatre when it screened late last year, and was amazed how special a viewing experience it was to see it on a true Technicolour print in a theatre filled with an older generation re-visiting the film, and a younger generation experiencing it for the first time. Oz is an extremely special movie that captured the hearts of all no matter how you see it – but take it from me, seeing it on the big screen is an experience like no other.

Written by our wonderful, cine-passionate and regular E-news contributor Dave Lee.

This blog entry is an edited version of Dave Lee’s write-up on the film from his new film blog, Dave’s Most Inspirational Films.

For your chance to win tickets to see The Wizard of Oz (screening in a double bill with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, this Sunday July 17th, 2pm at The Astor Theatre), make sure you’ve “liked” us over on Facebook!