ORPHEE (1949) is Jean Cocteau’s lyrical, eerie retelling of the Orpheus myth with Jean Marais as Orphee, a celebrated French poet, happily married to Eurdyce, but intrigued by an enigmatic aristocrat who’s secretly Death, and by the surreal messages on her car radio (“A single glass of water can light the world.”). And when his wife dies (at the hands of Death’s biker agents), he enters a strange netherworld to bring her back. More surreal than Cocteau’s acclaimed Beauty and the Beast, but just as good, particularly the visuals. As this was part of a trilogy of some sort, I’ve made a note to catch the others eventually. “Mirrors are the doors through which death comes and goes—look at yourself in a mirror all your life and you’ll see death at work.”
BLACK ORPHEUS (1959) is another French reworking of Orpheus, this time setting it in Brazil during carnivale, as Orpheus—here a handsome guitarist—falls in love with a country girl only to lose her to her jealous rival and a death-masked stalker. Less overtly supernatural than Cocteau, making it more a tragic love story than a myth, but still good. “There are fifteen floors and they’re all filled with paper.”
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012) casts Kristen Stewart as the princess whose wicked stepmom (Charlize Theron) has seized the kingdom only to discover that the blood of her stepdaughter can either render her immortal—or kill her. This isn’t as effective as Sigourney Weaver’s Snow White, and Theron is both fairer and a better actor than Stewart, but TYG and I still found it entertaining. “I will be the queen this wretched world deserves.”
A TOWN CALLED PANIC (2009) starts off in a little toy village straight out of umpty zillion little-kid shows, then gets increasingly nutty as Horse, Cowboy and Indian cope with a delivery of 50 million bricks, a journey to the center of the earth, an unforeseen birthday party, music lessons and a snowball-throwing giant robot penguin. A slow start, but a winner. “You’re going to jail for stealing walls!”
PURITY AND DANGER: An Analysis of the Concepts of Purity and Taboo by Mary Douglas was, judging from the writing, a revisionist book at the time challenging assumptions that there’s a clear dividing point in religion between superstitious ritual and authentic spirituality, and that religious prohibitions such as those in Leviticus should be treated as either meaningless ritual or medical advice backed up by religious authority. Douglas argues that concepts such as clean and unclean animals are part of societies’ efforts to make rational sense of the world and that certain animals that fall between the designated categories (fish that don’t have fins and scales) are thereby innately chaotic and to be avoided. She then proposes that the difference between evil and good powers (both of which are treated in some societies as dangerous to touch) is social structure: In a tightly ordered culture with a strong hierarchy, the upper classes wield Good, while anarchic societies have lower-ranked individuals wielding the evil eye or black magic. Very interesting—I have a strong feeling some of this relates to the way many people in the modern world want everything and everyone to fit into the “right” place (as noted here), but that’s not Douglas’ field of interest (I may give it some thought on my own, though).