Sunday, August 05, 2007

Lots of Input These Days

We actually got around to renting a couple of movies we've been intending to watch: Pan's Labyrinth and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Neither of us realized how similar the films were until we finished watching them, but the common elements are striking.

The IMDB page for Pan's Labyrinth describes some of the overlap, which is acknowledged by Pan's director Guillermo del Toro:

both films are set around the same time, have similar child-age principal characters, mythic creatures (particularly the fauns), and themes of "disobedience and choice." Says del Toro: "This is my version of that universe, not only 'Narnia,' but that universe of children's literature." In fact, del Toro was asked to direct The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but turned it down for Pan's Labyrinth.

There are even more commonalities than these, though. Pan's Labyrinth takes place during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 while the story of Narnia occurs during the German bombing of London of 1940-1941. In both films the children are sent to strange homes where they feel unwanted (or even endangered). Both films carry religious overtones (those in Narnia having been well covered), and each ends with a frothy message of hope (though the ending of Pan's is a little obtuse, and perched on a heap of ghastly violence).

I'm glad to have seen both, and I'm glad I rented them--I'm not sure I'd be interested in owning either. Pan's Labyrinth is unique, but I can do without the graphic cruelty at the spine of the story, and Narnia is tainted by its blatant--ham-handed, even--Christian allegory.

I also just finished reading Nathanael West: The Art of His Life by Jay Martin.

It's a compelling biography, but only if you're particularly interested in West and his work already. I found a copy online for eleven cents (plus $3.99 shipping), and I've wanted to read it for a while, so I got my chance for cheap.

West was the epitome of the obsessed and frustrated artist. Though he published four critically-acclaimed novels he never met with popular success--mostly because of bad luck, such as publishers going bankrupt. He foresaw cultural shifts, but wrote about them too early, such as A Cool Million's 1934 prediction of fascism that people dismissed, but which became an indisputable reality a few years later.

West was a notoriously terrible driver, and he died behind the wheel--running a stop-sign in southern California on December 22, 1940.

If this biography teaches me anything, it's the usual: you don't have as much time as you think you do, so write/do/say/accomplish what you have to right now.


Nathan said...

I also noticed some parallels between Pan's Labyrinth and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I thought there were stronger comparisons between Pan's Labyrinth and the latest version of Bridge to Teribithia. Both films had children escaping from crappy daily lives into fantasy worlds, and both stories are a defense of fantasy, which is so often ridiculed by people who fancy themselves "serious" writers or critics.

In this case Pan was a much better film. Not that Bridge was terrible, but it wasn't that great either. I think Pan was better because it left whether this was real or not ambigious and when Bridge made that known, the fantasy sequences did not have much weight.

Jason said...

I read about Bridge to Terabithia, but didn't have much to go on. I've never read the book and don't know much about it. I saw some promotional material for the film, but not much.

What impressed me about Pan's Labyrinth was how del Toro made me feel safer in the fantasy than in Ofelia's real life. Really well done.

Anskov said...

I haven't seen Pan's Labyrinth, but saw The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I liked the film okay, but a couple scenes were a bit too Disney and cutsie for my taste. I also felt the film went even further with its Christian allusions. I mean it obvious in the book, but I think the film was a bit too much. I did like Peter's battle with the White Witch.

I think I recall reading that in the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis wasn't trying to create an allegorical tale, but was rather creating something suppositional - suppose Christ decided to reveal himself in another world? So he's basically taking the Christian story of sacrifice and redemption and setting it in a magical world.

Speaking of religion, have you seen this article by Camille Paglia on Religion and the Arts in America? If not, check it out. She's an atheist, but feels that art has lost it's spiritual center and has suffered for that loss. Let me know what you think:

Jason said...


That's an interesting lecture. Paglia certainly has thought about her subject quite a bit. I'll have to read it more closely to be sure, but here are some initial thoughts.

In the beginning of her lecture, Paglia raises the question, "[W]ould anyone seriously argue that the fine arts or even popular culture is enjoying a period of high originality and creativity?" Interesting question, but she doesn't try to answer it, other than claiming current attentions paid to technology and the death of avant garde art.

She doesn't really address her main thesis (that I can tell) until the final four hundred words (of a 6000+ word document), and then doesn't make an argument but a series of unsupported assertions. She had plenty of space in which she could have advanced her idea, but she chose to give a history of art's correspondence with religion instead. Her position might have merit, but she hasn't shown it yet.

To be fair, she may not be trying to build a formal argument out of this. Maybe she's just raising questions, and in that case, I think this is a valuable lecture. Something for a more focused critic to follow up on.

This is a subject that really compels me. In workshops Terry Davis has said that a cynic can't write a novel. I disagree with him, just as I disagree with Paglia. I might be wrong, but I remain unconvinced.

There just isn't time enough in the day to consider everything I want to.