Three Little Pigs, take one, take two …

Jerry Beck at Cartoon Brew raises an interesting question: Now that the Library of Congress’s National Film Preservation Board has added Disney’s Three Little Pigs (1933) to the National Film Registry, which version will they preserve for all time? The original, politically incorrect version? Or the slightly censored version that was released in the 1950s, which is the version that most of us have grown up with? Both versions, perhaps?

The intriquing matter of last-minute tweaks.

I haven’t seen The Great Debaters yet, but I am intrigued by this note that Jeffrey Wells posted at Hollywood Elsewhere:

I’ve noticed an interesting difference between a late work-print version of Denzel Washington‘s The Great Debaters that I saw a few weeks ago and the release- print version that I saw last night at Harvard University. It’s a big change regarding the fate of Nate Parker‘s Henry Lowe character — the most charismatic and gifted Wiley College debater, although one with an occasional weakness for booze and women.

In the work-print version of the epilogue crawl (i.e., the what-happened-to-the- characters info that fact-based dramas often supply), it said that after graduating Lowe simply disappeared — an indication that he may have succumbed to his addictions, etc. It seemed like an interesting call since inspirational films usually pass along uplifting information, blah blah. Lowe is a composite character (i.e., not based on a specific real-life figure) so Washington was free to write any fate he chose. Saying that Lowe didn’t build upon the potential of his early life was, at the very least, against the grain and admirable for that.

But this dark-fate decision, apparently, didn’t go down with research audiences. In the final-release version, it is said that Lowe went into the ministry — an obvious hint that he turned to God and the cloth as a way of controlling his demons. A more upbeat and positive fate, yes, but an indication of a certain artistic flexibility on Washington’s part. This is a small thing I’m mentioning. The Great Debaters is still sharply written, forthright, not sappy, well-shaped. It’s “commercial” and likely to catch on. (Probably.) It’s just that conveying Lowe’s downbeat fate added an interesting counter-shade. . . .

It’s always interesting to speculate about the reasons for minor changes like these. I don’t see many workprints, but I am reminded of a similar tweak that was made to the opening quote from Isaiah in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004).

In the workprint that I saw at one of those church-based screenings several weeks before the film came out, the quote was dated to 400 B.C. — in other words, it was credited not to the historical Isaiah, who lived in the 700s and early 600s B.C., but to the so-called Deutero-Isaiah who is thought by scholars to have composed the later chapters of that book. This is not a particularly “liberal” idea — theologically conservative evangelicals such as F.F. Bruce have subscribed to this theory — and I was particularly intrigued to see this source-critical date cited in a film by Gibson, who was often derided at the time for his “anti-intellectualism”.

However, in the final version of the film that came out in theatres and then on DVD, the date was changed — to 700 B.C. Did someone tell Gibson his film would do better business if he toed the traditionalist line? Or were there other reasons for the change? And which date does Gibson subscribe to personally? Did his opinion on this matter change between the two versions of the film? It’s a minor point, but intriguing nonetheless.

The Golden Compass — two last items

The Golden Compass isn’t quite out of my system — or, rather, the systems for which I provide commentary — yet.

First, I wrote about the film for my final regular column for ChristianWeek; it appears in the issue dated January 1, but it is up at their website now. I wrote this article after the film came out a few weeks ago, so it is the first of my published comments to take the film’s poor box-office performance into account.

Second, I discussed the film with Lorna Dueck of Listen Up TV; the interview begins about eight minutes into the video file there. It was broadcast just this past weekend, but it was recorded two days before the film came out — right after I attended a press screening of There Will Be Blood, of all things — hence my comments about the film’s box-office performance are purely speculative.

Two post-apocalyptic cartoons for Christmas.

Two fascinating cartoons, one produced just as World War II was getting started, and the other at the height of the Cold War. Both of them take place in a post-apocalyptic future, and both concern animals who discuss among themselves the reasons for humankind’s extinction — and the combination of cute cartoony critters with darkly realistic battle scenes is quite interesting.

First up, Peace on Earth (1939), directed by Hugh Harman for MGM. (It was nominated for an Oscar, and lost to Disney’s Ugly Duckling.) I like how the animal telling the story doesn’t seem to notice that he might have a stake in the battle between vegetarians and meat-eaters:

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Second, Good Will to Men (1955), directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera for MGM. (It was nominated for an Oscar, and lost to Warner Brothers’ Speedy Gonzales.) Note how the prospect of humans shooting each other to death, one by one, has been replaced by all-out thermonuclear war. Note, too, how this film is a bit more explicit about the identity of that book in the church — as befits a film made in the 1950s.

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It’s a destructive, sacrilegious life.

Last month, I linked to an essay which argued that Henry F. Potter was actually not the villain of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), but its “unsung hero”. Now Patrick Deneen at the What I Saw in America blog argues that the ostensibly heroic George Bailey may be better than Potter, but he still represents a kind of evil in his own right:

Yet, if there is a dark side of America, the film quite ably captures that aspect as well – and contrary to popular belief, it is found not solely in Mr. Potter. One sees a dark side represented by George Bailey himself: the optimist, the adventurer, the builder, the man who deeply hates the town that gives him sustenance, who craves nothing else but to get out of Bedford Falls and remake the world. Given its long-standing reputation as a nostalgic look at small-town life in the pre-war period, it is almost shocking to suggest that the film is one of the most potent, if unconscious critiques ever made of the American dream that was so often hatched in this small-town setting. For George Bailey, in fact, destroys the town that saves him in the end. . . .

However, if George’s grandiose designs, first to become an explorer, and later to build new modern cities, are thwarted due to bad fortune, he does not cease to be ambitious, and does not abandon the dream of transforming America, even if his field of design is narrowed. Rather, his ambitions are channeled into the only available avenue that life and his position now offer: he creates not airfields nor skyscrapers nor modern cities, but remakes Bedford Falls itself. His efforts are portrayed as nothing less than noble: he creates “Bailey Park,” a modern subdivision of single-family houses, thus allowing hundreds of citizens of Bedford Falls to escape the greedy and malignant clutches of Mr. Potter, who gouges these families in the inferior rental slums of “Pottersville.” George’s efforts are portrayed as altogether praiseworthy, and it is right to side with him against the brutal and heartless greed of Potter. However, such sympathies serve also to obscure the nature of Bailey’s activities, and their ultimate consequences. In particular, it is worth observing the nature of “Bailey Park,” not merely by contrast to “Pottersville” – in comparison to which it is clearly superior – but also in contrast to downtown Bedford Falls, where it may not compare as favorably by some estimations. . . .

The patio – successor to the front porch – embodies as many implicit assumptions about how life is to be led as the porch. Thomas notes the move from urban centers into suburban enclaves in the years following World War II led to the creation of “bedroom communities” in which one did not know one’s neighbors and where frequent turn-over made such stable community relationships unlikely, where privacy and safety were dual concerns leading to the creation of the “patio” space behind the house, most often at the expense of a porch in the front. As Thomas contrasts the two, “the patio is an extension of the house, but far less public than the porch. It was easy to greet a stranger from the porch but exceedingly difficult to do so from the backyard patio…. The old cliché says, ‘A man’s home is his castle. If this be true, the nineteenth-century porch was a drawbridge across which many passed in their daily lives. The modern patio is in many ways a closed courtyard that suggests that the king and his family are tired of the world and seek only the companionship for their immediate family or peers.”

Bailey Park is not simply a community that will grow to have a similar form of life and communal interaction as Bedford Falls; instead, George Bailey’s grand social experiment in progressive living represents a fundamental break from the way of life in Bedford Falls, from a stable and interactive community to a more nuclear and private collection of households who will find in Bailey Park shelter but little else in common.

We also learn something far more sinister about Bailey Park toward the end of the film. . . .

George confirms a horrific suspicion: Bailey Park has been built atop the old cemetery. Not only does George raze the trees, but he commits an act of unspeakable sacrilege. He obliterates a sacred symbol of Bedford Fall’s connection with the past, the grave markers of the town’s ancestors. George Bailey’s vision of a modern America eliminates his links with his forebears, covers up the evidence of death, supplies people instead with private retreats of secluded isolation, and all at the expense of an intimate community, in life and in death. . . .

The rest of the essay is pretty good, too. Check it out. (Hat tip to Rod Dreher at the Crunchy Con blog.)

“Hasta la vista, baby Jesus.”

This MADtv sketch from December 1996 isn’t as funny as it could be, but I have always said that The Terminator (1984) is like a sci-fi version of the Nativity story that foregrounds the apocalyptic elements, the slaughter of the innocents, and so on — so I can’t exactly ignore this video, either. Besides, I like the fact that Jesus gives at least a slightly better answer than John Connor ever did when the Terminator asks why it is wrong to kill.

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(Hat tip to Skippy R. at The Wittenburg Blog.)