This is probably the longest I've ever gone without posting on my blog. I'm sorry guys. I've been having so many technical difficulties. My computer had problems, and my internet connection was slow, and it was just a disaster.
Anyway, there's a lot I could post about, but I came across something recently that I thought might be cool to make a post about.
A few weeks ago, I discovered Tubi TV, which is kind of like Netflix only it's absolutely free, and is also legal because it streams the movies in a similar way to cable television, by having ads every ten minutes or so. And while this can get annoying, it means that there are movies I can finally see that I haven't been able to see yet.
One of these movies was the 1986 film, "Nutcracker," which is based on the version of the ballet from Pacific Northwest Ballet, and has sets designed by Maurice Sendak (who also illustrated the version of the original book that is translated by Ralph Manheim, which I've heard good things about but have never read before). I am one of probably only a few people these days that was introduced to The Nutcracker through the ETA Hoffmann book (it was an abridged version, but was faithful), and did not even know about the ballet until a few years later. You can probably imagine I found the ballet underwhelming, but it has grown on me over the years, due to it's wonderful charm. I have seen many versions of the ballet now (though never a live version), and I have heard many good things about the PNB version, but have never gotten to actually see it until a few days ago.
Now, this is not a standard production of The Nutcracker. While the basic plot points are still the same as the traditional version, this version has a more sinister overtone, and is intended to be a coming-of-age story, depicting Marie's sexual awakening (which presumably is the interpretation that the producers of this version got from the book, despite the fact that this is still a loose adaptation, like all the other versions), which, while subtle enough that young children likely won't pick up on it, still makes this production one of the more surreal and potentially disturbing versions.
The film begins with Godpapa Drosselmeyer sleeping with his head on his workbench, while the opening credits run over various shots of his clockwork inventions (which made me think of the opening sequence of Back to the Future somewhat). After the credits finish, Drosselmeyer wakes up, and begins working on creating a miniature theatre complete with a stage. This is when the Overture starts playing, over the montage of him making the theatre. Now, with any other production, I would have said that the Overture should have been played over the opening credits in order to save the movie's length (I complain every time I watch Sound of Music, where there's about three minutes of just landscapes accompanied by music, and then a scene, and then the opening credits, which could have easily been played over the landscapes at the beginning. Maybe I just don't understand art, but I like things to be practical). However, in this case, I think it works to have the credits be accompanied by nothing but clockwork noises and have the Overture play over the following scene. It's a nice montage that feels right, and also sets the tone for what's to come; namely that it's not the version of Nutcracker that you are probably used to.
After Drosselmeyer finishes building the theatre, the camera zooms in on it, and the curtain opens to reveal Marie in bed, sleeping. The voice of a grown-up Marie comes on and narrates the story. She talks about how her father said that her mother attracted so many guests at parties because she was beautiful, a thing that Marie could hardly wait to be. She also tells about how Drosselmeyer used to tell her that beauty does not matter, and she mentions that despite how much she like Drosselmeyer, he can be creepy and spiteful sometimes, giving her horrible dreams, in this case one that comes on the Christmas Eve before her 13th birthday. We see Marie's dream as miniatures of herself and her brother Fritz on the bed next to her, fighting. A man walks up to Marie and dances with her, but Fritz sends a mouse up to her to scare her, and her face briefly turns into a rat face and she wakes up.
The movie then cuts to a montage of different Christmas meals being baked, and then to the Christmas Party, where the March begins.
Drosselmeyer arrives a few minutes later, and I just have to say that this version of the character is creepy. He's always looking at Marie as if he has some sort of infatuation with her, despite the fact that he's an old man and she's a twelve-year-old, and he gives the rest of the kids ordinary presents (including a mouse puppet for Fritz that freaks Marie out), but gives Marie a model castle with clockwork dancers inside of it (played by actual people). Marie is constantly trying to distance herself from him, but he keeps trying to get her attention.
Drosselmeyer doesn't even give her the Nutcracker in this version. Rather, Marie finds it inside the Christmas tree during a piece of music that I've never heard in any version of The Nutcracker that is accompanied by three dancers in masks; one dressed as a mouse, one dressed as a woman or something, and one dressed as an ugly goblin thing. I don't quite see the point of this little piece. One article I read somewhere suggested that it was some sort of pantomime version of the "Hard Nut" story from the original Hoffmann book, but I don't see that at all in the sequence.
Marie is obsessed with the Nutcracker, much to Drosselmeyer's disappointment, and she dances with it. Fritz sneaks up and grabs the Nutcracker and beats it with a wooden sword, destroying its jaw, and absolutely terrifying Marie, who actually runs to Drosselmeyer for comfort. Wanting to cheer her up, Drosselmeyer binds up the Nutcracker with a handkerchief and sets him on the table. The guests all do a dance and depart, and the kids go to bed.
Marie gets up in the middle of the night to remove the Nutcracker from the table and put him in the cupboard. And what follows has to be the most intense version of "The Battle" that I've ever seen. Marie backs up after putting the Nutcracker in the cupboard, and accidentally steps on the tail of a mouse (possibly another Hoffmann nod). The mice run all around the room, and Marie looks up at the clock to see Drosselmeyer with a very sinister smile on his face. We see the inside of the cupboard, where the handkerchief falls from the Nutcracker, revealing his jaw miraculously restored, and he opens and closes his mouth.
The Mouse King rises from the floorboards, initially sporting just one head, but as the room grows bigger, puffs of smoke erupt around him, and with each puff the Mouse King becomes bigger and gains another head. A giant jack-in-box pops open, and the Nutcracker leaps out of it and begins fighting the Mouse King and his men (unfortunately, a Wilhelm Scream takes me out of the movie for a few seconds).
Marie takes off her shoe, which begins to glow, and throws it at the (now gigantic) Mouse King, causing him to explode and transform into a tiny mouse, which the Nutcracker chases through the sleeve of the enormous cloak that it wore (another Hoffmann nod). Marie walks through as well after waiting a bit, and finds the Nutcracker transformed into a Prince at the other end. This production also takes a cue from the Vainonen production by having Marie transform into an adult when she enters the fantasy world, an idea that I've always liked, as it leaves a lot of room for interpretation about Marie's character.
Marie and the Prince, instead of visiting a candy kingdom like they traditionally do, sail across the ocean to an exotic palace, ruled by a Pasha who is played by the same guy as Drosselmeyer, and who also has some sort of weird infatuation with Marie.
The Pasha tries to dance with Marie, but Marie wants to dance with the Prince instead, which disappoints the Pasha. The Pasha then puts on a big show, with a whole bunch of dancers from different parts of the world.
The dances are a very entertaining part of them, especially since they are very new interpretations of the dances. The Chinese Dance features a guy dressed as a tiger, which was very cool.
The Arabian Dance features what I think is supposed to be a Peacock, but due to being played by a human dancer, gives me more of the impression that it's a lady imprisoned in a cage, which I found pretty disturbing.
This production follows the Vainonen and Baryshnikov productions by cutting out the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, and instead giving their respective dances to Marie and the Prince. I actually prefer it this way for some reason that I can't pinpoint, but some might find that weird.
During the final dance, the Pasha causes Marie and the Prince to levitate into the air, and then fall from the sky at a fast pace, while the Prince transforms back into a Nutcracker and Marie back into a twelve-year-old. Then Marie wakes up in bed and the curtain closes. The camera zooms out from the miniature theatre to reveal Drosselmeyer, asleep, smiling.
This was a very different version from any Nutcracker I had ever seen, and feels like a more grown-up take on the story. I actually really enjoyed it despite the surreal feel of it, and I will probably by this version if I ever find it and watch it many times.
Expect to see a great up rise in posts now that I've got the difficulties solved, and come back in December where I'll probably talk more about different versions of The Nutcracker.