Friday, March 30, 2012

Article: Snow White's Strange Cinematic History

All these adaptations may be a little surprising to someone who hasn't actively tracked down Snow White films but the timing for a summary couldn't be better with Mirror Mirror in theaters and Snow White and the Huntsman releasing just around the corner.

Please note: this is not a definitive list of all the Snow White films but it does include the important ones that impacted the public in some way.

Some excerpts from The Atlantic article Snow White's Strange Cinematic History:
If an enterprising Hollywood executive asked a magic mirror which fairy tale made the fairest box office-gross of all, the answer would undoubtedly be "Snow White." Even for the fairy-tale film genre, the character's history is unusually rich and varied: IMDB currently lists 91 films and TV shows featuring a character named "Snow White," which is dozens more than other comparable fairy-tale heroines, including Belle of Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty of Sleeping Beauty. 
... Snow White, like The Three Musketeers and Sherlock Holmes, has existed in cinema for almost as long as cinema has existed. The oldest film adaptation of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale hit theaters in 1902. Though the Snow White story was retold by film directors three more times over the next 15 years, the most significant adaptation came in 1916. The Margeurite Clark-starring film was well received, but its true cinematic legacy came with the impact it had on a 15-year-old newsboy named Walt Disney. 
It was more than 20 years before Disney would release his own cinematic version of Snow White, but it was 20 years worth waiting. Discussing Snow White's cinematic history without mentioning Disney's legendary 1937 animated adaptation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, would be like discussing the ocean without mentioning water. The very existence of the film was groundbreaking. As Disney's first feature-length animated film, it's the progenitor of a genre that kept Disney afloat, both critically and commercially, for decades. Upon its release, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was immediately deemed a masterpiece...   

... (and) fairy-tale filmmakers have spent the past 75 years trying to escape the Disney version's long shadow. 
The results have often been ugly. There's a subtle racism at play in the Grimms's original story, which holds that "skin white as snow" is the highest form of beauty, but a parodic 1943 Merrie Melodies short, Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs is so hideously, unforgivably racist that it's hard to know where to begin.
“Snow White, AKA White Snow” HBO 1995*
Coal Black**
The Atlantic gives good summary of why this version is, in fact so hideous but what I find so interesting is that after all Snow White and its variants have stood for over centuries, this manifestation made its way into history and forever casts a very dark shadow on the tale in a way even the goriest adaptations don't.
Though the Snow White story has never had as offensive an adaptation as Coal Black, there are plenty that are just as offbeat. Snow White has met the Three Stooges and Nintendo's Mario. She's been reimagined as a Native American princess and a freshman in college. She's made appearances in the kiddiest of kid fare (including a Hallmark-produced TV movie in 2001) while also appearing in films as adult-oriented as Showtime's 1997 Snow White: A Tale of Terror, which features implied rape, miscarriage, and suicide.

You can read the whole article which has much more detail HERE. It includes an image and brief description of 24 different film adaptations.

Snow White: A Tale of Terror is actually one of my favorite film versions of the tale, in spite of the horror. It has a strong thriller vibe, blended with a gothic approach but when you add in the use of black magic - along with a queen losing herself to insanity, being possessed by something very dark - you will naturally end up with some gore. It feels more true to some the variants I've read and has a blend of history and very gritty fantasy.

I recently saw 7 Swerge (or 7 Dwarves: Men Alone in the Wood) for the first time (thank you Netflix instant play!). It's bawdy, a little slapstick, very tongue-in-cheek and has a lot of fun weaving in other tales and generally taking the mickey out of itself while doing a nice job overall. While the visuals are almost childlike much of the time the humor is adult. Not my usual fare at all but it was entertaining and I was surprised I hadn't heard more about it.

There's no mention in the article or image list (or Wikipedia!) of Willa: An American Snow White, but that adaptation should be included on a list of Snow White films too. I particularly liked the interweaving of other classics, notably Romeo & Juliet and various shades of The Wizard of Oz (and, of course, the theater setting makes a wonderful sense). You can find out more information about that film HERE.

If you want to read more about Snow White film adaptations, there's another article HERE.

*Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child – “Snow White, AKA White Snow” (Episode of HBO series, 1995)
**Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (Merrie Melodies cartoon, 1943)

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