Monday, February 9, 2015

David Hand (and others of Disney Studio) | Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (as part of "Three Films for Turing")

three films for turing 

After reading the Turing biography by Andrew Hodges, I determined to revisit three films which I had seen previously, the first, one I saw as a child, Disney’s animated 1937 work, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Turing commented to friends about that film, and was particular fascinated by the poison apple which resulted in Snow White’s suspension into sleep, which, given Turing’s own choice of death, as I mention above, imbues his reactions with far greater meaning.

     The second film, Desk Set, which I’ve watched dozens of time (it’s one of Howard and my favorite Christmas movies), was made just three years after Turing’s death in 1954, and makes references to a figure vaguely similar to Turing in the central character is a computer inventor, who has previously been involved with top-secret governmental activities that not even the crack researcher-librarian who falls in love with him could uncover. That film itself was a head-on cultural confrontation with some of Turing’s predictions, querying and exploring just how much a human being the computer, named EMARAC (Electromagnetic Memory and Research Arithmetical Calculator, named after the American-made ENIAC machine.), a film which also momentarily injects some of the names of the seven dwarfs as Santa’s reindeer.

     The third film, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey of 1968, was, according to author Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick, dated in response to Turing’s paper in the journal Mind, wherein, in 1950, he had predicted the existence in 2000 of computers with enough storage power to allow to “play the imitation game so well that an average interrogator will not have more than a 70 percent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning; such a computer, of course, came alive in Kubrick’s film as HAL 9000, who (or which, depending upon whether one’s been able to properly identify the mechanized imitator), upon discovering that his human controllers are about to disconnect him, disconnects one of the spaceman’s air hoses and locks him out of the space POD.

     Although I kept Turing very much in mind, accordingly, while viewing these works, I also attempted to relive my own youthful relationships to the films in order to explore how I had personally felt about some of the consequences of Turing’s world and creations.

big eyes

Ted Sears, Richard Creedon, Otto Englander, Dick Rickard, Earl Hurd, Merrill De Maris, Dorthy Ann Blank and Webb Smith (writers, based on the story by the Grimm Brothers), David Hand (supervisor), Eilliam Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, and Ben Sharpsteen (directors) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs / 1937

In trying to determine when I first saw the great animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I supposed it might have been in 1958, at the age of 11. Although the film also was re-released in 1952, when I was five, I wondered whether it would be possible that at such an early age the film had made such a lasting impression upon me. But then, it dawned on me that, at 11, a year in which I was intellectually ingesting Hitchcock’s Vertigo, it seemed highly unlikely that I had suddenly become so enthused with what was obviously a children’s picture, so it must have been in 1952 when I first saw the work, just two years before Turing, himself, ate of the poisoned apple.
    What also also struck me, this time around, is that although I have always declared that my only early musical experiences had been Oklahoma! of 1955 and Carousel of one-year later, it is apparent that Snow White, which was something near to an old-fashioned operetta (there are fewer spoken lines in this picture than musical ones), had also contributed to my love of the American musical comedy genre.  

I have always thought of Snow White as being entangled in the same branches, so to speak, of German and Nordic tales such as Sleeping Beauty; how else to explain the “little men,” whose forest home Snow White invades like Goldilocks but as connected to Wagner’s Niebelungs, working in their own private diamond mine? And the Disney animators, so influenced by German Expressionism in the nighttime forest scenes, help to tie this work to its German roots. Moreover, this story, in its focus on a young girl who is treated by her step-mother as a scullery maid in her own home, has similarities to another Grimm Brother’s tale, Aschenputtel.  

    Yet Even as a child, I am certain, I was more enchanted by the evil Queen and her monstrously honest mirror (performed by the voice of Moroni Olsen) than I was with the silly girl passively waiting out her time for her Prince Charming to come. The Queen (voiced by Lucille La Verne), like my mother, was not only forceful, but was willing to go into action herself when others, such as the Huntsman, had failed her. And her willingness, despite her insufferable vanity, to transform herself outwardly as she was within, awed me. If Snow White lived in a world of Bambi and little, messy forest gnomes, the Queen proudly hunkered down with spiders, toads, crows and those magnificently snouted vultures, who, after the witch she has becomes falls of the cliff to her death, slowly spiral down for the feast! 
     Like Alan Turing I too was fascinated how much work had gone into the making of that little red apple soured with death. And the fact that, despite all of her wizardry—her poetic incantations and charm spells, in which nature itself, lightning and thunder, collaborated—there was still such a simple way of breaking the magic spell: a kiss. To a five-year-old, what was a kiss? Snow White, herself, doles them out to those little men as they head off to work, with a peck upon their heads. But Dopey, lips puckered up into some almost obscene gesture, seemed to be expecting something else—another kind of kiss which I certainly had never truly experienced at age 5 except upon the movie screens. And when that kiss in consecrated late in the movie, it is, if one actually thinks too carefully about it, quite shocking, given the fact that the woman to whom the Prince bends down to kiss upon her lips is dead. 
     Underneath the seeming innocence of this film, accordingly, lies not only issues of neurotic vanity, false imprisonment and torture (in an earlier version of the Disney film, the evil Queen imprisons the Prince and entertains him with visions of dancing skeletons) and hints of pederasty (after all, the young girl actually slept in the beds of seven men), but gives evidence of attempted child-murder and necrophilia—so say nothing of the misogynistic remarks of Grumpy and the complete idiocy of Dopey.

     And then, there are all of those unanswered questions: for whom are the dwarfs mining their diamonds, and how do they obtain all those foodstuffs that go into the soup and gooseberry pies Snow White cooks up? And why do they seem to know so much about the evil Queen and her tricks of which they warn Snow White on their way to work. Why doesn’t she, in turn, listen to them; is she so dumb that she cannot see beyond the old crone’s nose? In contemporary times, we must teach even the most innocent of young girls to stay out of the houses of little, old men and never, never invite in any women offering up apples! 
     Finally, what to make of the relationship that this young girl has to deer, chipmunks, turtles and robins? If it’s further evidence of Snow White’s purity and innocence, it also smacks of a kind of human enslavement of beasts: the animals certainly seem willing to do most of her work without even a peck upon their heads. 
     In the end one even wonders a bit the vitality and health about Snow White. Throughout most of this splendid operetta she dreams and sleeps her life away. Even while scrubbing the stairs outside the castle, she spends her time dreaming of her Prince (“Some Day My Prince Will Come”) and her very scary night in the forest—where she encounters a memorable surrealist-like landscape of open eyes—ends with in her again in the prone position, her own eyes drenched in tears. The minute she gets the dwarfs house all spiffed up, she’s tired again and lays down for a nap. After dinner and just a little partying, she’s ready once more to rush off to bed. One gets the feeling, just perhaps, that Snow White suffers (just like Sleepy) a bit from narcolepsy.

     And hardly do the little men get out the door before she’s laid flat again by that poisoned apple. It just may be that our sweetheart may subconsciously preferred to sleep and dream that live out her dreary days by cleaning up for the Queen and then, even worse, for seven messy little men! Did she really imagine that the Prince might find her in that thatched cottage hidden in the middle of the forest?   
     Had Turing, like Snow White, simply worn himself out with all of his mental efforts to save and protect the evil Queen who, equally jealous of his intellectual prowess, had been willing to symbolically lock him up?  In some respects, unlike the fate of the lovely Snow White, the dwarfs of post-war world had already attempted to bury him even while he was living. Certainly, it must have seemed to him, in many instances, that he was living in a never-ending night resembling Snow White’s frightful flight, with all eyes upon him. It might have seemed wonderful to have a long night’s sleep at last.

Los Angeles, February 8, 2015

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