The weird spaces of Sleeping Beauty

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When it is concerned with the story of Sleeping Beauty, the pieces of the world dislodge themselves from one another and refuse to ever harmonise. Of course we understand the story, it’s in our bones, but the film makes its own mythic elements both customary and alien. The figures, drawn from life as they move, appear too grounded in reality to cross the bridge into fiction, but also too abstracted to achieve human specificity. Likewise their fluidity is undone by frame jolts that mirror the material reality of their photographic counterparts, again rendering them too real by virtue of their brazen artificiality. They are paraphrased from life as it is paraphrased from literature, suspended at first by and then within an unstable visual space. They exist in their own body containers, flickering into the space like apparitions.

The voice lingers above as the narrator delivers what we know—the filmmakers invert structuralist commonsense by using the mythic framework as a platform to investigate shapeshifting forms. Stained glass people move in rows, with Earle pretending to have just now heard of Paolo Uccello’s experiments in space and geometry, and to be working through what the moving image means for the painted one, reconciling the two with a movement that bears its stuttering hybridity, its own fragmentation into constituent parts. It’s the Limbourgs after fauvism; Patinir through Rousseau, and this is before the fabric of the tapestry is torn by effects that introduce us to a three dimensional space that exists within the space we have just now learned to read as already three dimensional. It would be too academic if it didn’t also feel so radically alive: bricks once used to demonstrate perspective can now only be used to reveal it as an individual-centring fiction, extended to the landscape the rocks and hills are subjected to a butcher’s cartography but the Rousseauian flora signifies life and not its subjugation.

This sense that structure is an imposition at worst and component at best is enforced by where it chooses to focus its narrative, with its pulse given to the margins, or rather, with the margins elevated to the main text, leaving Perrault’s figures as something like background detail. When I was a child my father would get frustrated at me whenever we went to the video store and he would say ‘find a movie for yourself — any movie!’ and I would always walk directly to the back left and pick this one. I have often wondered over the years since I last watched it what drew me to Sleeping Beauty as a child but decades on it is obvious — the impossible beauty of the flattened, anti-naturalistic surfaces betraying expansive life, and the wooden, restrictive fairytale being replaced with a story about a trio of eccentric old women living their best life in the woods.

The weirdest, and best Disney film.

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