(1965) Childhood Productions 79 minutes (November release)
National Screen Service #65-273
Music: Anne & Milton Delugg
Orchestrations: George Brackman
Musical Director: Lehman Engel
Narrated by Paul Tripp!
With: Angela von Leitner (Briar Rose/Sleeping Beauty), Gert Reinholm (Prince Charming), Gustav Bertram, Walter Bluhm, Fritz Genschow (the King), Renee Stobrawa (Mrs. Hustle Bustle)
SLEEPING BEAUTY is a fairy tale classic and Fritz Genschow’s masterpiece, faithful to the fairy tale tradition, full of mystical wonder and fantastic moments and characters. It is the perfect merging of theatre and art, and represents fantasy cinema at its apex. The tale is ostensibly told by a “Magic Frog” comes to life, a man in a most odd suit, competing with our own Paul Tripp for storyteller honors. Indeed, the Frog and Tripp exchange some narrational banter!
The good King is played by filmmaker Genschow, making this virtually a Fritz Genschow tour-de-force. The King’s beloved daughter, Briar Rose, is quite a fetching fairyland teen, with her cute dimples, and hint of a double chin, baby fat toying with burgeoning sexuality, an enchanting emblem of spoon-fed aristocracy. Unfortunately, Prince Charming is extremely effeminate here, much moreso than the virile old King. Hmm, could there be Oedipal horseplay afoot with director/star Genschow?
The Wicked Fairy is a viscerally evil mother figure. The housekeeper, Mrs. Hustle-Bustle, is played by our favorite, ever-grinning earth mother, Renee Strobrawa, who will always be “Mother Holly” to us.
Much of the film takes place in some gorgeous palace gardens, as well as the majestic real-life settings typical of the “Genschow fairy tale”.
There are some intriguing scenes here. In one, the King orders the destruction of all the spindles in the kingdom, in order the protect his daughter’s interests. The ensuing event looks largely like an occult ritual, with the villagers merrily dancing around a roaring bonfire, cheering and dancing wildly, clearly in the throes of some diabolic ecstasy.
In another odd, marginally tasteless scene, a neighboring royal family visits. King Bumble, Queen Babble and their son, Suchabore, are used for base comic relief, and the main joke seems to be that they are all fat!
SLEEPING BEAUTY features some intriguing shifts of period, with accelerating timeframes. While this telescopic chronology is faithful to the fairy tale, it really packs a punch in its cinematic unraveling. First, we jump from the Queen’s long-awaited pregnancy to the birth of Briar Rose, a period of months. Next, we show Briar Rose growing rapidly, through pleasant montage, from birth to 5 years to 10 years to her sixteenth birthday. Finally, when the Wicked fairy casts her all-consuming spell, the film lurches forward 100 years, into a veritable future-within-a-future. It is somewhat disorienting, then, to later see a group of village children act out and sing about “the Sleeping Beauty”, as if she were mere legend! We, who have participated in this story from its inception, are taken aback. All in all, this warping of time is a nice touch, and executed efficiently.
The visual effects in this film are superb. There are some truly haunting scenes with the 12 Good Fairies, gossamer-draped nymphs who run in formation through misty landscapes, like a harem of sensual, ethereal angels. Scenes such as these really define “fairy tale cinema”.
Other impressive f/x include the time-lapse magic hedgerow which surrounds the sleeping kingdom, and a lovely, poetic scene in which the prince fights off the Wicked Fairy’s army of animal demons, men in fanciful animal suits. There are also some fairly moody interludes in the Wicked Fairy’s spooky abode.
Unfortunately, the “time-stopping” scenes, in which the Wicked Fairy freezes time, are accomplished with bad lab work, sloppy freeze-frames with an obvious color shift. The effect is crude and jolting and entirely unconvincing. Thus, the most-interesting theme of suspended animation is given short shrift, a shame.
SLEEPING BEAUTY successfully ruminates on the mysterious magic of procreation, the devastating impact of impotence, and the folly of playing god with life and death. We also see through our royal family’s terrible trials that hope is never lost, even if it manifests itself only generations into the future. Could the lesson of the “Sleeping Beauty” be to always keep one’s eye on “the big picture”, disregarding all negative temporal circumstance?
The English version of SLEEPING BEAUTY is further enhanced by a winsome score by Anne & Milton Delugg, possibly their best for this series. Songs such as “We’re Going to Cook Today”, “Snow White (The Springtime of Your Life)”, and “Looking for a Girl” are extremely catchy pop ditties.
As in many fairy tales, some of the logic in SLEEPING BEAUTY is frustrating. Why Briar Rose leaves the lovely banquet in her honor to seek out evil and destruction is anyone’s guess. Are we seeing her dark side, or is she merely a bored, spoiled brat?
Regardless, SLEEPING BEAUTY is fairy tale cinema at its best (which also had a curious afterlife in a little ten-minute 8mm silent home movie version that you could buy for $5 at your local discount house).
Links of related interest:
analysis of original tale
The Magic Frog tells the Queen of the danger in store for her family.
King Bumble and his family are unwelcome visitors.
The Wicked Fairy threatens the good Queen.
Prince Charming is about to kiss the sleeping beauty!
special restored edition – a DVDRPARTY exclusive! color, fullscreen, mono, runs 68 minutes. DVDR comes packaged as shown in color DVD case, wrapped in plastic!