Children of All Nations

Hetty Brody - Children of all Nations (1972)

Hetty Brody – Children of all Nations (1972)

When I was cleaning my parent’s basement a few weeks ago, I came across a book of rug designs in which I found this charming Children of All Nations rug. Little information was given about it other than it was a punch hook by Hetty Brody of Hollywood California. The book of rug designs was published in 1972, the rug certainly reflects the spirit of the time. The image of children of different races holding hands appears to be inspired by Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It seems appropriate to consider this rug due to the current racial tension after the fatal shooting of an African-American man by a Louisiana police officer. Many sociologists believe that racial tension is approaching a point of the street riots that swept urban American in the late 1960s.

When I discovered the rug, I admired the optimism of the image of nude girls but realize such a spirit can hardly be found today. Why is it so? There’s an atmosphere of skepticism today. The Australian philosopher David Stove called the epistemological gloom “cognitive Calvinism”; Stove observed, “Calvinists believe in the total depravity of human nature: if an impulse is one of ours, it is bad, because it is one of ours.” A cognitive Calvinist in contrast to a religious Calvinist, is one who has no faith in God but still presumes all motives are of self-interest even if actions may appear outwardly good. Contemporary thought operates along these lines of skepticism of intent. Traditional literature and works of art are deconstructed to expose the supposed hypocrisy behind the humanist ideals expressed in the works. Many postmodernists dismiss the notion of universal human qualities and values as an oppressive construction, and if so, why not deconstruct this text?

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.

Our society is falling apart due to “cognitive Calvinism”, the presumption of the total depravity of human nature, the idealism found in the 1960’s is greatly needed. No society can function based on distrust. This is why I have come to love images of this kind, it is the very antithesis of our “Orwellian” culture. The irony is, I find that people who have a traditional religious background tend to be open-minded to images of nude children because they still respect the idea of innocence. I have good reason to believe the current state of self-consciousness is due to the “hermeneutics of suspicion”, where things are not accepted at face value. Most feminists presume images of beautiful females are some form of sexploitation. This ideology has atomized society, which I have reason to believe is intentional. The authors of anti-utopias predicted that authoritarianism would intentionally break the ties of the family. The only solution I see is a return to romantic idealism which recognizes how industrialization has alienated the perception of life.

Children of All Nations pattern (1972)

Children of All Nations pattern (1972)

Picasso and the CIA

Pablo Picasso Maia's Face 1938

Pablo Picasso – Maia’s Face (1938)

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) needs little introduction since he is probably the most famous artist of the 20th Century. His portraits from his Blue and Rose period reflect a sensitivity for his subjects which was lost when he turned to Cubism. However, occasionally he did some beautiful work after his Cubist phase which reflect a love for the subject, his portrait of his daughter Maia is proof for any Philistines that he could draw in a traditional manner.

Pablo Picasso Guernica 1937

Pablo Picasso Guernica 1937

On the April 26, 1937 the town of Guernica was totally destroyed fom a bombing by the German air force. The town was of no military importance; its destruction was an act of pure terrorism. Picasso responded by painting a surreal cartoonish scene that has the effect of a collage made of old newspapers due to the hard edge forms and the palette of dark browns and white. Guernica is considered a masterpiece of modern art.

Picasso Massacre in Korea 1951

Picasso Massacre in Korea 1951

Picasso painted another painting like Guernica in 1951; this time he drew inspiration from the composition of Francisco de Goya’s The Third of May 1808. I consider the Massacre in Korea to be a much better painting than Guernica since I can empathize with some of the figures. An adolescent girl stands frozen near the center of the painting and she looks to the viewer with expression of grief. To her right, a baby plays near her feet, unaware of the violence. Two younger children run to a group of four terrified women; all the women and children are naked to symbolize defenselessness. To the right of the painting stands a firing squad, as in Goya’s painting. The posture of the soldiers seem to be mechanical—they are a group of executing robots. The painting was not well received since the “robots” represented the United States military.

The New York art community regarded Picasso’s “new Guernica” to be an “aesthetic failure”. Clement Greenberg, who was the most influential art critic of the time claimed that modern art was apolitical and was only an aesthetic pursuit, but some thought otherwise. On August 16, 1949, Congressman Dondero from Michigan gave a condemning speech “Modern art shackled to Communism”. Picasso had a reputation as a genius but his Massacre in Korea didn’t help the position of Nelson Rockefeller and his associates, who were promoting Modernism. A letter was drafted to Picasso in December 1952 by the recently formed Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF). The letter condemned Picasso for supporting communism. The letter was never sent but Irving Kristol who was the executive director of the CCF, was confident that he could count on Greenberg’s signature and probably the signatures of Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Alexander Clader.

Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell paintings modern wing Piladelphia Museum

Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell –  Paintings in the modern wing of the Philadelphia Museum

In 1967, the magazine Ramparts exposed the CCF to be a CIA-funded organization. The CIA’s promotion of abstract expressionism was so extensive in the 1950’s, an unknown artist couldn’t find representation in New York unless he was painting in a style derived from the New York School. The CIA claimed that the purpose of the program was to improve the United States’ image to liberals who may support communism. The Congress was run by CIA agent Micheal Josselson from 1950 to 1967. At its peak, it had offices in thirty-five countries, published over twenty prestigious magazines, held art exhibitions and rewarded artists with prizes. The realist painter Ben Shahn refused to join and referred to the Congress as the ‘ACCFuck’.

Mark Rothko room, Tate Modern

Mark Rothko Room, Tate Modern

Pablo Picasso Girl with Basket of Flowers 1905

Pablo Picasso Girl with Basket of Flowers 1905

Frances Stonor Saunders’ book Who Paid the Piper? provided much of the information for this article; she writes: “Operating at a remove from the CIA, and therefore offering a plausible disguise for its interests, was the Museum of Modern Art. An inspection of MoMA’s committees and councils reveals a proliferation of links to the Agency.” The program manufactured history and abstract expressionism was promoted as New American painting when in fact most Americans then and now have difficulty accepting the paintings as art. The purpose of the program had nothing to do with freedom—the effect was more like censorship. If respectable art is limited to drips of paint or a field of color, it makes it impossible for an artist to represent anything that could conflict with the ideology of the social system. This is what I found in the account of the response to Massacre in Korea; it was called an “aesthetic failure” for actually being expressive. I regard Korea to be one of Picasso’s best paintings since his Rose Period. I find paintings like Guernica to be ineffective due to the abstractification, the aesthetic distance. I agree with Tolstoy, the essence of art is expression, not just an arrangement of form. The forms in Guernica are cold symbols that fail to evoke empathy.

Wikipedia noted that none of the soldiers in Massacre in Korea have penises. This feature is contrasted by the pregnant state of the women on the left side of the panel. “Many viewers have interpreted that the soldiers, in their capacity as destroyers of life, have substituted guns for their penises, thereby castrating themselves and depriving the world of the next generation of human life”. An expressive image of Americanization indeed.

Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup Cans 1962

Andy Warhol – Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962)

Miles Mathis believes as well as I do, that the CIA allowed for Saunders’ book to surface to distract from the fact that the government is still in control of the ideology of the art establishment. For example, the book makes no reference to Andy Warhol despite the fact that Warhol was being promoted during the time that the CIA’s program was admittedly active. The values of Pop: mass production and consumerism were in complete conflict with the values of the genuine liberals of the 1960s and 1970s. This is why Jock Sturges was persecuted by the FBI; his photographs reflect a connection between people which were in conflict with the emerging post-humanism. The underlining goal of the plutocracy is to maintain a dysfunctional culture since a disconnected society is easier to control.

The artist Miles Mathis examined Frances Stonor Saunders’ book, the PDF can be found here: The Cultural Cold War.

The Independent’s article can be found here: Modern art was CIA ‘weapon’

Pablo Picasso Le Gourmet 1901

Pablo Picasso – Le Gourmet (1901)

Picasso Girl with Dog 1905

Pablo Picasso – Girl with Dog (1905)

Pablo Picasso Maia-with her Doll 1938

Pablo Picasso – Maia with her Doll (1938)

The Final Nail in the Coffin (revised)

Because of the paradigm of childhood innocence, there are a number of juxtapositions that most people would find odd or outright disturbing. In one interesting case, U.S. prosecutors solved an embarrassing problem because of the sight of children smoking marijuana.

A couple of years ago, I watched the documentary Square Grouper which told three tales of marijuana smuggling in Florida. Square Grouper is a euphemism for the bundles of marijuana that would wash ashore when smugglers jettisoned their cargo under the pursuit of drug enforcement authorities.

The first story was about a group that called itself The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church. Based in Jamaica, its members believed that marijuana—which they referred to as ganja—was a sacramental herb and an essential part of Church ritual. The remarkable thing about this sect is that it was very conservative and believed in the strict obedience of women and no homosexuality, birth control or masturbation. And yet it was progressive in its belief in the brotherhood of white and black men. When white men from the United States first began to visit Jamaica, it was recognized that some way had to be found to bring ganja into the U.S. and a smuggling operation began. It eventually was so economically successful that it became the top source of income for the Jamaican government.

U.S. Church members finally acquired enough wealth to purchase a compound on Star Island in Miami Beach in 1975, much to the consternation of the neighbors. The rapidly growing group began to get complaints because of the large disruptive influx of new “followers” and the dense smoke wafting onto the neighbors’ properties. A number of law enforcement agencies began surveilling the compound and would arrest Church participants, but would have to release them later as they argued on the grounds of freedom of religion (First Amendment) and could afford the best lawyers in the area. This was an embarrassing situation for the authorities as news agencies covered the activities of the Coptics. In an attempt to convince the neighbors of their holy intentions, they were invited for a visit and that’s when the appalling vision of children smoking large amounts of ganja was witnessed by outsiders.

Billy Corben - Square Grouper (2011) (1)

Billy Corben – Square Grouper (2011) (1)

Billy Corben - Square Grouper (2011) (2)

Billy Corben – Square Grouper (2011) (2)

When these images hit the airwaves, the public outrage gave the authorities the political cover to arrest and convict leaders on charges of drug smuggling.

There are two important lessons to be had here. 1) No matter how righteous a group thinks its position is, success does require a certain political aptitude and a recognition of the prevalent public perception. 2) Emotional reactions to images or situations will overrule even the most skilled attempts at rational argument.

[15/09/16] When I informed Pip about doing this post, he told me about an issue of Life that had a picture of children smoking.  It was from a special edition called ‘The Journey of Our Lives’ in October 1991.  It featured images from cultures all over the world who practice a range of rituals associated with life transitions: birth, maturity, marriage and death.  Since all versions on the internet were of poor quality, we tracked down an issue so we could bring it to you here.  These girls were shot just outside of Kingston, Jamaica partaking of “wisdom weed” for the first time.

Daniel Laine - (From Life Magazine) (October 1991)

Daniel Laine – (From Life Magazine) (October 1991)

Cave Girl: Jean M. Auel’s ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’

With my first post I’m going to discuss the book The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, as well as the movie directed by Michael Chapman. As is usually the case, the book was far more engaging and meaningful than the movie, so I will take the plot points from the book and use various screenshots from the movie. The latter uses three actresses to represent the various stages of Ayla’s life; Emma Floria is 5-year-old Ayla, Nicole Eggert plays Ayla at about 11 or 12, and Daryl Hannah is adolescent/adult Ayla. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t accurately depict Ayla’s timeline. She is under eighteen for the whole of the book, and is 14 at its conclusion. Within that span of time she experiences incredible hardship, but what she learns in those 9 years will change everything forever. 

Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (1)

Ayla is a Cro-Magnon girl (early Homo sapiens sapiens), distant ancestors to our forbears and us. Mog-ur—known to her affectionately by his true name, Creb—is a Neanderthal Man (H. neanderthalensis) and the most powerful magician known to his Clan. They share the same ancestor but are fated to much different paths. Creb and all his people are about to die in one of the most questionable extinctions known to modern science, while Ayla’s kind are on their way to becoming the most populous and (relatively) successful  mammals to have ever existed. Nobody seems to know just what happened there, and Jean M. Auel, while aiming to write fiction based on facts, did not specify how her Neanderthal clan were to become extinct either.

Ayla is taken in by the medicine woman of the Neanderthal clan after an earthquake kills Ayla’s family and forces the Clan out of their cave, their only home. The girl is just five years old, but nevertheless survives the attack of a cave lion (the grass lion’s huge, hungry ancestor) and passes out presumably from shock and pain. She is found by the Clan’s medicine woman, Iza on their search for a new cave home.


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (2)

Iza is sibling to the Clan leader, Brun, so he is given to allow Iza to keep and care for the girl. The young girl eventually trains with Iza to become a medicine woman and is quite proficient with flowers and herbs. She also gets in the habit of using the excuse that she is looking for plants for Iza so that she can wander around by herself in the wilderness, thinking and playing in solitude.


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (3)


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (4)


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (5)

Ayla’s presence disturbs the others, and their treatment towards her differences profoundly impacts her development. She is especially terrible with following their strict social customs, which include the docility and submission of women as virtues—instead of the low, shuffling walk of Clan women, Ayla is gifted with long, thin legs and is taller than most of the men by age 12. The discomfort she causes is very much about the way that she looks in comparison to the rest of the clan as well. Throughout the book she is repeatedly referred to as ugly by the other members, even by her sweet Mog-ur, and it is assumed she will never acquire a partner. They have no qualms about speaking these things in front of her either.

“He visualized the tall, skinny child, straight arms and legs, flat face with a large, bulging forehead, pale and washed out; even her eyes were too light. She will be an ugly woman, Mog-ur thought honestly. What man is likely to want her anyway?”  Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear


“… The skull of Cro-Magnon 1 does show traits that are unique to modern humans, including the tall, rounded skull with a near vertical forehead. A large brow ridge no longer tops the eye sockets and there is no prominent prognathism of the face and jaw [as compared to H. neanderthalensis].”  Smithsonian Natural Museum of History

Part of the reason why she is regarded with this repulsion is because her childhood seems to last much longer than what is regular for the Clan. Their lifespans average 30 years and the children are usually ready for their mating ceremonies at age 7 or 8. They start to wonder when she doesn’t seem to be developing the regular features of a woman, but it is precisely her childish figure which enables her to gain the skills that will eventually allow her to become independent. In this way and many others, Ayla becomes a symbol of fate for Creb, but to the others she is profoundly mysterious, profoundly wrong.


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (6)

Built mainly for storing large quantities of data as memories, the Neanderthal Clan have minds that can peer thousands of years into the past with a process as simple as contemplating the natural life that surrounds them. (This is, of course, speculation by the author. You can do the research for yourself but there is some level of validity to her fictional fantasies.) The Clan can see eons behind them, all the way back to the dawn of life, with the help of a divine flower employed by Mog-ur; Datura stramonium or Angel’s Trumpet—Devil’s trumpet, if you’d like to play your hand on the other side of the paradox. But they can’t think in numerical terms past 3, and Mog-ur, whose mind is significantly more attuned to the abstract, the extra-sensory, can’t pass 20.  Ayla, however, is on her way to multiplying single-digit numbers at the age of five. She so astounds Creb with her mind that he becomes enthralled with her instantly, falling in love with her confidence and intelligence the first year of her stay.


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (7)

Despite the rigidity of the Clan’s ways, especially in their expectation of docile behavior from the women, Creb gives Ayla some slack, often only scolding her for behavior that other men would have punished with physical violence. Physical affection is kept at a minimum between the two, but Ayla trusts in the old man’s love.

Her first year with the clan is arduous, as she is forced by her adoptive family and the pressures of the group to conform to their patriarchal expectations. However unexpectedly, she does seem to grow with a strength and confidence that is rare even for males in the Clan, and this brings about the unlucky attention of the leader’s son, Broud, who is to become her unfailing tormentor.

The boy is arrogant and narcissistic, unable to let go of Ayla’s unwomanly confidence and skill set. As Broud becomes a man and more assured in his dominance, his torments too become progressively more vicious and physically violent. But she has a secret. Ayla has learned to hunt, eventually becoming more proficient with a sling than the Clan’s own sling master. Broud’s attacks no longer bother her—in fact, she eggs him on, carrying her secret skill as a totem of confidence. Soon after her first menses at age 10, however, her secret is discovered when she kills a hyena to save a Clan child from death. She is given a comparatively mild punishment, considering it is strictly forbidden for a woman to even touch a weapon—a transgression which is punishable by death—and afterwards is startlingly anointed with the title of Woman Who Hunts by Mog-ur and the leader. From then on she is given the freedom to hunt in the open, using only her sling, but that’s good enough for her. Ayla’s confidence soars, and eventually the Clan begins to accept her, even respect her. Everyone except for Broud, that is.


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (8)

Because of his unceasing abuse, Ayla has learned to dissociate from Broud, obeying him but no longer with any hint of emotional investment. But her pain is what makes Broud happy and he is frustrated with her lack of distress. Again shortly after her first menses, Broud comes across Ayla gathering herbs for Iza away from the cave and rapes her. Because of Clan customs, any male is allowed to have intercourse with any female he wishes, even if she belongs to another man, even if she isn’t yet a woman—but most Clan men feel it beneath their dignity to have intercourse with a child.  All a man has to do is give a signal, and the female will “assume the position”. Because of this, the Clan doesn’t protest when Broud takes up the habit of raping her daily, sometimes multiple times a day. The women are confused as to why she is screaming out as if in pain, but the ordeal is seen as some kind of odd phase for Broud, considering Ayla is so unattractive and Broud has a beautiful woman of his own. Iza and Creb notice her crippling depression, but they don’t know what to attribute it to and so have no way of helping her.

A redeeming feature of the Clan is that they don’t stigmatize sexuality in childhood.

“In the Clan, the mating of two people was entirely a spiritual affair, begun with a declaration to the whole clan but consummated by a secret rite that included only the men. In this primitive society, sex was as natural and unrestrained as sleeping or eating. Children learned, as they learned other skills and customs, by observing adults, and they played at intercourse as they mimicked other activities from a young age. Often a boy who reached puberty, but had not yet made his first kill and existed in limbo between child and adult, penetrated a girl child even before she reached her menarche.”  Jean M. Auel, The Clan of the Cave Bear

However, they don’t necessarily know how sex works either. They believe in animal spirits called Totems; assigned to every member of the clan, they protect each person and bring luck or misfortune depending on how the clan behaves. They believe these spirits are rooted themselves in tradition as well, fearing anger from their otherworldly protectors if they stray from long-practiced rites and customs. Male totems are usually “stronger” than female totems (for example, a female totem might be a beaver where a male totem may be a wild boar), and it is believed that pregnancy is caused by the male totem “defeating” the female totem by some undefined spiritual means. A woman’s menses is similarly caused by the woman’s totem defeating a man’s totem. Ayla herself has the strongest totem in the tribe, the massive Cave Lion, assigned by Mog-ur when he contemplates the parallel scars on her legs caused by the cave lion attack when she was just five years old. Throughout her years, Ayla receives assistance and protection from the Cave Lion, noticed only by Mog-ur (as such a strong totem for a little girl confuses the rest of the Clan).


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (9)

Shockingly enough (or maybe not), Ayla soon discovers she is pregnant—and is ecstatic. She had been told all throughout her childhood that she would never bear children, would never mate or find a partner due to her incredibly powerful totem and her ugliness. She forms no connection at first between Broud’s sexual abuse and the pregnancy, but it isn’t long before she pieces it together—becoming the first of the tribe to ever do so. She loves her baby all the same, and I believe the child represents for her a reclamation of her femininity, stripped from her at a young age simply because she didn’t fit the Clan’s idea of what it meant to be female. Her first child, born to her at age 11, is therefore a symbol of her unfailing femininity in spite of her masculine strength. The child is born as a hybrid between the two human species and is seen by the Clan as being deformed, but to Ayla she sees only unity—the mergence of her spirit with that of the Clan in a way she could never accomplish herself. In the end, Broud gives her the one thing she thought she would never get.

An interesting aspect of the plot involves the Clan Gathering, which I will not go into too much detail about. A ritual is held at the gathering in which Ayla must act as medicine woman and distribute the Datura decoction to the females of hers and other Clans. She takes some as well, perhaps too much, but when the women begin their erotic dance, Ayla is pulled by some force to Creb’s ceremony involving the Mog-urs and acolytes of other clans. This is a ceremony not only restricted from female participation, but male participation as well. It is only for the shamans. She learns some interesting things from Creb here and I will not say anything else about it because it’s honestly an astounding scene that should be read in its original form to be appreciated.

download (1)

Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (10)

I find the contrasts between her masculine and feminine aspects quite interesting. Rather, I find it interesting in that she’s not really masculine or feminine. The definitions attached to this duality are entirely subjective, seemingly dependent on the social context in which they are used. It is true that most societies throughout human history seem to have considered hunting an entirely masculine activity, but there are definitely exceptions as with all things. From the Clan’s perspective, she is almost wholly masculine; but then, she bears life, she experiences the cycles of her menses, and she develops a close relationship with plants—all are traits considered feminine by the Clan and many real-life human societies. If you read up on mythology you’ll have heard of Artemis, goddess of hunting, virginity, and protector of nature.

Considering Ayla is a child for most of the book (in the sense that she is under 18), it’s interesting to think of what femininity means in the context of little girls and in the context of Ayla’s role in the Clan. Children are unaware of themselves in a very genuine way, resulting in a sort of freedom that most adults can’t seem to experience. Little girls are themselves a kind of nymph or faerie—feminine, yes, but also masculine in the most surprising and mischievous of ways. They are dynamic, dual. I can say from experience that emerging as a woman from a state of girlhood is entirely frightening. All of a sudden it’s not cute to climb trees in a dress, or acceptable to sit with your legs very obviously open, or to do all sorts of things I was able to do without inhibition as a young girl, without even a thought as to how it was perceived by others. Eventually it became time to grow up, time to accept only one half of the duality while ignoring the other as if it didn’t exist. Ayla is so fascinating because she never seems to experience this horrible shift. Her unheard-of status as Woman Who Hunts combined with her other differences mean that the Clan is constantly in a state of awe or confusion about her, allowing Ayla to dissociate from Clan customs and to walk into herself as she wholly is. She grows up without the notion that she is a child turning into an adult. I’m not sure about the other books, but by the end of The Clan of the Cave Bear, Ayla is a woman and child all in one, and she is also neither—she’s Ayla.


Michael Chapman, John Sayles and Jean M. Auel – The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) (11)

By the way, I still climb trees in dresses, ha!


Margaret O’Brien

Fascism and the Politics of Nudity: Thomas Mann

This post is the result of two seemingly unrelated leads that suddenly came together. A very well-read friend of mine told me of an account by Thomas Mann (1875–1955): in the 1920s while visiting a beach in his native Germany with his granddaughter, she got sand in her bathing suit. Mann quite sensibly suggested that she wash it out in the ocean. The outraged response of the other beachgoers shocked him and became fodder for his story, Mario und der Zauberer (Mario and the Magician,1929). Unbeknownst to me, a film by that name was made in 1994 and one of our readers suggested I track it down and watch it. I decided to watch the film and read the story translated into English. Unfortunately, the flow of Mann’s melodic prose is lost in translation, but being his most political piece, we can still get a lot out of it.

The main story is of a German-speaking family (probably Austrian) who go on vacation in the town of Torre di Venere in Italy. In the film, the family is named Fuhrmann: a father (a professor), his wife and their children Stephan and Sophie.

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann - Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (1)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (1)

In Mann’s story, Mario is just a waiter who serves them and the children are friendly with, but in Burt Weinshanker’s screenplay, the family greet him as though they were old friends.

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann - Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (2)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (2)

An itinerant and popular magician, Cipolla—played by the film’s director, Klaus Maria Brandauer—comes on the scene and performs with his troupe a somewhat impromptu performance in the street. He is not a magician in the traditional sense; he performs number tricks and card tricks, but his most compelling skill is hypnotizing people and getting them to do all sorts of strange things. This symbolizes the power of rhetoric and propaganda that cause people to act against their own interests. The thing that adds tension to this character is that he is not gracious about his talent, but openly ridicules his subjects. Even when he makes a mistake, he can still get people to believe in him.

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann - Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (3)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (3)

Italy seems pleasant enough at first but the entangled power structure and unwritten rules of conduct made a series of errors by the family inevitable. To start with, even though they were paying guests, they did not get the kind of deluxe treatment they expected. They had to move to another hotel which was much more hospitable and right on the beach. While Stephan (Jan Wachtel) and Sophie (Nina Schweser) are building a sand castle, Fuggiero (Anthony Pfriem), the 12-year-old son of a local aristocrat stomps on it making some implausible excuse. Of course this was intended as a deliberate insult and warning to the two unsuspecting siblings. It is also meant to represent the tendency of fascist systems to ridicule foreigners in order to build up their own people. The climax of this drama happens a little later when Sophie is sitting quietly in the same place on the beach and Fuggiero and two other boys start cursing at her and throwing sand. Somewhat playfully, she tries to fight back but is overpowered and knocked down.

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann - Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (4)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (4)

Sophie is supposed to be 8 in the story but Mann says her body is more like that of 7. The screenwriter added more drama by including the sand fight instead of the girl just wishing to get sand out of her suit. Thus she removes her suit, wades into the ocean and rinses herself off before emerging.

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann - Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (5)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (5)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann - Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (6)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (6)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann - Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (7)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (7)

The native beachgoers observe this phenomenon and stand up in shock, moving slowly toward her. I feel quite sure the director intended a Fellini-like moment here, expressing the Italian sensibility. They begin to protest and ridicule this innocent foreigner for her faux pas.

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann - Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (8)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (8)

Another addition to the film is a bath scene afterward when Stephan enters and Sophie asks him to leave. Given that Stephan gave no thought to just entering unannounced shows that Sophie has become self-conscious by this event and is perhaps somewhat ashamed of her body.

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann - Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (9)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (9)

Professor Fuhrmann is summoned by the mayor and made to pay 50 lire for his daughter’s disgrace. On the other hand, we soon get to see what the local people consider a wholesome display of youthful innocence: an event that includes these girls in uniform singing a patriotic song.

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann - Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (10)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (10)

The professor attempts to defend himself in a public meeting—this is not in Mann’s story. At first, he seems to be doing well, but the more conservative members won’t have it and it stirs the attendees almost into a mob and the professor must make a hasty exit. Realizing the family is not accepted in this town, he calls the children in for a family meeting and explains that they must return home that afternoon. The children plead for him to allow them to stay until at least the next morning. You see, Cipolla is scheduled to make his big performance that night and they don’t want to miss it.

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann - Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (11)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (11)

In Mann’s story, the children keep falling asleep and while the parents try to carry them out, they wake up and insist on seeing the rest of the performance. Cipolla shows off his devilish talents, even seducing women from their protesting husbands right in the audience, but the magician makes a fatal mistake that night. One of his subjects this time is Mario and he humiliates him by playing with his secret affections for a girl named Silvestra. In the original story, Mario becomes outraged and kills Cipolla. Since the magician in the film is played by the director, he turns the plot around and has Silvestra, shocked by the revelation, kill Mario instead. In one final expression of control, the audience applauds despite the grisly scene that just took place on the stage. Another addition in the film is one final expression of innocence and perhaps the insidious nature of fascism. On the train home, Sophie comes by the cabin wearing a hat and begins to perform a magic trick she learned in town.

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann - Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (12)

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Burt Weinshanker and Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer (1994) (12)

It was interesting that Mann did not recognize the early rumblings of fascism in his own country. His masterpiece of Perennial Philosophy, Joseph und seine Brüder (Joseph and His Brothers) in four volumes, was interrupted by the turmoil of Nazism and the latter volumes have a distinctly different tone.

Child Labourers as Victims: Lewis Hine’s Photography (1908-1912)

Lewis Hine - Young mill worker, Newberry, SC (Dec. 1908)

Lewis Hine – Young mill worker, Newberry, SC (Dec. 1908)

To many contemporary Westerners, child labour appears as cruel and uncivilized. However, in all pre-industrial societies, there was no sharp demarcation between childhood and adulthood and children worked with adults—this was part of their education. In the European Middle Ages, childhood as we envisage it now lasted only a few years; at about age 7, the peasant child was working in the farm while urban children were sent to learn their trade as apprentices. There was no adolescence either, you were recognized as an adult (with full privileges and duties) at an age generally between 13 and 15.

Some schools existed, but they could be attended part-time, and there were pupils of various ages in the same class. As printing did not exist and paper was expensive, without manuals nor the possibility of taking notes, pupils learned by hearing the same lessons being read by the master year after year, so you found on the same bench newcomers and regular listeners.

The modern structure of the nuclear family, its view as a haven of peace, and the concomitant conception of childhood as state of vulnerability and innocence, stratified by age categories, arose progressively in Western Europe between the 13th and the 18th century, see Philippe Ariès, L’Enfant et la Vie Familiale sous l’Ancien Régime (1973) (translated in English with some inaccuracies under the title Centuries of Childhood). However child labour survived this social transformation, and it accompanied the Industrial Revolution:

“In the United States rapid industrialization after the Civil War (1861–1865) increased the child labor force and introduced new occupations for children. According to the nationwide census of 1870 about one out of every eight children in the United States was employed. By 1900 approximately 1,750,000 children, or one out of six, had wagework. Sixty percent were agricultural workers, and of the 40 percent in industry over half were children of immigrant families.” On the other hand, “in preindustrial and rural Canada families needed children for the work they could do. The immigrant children worked as farm laborers and domestic servants.” Despite modernization, old stereotypes survived: “Child labor was gender divided. Whereas boys worked in industries such as sawmills and coal mines, girls worked in the textile and garment industries.” (Internet FAQ Archives, Child Labor in the West)

Lewis Hine - Josie, Bertha and Sophie, regular shuckers, Maggioni Canning Co., Port Royal, SC (Feb. 1911)

Lewis Hine – Josie, Bertha and Sophie, regular shuckers, Maggioni Canning Co., Port Royal, SC (Feb. 1911)

But opposition to child labour mounted at the end of the 19th century. “Whereas child labor was considered both economically valuable and ethical in preindustrialized societies, it was increasingly understood as uncivilized as industrialization progressed.” It is generally thought that laws limiting or banning child labour arose from the fight of labour unions, like the 8-hour working day. In fact, “many working-class parents saw little advantage to keeping their children in school instead of the workplace.” (Internet FAQ Archive, National Child Labor Committee) Indeed:

“Figures from the United States indicate that children were likely to contribute about one-third of family income by the time the adult male was in his fifties. In Europe, children’s contributions were even greater; about 41 percent when the head was in his fifties, and in some cases even higher.” (Child Labor in the West)

The fight against child labour was waged mainly by upper and middle-class philanthropists, clergymen and politicians.

“A crusade against child labor developed in most Western countries in the late nineteenth century. The modern order of childhood demanded actions against the “social evil” and for child labor laws. The child labor laws were hardly effective, as they did not provide for sufficient enforcement. Compulsory schooling laws were more effective, and the debates on child labor had an educative impact as well. States, educationalists, politicians, and philanthropists joined in the efforts to get children out of the factories and into school.” (Child Labor in the West)

Lewis Hine - Millie Cornaro, 10yo, picking cranberries, White's Bog, Browns Mills, NJ (Sep. 28, 1910)

Lewis Hine – Millie Cornaro, 10yo, picking cranberries, White’s Bog, Browns Mills, NJ (Sep. 28, 1910)

Although agriculture accounted for 60 percent of child labour, it was strangely spared by that campaign: “While children working in agriculture seemed consistent with America’s past history, to many Americans youngsters laboring for meager wages in industry seemed brutal and cruel.” (National Child Labor Committee) This distinction could not be argued on the basis of health or working conditions:

“How were the conditions for child laborers in industry compared with agriculture? In France, research shows that industrialization intensified work for some children, as workdays in factories were long and more structured. On the other hand, rural life in late-nineteenth-century France was rigorous and primitive, and young men from certain rural areas were more often rejected for military service than young men from cities, challenging the “misery history” of industrial child labor.” (Child Labor in the West)

I think that the real reason behind this double standard is moralistic. At that time, bourgeois philanthropists were afraid of delinquency in the cities, especially in the urban working-class youth, and they set about to “save” working-class children from vice, see The Child Savers by Anthony Platt.

Lewis Hine - Madeline Causey, 10yo, Merrimack Mills, Huntsville, AL (Nov. 1913)

Lewis Hine – Madeline Causey, 10yo, Merrimack Mills, Huntsville, AL (Nov. 1913)

In the United States, efforts by politicians, philanthropists and clergymen, in particular the Reverend Edgar Gardner Murphy, an Episcopalian minister, the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) was established in 1904. It was greatly helped by the field work of the sociologist and photographer Lewis Wickes Hine (September 26, 1874 – November 3, 1940) for its campaign.

“The committee helped organize local committees in every state where child labor existed, held traveling exhibits, and was the first organized reform movement to make wide use of photographic propaganda. In 1915 the NCLC published 416 newspapers and distributed more than four million pages of propaganda materials. The propaganda promoted—here and elsewhere—changing attitudes and practices regarding childhood. The well-known photographer LEWIS HINE was one of the NCLC’s crusaders. In 1908 Hine resigned from his job as a teacher and devoted his full career to photography and to his work as a reporter for the NCLC.” (Child Labor in the West)

Hine spent several years photographing thousands children and adolescents who worked for a wage. With each photograph he included information on the location, sometimes on the age of children, and added some comment. These pictures are widely found on the Internet, with varying quality, either in sepia or in grey. The National Child Labor Committee Collection of the Library of Congress contains 5130 pictures, free of copyright; they generally exist in both sepia and grey, and in different sizes. I have chosen a few of them, in sepia and large size; the following 3 can also be found (in grey only) on The Authentic History Center’s webpage Child Labor Photographs of Lewis Hine, with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) copyright.

Lewis Hine - Cotton mill workers (Jan. 22, 1909)

Lewis Hine – Cotton mill workers (Jan. 22, 1909)

Hine’s comment: “Two of the ‘helpers’ in the Tifton Cotton Mill, Tifton, Ga. They work regularly. Location: Tifton, Georgia.

Lewis Hine - Spinner glimpses the outside world (Nov. 11, 1908)

Lewis Hine – Spinner glimpses the outside world (Nov. 11, 1908)

Hine’s comment: “Rhodes Mfg. Co., Lincolnton, N.C. Spinner. A moments glimpse of the outer world. Said she was 10 years old. Been working over a year. Location: Lincolnton, North Carolina.”

Lewis Hine - Selling Radishes (Aug. 22, 1908)

Lewis Hine – Selling Radishes (Aug. 22, 1908)

Hine’s comment: “‘Radishes! Penny a bunch!’ Sixth St. Market, Cincinnati. 10 P.M. Saturday. Boys and girls sell all day, and until 11 P.M. Aug.22, 1908. Location: Cincinnati, Ohio.

The following high-quality image comes from Wikipedia:

Lewis Hine - Little Lottie, regular oyster shucker (1911)

Lewis Hine – Little Lottie, regular oyster shucker (1911)

Hine’s comment: “Little Lottie, a regular oyster shucker in Alabama Canning Co. She speaks no English. Note the condition of her shoes… Location: Bayou La Batre, Alabama.

Finally, campaigns such as that of the NCLC succeeded in bringing children out of factories and into schools:

“Why did child labor decrease around the turn of the twentieth century in Western societies? An increase in children’s school attendance is part of the explanation. Research from Sweden, Denmark, and Chicago indicates that one of the key motives for the introduction of compulsory schooling laws was to control and abolish child labor. In Norway the number of days at school increased by 50 percent from 1880 to 1914. At that time children were schoolchildren and part-time workers.” (Child Labor in the West)

Note however that fighting child labour was not the only reason for the introduction of compulsory schooling:

“A comparison of Western societies demonstrates that state enactment of compulsory schooling is not explained by economic factors, such as level of industrialization or urbanization. Some countries implemented compulsory schooling well before industrializing. The earliest state to do so, Prussia, illustrates the noneconomic motive behind enacting compulsory schooling. Enacting compulsory schooling was a means to reinvigorate national solidarity in a context where traditional, external modes of authority were weakening. Compulsory schooling was a form of nation-building, foreshadowing the larger historical movement to broaden the rights of individuals as citizens and linking this to an expanded moral jurisdiction of state authority. In contrast, England, a comparative late-comer to compulsory schooling, enacted its Elementary Education Act of 1870, well after taking the lead in inaugurating industrialization. Yet, like Prussia, a weak showing at the Paris Exhibition of 1867 signaled a threat to its international stature, in turn challenging traditional means of authority and technical training. The prompt to reinvigorate national solidarity fueled a sense of urgency and thereby gave legitimacy to an extension of state authority over universal primary education.” (Compulsory School Attendance)

Also, “for the American states […] the timing of enactment must be viewed within the broader context of national formation.

“Compulsory school attendance laws passed during the latter half of the nineteenth century represented more than the cessation of voluntary schooling; they formalized a significant broadening of state authority and its assumption of responsibility for the education of children.”

Lewis Hine - Immigrant children, Washington School, Boston, MA (Oct 1909)

Lewis Hine – Immigrant children, Washington School, Boston, MA (Oct 1909)

For instance, in France, one of the objectives of the secular state schools established by Julles Ferry was to instill patriotism and anti-German chauvinism in children, in particular through an unrelenting insistence on the fight to recover the province of Alsace-Lorraine, annexed by Germany after the 1870-1871 war. Millions of young French young men educated in these schools died in the trenches of WWI, after which France recovered Alsace-Lorraine.

Finally in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, pressured by child welfare advocates and labour unions, included child labor regulations in the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act (National Child Labor Committee). Teenagers were taken out of the job market and sent back to high schools, but the real reason was now mass unemployment: the jobs previously held by youths were given to their elders.

In this way the Western conception of childhood and and adolescence was finally achieved:

“By legally positing universal schooling as a common goal, the laws helped to structure the social and legal categories of childhood and ADOLESCENCE that have become integral to American culture generally and to the organization of American education in particular.” (Compulsory School Attendance) “According to a new regime that condemned child labor, children were supposed to PLAY and go to school. The schoolchild as norm was gradually perceived as “natural” and “universal.” As history is a way of seeing the past through the filters of the present, the complexity of child labor in the past turned out to be difficult to depict.” (Child Labor in the West)

Concomitant to compulsory schooling at higher ages was the raising of the legal age of sexual consent in Western countries, see for instance Martin Killias, “The emergence of a new taboo: the desexualization of youth in Western societies since 1800”, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 8:459–477, 2000. Another result of crusades to “save” children is the specific judicial system for minors; as explained by Anthony Platt in The Child Savers, under the pretext of “protecting” youth, this system remains harsh, while it deprives youth of all constitutional rights granted to adults facing trial.

Campaigns to “save” working-class children, in particular the one of the NCLC and Hine presenting child labourers as victims, were ideological. Many photographed children do not give themselves the appearance of victims, they are sometimes smiling (see the above two little cotton mill workers); anyway they look courageous.

One of the most famous photographs by Hine is the one of Addie Card, a girl spinner looking weary; this iconic photo appeared on a US postage stamp in 1998. I reproduce it from Wikipedia:

Lewis Hine - Addie Card (Aug. 1910)

Lewis Hine – Addie Card (Aug. 1910)

Hine commented: “Addie Card, 12 years. Anemic little spinner in North Pownal Cotton Mill. Vt. Girls in mill say she is ten years. She admitted to me she was twelve; that she started during school vacation and now would ‘stay.’ Location: North Pownal, Vermont, August 1910.

I deny Hine the medical qualification to diagnose the disease of anemia. However, the historian and freelance journalist Joe Manning has published on his website Mornings on Maple Street a magnificent Lewis Hine Project, which includes a fascinating search for the real life of Addie Card. I summarize here his findings.

Joe Manning - Gravestone of Addie Card (2005)

Joe Manning – Gravestone of Addie Card (2005)

Addie was born on December 6, 1897; she was thus 12-year-old when Hine photographed her. In 1915, she married fellow mill worker Edward Hatch, but later they divorced, and she married Ernest LaVigne six weeks after. In her lifetime, she had a great-great-grandchild. She died on July 19, 1993, at the venerable age of 95. She is buried in Cohoes, New York.

LaVigne family - Addie Card with great-great-grandchild Sierra, and great-granddaughters Piperlea and Kim

LaVigne family – Addie Card with great-great-grandchild Sierra, and great-granddaughters Piperlea and Kim

Not bad for an “anemic”! But what about her weariness in Hine’s photograph? Joe Manning and his friend Elizabeth Winthrop interviewed Piperlea and Cathleen LaVigne (see the 8th page of Manning’s search). As one can read in it, Addie suffered from psychological abuse on the part of her father:

Joe: Did she tell you anything about working in the mill as a child?
Piperlea: She told me about how hard it was working in the mill, that she had to quit school in the fourth grade to go to work, about her father disowning her, and how it was so awful not to have your parents’ love.
Cathleen: […] She told me that when she was 12, she had a nervous breakdown. She was confined to bed for almost a year.
Elizabeth: What did she mean by a nervous breakdown?
Piperlea: I remember her telling me that she had a lot of mental anguish from her father. He blamed Addie for her mother’s ultimate demise. He blamed it on the childbirth. He said it was her fault.
Elizabeth: The death record shows that she died of peritonitis, which is an infection in the abdominal cavity, sometimes caused by appendicitis.
Piperlea: But he threw the guilt on her. She told me, ‘My birth was the cause of my mother’s death, and her death was the cause of my father disowning me.’

Hine had looked at Addie with coloured glasses. It was not anemia, nor work, that made her sad and weary, but her own father.


Update (2015/08/14): I have found a Lewis Hine Photographs site containing over 5000 child labour pictures by Hine.

Alice: A Personal View

It was my intent after publishing the Graham Ovenden post to then move on to his other relevant work. However, while considering his book, Illustrators of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” (1972), I was urged to cover a much more comprehensive volume recently published, Illustrating Alice: An international selection of illustrated editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass published by Artists’ Choice Editions in 2013.

I wanted to call this post ‘The Definitive Alice’ but the book itself admonishes its readers from regarding it that way. It is a fair argument because, after all, it only covers illustration despite including a lot of discussion about the stories and their interpretation. And instead of trying to be thorough in covering all views, we get a wonderful spectrum of personal anecdotes and revelations from artists, collectors and other lovers of Alice lore including the more prominent members of Lewis Carroll societies around the world.

Given that a definitive book on Lewis Carroll’s two stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), would require a multi-volume encyclopedia, Illustrating Alice does remarkably well, bringing out many imaginative key points. The Alice stories (and their ethnic adaptations) have been published in over 100 languages and, in proportion to total word count, are more often quoted in published works than the plays of Shakespeare. Illustrating Alice has an interesting organization. First, some discussion of Alice in different countries is offered, then numerous living illustrators were asked to discuss their experiences and views. There is also some discussion of film adaptations. For serious Alice lovers, this book is an important reference and I offer a more detailed outline of the contents of the book at the end of this post.

With respect to offering fresh interpretations of Alice, it should be recognized how challenging it has been to see past Sir John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations in the original books and to fruitfully psychoanalyze Carroll’s original intent.

Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures Under Ground (1864)

Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (1864)

Sir John Tenniel - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)

Sir John Tenniel – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)

Due to copyright rules, new versions of Wonderland could not be produced by other publishers until 1907 (and Looking-Glass until 1946). In the U.K. there were already 30 new editions by the end of 1908. Millicent Sowerby had the distinction of being the first to have her illustrations published. Publishers would gradually compete to produce the most opulent editions. W.H. Walker was the first to include scenes not given in the original Tenniel and Harry Rountree had the record for the most color images published, 92. Two of the most popular editions were by Raphael Tuck: one based on early Mabel Lucie Attwell work in 1910 and then a more innovative approach in 1921 based on the work of A.L. Bowley giving us the first examples of pop-ups and a panorama scene with slots to place each of the supplied cut-out characters.

Arthur Rackham - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Arthur Rackham – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

During World War II, there was a dearth of publishing because of paper rationing. One notable exception was the work of Mervyn Peake. He produced illustrations for both Alice books which were first published in Sweden in 1946, then in the U.K. in 1954. His images, considered among the best by many experts, were modeled after a neighbor girl named Caroline Lucas who, he believed, had just the right qualities. The high regard for his work is exemplified by a quote from Graham Greene, “You are the first person who has been able to illustrate the book since Tenniel.” This is even more remarkable when one considers that Greene was generally opposed to the idea of illustrating great literature at all. The work has since appeared in many editions while the original art deteriorated from neglect.

Libanus Press was later commissioned by Bloomsbury Publishing to take up the challenge of scanning the original drawings and putting in about 240 hours of computer work to restore them. The results were published in 2001 and shortly thereafter Libanus published them with the title Peake’s Alice in actual size each accompanied by an appropriate quote. One of the first artists to break through the Tenniel paradigm was Ralph Steadman in 1967, with a freer and highly political take on the story. In the 1970s, Alice became a kind of poster child for the Ruralists, symbolizing an appeal to nature. The most notable of those were by Peter Blake and Graham Ovenden—the Ovenden works being bound into a volume with only 10 copies in existence. This incredible range of production is indicative of the fact that illustration seems to be the last art form that can be produced without need of government grants or powerful patronage.

Mervyn Peake - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1946)

Mervyn Peake – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1946)

In the early days in France only the images of Tenniel and Arthur Rackham were seen. In 1930, the first native illustrator, Marie Laurencin, was published in a limited edition (790) with six colored lithographs. As Alice was assimilated into other cultures, her character would change. Henry Morin (1935) drew an Alice who seemed ill at ease while André Pécoud (1935) portrayed a more mischievous Alice who took delight in her adventures. Nicole Claveloux’s (1974) work is considered a watershed of modern French illustration offering a non-conformist Alice and a special affinity for the animal characters in the story. Her plate with the flamingos became so iconic that it was the basis of a postage stamp in Czechoslovakia. Jean-Claude Silbermann (2002) gives a highly surreal interpretation while Pat Andrea (2006), a noted artist of erotic women, necessarily makes Alice a young woman.

Marie Laurencin - Alice in Wonderland (1930)

Marie Laurencin – Alice in Wonderland (1930)

The first Alice stories in Italy were adapted by Teodorico Pietrocòla-Rossetti—nephew of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and a friend of Carroll—in 1872. This edition was not well-received. The first book featuring an Italian illustrator, Riccardo Salvadori, came out in 1913. Because there was not an established culture of children’s literature in Italy yet, Salvadori’s work, imitating that of Arthur Rackham, meant that this genre was strongly influenced by the Anglo-Saxon imagination. In 1938, under fascism, Carroll’s Alice books were banned. Any publisher wishing to publish had to follow certain guidelines. Perhaps the most famous version was illustrated by Enrico Mercatali (1938) who introduced an older dark-haired girl consistent with the appearance of local girls. In the 1950s, the blond Alice reappeared, partly as a backlash to fascist rules and partly because of the popularity of Disney’s animated film in 1951. In the 1970s, Gianni Celati (1978) used Alice as a symbol of counter-culture and Antonio D’Agostini (c1975) gave a psychedelic interpretation which fits well with Carroll’s fantastical imagery.

Enrico Mercatali - (Exact title unknown) (1938)

Enrico Mercatali – (Exact title unknown) (1938)

During the publishing of the Alice stories, the United States was generally regarded as an ugly stepchild of Britain and something of a rogue nation when it came to respecting copyright. A print run regarded as unsatisfactory by Carroll was sent to the U.S. in 1865. At least half a dozen companies sold pirated editions between 1892 and 1907 before the official expiration of copyright. They all used the Tenniel illustrations but would hire an illustrator for the cover and maybe a frontispiece. Interestingly, the Thomas Crowell edition in 1893 included the first instance of an Alice in a blue frock which became established as her signature color; all images and merchandise approved by Carroll had required the girl to be in a corn-yellow dress. A few publishers did use original work by American illustrators. Blanche McManus was distinguished as the first in 1899 for her husband’s company and Peter Newell in 1901, whose characters display an amusing array of facial expressions and interactions. M.L. Kirk’s rendition in 1904 is somewhat conventional but uses the correct color for Alice’s dress.

After the copyright expired, the floodgates opened and a number of notable American illustrators had their work published including Bessie Pease Gutmann (1907), a single illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith (1923) and Willy Pogány (1929). Walt Disney was obsessed with the story of Alice for a long time, experimenting with various treatments and designs until finally producing the somewhat unsatisfactory film in 1951. The film’s popularity had a stifling effect on innovation in the following decades. David Hall’s paintings and drawings for Disney in the 1930s did finally see the light of day in 1986 and Mary Blair’s concept art for the original film was the basis for a 2008 book.

Perhaps the first satisfactory book after this stagnant period was published in 1982, illustrated by Barry Moser and intended for adult readers. He may have been a bit gun shy of portraying the now iconic Alice and she appears only in the first and last pages as though the reader were observing things from her point of view. A number of prolific and imaginative artists have worked on Alice since then and are really too numerous to name here. An interesting historical note is that the first comic book, a distinctly American art form, was published in 1929 by George Delacorte whose fortune was later used to fund the statue in Central Park. To date, the only edition to be illustrated by a Canadian, George Walker, was produced in 1988 and may also have the distinction of being the last to be set by hand.

Bessie Pease Gutmann - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Bessie Pease Gutmann – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Camille Rose Garcia - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (2010)

Camille Rose Garcia – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2010)

U.S. fans and collectors of Lewis Carroll paraphernalia contributed substantially to the scholarship and preservation of the author’s work. Lessing J. Rosenwald donated a handwritten and self-illustrated manuscript of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures under Ground to the Library of the British Museum in 1948 which can now be viewed in its entirety online.  A copy of ‘The Wasp in a Wig’, a lost chapter to Looking-Glass, was discovered and published in 1972 and Morton Cohen’s biographical research on Carroll is considered to be definitive.

Alice was first introduced to Brazil by Monterio Lobato in the early 1930s using original illustrators (Tenniel and Bowley). He started with an illustration of a fantasy world including Wonderland, Neverland etc. and one from his own stories which translates as “Yellow Woodpecker Ranch”. A number of artists have used collages made from everyday materials to add cultural texture to their work. An example is Helena de Barros (Helenbar) who sewed her own dress and incorporated herself in her images.

Helenbar - A Quadrilha da Lagosta (c2003)

Helenbar – A Quadrilha da Lagosta (c2003)

The popularity of Alice in Japan cannot be understated. In fact, the Alice books and associated merchandise are now so popular that it could be said to be an industry in and of itself. The first Japanese illustrator was Shotaro Kawabata (1908). Kawabata imitated Tenniel somewhat but substituted Japanese everyday articles for Europeans ones. Often these treatments were introduced in magazine form rather than stand-alone books. The benefit seems to be that new artists, both writers and illustrators, have an easier way to become established and recognized.

Tsubakibana “Chinka” Yoshimura (1911) was probably the first to illustrate Alice using strictly Japanese patterns, techniques and composition principles. The early portrayal of Alice had a curious character. Because, in Japanese culture, girls have no real transition from childhood to adulthood, girls were portrayed as very young or very mature. Girl children were expected to act very dependent until a certain age and then suddenly expected to be responsible. The idea of a transitional coming-of-age girl was new and explored seriously only in post-war interpretations. Takashi Saida (1925) was perhaps the first to create a middle class Alice with the right balance of sophistication and uncertainty seen in the English versions. In the 1930s, the rising tide of nationalism and militarism influenced the expression in children’s books and there was a decline in sweet and innocent portrayals until after the war when all constraints on style and interpretation were obliterated. The first expression of Alice as a nymphet was in 1974 by Kuniyoshi Kaneko and many have carried on this theme, exploring Alice’s emerging sexuality.

Takashi Saida - ふしぎなお庭:まりちゃんの夢の国旅行 (1925)

Takashi Saida – ふしぎなお庭:まりちゃんの夢の国旅行 (1925)

Mainland China had a strange ordinance in 1930 which banned Alice on the silly notion that because the animals talked, it put them on the same level as human beings. Also mentioned in the text is the mystery of a strange edition produced in a short run in Inner Mongolia that seems to defy Chinese convention. Writers and artists are not usually credited in Chinese Communist publications. However, this adaptation not only gives this Taiwanese illustrator credit, but seems to be observing a more international form of copyright law.

Shi Huimin - 爱丽丝梦遊奇境 (c2000)

Shi Huimin – 爱丽丝梦遊奇境 (c2000)

In 1879, the first translation of Alice into Russian appeared featuring the art of Tenniel. There was a great deal of enthusiasm for this new literature and a number of editions were produced before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Under Soviet domination and particularly under Stalin, artists were regarded as engineers of utopian society rather than challengers of societal norms. Carroll’s works were banned outright simply because they emphasized fantasy and nonsense rather than serving a moral purpose—expressing Socialist Realism. Artistic institutions were integrated as government unions so no rogue artist could ever hope to get a commission or be published without state sanction. The principles of Soviet Communism continued to have a hold on the artistic process even after Stalin’s death.

There seemed always to be an attempt to bring a kind of order to chaos, either literally as in Aleksandr Dodon’s (2001) framing of the text with his illustrations or in some metaphorical way, making Alice the arbiter of morality in Wonderland and the Looking-Glass worlds. The fact that both stories take place in a template of game playing (cards and chess) gave Russian artists the comfort of structure and the application of rules. Julia Gukova’s illustrations break through this convention by making Alice more an integral part of Wonderland, undermining her ability to pass judgment on these dream worlds. The Russian truism that there is no absolute truth in narrative is perhaps the unifying theme of work in the region.

V.S. Alfeevsky - Алисa в Стране Чудес (1958)

V.S. Alfeevsky – Алисa в Стране Чудес (1958)

Aleksandr Dodon - Приключения Алисы в Стране Чудес (2001)

Aleksandr Dodon – Приключения Алисы в Стране Чудес (2001)

The first translation of Wonderland into Polish was in 1910 which included images by Tenniel mixed with an anonymous artist. The effect was confusing since the artist made no effort to match Tenniel’s design or style. It had only one edition and was quickly forgotten. Two later translations/illustrations that did have a lasting impact were by Kamil Mackiewicz (1927) and Olga Siemaszko (1955). As a caricaturist, Mackiewicz’s illustrations predictably exaggerated distinguishing traits of its characters.

A 1955 version was written by Antoni Marianowicz adhering to Communist cultural policy; any reference to class distinctions had to be toned down or reinterpreted. The particular genius of this work is that the English cultural references and poems were replaced outright by Polish ones that readers could relate to. And since Marianowicz was a humorist, this version was certainly more humorous than the original. Siemaszko also illustrated a 1969 version and there is a noticeable refinement in her technique. Most later Polish editions used mostly foreign illustrators and so there appears to be no distinctive Polish style. Only after the fall of Communism did native artists start to come to the fore. Ironically, some of the most recent editions again make use of the Tenniel drawings and so the younger generation is likely to have the same visual associations with the Alice books as their grandparents.

Olga Siemaszko - Alicja w Krainie Czarów (1955)

Olga Siemaszko – Alicja w Krainie Czarów (1955)

After discussing illustrations, the book covers film treatments of Alice. The most interesting is an essay by Jan Švankmajer who describes his relationship to Alice and how, in combination with his own childhood, it inspired the production of an independent film. His first foray into Carroll’s world was a 1971 film based on the poem Jabberwocky. He describes it as an imaginative history of his childhood up to the point when he rebelled against his father. The film opens with a child’s voice (his own daughter, Veronika, then aged 9 in the Czech version) quoting from Looking-Glass. Because the censors saw the film as containing political allegories, it was banned in Czecholslovakia and he made an English version in 1973 which traveled the globe. Only in 1989, was the original film finally seen in his home country.

Another film, inspired somewhat by Alice, was Down in the Cellar (Do pivnice, 1983) about a girl sent to the cellar to fetch potatoes and what happens to her there. Although the film was completed, it did not see the light of day for a number of years due again to censorship. Švankmajer emphasizes the importance of the dream imagery in our human development, a trait that has been long neglected because it served “no moral purpose”.

Finally, he decided to attempt Alice (Něco z Alenky ,1988). The filmmaker wanted to emphasize dream imagery but reminds us that dreams are also filled with familiar objects. All the voices, appropriately altered, would be done by the same child actress consistent with the theory that we are all the characters in our dreams. The idea is that Alice is the only live person in the film and there are no intrusions of adults in voice or body. The other characters were constructed from everyday objects from Alice’s world. The Czech studios took no interest in his work, so he got financing from foreign companies and enlisted the support of art institutions to give his work credibility. The filming was done using old discarded cameras and editing equipment and in 1986, the first Czech independent film saw the light of day. Then in 2006, a Japanese publisher asked him to illustrate both Alice books and he leapt at the chance.

“Lewis Carroll’s Alice is one of the basic books of this civilization, one of those we should take with us to a desert island, just in order to survive.” –Jan Švankmajer (2011, translated by David Short)

Jan Švankmajer - Alice (1988)

Jan Švankmajer – Alice (1988)

Another essay discusses how Alice lends itself so well to animation. Considering the fantastical nature of the stories, it seems that only this medium would have any hope of effectively portraying these magical worlds. Kamilla Elliott, in her book Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate (2003), has identified over 50 film and television adaptations. As mentioned before, Walt Disney was obsessed with producing Alice very early on and in the 1920s, he experimented with a combination of live action and animation for Alice in Cartoonland. The 1951 film distinguishes itself by featuring an actual child’s voice—that of Kathryn Beaumont who also did Wendy in Peter Pan—as opposed to young women used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty.

A number of living artists shared their experiences illustrating Alice and the philosophy behind their approach. Michael Foreman, for example, noticed how few illustrators tried to make Alice look like the original Alice (Liddell). He also made a deliberate effort to distinguish reality (sepia) from dream (color) and insists that the real background for Wonderland must be his native Cornwall. Barry Moser muses how the story is really about loneliness because of how often the words “alone” and “lonely” appear in the text. John Vernon Lord is a stickler and points out that in the actual text, “Mad” is not applied to any particular character but rather all characters in general. Over the years, we have inherited certain assumptions because of past illustrators: the Hatter is mad, the Hatter wears a hat with a price tag on it and that, at the Mad Tea Party, things other than tea are served. Tatiana Ianovskaia observes a lightly etched eroticism implied by the various metaphors of two things being one: most notably, how playing cards are a kind of marriage of two bodies sharing one space. The other artists featured were John Bradley, Chiara Carrer, Emma Chichester Clark, Gavin O’Keefe, DeLoss McGraw, Helen Oxenbury, Ralph Steadman and Justin Todd.

Tatiana Ianovskaia - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (2005)

Tatiana Ianovskaia – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (2005)

A short afterword, written by Graham Ovenden, comments on the modern estrangement between adults and children and that we are often deprived of the full potential of illustrators’ talent and imagination because of economic considerations.

Some of the contributors have observed some developments in the evolution of children’s books. First of all, they feel that there is a lack of charming little details. There is an assumption that children’s books should have simple illustrations. There also seems to be no adult market for illustrated books except in France and Russia. And one final observation is that with the onset of the digital age, Illustrating Alice may distinguish itself as the last time we see this kind of compilation in hard copy.

This post is quite timely as this year is the sesquicentennial anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Illustrating Alice was published in a run of 500 for the Standard edition (68 for the Special edition which comes with signed prints) and can be purchased through the Inky Parrot Press. This publisher also sells other Alice volumes including a version where each illustration is from a different artist. For those wanting a more comprehensive analysis of the Alice texts and history should read one the editions referred to as The Annotated Alice.

Illustrating Alice summary of contents:

  • Foreword by Marina Vaizey
  • Alice in different countries: Brazil by Adriana Peliano, China by Richard Newnham, England, 1865–1939 by Selwyn Goodacre, England, 1940 to today by Dennis Hall, France by Michèle Noret, Italy by Caterina Morelli, Japan by Mikiko Chimori, Poland by Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, Russia by Ella Parry-Davies, United States and Canada by Mark Burnstein
  • Alice in Film: ‘Alice’ by Jan Švankmajer, ‘Animating Alice’ by Karen Lury
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (artists credited above)
  • Alice Through the Looking-Glass (collected illustrations only, organized by chapter
  • Alice: as through a Glass Darkly (afterword) by Graham Ovenden
  • Alphabetical Checklist of English Language Editions from the lists compiled by Selwyn Goodacre and Edward Wakeling
  • Index of Artists of non-English Language Editions and individual paintings

The Girl as Angel of Death: Ana Torrent, Pt. 2 (Cría cuervos)

Despite being wildly popular in her debut film, The Spirit of the Beehive, Ana Torrent was never meant to act again.  Her father, who was bothered by the turmoil wrought in Ana’s life by the process of filming as well as its aftermath, forbade her to appear in another film.  But Fate had other plans.  As it so happened, noted Spanish director Carlos Saura had seen the earlier movie and decided he had to have her for his next project, Cría cuervos.  Saura created the film as a vehicle specifically for Ana Torrent, and he informed the girl’s father that if Ana couldn’t be in his film, it simply would not be made at all.  Talk about persuasion!  At that point Saura was internationally famous, having ten full-length feature films to his credit, including what was his most significant one up to that date, Peppermint FrappéWith that kind of clout, it was apparently an offer Mr. Torrent couldn’t refuse.  Whatever the case, Saura won the day and Ana Torrent performed in the second of what would become a lifetime’s worth of movies and television episodes thereafter.  (Note: her third film would be another Saura project, Elisa, vida mía, though this time in a supporting role.)

At any rate, it is easy to understand why Saura was so impressed with little Ana, and why he wanted her for his movie.  For one thing, Torrent would spend much of her time in both films interacting with the young costars who play her siblings.  For another, both films are really political allegories masked as family dramas, and both are ultimately critical of the Franco regime, so viewers who saw The Spirit of the Beehive would’ve already had those associations in their minds when they first saw Cría cuervos.  With her debut film, Torrent had already become a mascot for anti-Francoist sentiment, and Saura merely extended that concept.  Finally, both films artfully extract the deep tenderness of the little girl’s strikingly large peepers.  There is little question that Torrent was ideal for this role.

With that in mind, we begin our analysis of the film.  Our story takes place in Madrid, Spain, modern times (mid-1970s, when the film was made).  The first shots in Cría cuervos are of pages from a family album, beginning first with images of Ana (Ana Torrent), the middle daughter of three and the main protagonist of the film, who is looking through the album in question.  These photos are interesting in that some are clearly real family snapshots of Torrent, since she is much younger in them than the character she is playing, which means they must’ve been on loan to Saura from Torrent’s parents.  Note the bathing costumes, which are topless—quintessentially European, no?

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (1)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (1)

The next few pages of the album expands our cast to include Ana’s sisters, Irene (Conchi Pérez) and Maite (Maite Sánchez).  Family photographs like these are symbolically important to the film and will be seen several times throughout.  Photos can be understood as memory placeholders, with memories being a central theme in Cría cuervos. It is relevant that Saura began his career as a photographer before he became a filmmaker, so he understands the language of still photography, which lends this photo album a realism that doesn’t feel forced or fake.  In this case, where sisters are seen together, these photos would’ve been taken by Saura.  I like that some are black & white and some are in color.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (2)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (2)

The next page reveals photos of her parents’ courtship.  We also see a photo of Anselmo in his military uniform—he is an officer in the Franco military regime.

When we first meet Ana herself, she is descending a staircase in the dark of night, having caught the sounds of two people whispering to each other in the downstairs master bedroom.  It is her father, Anselmo, and his lover, Amelia.  Semiotically we may read this as a child’s descent into the sordid world of adults.  Ana stands in the darkness, dressed in white, a classic symbol of innocence and purity threatened by the moral corruption all around her.  As she quietly waits, she hears her father gasping for breath, and then silence.  What is going on here?

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (3)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (3)

A beautiful young woman—Amelia—suddenly flees from the master bedroom in haste, heading out of the house and into the street.  Ana immediately enters her father’s bedroom, only to find him lying dead in his own bed.  Now we know why his mistress booked it out of there.  Did she kill him?  In contrast, Ana seems mysteriously unaffected by her dad’s death.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (4)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (4)

Upon confirming that he is dead, Ana scans the room until she locates a mostly empty glass of milk.  This she takes to the kitchen, washing it and carefully putting it away, Ana proceeds to the refrigerator to fetch lettuce for her pet guinea pig. If you look carefully at the bottom of the fridge, you will note a plate of raw chicken feet.  We will see these again.  The chicken feet are, in fact, an allusion to the film’s title, which translates to Raise Ravens.  The title itself comes from an old Spanish proverb: Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos (Raise ravens, and they’ll take out your eyes).  The proverb is believed to have been started by Álvaro de Luna, Duke of Trujillo, in the 15th century.  The story goes that de Luna was hunting in the forest one day when he happened upon a blind beggar with scarred eyes.  The beggar remarked that he had affectionately raised a raven for three years, only to have it attack him one day and leave him blind, to which Don Álvaro responded with the now famous line.  Although it is not yet apparent, the meaning of this proverb in application to the film will be obvious soon enough.

Ana’s mother appears for the first time in this scene as well.  There is clearly great love and affection between Maria (Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of silent film star Charlie Chaplin and a frequent collaborator with Saura) and her daughter.  It is nice to see Torrent smile, something she doesn’t do much of in her earlier film.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (5)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (5)

Ana takes lettuce to her pet guinea pig, Roni, whom she adores.  Roni and the family maid, Rosa, are really her only true friends.  Although the sisters do love each other, Irene is too preoccupied with boys and her own life to pay much attention to Ana, and Maite is too young to understand her.

Next we see all the girls in the bathroom, along with Rosa, getting ready to attend their father’s funeral.  One thing you’ll notice about European family dramas is that there is almost always a bathroom scene, usually with one or more children being bathed, and these scenes generally do not shy away from nudity.  Although none of the children are bathing this time, later we will see Maite being bathed while the other two girls hang out in the bathroom.  American films, by contrast, rarely feature such scenes, or if they do, they tend to be quick and there is almost never any nudity.  And you certainly wouldn’t see the entire family hanging out in the bathroom while one of the children is bathing.  Why the huge difference?  For one thing, Europeans generally are much more laid back about nudity.  It is accepted as a part of life and not necessarily viewed sexually.  Whereas Americans seem to have trouble dissociating nudity from sex, even when it is a child’s body that is nude.  There is something oddly violent and barbaric about this notion that we cannot help but impose sexuality onto the nude body.  It is not unlike how certain Islamic cultures insist on making females cover up.  Anyway, these scenes are often communal and intimate in nature, signifying the closeness of the family.

Ana’s mother suddenly appears in this scene, combing her daughter’s hair and being playfully affectionate.  Isn’t it curious that neither of the other children seems to notice she’s there?  In fact, as we soon learn, this is all in Ana’s head, as was the earlier appearance of Maria.  You see, Ana’s mother is dead, having passed away at some unspecified point not too long ago.  Ana has visions of her mother frequently.  She also begins to have visions of her father, though these are of an entirely different nature, far less romanticized.  With the death of their father, the girls are now orphans, but they remain in their home, with their mother’s sister, their aunt Paulina, now raising them.

Thus, like her character in The Spirit of the Beehive, Ana is another starry-eyed dreamer.  It now becomes evident that Cría cuervos is more than just the spiritual successor to Erice’s film.  There are far too many similarities.  One can almost think of it as a sequel, with the Ana from Beehive growing up to become the mother of this Ana, and the sibling from Beehive now raising her sister’s girls.  Do you recall how I pointed out that Isabel would do well under Franco?  Paulina is obviously very similar to Isabel—there is something of the cruel fascist in her, as we will soon see.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (6)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (6)

At their father’s funeral, each of the girls is asked by Paulina to kiss their father and pray for his soul, which both Irene and Maite do dutifully, but Ana refuses, arousing her aunt’s contempt.  It has been said that Saura predicted the death of Franco with this film, as he died not long after the film was released.  In that case, Ana is yet again a political allegory, a symbol of the growing resistance and antipathy toward the aging dictator.  The disobedient Ana hides behind her grandmother, who is feeble and voiceless and can’t really protect her, but it’s comforting to Ana nonetheless.  Amelia, whom Ana understandably dislikes, also shows up at the funeral.  Ana tries to hide from her.  On the political level, Amelia is Franco’s dark side, his dirty secret, which isn’t really a secret because Ana (representing Saura) knows about it, even if she never speaks of it.

While the children are playing in a small park near their townhouse, Ana has a strange vision of herself standing on the roof of a nearby building.  Is she a bird up there?  A raven perhaps?  She imagines herself leaping from the building, flying around above their heads and looking down from the sky.  This child will never be accused of lacking an imagination!  But the scene reminds us that Ana is an unreliable narrator.  Not everything she sees can be believed.

Ana sneaks off into a storage cellar near her house in search of a can of baking soda, which she has mysteriously hidden here.  We learn that Ana’s mother once told her that this can of baking soda was a powerful poison as a way to motivate Ana to dispose of it.  This is exactly the kind of white lie parents use all the time to manipulate their children’s behavior.  Little did she know that Ana would keep it around for her own purposes.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (7)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (7)

This scene cuts away to Ana as an adult (also played by Geraldine Chaplin).  She is a narrator who breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the camera, saying, “Why did I want to kill my father? I’ve asked myself that question hundreds of times, and all the answers I can think of now, with twenty years hindsight, are too simple. They don’t convince me. The only thing I remember very clearly is that at the time I was convinced my father was responsible for all the sadness that embittered the last years of my mother’s life.”

And now Ana’s apathetic reaction to her father’s death, and her unwillingness to kiss his corpse, makes perfect sense, as does the glass of milk she carried from his room and washed.  Ana believes she got away with murder.  Of course, baking soda is hardly poisonous, but Ana doesn’t know that.  Her father’s death is purely coincidental.

More photographs appear in the next scene, this time of Ana’s mother as a child; in one of them she’s dressed in a bizarre low-cut swimsuit.  It is revealed in this sequence that Ana’s mom was a highly proficient piano player, as was Carlos Saura’s mother.  Many of the elements of this film are autobiographical, in fact, but piano playing mothers resurface again and again in Saura’s films.  Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Saura filmography will know that music plays an important part in almost all of them.  So to this one, in the form of a song that Ana likes to sing along to, which we will discuss in a bit.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (8)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (8)

When we see the three girls next, they are eating dinner with their aunt.  Paulina lectures the girls about their bad eating habits and informs them that she will not have them behaving improperly, which is almost amusing in light of Ana’s murderous impulses.  Ana continues to resist her aunt’s control, back-talking her in this scene.

We cut to a scene of Ana helping Rosa clean.  Men are pigs who only want one thing, Rosa informs Ana.  She tells Ana that her father was a philandering horndog and had even
come on to her, which sets Ana’s imagination rolling.  She sees her father come in and flirt with Rosa, but the maid encourages it rather than resisting him as she claimed she had.

This transitions into a scene of Irene and Maite discussing Irene’s fascination with the boy who lives across the street.  Irene apparently sent him a love note, but he has not yet replied.  Irene is already boy crazy.  She even points out how handsome her father’s soldier friend (Nicholas, who is waiting downstairs) is while they all cut out images from magazines for Irene’s scrapbook.  Meanwhile, Ana listens to her favorite song, Porque te vas sung by Jeanette.  It’s a sad tune about missing someone who has gone away, a concept Ana is clearly familiar with.  Ana’s mother’s death continues to haunt her.  Though largely unheard of until this film came out, the song became a hit throughout Europe thanks to Cría cuervos.

The children then decide to dance to this song.  This scene was not choreographed.  Saura told the children to dance however they liked, which they did.  They pair off in traditional couples, starting with Irene and Maite, then Ana and Irene, and finally Ana and Maite.  The giggling girls obviously enjoyed this scene immensely.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (9)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (9)

While their aunt is away, the children get into her makeup and clothes, playing dress-up.  They then concoct a little play that mimics the adults in their family, with Irene portraying their father Anselmo, Ana playing their mother (who else?) and Maite taking on the part of the maid, Rosa.  The scene they recount is one they are all no doubt very familiar with: Anselmo returns home late in the evening, much to Maria’s consternation.  An argument ensues, and Anselmo accuses Maria of making his life miserable with her whining.  Maria accuses him of being what he is: a philanderer.  When their aunt returns, she is irritated but also somewhat amused.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (10)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (10)

Next we have the bath scene, which is almost de rigueur for European films of this type.  Maite gets a bath while the other two girls wash the makeup off their faces and watch their aunt bathe their sister.  When Maite jumps right back out after being put in because the water is too hot, Paulina struggles to get her to go back in and stay in, much to Irene’s amusement. This was clearly not planned, and Maite’s complaints indicate the water really was a bit too hot for the little actress.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (11)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (11)

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (12)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (12)

Then we see the narrator again, the adult Ana.  She says, “I can’t understand people who say that childhood is the happiest time of one’s life.  It certainly wasn’t for me.  Maybe that’s why I don’t believe in a childlike paradise or that children are innocent or good by nature.  I remember my childhood as an interminably long and sad time filled with fear. Fear of the unknown.  There are things I can’t forget.  It’s unbelievable how powerful memories can be.”

Saura’s take on children is a sensitive and generous one.  It’s one of the things I think distinguishes good childhood dramas from bad ones.  European filmmakers tend to do these better than anyone, and I do not think this is coincidental.  They do not whitewash childhood or force it to conform to some comfortable, idealized shape the way Hollywood often does.  Because of that, it is evident that European audiences have a better understanding of childhood than Americans do.  Consequently, I believe that, on the whole, they tend to be more tolerant and sensitive parents than Americans, who often size their children up against Hollywood’s idealized version, which real kids will inevitably fall short of, disappointing their parents.

Anyway, it is subsequently revealed that Ana’s mom was sent home from the hospital to die, since there was nothing more they could do for her there.  She has cancer.  Ana, who is the only one of the girls there (along with Rosa), finds her mother in agony, half out of her head. This is, of course, another scene from Ana’s memory.  Ana can’t stand to hear her mother’s cries of pain so she covers her ears, only to wake from her daydream afterward.  Later, she has another late night encounter with her mother’s memory.  She asks if she can stay with Mama, who replies, “Do you know what time it is? It’s very late.” Late here has a double meaning, referring both to the time of day and to death (as in, the late, great so-and-so . . .)  But it has an additional meaning as well: it is too late for Ana to save her mother, which Ana, being a child, feels somewhat guilty for, as if she had any power to stop terminal cancer!  Ana asks her mother, “Why don’t you play that song I like so much?”  Notice the photo hanging on the wall, directly between mother and child.  In the photo the positions of the figures are reversed in relation to the film characters—Maria was once a child, and Ana will someday be a mother.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (13)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (13)

Ana then gives her mother a kiss before heading off to bed.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (14)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (14)

This leads to another memory: when Anselmo comes in late, Maria discovers he had fun that evening without her.  Meanwhile, she is suffering and wishes to die.  It is easy to understand how Ana concluded that her father’s shenanigans are what killed Maria.  Anselmo doesn’t believe her when she tells him she is ill—he negates her at every turn and treats her like a child, even as he claims to love her.  A nice metaphor for fascism.

After a dream about her mother, Ana wakes in tears, calling out, “Mama! Mama!” in one of the most poignant scenes in the film.  When Aunt Paulina shows up to comfort Ana, the little girl informs her aunt that she wants to die too.  When her aunt begins to tell her a story that her mother used to tell her—Little Almond—Ana then tells her aunt she wishes she would die as well for daring to try to replace her mother.  Ana is obsessed with death, and no wonder, having lost both parents at such a young age.  She dwells on death far more than she should, and her feelings about it are mixed and complex.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (15)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (15)

This leads into a scene of Ana playing in an empty, abandoned swimming pool in the park.  Ana the adult narrator points out here that: “Not all of my memories of that period are sad.  Among my fondest memories, few can compare to that weekend.  I can’t really think why that particular trip remained vivid in my mind.  I don’t know, but I felt free, new, different.”

The trip to which she is referring is one where Paulina takes the girls to visit family friends Nicholas and Amelia (the latter being her father’s illicit lover, of course) in the country.   When they arrive, Paulina and the girls are greeted by Nicholas and Amelia in front of their huge country estate.  Ana is used to cramped city life—little wonder that she remembers this weekend so vividly.  Outside, on their own, the girls decide to play hide-and-seek.  Ana counts down while Irene and Maite hide.  The rules here are slightly different than traditional hide-and-seek—when Ana finds Maite hiding behind a tree, she insists that Maite must lie down and play dead.  The same goes for Irene when Ana finds her.  This is a continuation of Ana’s obsession with death.  Ana then kneels and prays to her guardian angel, asking that the angel not leave her alone and bring her sisters back to life.  A strange ritual added to the original game.  If only it were that easy to raise people from the dead . . .

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (16)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (16)

When the adults decide to take a walk outside, Ana imagines both her mother and father among them.  Maria strolls with her sister while Anselmo naturally walks alongside Amelia.  Mother tells Ana to go find her father, and when she does, she finds him making out with Amelia in some nearby woods.

Back home, Ana chides her baby doll for peeing her pants, then pretends to breastfeed it while Rosa works nearby.  Ana has quite the interesting conversation with Rosa here.  She asks about Rosa’s own children, and Rosa shows her how to properly hold a baby to burp it.  Rosa points out that Ana’s father was angry when she was born, because God had cursed him with another girl.  (Maite will, of course, make a third when she comes along.)  She also says that forceps were needed to pull Ana out of her mother’s womb, causing dents in her head.  Rosa also claims she had to nurse Ana because her mother was too weak, though with a bottle, not her breast.  Strangely, Ana pesters Rosa to show her her breasts, which she refuses at first, but finally she flashes them.  It is unclear whether this actually occurs or takes place in Ana’s head.  “They’re so big,” Ana whispers in awe.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (17)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (17)

In the next scene, Ana helps her grandmother look at the wall of photos.  At this point Ana has developed a keen interest in her grandma’s history, pointing to certain photos and asking about them.  When Ana begins to recount a story about a hotel in one of the photos, linking it with her grandmother’s honeymoon, Grandma begins to feel uncomfortable.  It brings up too many memories for her, and she becomes depressed.  Ana asks the old woman if she’d like to die, to which the woman nods in ascent.  Ana
has a solution, saying she has a poison she can give her.  Grandmother seems willing at first, but when she realizes the poison is merely baking soda, she changes her mind,
genuinely disappointed.

It is peculiar to think of Ana as an Angel of Death, but it demonstrates that her interest in poisoning people isn’t all selfish.  In the course of the film, Ana has wished for or offered death to nearly everyone in her family, including herself.  Is it perhaps that she believes they will all be reunited in the afterlife?  At any rate, it is clear that she doesn’t fully comprehend what death is.  She only knows that it takes people away, and she does not see it as evil in itself.  After all, she loves her grandmother and only wants to help her.  Perhaps she is flirting with the idea of suicide, verifying through her grandmother that it is an acceptable way to end one’s pain and sadness.  She is not a terribly happy girl, and the fact that it has even occurred to her that death might be a solution to one’s problems is the greatest tragedy of all here.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (18)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (18)

Her obsession with death will only be amplified when she returns to her room and finds her guinea pig dying.  She comforts him as he passes away.  And, of course, she buries him in a shoe box in her yard, saying the Lord’s Prayer over the casket.  Maite comes
out to watch, and she is confused about death, asking Irene what happens when people die.  Irene says, “I don’t know, they just die.”  Ana smears mud on her face, perhaps to be
closer to Roni—they are sharing this sacred earth.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (19)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (19)

Later Rosa and the girls decide to clean Anselmo’s office.  “What did daddy do during the war?” inquires Irene.  Rosa isn’t sure.  He fought alongside the Nazis in Russia, she states.  Meanwhile, Ana finds the pistol her father promised would be hers one day.  Rosa orders her to put it back, but Ana says, “It’s mine!”  Ana refuses to give it up, so Rosa tells her to ask her aunt about it.  Ana promptly marches into the parlor and points the pistol at Aunt Paulina and Nicholas, who are being intimate on the couch.  Earlier Nicholas had confessed to Paulina that his marriage was a sham and that it was Paulina he really loved.  This looks like a disaster waiting to happen, and it nearly is.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (20)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (20)

“Ana, why do you want a gun? Guns are for boys,” Nicholas tells her.  Her father gave it to her, she informs him.  Nicholas identifies the gun as a Luger Parabellum .38, a gun commonly carried by Nazi officers.  When he asks to see it, revealing it’s loaded, Paulina slaps Ana in the face out of fear.  The slap is real, and so are the tears that follow.  Poor Ana Torrent.  Does she remember this scene, I wonder?

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (21)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (21)

Back in her room, Ana again listens to her favorite song, mouthing the words along with it and primping.  “Turn that music down,” she says, mimicking her aunt.  “I hope she dies,” she adds, the second time she has willed death on her aunt.  This gives her the idea of poisoning Paulina.  She mixes up some of her false poison concoction, giving it to her aunt.  Of course, it doesn’t kill her.  Paulina reveals her own weakness and insecurity here, breaking down when Ana asks to leave while she is trying to tell Ana that she’s doing her best to fill her mother’s shoes, something Ana doesn’t really want.  Ana later finds her aunt napping, believing her dead.  She is proud of herself as she washes the glass and puts it away.

When Ana opens the fridge, the camera pans in on the raw chicken legs for the third and final time, and the message is clear: raise ravens, and they will scratch out your eyes.  Ana, the potential cunning murderer and death obsessive, is a product of her environment: a father who wanted sons, not daughters, and treated her mother horribly even as she lay dying, ignoring her pleas and dallying as he would.  The political message is echoed herein: a government that treats its citizens badly should not be surprised when those citizens reject its principles or rebel against them outright.

Ana, satisfied with what she believes was a well-orchestrated murder, goes to bed happily for once.  The next morning, she is surprised and gravely disappointed to find her aunt very much alive.  Her misery is not over, it seems.  Poor Ana.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (22)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (22)

The final scene is of the three girls walking down the streets of Madrid, headed to school as the camera slowly pulls back and pans across the city.  Ana’s favorite song plays over this scene, as the girls enter their school, and over the closing credits.

Carlos Saura - Cría cuervos (1975) (23)

Carlos Saura – Cría cuervos (1975) (23)

Though Ana appeared in three other films as a child, the final article in my Ana Torrent series will be on the last of these, El nido, directed by Jaime de Armiñán.

The Girl as Political Model: Ana Torrent, Pt. 1 (The Spirit of the Beehive)

In 1973, young Spanish filmmaker Víctor Erice created his debut film: El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive).  It is widely considered one of the masterpieces of Spanish cinema, an opinion I happen to share.  The film has been widely influential, and its imprint can be seen in dozens of other films, among them Carlos Taboada’s Veneno para las hadas (Poison for the Fairies), Gabriele Salvatores’s Io non ho paura (I’m Not Scared) and, perhaps most notably, Guillermo del Toro’s El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth).  Aside from its masterful direction, the key to its success was its young star, little Ana Torrent, who had never acted before and was not from a family of actors.

The film operates on two levels: The first is a story of a little girl growing up and learning to face her fears, a classic coming-of-age story.  The second is a political allegory, a veiled critique of the Franco regime which, unlike its Nazi and Fascist counterparts in Germany and Italy respectively, still had a grip on Spain at the time this was filmed.

The dominant party under Franco was the Falange, and we immediately get a sense of its presence when we see the Falange’s logo on the side of one of the buildings in the town of Hoyuelos, where the story is set.  A truck has arrived in this sleepy Spanish village, a mobile cinema.  For these rural children in 1940 Spain, a movie is something of a novelty.  When a Spanish-dubbed version of the classic Universal picture Frankenstein is screened in the town hall, nearly the entire village—or at least its younger segment—shows up to watch it, including sisters Ana and Isabel (Ana Torrent and Isabel Tellería).  At first they blend in with the rest of the children, like bees in a hive, but eventually we get a closeup of their rapt, apprehensive faces.

The relationship between Ana and Isabel is a more complicated one than it appears on the surface.  Many have interpreted the two of them as the opposing factions in the Spanish Civil War that only just ended in the period in which the film is set, and so will we.  Isabel, the older and more dominant sister, represents the nationalists under Franco, who won the war and now rules Spain, and Ana represents the leftists, who did not.  There is still some fighting as the Francoists clean up the countryside, but basically the war is over.

Before the film itself plays, the film-goers watch a government-approved addendum that is clearly intended to be political propaganda, wherein democracy is compared to the monster: a frightening man-made creation that subverts the natural order of things.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (1)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (1)

While the children of Hoyuelos are being enthralled by Frankenstein, the girls’ father, a beekeeper named Fernando, is working with his bees.  The beehive is a symbol that will appear throughout the film, most prominently in the form of the honeycombed windows of the manor house that Fernando and his family live in.  Fernando’s beekeeping costume also makes him resemble a medieval monk, and thus a stand-in for God looking down on Spain from above: although he attends to it faithfully, he disapproves of it, criticizing it as tightly-controlled but essentially mindless and soulless.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (2)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (2)

Meanwhile, the children’s mother, Teresa, writes a letter to her absent lover, whom we may assume is a soldier of some kind.  In her letter she explains how the war has torn the family apart emotionally.  Indeed, the family is never seen together as a whole until somewhere near the end, when they are breakfasting.  We see a recurrence of the beehive theme here, in the manor house’s windows, which we will see again and again.  Teresa writes by the golden light streaming through one of these honeycombed windows.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (3)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (3)

When Teresa visits the train station to mail off her letter, she walks through the smoke and steam issuing from the train, echoing the smoke Fernando uses to calm his bees into submission. Smoke or steam is another oft recurring nod to the beehive in this film. And the train has long been a symbol of industry and progress, playing well into the ideology of the newly appointed authoritarian governments of Europe, who each utilized the unity and pride of workers as propaganda to bring them into the fold. Trains, of course, were also used to carry soldiers and prisoners of war to their destination.  This train will be seen again.  In the partial breakdown of society after the war, it is one of the few connections the isolated village has to the world outside.

As Fernando is reading the newspaper, the sound of the film in the tiny village floats into the house, distracting him, and he steps out onto the balcony to get a better listen. Here we see those yellow honeycombed windows again, only this time Fernando is on the other side of them.  He is, in his own way, just another bee, another cog in the Francoist wheel.

Then we’re back to the theater again.  This leads into the scene where Frankenstein’s monster encounters the little girl, Maria (Marilyn Harris), who offers him a flower.  But the monster winds up killing the girl accidentally by tossing her into the water, believing she will float like the flower the girl threw into the water. This becomes the lynchpin scene for Ana, the beginning of her obsession with the monster.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (4)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (4)

Frankenstein’s monster is one of the most complex in literature.  In the novel—a literary classic written by a 17-year-old Mary Shelley—the creature is a tortured being who can not only speak but has the soul of a poet and can wax eloquent about his own suffering.  He wants only to find his place in the world and people who will care about him, and when his creator refuses to help him to that end, and his own searches reveal only people who fear and despise him because of his monstrous size and hideous appearance, it is only then that he becomes a murderer.  By the end he has lost his faith in both humanity and himself.  But the movie monster was somewhat different.  Reduced to guttural grunts and growls, he is not the creature of great intelligence and sensitivity we meet in the novel.  He is slow, both physically and mentally, although he means well and his intentions are often misunderstood.  The best literary analogue is probably Lennie Small from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (5)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (5)

Ana is terrified and spellbound. As a little girl herself, this scene really hits home for her. Torrent’s large expressive eyes help to sell what she is feeling as she watches the scene play out.  It should be noted that Ana Torrent was not given much preparation for this role and in fact was not even familiar with the script.  Erice wanted the children to behave as real children, and he fed them—or at least Torrent—a line at a time.  Thus, Ana’s confusion and terror in the film are often real.  Today we would probably consider this exploitative, but few can deny the power of Torrent’s performance.  Still, her experiences on the set of The Spirit of the Beehive were likely troubling to her father, who wanted to prevent her from acting after this film.  Luckily for her this did not wind up being the case, but we shall discuss her other films another time.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (6)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (6)

Although the scene in Frankenstein where the monster tosses the girl into the water was actually shot, it was excised from early cuts of the film because it was considered too violent.  It is rather tame by today’s standards, but at the time the censors thought it too frightening for audiences to see.  This small edit actually becomes important in The Spirit of the Beehive, because it leads to Ana’s confusion about what really happened to Maria.  First Ana sees Maria befriending the monster, and the next thing Ana knows, the girl is inexplicably dead.  The older, more experienced Isabel, on the other hand, knows exactly what happened.  Politically, you could say that Isabel has bought into the propaganda entirely.  Ana is a different story.  For her it is not initially clear what connection the monster has to the dead child, and in that sense there is still hope for Ana to see the monster in a more sympathetic light.  But she is uncertain.  Hence, her obsession. The monster will haunt Ana in a way it never can Isabel, who has already made up her mind about it. This is exacerbated by the fact that, although Isabel agrees to answer Ana’s question after Frankenstein is over, she never really does.

Later, when the girls are in bed, Ana asks again, but the jaded Isabel, who knows something about how movies are made, simply explains that it was all fake. Ana is, of course, unsatisfied with this answer because it does not address the issue that’s
troubling her. Indeed, Isabel only adds insult to injury by playing on Ana’s gullibility, telling her younger sister that the monster now resides in their own village. She adds that the monster is essentially a disembodied spirit who only comes out at night and can sometimes take corporeal form, which really enflames Ana’s imagination. Isabel even tells Ana how to summon the monster.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (7)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (7)

Fernando continues to wax philosophical about the bees, seeing only futility and soulless toil in their frenzied activity, ironically failing to see how he and his wife (and by extension, Francoist Spain) have become exactly like the bees.  His wife (who is significantly younger than her husband), by contrast, does get a sense of it, even if she can’t quite identify it for what it is, as she points out in one of her letters to her lover.  In that sense, husband and wife echo Isabel and Ana. Isabel, like her father, is a conformist at heart, whereas Ana yearns for something more, something she does not fully understand but sees represented in the form of Dr. Frankenstein’s creation. She is the dreamer. We get a sense that Isabel will survive just fine under Franco, but we worry about Ana, who stands in for a future democratic Spain. She is open and questioning, and therefore vulnerable.  At any rate, while Teresa finds her solace and distraction in writing letters, Fernando finds his in his work and in his routines like smoking cigarettes and taking his tea (both of which produce smoke of sorts, thereby tying back into the beehive symbolism).

In the Catholic girls’ school the sisters attend, they are faced with putting together their own sort of Frankenstein’s monster in the form of Don José, a puzzle of the human body where certain organs can be added and removed, used as a teaching tool by their instructor.   In a deeply symbolic scene, Ana is asked by the teacher to place the final missing piece: the eyes. With her dreamer’s soul, Ana offers the much-needed vision that her Francoist peers lack. This will foreshadow a later event in the film, when Ana has an honest to goodness hallucinatory vision.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (8)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (8)

Later that day, on their way home from school, the girls encounter an abandoned building with a well near it, which Isabel tells Ana is the home of the monster. Note how Ana stands on the mound here while Isabel is in the trench. Isabel runs to the well and then goes into the building while Ana, too afraid to approach, watches her. When Isabel emerges, the girls run home again. Later Ana returns on her own, repeating the steps of her sister: looking in the well first (even going a step further by shouting and dropping a stone into it) and then entering the building.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (9)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (9)

Then, we see the children mushroom hunting with their father.  Fernando explains to them that he always obeyed his grandfather (representing tradition), who instructed him on what to do if he encountered a mushroom he didn’t know: don’t pick it. The irony here is that, if no one had ever tried any mushrooms at all, they would never have discovered that some were good to eat.  When they encounter a mushroom Fernando knows is poisonous, he tells his daughters that, although this particular mushroom is young and smells pleasant now, when it begins to rot its true nature will be revealed.  Ana seems uncertain about this.

Look quickly for the honeycomb pattern in the seat of the horse-drawn carriage Fernando climbs into in the next scene.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (10)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (10)

The girls indulge in a little horseplay before school, jumping on their beds and pillow fighting (a scene somewhat echoed in the opening sequence of a later film, Du är inte klok, Madicken, which came out in 1979), and we hear Isabel repeat the universal refrain of children everywhere who are caught misbehaving: “She started it!”  Then, Ana plays in the soapy water her father shaved in earlier that morning, much to both girls’ amusement.  These scenes serve to remind the viewer that these are real fresh-and-blood children and not just walking, talking metaphors.  Scenes such as these help ground the film.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (11)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (11)

I haven’t much to say about this next scene, other than that I found it a particularly touching one.  Ana blows on the bees inside a wire mesh cage, perhaps attempting to agitate or stir them up, interrupting their usual pattern of behavior.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (12)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (12)

Next we see Isabel (whom, you’ll recall, represents the Francoists) displaying her tendency for cruelty when she throttles the family cat.  She is rewarded for her actions with a painful scratch on her finger.  Her own blood fascinates her, and she uses it to paint her lips darker red and admires herself in the mirror afterward, thus tying violence to sexuality.  Violence and sex . . . we are firmly in the realm of adulthood here, and thus we are getting a glimpse of the woman Isabel will likely become.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (13)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (13)

The violence against the family pet leads Isabel to another idea, and here is where she turns her tendency for nastiness against her sister.  Isabel fakes a violent attack against her person, pretending to be dead, which she knows Ana will interpret as an attack by Frankenstein’s monster.  She even breaks a potted plant and leaves the balcony windows open for effect.  The prank goes on far longer than it should, as Isabel continues to milk it for all its worth.

Finally, when Ana runs off to seek help and, not finding anyone, returns to the scene of the crime, she finds Isabel gone.  But alas, someone sneaks up behind her and grabs her, frightening Ana near out of her wits. It is of course Isabel, dressed in a heavy coat and men’s gloves. On one level, you have to admire Isabel—she is an artist of sorts, and this was her pièce de résistance.  Ana, who is already haunted by the idea of Frankenstein’s monster, will likely never forget this prank at her expense.  It’s no wonder she takes it to heart then.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (14)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (14)

Isabel, lit by the sun as it streams through the honeycombed windows, gloats over her accomplishment.  She looks utterly devious here.  I must say too that, while Ana Torrent certainly commands the screen, Isabel Tellería holds her own with Ana well enough.  Isabel is the perfect compliment to Ana’s generous and trusting nature, and there is just something inherently playful and puckish (and perhaps a tad sinister) about Tellería’s face.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (15)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (15)

This incident divides Ana and her sister, leaving Ana without anyone she can really trust and look up to.  Her parents love her, but they are emotionally distant, preoccupied with their own lives.  Isabel was Ana’s only real friend and confidante, but that trust is likely forever shattered now.  When Ana sees Isabel playing with other neighborhood girls afterward, running and jumping through the fire, she does not feel compelled to join in, merely to watch from afar.  One thing Ana Torrent has said about this scene is that she was awed by Isabel leaping through the fire, and that, while they were only a year apart in age, she always felt like her costar was much older than she.  These are the magnifications and exaggerations of childhood, when everything is fresh and new and slightly overwhelming.  It serves as a reminder that we should never underestimate a young child’s tendency to see themselves as small and inadequate in the face of a huge world ruled by much bigger people.

Later that evening, Ana sneaks out of the house by herself, not bothering to wake Isabel, her former partner-in-crime.  She finds the courtyard and surrounding woods spooky and foreign.  Ana’s loneliness and sense of betrayal are almost palpable here.  When she returns to her bed the next morning, waking Isabel, and her sister asks where she’s been, Ana refuses to answer.

    Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (16)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (16)

When Ana finds a wounded resistance fighter (arrived by train) hiding out in the abandoned building she and Isabel like to play in, she of course invests him with her own mythology.  This is where the spirit of the monster is said to lurk, so this must be a physical manifestation of the monster.  She offers him an apple, mimicking the scene in Frankenstein when Maria gives the monster a flower.  She continues to bring him clothing and food (including, notably, a jar of honey) and to help him in small ways like tying the shoe on his wounded foot.  In return, he entertains her with magic tricks.  These little acts of kindness by Ana help to restore some of her faith in mankind.  Of course, it is short-lived, as the fighter is caught and killed, and Fernando soon realizes what has been happening when his coat is found on the corpse. Torrent says she was particularly moved by this scene when she first saw the film herself, and felt quite proud of tying the soldier’s shoe!

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (17)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (17)

Ana returns to the building and finds the fighter missing, with copious amounts of his blood left behind.  When her father confronts her here, she runs away into the woods.  The death of her new friend feels like the ultimate betrayal to Ana, and she cannot bear it.  As luck would have it, she soon encounters one of the poisonous mushrooms her father warned her against picking.  It is unclear here whether she attempts suicide by consuming some of the poisonous mushroom her father told her to avoid, or whether the poisoning is accidental, but whatever the case, she begins to hallucinate, seeing the monster’s face in her own reflection in the nearby river.  Meanwhile, her mother burns a letter she intended to send to her absent lover, and we soon realize that her lover and the resistance fighter were the same person.  Now that he’s dead, it makes no sense to continue sending the letters.

A little later she has a face-to-face encounter with the monster, shivering in fright at the prospect of a repeat of the scene in Frankenstein.  In this case, because of the mushroom poisoning, the monster may very well represent the prospect of death here.  Ana passes out from fright from the encounter.  Torrent claims this scene had to be filmed numerous times because whenever the monster appeared, she would run away in tears, even though she was aware that it was a man in a costume.  Fear can sometimes overrule what we know to be true, and that probably goes double for small children.  After all, this was her first experience with film—she had no way to be certain if it was an entirely safe experience or if Erice (who was coaching her through the script) was telling the complete truth.

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Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (18)

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (19)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (19)

A posse of townspeople, including her father, who have been searching for her all night find her sleeping near the wall of a demolished structure.  She continues to hallucinate even at home, but a doctor assures her mother that she will get over it.  His words are not terribly reassuring to Teresa, or to the viewer, for, although the hallucinations will surely end, the emotional scars are likely to persist for the rest of her life.

Later Isabel slips into the bedroom where Ana is resting.  The older girl seems to be genuinely remorseful for her actions which led to this state of events.  This is reinforced when she sees shadows moving on the wall and covers her head, offering her a chance to empathize with Ana.  It also contrasts with what happens with Ana at the end.

 Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (20)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (20)

The honeycombed windows look quite different in the moonlight. Seeing something from a different perspective can change one’s interpretation of it.  Ana has undergone a profound transformation, a revelation brought on by her psychedelic experience.  In the final shot of the film, Ana literally and metaphorically turns her back on the night—she no longer fears what she doesn’t understand, which means she might well become an active voice for change in the future, whereas Isabel, even though she should know better, is still frightened by shadows moving on the wall.

Víctor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (21)

Víctor Erice – The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) (21)

Louis Malle, Part 2: Black Moon

The first thing that strikes most people when they first watch Black Moon (1975) is that it is hard to follow. Any film or novel that makes extensive use of “stream of consciousness” narrative will not be comprehended by most people at first. So why do such things exist? My contention is that this is dream imagery—imagery from the subconscious—that an artist is compelled to express in an effort to understand it himself. Personal motivations aside, these creations do nevertheless have value to others because dreams make extensive use of archetypal symbols which we can all appreciate with proper education.

It is a little bit of a stretch to include this film on Pigtails in Paint. The lead character, Lily (Cathryn Harrison), is on the cusp of womanhood which is on the high side of our age range. However, the presence of naked children is a recurring motif and part of our agenda is to remove the stigma of such imagery in our culture. And Louis Malle makes extensive use of Lewis Carroll’s Alice imagery, so that makes this film appropriate in a number of tangential ways.

The opening shot is of a badger rooting around until Lily speeds by in a small car. She stops to look at it with a blank expression on her face. It is not clear at this point, but this establishes the idea that as a young woman, she is intimately connected to nature and is compelled to pay attention to it. As she continues her journey, she comes upon some military troops and watches as they execute some prisoners. There is the suggestion that this is a manifestation of a war of the sexes with the aggressors playing out the male role and the more passive women (and their male allies) playing the victims. The presence of the battle in the periphery throughout the film creates a convincing substrate of anxiety. I also feel it is a reflection of Malle’s experience as a boy in Vichy France—Au Revoir Les Enfants and Lacombe, Lucien are two excellent portrayals of the German occupation. One of the soldiers approaches her car and whisks off her cap; thus exposed, she drives off in panic.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (1)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (1)

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (2)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (2)

On her way, she observes more vignettes of nature communicating with her and another military scene of a prisoner being beaten. In her flight she falls, giving herself a bloody nose—symbolic of the onset of menstruation. Her first sign of civilization is a horsewoman—whom she mistakes for a man—who seems to scrutinize her before cantering off. Then she encounters a group of naked boys acting as swineherds.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (3)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (3)

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (4)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (4)

She finally comes upon a house and enters. There are many signs that the place is inhabited: a lit fire, food cooking on the stove, etc.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (5)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (5)

By this time, the surreal tone is already suggestive of Lewis Carroll’s tales, but we begin to see specific examples: a glass of milk indicative of the “Drink Me! Eat Me!” scene. Lily even has to strain to reach the glass as though she were too small. Across the table is a piglet (The Duchess’ Baby) grunting seemingly in protest and the sound of the piano in the other room is actually a cat walking on the keys (The Cheshire Cat). The milk, however, is a clear symbol of motherhood.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (6)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (6)

Another important recurring character is a rather shabby unicorn. Clearly a symbol of the girl’s maidenhood, Lily’s interaction with this creature illustrates her progress in coming to terms with her adult sexuality and accepting the passing of her youth. Unicorns are post-medieval* symbols of lust, but as strictly fantastic creatures, we understand that we are witnessing the machinations of this girl’s subconscious.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (7)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (7)

Hearing noises upstairs, she explores the house further and finds an old woman (Thérèse Giehse, in a kind of Red Queen role) speaking to a rat (The Dormouse) in a strange mixture of Germanic and Latin sounding languages. Next to her is a radio symbolizing Lily’s connection to the outside, real world. In her first encounter with the woman, Lily has an altercation with her and believes she has died.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (8)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (8)

She hears singing outside and sees a young man tending the grounds. She goes outside to look for him and comes upon him suddenly.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (9)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (9)

Dissatisfied with the old woman’s communication, Lily tries to get a straight answer from this man (Joe Dallesandro). She finds that he only communicates telepathically and is also named Lily. She turns and sees the horsewoman and the naked children now joined by some girls all shepherding a hog and some sheep. The horsewoman is the man’s sister (Alexandra Stewart) and is named Lily as well. The coincidence of the names points to the fact that Brother Lily and Sister Lily are the girl’s alter egos, representing the Animus and the Shadow in Jungian psychology. The twin motif is also suggestive of Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (10)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (10)

Throughout the film, the twins serve as models of Lily’s impending role: Sister Lily as caregiver and Brother Lily as seducer. Both represent the more impulsive aspects of their gender roles while the old woman represents the more rational. Brother and Sister Lily return to the old woman’s room and revive her; Sister then allows the old woman to suckle at her breast. After witnessing this, Lily sits provocatively in a chair (in a Balthus-like pose) while Brother comes by and sensuously caresses her bare leg. Alarmed by this development, she withdraws suddenly and is then locked in the room alone with the old woman. One at a time, each alarm clock (The White Rabbit’s Pocket Watch) goes off and in a rage of denial, Lily throws them each out the window. The clocks are a call back to reality but also symbolic of a woman’s “biological clock”. She is then humiliated by the old woman as her panties fall down inexplicably, yet another expression of sexual denial.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (11)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (11)

She escapes when she sees the unicorn again and tracks it down. The unicorn is the only character that speaks plainly to her and she wishes she could continue speaking with it indefinitely. After this, she experiences a shift in her relationship to the children: at first personally associating with them as a fellow child and then acknowledging her role as caregiver. She again observes Sister Lily modeling the caregiving role by feeding the children. She decides to accept her role and now when the old woman makes suckling sounds, Lily feeds her from her own breast. This strange scene is reminiscent of the final passage in The Grapes of Wrath with Rose of Sharon suckling the old man.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (12)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (12)

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (13)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (13)

This rite of passage is commemorated in the film by a performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde with Lily playing the piano accompaniment and two of the children playing the leads. The choice of subject matter is instructive; the Tristan and Isolde story came into full blossom in the troubadour era and is about a young couple who fall in love but don’t realize it. The drama is escalated when the couple drink a love potion they mistake for wine.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (14)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (14)

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (15)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (15)

Lily then witnesses a violent scene as Brother Lily kills an eagle with a sword and then Brother and Sister begin fighting tooth and nail, perhaps representing the unresolved tension between the sexes in our society. Lily returns upstairs—the old woman is now gone—and assumes her role: sleeping in her bed and trying to work the radio. A snake appears, an obvious phallic symbol, and slithers into the bed. It appears that Louis Malle does not regard womanhood as a liberation, but an obligation to be meekly accepted. Lily’s expression is of passive resignation and not consistent with the notions of sexual freedom of that period.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (16)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (16)

In the final scene, Lily gets closure with the unicorn which suddenly appears. This time it says nothing and Lily dutifully bares her breasts as it makes suckling sounds. In fact, this is the freeze frame at the end of the film. The significance of this is that in satiating the unicorn, she is able to let go of her attachment to her childhood innocence and fantasy.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (17)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (17)

I would like to thank Pip for his contribution in analyzing this film. Without his help, it would have been a lot more work for me to put this all together.

The last installment of the Louis Malle films will be Pretty Baby starring Brooke Shields.

*I erred in my original assumption that this was a medieval symbol.  After some of Christian’s comments and some more follow up on my part, I realize the symbol belongs to the late 15th Century (but possibly earlier).  Please read the comments below for a clarification.  In an effort to get so much information out, there are bound to be errors like this and I will correct them as needed.  It is not my intent to deceive or misrepresent historical paradigms.  -Ron