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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

And You Though "Little Red Riding Hood" Was for Kids

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Here is the film adaptation of Angela Carter's short story, "The Company of Wolves." It is directed by Neil Jordan, whose credits include "Michael Collins" and "The Crying Game."

Since so much of the quality of a werewolf movie depends upon the movie's appropriation of elements from film and folklore, this one has to be considered as top-notch. There is a brief bit in The Howling (1980) in which two people watch the old black and white cartoon of the three little pigs while a werewolf attack is happening at the same time; this movie is essentially that device carried out over an hour and a half.

The film merits much more attention than I can give it here. Suffice it to say that it is a deeply thought-provoking script and a richly textured picture, full of symbolic color and an effective score. It is at times hard to know what's going on, but that is partly the point, the disruption of a "fairly tale," the meaning of which has universally accepted. Little Red Riding Hood, it turns out, is about a lot more than a sweet little girl's trip to granny's house; and the big bad wolf would like to do a lot more than eat her.

It's an explication of the themes of maturity, girlhood, and sexual awakening, none of which are standard werewolf movie territory. But, as the promotional picture (above) shows, the movie is still concretely concerned with the central werewolf idea, the warring human and animal impulses in a person and in societies (or, here, genders) at large.

The recurring advice that the protagonist gets from her gran is to not "stray from the path." It is a warning, essentially, not to go out into the woods with boys, but I couldn't help hearing the refrain of the small town villagers in An American Werewolf in London: "Beware the Moors; stick to the road." There is this sense that the woods, the wild, the un-trodden is the domain of the big bad wolf. And so it is. Also, the woods are nothing without the full moon.

It's not that all men are wolves and would prey on the defenseless innocence of little girls. It's that childhood inevitably gives way to maturity; the wolves outside outside the window are going to get in, and when they do, they will destroy all of the trinkets of childhood, although maybe not the child herself.

The strength of the movie (and its contribution to the werewolf canon) is in its facility with narrative. By itself, the main narrative is compelling. But it does one better, by interweaving a number of stories-within-the-story and showing the ways that stories (be they "old wive's tales" of "God's honest truth") function to usher one from childhood to maturity in either destructive or healthy ways.

I conclude with a simple repitition of the movie's best line, uttered by Gran (Angela Landsbury): "The worst wolves are hairy on the inside."

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 12:09 PM


I recall first seeing this film at the Fine Arts in Fairway. It captures the sensation of dreaming better than anything I've encountered.
commented by Blogger Happy In Bag, 2:52 PM  

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