Saving Mr. Banks opens with a dose of nostalgia. A man's voice narrates, "Wind's in the East, mist comin' in. Like something is brewing, about to begin," to a musical score by Thomas Newman, as the scene pans from the clear open sky to a wealthy, gazebo'ed garden, with a little girl in a cream dress sitting upon a manicured green lawn as if she were about to lay an egg, arms wrapped about her knees, face upward toward the sunshine. She is surrounded by a sort of construction of flowers, and sticks, within her own world, as only a little girl can be.
Then the scene flips to Sunday, April 2, 1961. The home office of a woman who has come to be known as P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson). Enters, Mr. Russell, her agent, into her abode. They argue over what the outcome of her situation should be. Her situation being that the market for her very popular Mary Poppins children's books has dried up.
Also, Mrs. Travers, as she insists on being named, has hit a writer's block and so, no more books shall be coming in for awhile. Mr. Russell and Mrs. Travers go back and forth on what her options are in terms of present and future financial floatability. It seems Mr. Russell's arguments are that her future creative prospects lie within the hands of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who wants to make her books into a film, and has been trying to do so for 20 years. But Mrs. Travers, is deeply attached to the characters of her own creation and would very much rather not relinquish any rights and insists upon final say in the writing of the script.
And so, it is decided Mrs. Travers shall go to Los Angeles, California. A journey reminiscent of her childhood, when her father was either severely demoted or fired from a prestigious position at an Australian bank to relocate himself and his family to a much more rural location. The family leaves their Victorian styled home and walks to the rail station as they cannot afford a carriage.
The current Mrs. Travers is picked up at the L.A. airport by a Disney sponsored driver and air conditioned car. The driver, who we learn toward the end, has the name of Ralph (Paul Giamatti), is amiable toward Mrs. Travers despite her terse and persnickety manner toward everything both Californian and Disney, not to mention toward anything Ralph says or does in general. Though, her present journey is much more luxurious than her childhood conditions, at times.
The 1961 Mrs. Travers frets over the heat and appears overdressed for California weather. She very much evokes the persona of a spinster who has lost her prime and it is everyone else's fault she has to change in order to swim with the tide; in attitude, style of life and manner. She enters her hotel room to find it filled with an enormous fruit basket and all sorts of Disney paraphernalia, including large stuffed cartoon characters, and the first thing she does is throw all the pears from the fruit basket out the window, to the surprise of onlookers as the pears plop into the pool. Mrs. Travers, then without explanation promptly shuts the window.
The scenes constantly flip back and forth between childhood and the current psychological mannerisms of Mrs. Travers in a manner reminiscent of La Vie en Rose. The heart of the matter is how two people, such as Walt Disney with his love of cartoons that are his family, and P.L. Travers, with her dislike of change and her love for her creations that are her family, can ever merge together to create a masterpiece.
Disney is stubbornly territorial over P.L. Travers' work, as he courts her creative genius for twenty years to get what he wants. He does what it takes to get it. Putting aside his own psychological problems from childhood to attend to her needs and understand a woman he finds to be a complete conundrum.
Pamela, as Walt calls her, disagrees with much of the film script and for understandable reasons. Though, her manner is lofty, perhaps because she is in the weaker position. She flat out insults Walt's love for cartoons, and cartoons are his family. He takes breaths and steps away and then continues to negotiate. He finds that the story is not really about a nanny who comes to save children, though the original book was based on P.L. Travers' experiences as a child when her aunt comes to visit and saves her and her sisters by keeping the household running after their father has died and the mother fallen into despair.
Eventually Pamela signs over the rights to allow Disney full control of the film script. But he has to fully understand her first. Pamela's childhood is an interesting one. Her father, a known drunk, humiliates the family in public, falling off stage while giving a speech for the bank. But this does not mean he does not love his daughter better than most men could ever love a child. He was an ill man. But he taught his daughter to love herself. Saving Mr. Banks brings up the interesting conundrum that simply because one's father is technically a total inebriated loser does not mean he is still not the best daddy in the whole wide world. He taught her to fight for herself in ways he could not seem to do so for his own self.
Pamela is not vicious, just the type of person who is rough around the edges until she is known better, rather than is the opposite as with most other people. Then once she does allow Disney all rights and three years later in 1964 when the film is produced, she is not invited to the Hollywood screening. Walt thought that since she does not do well with so much attention and cameras it would be best for her not to come. But she comes anyway, and cries throughout the piece, especially at the end.
By Sarah Bahl
My Fair Lady, the 1964 film, is a musical adaptation of the Lerner and Lowe stage musical production of the same name, based on the book, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The book is said to be themed based on the poem, London Bridge.
The poem tells a simple rhyming story of a woman, a fair lady, who has London Bridge, but it is falling down, and no matter how she builds it back, with silver, gold, or any other material, she will not be able to protect it on her own, so a man has to sit to watch all night. But, even the man might fall asleep and need a pipe to smoke. It is a poem about retaining resources based on gender and politics, within a cold, hard world.
Eliza Doolittle, is the fair lady, (played by Audrey Hepburn) as a flower girl, with a drunkard father and a cockney accent. She is caught out in the rain selling flowers to wealthy theatergoers in Edwardian London. Eliza insists, “I’m a good girl, I am,” as her only defense from prostitution with her skill set is to be a flower girl.
While selling flowers Eliza is met with the pompous, snooty, and outgoing Henry Higgins, a professor of elocution. Higgins takes note of Eliza’s diction while mocking her class simultaneously; fellow elocution expert Colonel Hugh Pickering notes the scene. The three, all meet outside of a theater on a rainy London night.
Eliza, later though, not long after her interesting encounter with these two men, puts on her finest dress, a hideously tacky purple ensemble and appears at Higgin’s door. Eliza comes to ask for speech lessons, so she may go from a street flower seller to a respectable girl in a flower shop. She offers to pay Higgins a decent amount for the lessons.
Though, the spoiled, selfish, and abominable Higgins does not see a future pupil before him. He sees a toy. Neither Higgins nor Pickering, overlook how much fun a strikingly beautiful girl, sadly wearing her tacky dress with such pride and her cockney accent, will be. Only the housekeeper lectures Higgins, “Do be sensible,” she tells him. The housekeeper reminds Higgins he actually has to think through how his actions might affect Eliza’s life.
Higgins takes Eliza on for free, including room and board, to teach her, not to be a girl in a flower shop, but to teach her to be a lady of rank equal to his own. Higgins works Eliza to the bone and she fantasizes of his death. But somehow Higgins, Eliza, and Pickering all plod through it together.
Eliza’s father comes to Higgin’s establishment to demand payment for allowing his daughter to stay with Higgins. Higgins, though appalled at first, finds he enjoys the man’s world philosophy and gives in. So, though Eliza gives herself to Higgins for lessons for free, her father sells her to Higgins postdated. It is darkly comic of a man’s world philosophy. And really, just sad.
Higgins trains Eliza to act a certain role among his high society acquaintances. During an event at the races, Eliza meets Freddy, who is everything Higgins is not: charming, sensible, and protectively understanding of Eliza in a playful and conversational manner. Eliza remains friends with Freddy.
Higgin’s ultimate test of Eliza is to take her to a ball and have her interact with a fellow elocution expert, to see if the expert can tell where she is from. The expert decides without a doubt Eliza is hiding an accent and is surely Hungarian. Higgins and Pickering find it all to be a charming joke. Neither of them pays any attention to Eliza after the deed is done. They simply boast to each other of their grand alliance and the outcome it produced.
Eliza is disgusted by the two insufferable a-clowns she is dealing with. She also dislikes her transformation because she has lost her financial independence. She cannot be a girl in a flower shop now. Higgins took her training too far on purpose.
Eliza states she will marry Freddy, as she is fed up with Higgins, yet is still searching for a partner in life. Freddy is in love with Eliza and he is very much the sensible alternative to Higgins. But in the end, Eliza returns to Higgins, as in one way or another, they have grown to become a part of each other. And so, the transformation is complete.
By Sarah Bahl
Coco Before Chanel, is a film about the rise of a woman, born into poverty and determined not be another drudge in the system. (Our lead character is a born snob.) The film begins with two girls being driven in a simple peasant cart. It is 1893. They are taken to a nunnery, where the nuns wear incredibly starched wide sweeping black and white head covers, that are essentially enormous fabric triangles on their heads. Even for the nuns, 1893 was not an era of practicality when it came to fashion.
Gabrielle Chanel and her sister Julie, are the two young girls in the cart. They are wordlessly and unceremoniously dropped off by their father for care within the abbey, that served as an orphanage for poor undesired girls and as a boarding house for wealthy young girls. Chanel waited for her father to come back every week while at the abbey. He never did.
Chanel and her sister both become pretty women, working as seamstresses during the day and in a pub as singers in the evening. Their dresses are very simple. There is a huge difference in the style and the fabric of how the wealthy women dressed versus the working class women. For example, today, there is not a huge difference in the style, cut, color and detail of a suit Hillary Clinton would wear to work, versus, a secretary working as an administrator in any given office. In the early 1900s, differences in terms of style of clothing when it came to class were of incredible variance. Wealthy women had a marked amount of detail in their fabric, how their hair was done, and the jewels they wore. So much adornment. The working class women wore very simple, clothes of plain coloring, that differed greatly from the garb of the wealthy.
At the pub, Chanel meets her lover and protector Étienne Balsan, who she insists on staying with, as she sees him as pivotal to her gateway toward a better life. It is Balsan, who christens Chanel with the name Coco, after a song she sings. The name does seem to suit her tomboyish nature and simple features. Coco, charms Balsan with her quaint mannerisms, her love for clothes, horses, and need to be something different. She is known to dress as a boy, most of the time. To forego the use of a corset and practice other such anomalies for the day.
Coco, consistently wants to have more and be more. She realizes she will never have a stage career but the hats she makes are well liked and in demand. She has a knack for sewing. She leaves Balsan, who remains a supportive father figure throughout her life, for Arthur, “Boy” Capel, a friend of Balsan’s. Boy asks Balsan to have Coco for the weekend, which is how their love affair began. It might seem terrible today for two men to share a woman without complaint, but during the early 1900s in Europe it, was considered unseemly for men to rival each other for a woman. And if one man wanted to sleep with another man’s lover or even a wife, the husband in question should consider the offer a compliment, that another man would want his wife/lover. It was the culture at the time.
Coco leaves Balsan, because he wants her to be his alone, and to have no other features. He wants her to become his wife and she says no. She wants a different future for herself. Boy is the man who supports her career ambitions. He lends her money to start her own business. With the money to launch her own creations on a consistent basis Coco Chanel leads the world of fashion in two manners. First, she lessens the differences in clothing when it comes to class. Her outfits are simple and chic. Second, she lessens the difference in clothing when it comes to gender. Her boyish, elegant simplicity is trademark of all her fashions. Her ideals matched wide sweeping sentiments toward womens' rights at the time. Chanel lead the world of fashion into incredible changes, that are very visible today.
By Sarah Bahl