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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Scenes That Make You Go 'Ugh': Cinderella (1950)


I had a helluva time coming up with a title for this new feature that looks at scenes from movies and TV shows that stir up feelings, uncomfortable in nature, when I watch them; or that unleash a torrent of emotions, a nauseating rush of feels that could easily lead to either spontaneous vomiting or violent sobbing, maybe both; or that deliver a surprise emotional gut punch, a kind of cosmic sucker punch, that knocks the happy out of my brain and reminds me that life is hard and gross and ultimately unrewarding.  Fun, right?

My first inclination was to call it Scenes That Make You Go 'Ew,' but I felt that would trap me in the basement of slasher fare and torture porn, forced to focus primarily on disgusting stuff, like quivering viscera and geysers of blood spray.  Sure, those types of scenes do the trick, as it were, but they are limited in scope.  I dismissed Scenes That Make You Go 'Yuck' for similar reasons.

Scenes That Make You Go 'Eh' seemed worth considering, until I realized that 'eh' is a little too close to that old millennial chestnut 'meh,' and since this feature isn't about moments in popular entertainment that bore me, it was right out.  Plus, 'eh' feels like a question word, and none of these scenes have ever made me question anything, really.  For the most part, the scenes that will be discussed in this ongoing series will be from movies and television programs I actually like, and the scenes themselves are ones, that because of their emotional weight, add something important to the proceedings, scenes, that if excised, would leave an unwelcome and obvious emotional gap--a gaping hole of emo, if you will.

I briefly considered Scenes That Make You Go 'Ewugh,' but 'ewugh' isn't a proper word, so that was dropped pretty damn fast.  Look, all I really knew was that I wanted the title to be a play on the hit C + C Music Factory song we all know and love, and, in the end, Scenes That Make You Go 'Ugh' appeared to be the best choice.  I don't know if it is.  I really don't care.  I just want to get to the first scene, the scene that inspired this whole endeavor, the most troubling scene in cinema history.

Here's a quick recap to get you up to speed before the bowel-shattering gut punch is delivered: Cinderella's life is pretty bleak.  Her beloved father has died and she is forced to be a servant girl for her stepmother, Lady Tremaine, her two loathsome stepsisters, Drizella and Anastasia, and Lady Tremaine's asshole cat, the appropriately named Lucifer.  Yes, Cinderella's life sucks pretty hard, but redemption arrives in an invitation to a ball at the palace.  By royal decree, every eligible maiden in the land is invited to attend, and Cinderella, who has somehow retained a sunny disposition in spite of her dreary existence, is delighted.  Lady Tremaine gives Cinderella permission to attend the ball, but only if she finishes her chores first, the list of which is nearly Stephen Kingian in length.  While Cinderella throws herself into a marathon chore sesh, her friends, the mice and birds that live in and around her late father's estate, sew her a beautiful ball gown, using discarded scraps of Drizella and Anastasia's own dresses for added flair.  Contrary to Lady Tremaine's belief that the chore list will crush her, Cinderella appears in the foyer mere seconds before her stepfamily is about to leave, dressed in a beautiful vermin-sewn gown.  What follows is, well, a scene that kills me every single time I see it.  Cinderella's stepsisters rip her dress to pieces and leave her devastated and alone.

I get what I can only describe as a sick, hot rage bubble in my guts whenever I watch this scene.  It is often accompanied by a light headedness and prickling sensation in my eyeballs, typically followed by a torrent of tears (Ask my wife.  She knows how deeply this scene affects me.  She will look at me during this scene and others of its ilk and ask me, which a devious grin on her face I might add, "You OK?"  She is delighted by the distress I often experience when watching animated films.  It's one of the many reasons I love her so much.).  The cruelty on display is nauseating.  It makes me want to punch things and lock myself in a dark closet wrapped in the fetal position at the same time.  I guess this reaction means I'm not a sociopath.  I should probably be concerned if I ever watch this and don't immediately feel terrible.

As angry-sad-sick this moment in Cinderella makes me, I also recognize how essential it is to the story.  This is Cinderella at her lowest point; finally broken, she, for a moment, recognizes that life can be cruel and empty, and that the good and kind-hearted are often shit upon for no other reason than that their goodness angers and disgusts the vile and the powerful.  And then Cinderella's fairy godmother shows up.  And then she meets the prince and they totally hit it off.  And then, eventually, she marries the prince and becomes an official member of the royal family and probably presides in some capacity over the trial of her stepmother and stepsisters, who are charged with crimes against humanity.  She might even be present at their executions.  Gasp!  Is Cinderella the one behind the executioner's mask, lowering the axe?!?  Probably not.  Princesses don't usually do that kind of stuff.

The point is, good triumphs over evil almost always.  Well, more often than not.  A lot of the time, OK?  It pays to be a good and honest person is the takeaway here.  Cinderella, while not the most dynamic of films, does promote a good message, and that's the reason I don't mind my 3-year-old daughter being as into it as much as she is, which is a lot.  It also promotes friendship with vermin, which I'm a not a huge proponent of, but mostly the honesty and goodness thing.
I took my daughter to see the new, live-action Cinderella last month.  It was her first movie in a theater, and we had a great time.  We ate popcorn, complained about the pre-movie entertainment and thoroughly enjoyed the new Frozen cartoon that played before the feature (As much as Q loves Cinderella, she loves Frozen even more.  There are so many Annas, Elsas and Olafs in my house, it's ridiculous.  Every room has its own collection of Frozen paraphernalia.  My parents bought her a three-foot tall Elsa for Christmas!).  We also enjoyed Cinderella.  Q especially liked the royal ball scene.  She could barely sit still when Cinderella and Prince Charming had their first dance together.  She had this big goofy smile on her face the whole time.  She'd squirm a little, then get out of her seat, then plop back down in her chair and grab my arm.  Halfway through the first waltz, Q hugged my arm tight and said, "I love you, Dad," which, obviously, made my day.  Of course, my daughter is also, well, my daughter, which makes her kind of a weirdo, so before the dance was over, I did catch her licking my t-shirt, which she promptly stopped doing after I shot her the confused dad face she knows so well.

Sorry, got distracted in that happy memory.  The dress-spoiling scene is in this movie, except it's kind of worse, because instead of a dress stitched together by anthropomorphic mice and bluebirds using pilfered scraps, it's Cinderella's mother's dress, a mother we meet, fall in love with and watch die in the opening moments of the film.  Cinderella descends the stairway per usual, and then Lady Tremaine herself, played by Cate Blanchett, walks over nonchalantly and rips a giant whole in Cindy's dress.  "Hello, old familiar friend," I thought as my body filled up with sick, hot rage.  Dammit, it's so devastating!  Ugh!  I hate it!  But I love it!  It's enraging, but it's important!  Aghhhh!

I hope the preceding has give you a better understanding of the kinds of scenes I will be exploring in this new feature.  Here's to future posts full of sadness and pain.  Yay?



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