Thursday, August 2, 2018

Author! Author!: The Brothers Grimm

"The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" is the 1962 color extravaganza that uses the life of the German brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm as a framing device to retell three of the fairy tales (The Dancing Princess, The Cobbler and the Elves, The Singing Bone) which they collected and retold in their famous book of fairy tales. It is a delightfully bi-polar tale, with romance and drama in the real-life sections for the adults and fantasy and adventure in the fairy tales for the children. To further heighten this contrast, the differences between the brothers are emphasized, with the cold logical Jacob (Karl Boehm) having to learn how to love as the whimsical family man Wilhem (Laurence Harvey) struggles to find time to fit the folk tales that he loves into their grinding daily work.
Even the movie itself is an instance of this dialectic, with the biographical parts being directed by Henry Levin and the fairy tales by George Pal, the special effects wizard who produced the whole thing. Rationality versus Emotion, Practicality versus Dreaming is a theme beloved by Pal in much of his work, such as "The Time Machine" and "The Circus of Dr. Lao", where it is demonstrated that the cold calculations of life must be tempered with human feeling to be livable. The film was the 14th highest grossing picture of the year, and was originally produced in the Cinerama process, made to be shown on three screens. Its marathon length (two hours and fifteen minutes) indicates that it was indeed made as much for adults as for children, a night out for the whole family. Though its spectacle and special effects are still engaging, its deliberate pacing marks it as a film from another era.
In real life the Grimms were philologists (studiers of words and their changes), and their collecting of stories, myths, and legends were part of a Romantic Era effort to preserve folk traditions of the German people in the hope to unite the many small scattered German states, and their studies were much more consolidated than is suggested by the movie. That their collection of fairy tales became so beloved everywhere was just a happy side effect. The movie itself basically acknowledges that its version of their lives is something of a fairy tale itself in its last lines: "Once upon a time there were two brothers ... and they lived happily ever after."

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