Walt Disney and crew’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this week’s featured movie in Nathaniel’s Best Shot series, doesn’t really suggest images to me but acceleration. There’s this slowness to their movements but there’s this jolt of urgency to them as the movie progresses. The characters are also the only solid blocks of colour, the opposite of their Medieval-styled ornate surroundings. Here are some of my favourite shots.
Ok, this image is more of a static and and I didn’t even feel like including this because it feels like I’m just repeating my Black Narcissus best shot. Springtime is for lovers and Disney’s version puts us smack dab in the middle of the story as opposed to taking us to Snow White’s parents, etc. I know you know the story but the original Grimm Brothers’ tale is about Snow White’s growth as a domestic and sexual being, as well as the Evil Queen being Snow White’s mother and the Prince being the father, if I haven’t ruined your childhood yet. Anyway, this shot reminds me of the movie’s operatic structure, this tenor complementing Snow White’s coloratura. There’s also the Medieval costume’s drapery being very creamy throughout the film, influencing how we see these characters’ movement and posture. He’s not as effete as most of the Disney princes but those shoes look like they can walk on water.
Just like her suitor’s footwear, Snow White represents the daintiness of womanhood that earlier literature – and 1937 counts as ‘early’ – propagates, going through the woods and surviving while wearing pumps. She glides on surfaces instead of touching them like normal humans. She finds refuge from her homicidal (step)mother in the most hopeful of places. However it’s strange how these strangers can carve wood for their houses but find no time to dust heir house. Digging all day is not an excuse. It’s also more infuriating that her ragged state while shining the Queen’s Palace’s front steps is framed as slavery but cleaning for a bunch of dudes is totally ok. But we’ll give her brownie points for venturing into the cottage on her own and leveraging her lodgings and influencing the dwarfs’ eating habits. But that still feels codependent.
But can I really begrudge such people, even if they scare me more now than I did when I was a child? The dwarfs, by the way, probably start the tradition of fairy tale creatures as surrogate husbands, later prototypes of which include the original “Peter Pan.” This shot is my best shot simply because it will begin my quest to decide which dwarf is which. Doc, Dopey and Grumpy are the most constant characters so they’re the easiest to tell but to know the others I had to look into their eyes, which is nearly impossible if they’re moving too fast and freaking out while they’re imagining a monster sleeping in their beds. Thank God I eventually used the pause button. Also, this shot is one of the few examples that show how these characters have no bones in their bodies. They’re swift yet also graceful.
And finally the shot of the Queen. This scene is the Wicked Stepmother’s Lady MacBeth moment, having to take away her own femininity to make herself do the evil deeds that she believes must be done. The hoarseness within the voice actress becomes externalized, her slim figure becoming more brittle. This also baffles me after this recent rewatch because she is getting herself ugly to defeat the young woman more beautiful than her. Eventually she poisons the princess, their only onscreen encounter which is surprisingly not hostile.
The best part about Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers sharing the screen is Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers sharing the screen with eye masks. The Bryn Mawr alum and the vaudeville girl seem to do scenes well together, sharing a lot of them in the film. That’s making me think that the drama between them off-screen was just for publicity. In their first scene, one woman is unwavering against the other’s tongue lashing. In the next few scenes Terry Randall (Hepburn) and Jean Maitland (Rogers) might as well be sisters.
Terry does take centre stage in this film, the new girl in the Footlight’s Club, a dormitory for stage actresses and dancers in Midtown New York. She ends up stealing both Maitland’s boyfriend and Kay Hamilton’s (Andrea Leeds) role in a new play. And this is why they called the movie “Stage Door” instead of “Stage Stars,” as Terry becomes the latest of replaceable actresses on the Broadway stage. Kay hints that she stole a role from another girl a year before, a passive character in Terry’s rise to fame. Had she lived in this time, Kay would be the kind of girl you would unfriend on Facebook, but you cannot help but feel sorry for her. At the end of the film, another new girl comes into the house, and we wonder if Terry’s stardom might be over soon.
That doesn’t mean that Jean’s not a treat. No new girl can stop her from practically ruling the Footlight’s Club. You can listen to her quick wit directed at some of the boarders, or watch her dance away from a stage manager twice her age. She also knows how to say the right thing quickly when she’s the house’s shoulder to cry on.
I saw this film again after reading this article from next month’s Vanity Fair, which is a depressing read by the way. Beautiful dresses, young girls, broken dreams. Both times seeing the movie I wondered if it is time for a remake – the source material is a play after all. Maybe the movie is gonna be about actresses again but it could be for models too. I read a lot about how miserable those girls could be when on their own.