Who Needs High-Tech Effects?

        In 1946, Jean Cocteau brought to life the wonderful tale of Beauty and the Beast. The tale was originally written in 1756 by French author Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont while she served as a governess in Scotland. It had everything a fairy tale movie needed: romance, danger, a good morale, but without all those expensive special effects that we have been spoiled with today.

        To be honest the film does not need all those high tech digital effects; it works well with its low-tech creations. And it is a triumph of design. The film is filled with simple but gorgeous scenes, from a corridor of disembodied human arms grasping candelabra that burst into flame as you pass by, to Beauty (Josette Day) gliding in slow motion through the enchanted castle.

        Technically, it is astonishing how Cocteau extracts so much visual interest from a film comprised almost entirely of medium shots. A close look reveals how subtly unbalanced most of the compositions are. We rarely see an actor head on but rather from at an angle. And during some of the most important moments, Cocteau foregrounds an unimportant object (a candlestick, a tree branch) to block our view, to make our imaginations fill in the obscured main details. Throughout he also makes suggestive use of shadows, both where we would expect them, in the Beast's (Jean Marais) mysterious realm, and where we might not, in the merchant's strangely foreboding manor house. This tense visual quality meshes perfectly with the film's complex emotional nature.

        This movie is so beautiful to watch, I loved every minute of it. I have been raised on the Disney version of the story, which I also adore, and I was half expecting the furniture to start bursting out into song. Even without that it was still a great movie. I believe that movie goers have been jaded with the all the high-tech effects that they do not enjoy the older films. That is a shame with all the great films that were made in the early days.

Amy Wolford

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