27 Feb 2012

kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
For some inexplicable reason (as in, no idea how I followed whatever links to end up there), this evening I ended up on a wiki page about the film, Mary Poppins. I have never liked this film, although as a kid I liked Julie Andrews well enough that she often saved films for me that I'd otherwise detest. But Mary Poppins, hm. And although CP calls this an example of a severe reinterpretation of the text (and one mostly unsupported by the text), it's still there, in my head, all these years later.

First, let's get this out of the way: Dick Van Dyke does the worst Cockney accent. Despite being born-and-raised American, when I finally saw Mary Poppins, I assumed he was from somewhere else in America, and not British (or Cockney, allegedly). This is because I'd already been to England and met several lovely elderly Cockneys while we were in London, and Dyke didn't talk anything like them. Plus, he was completely comprehensible, and right there, I knew he couldn't be really British, because you had to listen hard when someone from London spoke or else you couldn't figure out a word of it. Even the people in Aberdeen were easier to understand, with a little work, than the taxi drivers and bed/breakfast keepers we met in London.

So there's that level of a wrong note (so to speak), but there are deeper levels. One is that before I ever saw the film Mary Poppins, I'd read Kingsley's Water-Babies. (Later I saw some of the so-called filmic/animated adaptation of the book, and was disgusted with the fact that it was nothing like the book.) Water-Babies made a huge impact on me; while I was used to Dickens and his thorough applications of bathos for the sake of making his young protagonists (ie Oliver) sympathetic, Dickens also had later movies to deal with where Fagin and his crew were iffy and dirty but hardly, y'know, freaking terrifying like Oliver Reed. But Water-Babies pulls no punches about the life and tasks of its chimney sweep protagonist, and at the young age of maybe six or seven, trying to imagine a life of a chimney sweep came very close to giving me nightmares. If there is anything on this planet that I would never, ever, ever wish upon any child, it would be cleaning chimneys.

And then there's the song by Mrs Banks, about being a suffragette. I guess I was maybe nine or ten? when I finally saw Mary Poppins, and I already knew what suffragettes were. (Thank you, Mom, the feminist.) Except that in the movie -- relatively straightforward and crowd-rousing lyrics aside -- the movie-Mom wasn't treated like a hero. She was treated like a ditz who, I don't know, did suffragette-ing on the side, on Sunday afternoons, like a weekly hobby to keep herself busy between doing wash on Tuesdays and having other ladies over for high tea on Thursdays. And maybe some silver-polishing on Saturday morning. Or whatever upper-class British ladies did, which (in my admittedly young and inexperienced opinion) seemed to amount to a lot of dabbling. And looking ornamental.

But the film's pivotal role -- and the real bearer of any moral message -- is Mary Poppins herself, and she seems to treat (or so I recall) Mrs. Banks as though Mrs Banks is little more than a twittering ditz, and mostly useless. I knew my American history and that women fought for a long, long time before they got the vote, so I figured in Britain it was probably similar, and that (at the time) a lot of men saw women wanting the vote as something that should never happen, and would never amount to any good. So I completely expected Mr Banks' dismissive reaction to his wife's activism; it was Mary Poppins' dismissiveness that really baffled me, and then annoyed me. I mean, if Mary Poppins is supposed to be so smart, why would she a) treat another woman like she's stupid, and b) not respect and support a woman trying to make life better for all women?

Thus I was already a bit iffy on the film, first time I watched it, but the clincher was the song, Chim Chim Cher-ee. )

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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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