Chain Reaction

I was doing some work on the development of mediaeval armour mostly because I was shown two pictures which I have copied and both were dated earlier than I think could actually be possible given the quality of armour that they show. Check my notes below (bottom 2 pics).

chain mail by tim 1.jpg

This picture is supposed to come from a manuscript dating from the battle of hastings , or is an image of the battle. Almost impossible, I would think from the way the sleeves of chain-mail (the term is itself an anachronism anyway invented by Water Scott) and the helm of the knight in the centre.

from moleskin armenia by tim.jpg

here is a scene from an Armenian manuscript. Deeply charming but cannot be earlier than mid 12th century. The shorted haubergeons stitched onto the surcoats quite apart from the very rounded helms that suggest something between the norman nasal helm and the later sugar loaf.

Anyway, whatever their historical origins, I loved the characters in the two pictures and the way the figures are grouped. There is some sort of animation in both pictures.  And I love the tent in the first picture…

chain mail notes 1 by tim.jpg

chain mail notes by tim2.jpg

Advertisements

Analysing Mr Banks

The role of Mr Banks is central to Mary Poppins. This is the message of “Saving Mr Banks” but it is not necessarily the original message of the 1964 film and a good deal of re-packaging has gone on which, of course, has continued into the making of “Mary Poppins Returns”. It is not Banks who is central to the film but the bricolage of liberal Christianity and new technology. Banks is incidental.

The original Mary Poppins was set in the depression, at the time when the film sequel takes place. But Travers’ was not writing a piece of nostalgia. Her book has a contemporary feel about it because it was written in 1934, slap-bang in the period in which it is set even if she was to revise some of the characters later in 1967. Disney’s choice of pushing the setting back into Edwardian England has elements of whimsey to it, but it serves to make an interesting comment on the period from 1961-1964 when the film was in production. Mr Banks sets himself up as a model of the new economy, in a man’s world; he will also go on later to extol the virtues of Imperial commerce. But there is irony in his virtues as his world is will collapse in the war. His stiff-upper lip and patriarchal values are also directly challenged by Mary Poppins’ mixture of practical self-reliance and her virtues of helping the poor, responding to odd emergencies (even if that puts the day’s fish-mongering on hold) as well as honest escapism.

In America, the certainties of Eisenhower have given way to the Kennedy’s assassination and the rise of a flower-power revolt against Vietnam. Disney found a way to make a family film that implicitly questioned power and bizarrely reflected the age in which it was made. If Banks was blinded by jingoism, America was blinded by a Cold War ideology and a belief that it was still engaged in a conventional conflict that could be won.

More than that, Mary Poppins promoted change. At a time when the big studios were failing, Disney offered itself as the studio of innovation, developing a new travelling matte process to better any on offer in Hollywood, as well as providing a fresh take on genre when studio fare was stagnating. Disney mixed musical and comedy (done before) with animation; it embraced tv, creating a film star out of the tv sensation that was Dick van Dyke; it also mixed a film for children with a high-budget ritzy road-show premiere, generating a merchandise bonanza in brochures, dolls, rugs, jigsaws, comic adaptations and LP records. As a result of Mary Poppins, the bigscreen musicals had one last decade of success and the fantasy genre emerged out of both the new technology together with the Disney chutzpah of pumping millions into what would earlier have been dismissed as children’s entertainment. There would be no Star Wars were it not for Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins also drew on a new form of Christianity ushered in by the pontificates of John XXIII and Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council. the new Christianity of personal freedom and social transformation are clear in Mary Poppins the Disney film. This is a film where the religious message transforms or irradiates the world.

The film opens with Mary Poppins seated on a cloud. The iconography is slightly undermined by rehashing an old Disney joke – the umbrella sinking into the cloud which is a visual borrowed from 1941’s Dumbo. She will call herself “practically perfect”, the Immaculate conception. Other women have succumbed to sin, she has not. Like Mary, she ushers in a new age, blowing away the nannies of the past.

Mary’s freedom is not without rules. She promotes personal responsibility (as in Mary Poppins Returns: “cleaning is not a spectator sport”) and whether work or play, everything is didactic. As with St Therese of Lisieux, one of the saints particularly promoted by the new Popes, the little acts of kindness, the incidental process of tidying up, what she calls “mundane acts of love.., the nothingness of here and now may be transformed into fire.” But there is more to Mary’s freedom. It is something that she presides over, but essentially again and again, it is the children, Bert, the domestics and so on, who are actually transformed by doing something. This is the laity in action, the message promoted by people like Francis of Assisi. It was also the ideology of Vatican II.

FRANCIS giotto copy by TIM.JPG

The film shows gives us a vision of a society that is accessible, that is on the edge of the sublime, that is in transformation, where reality is constantly tinged with fantasy. Finding God is about finding one another. there is a dissolve between the cathedral and Mary Poppins herself during the Feed the Birds song that sums up the message I think Disney was going for. The Christian message is transcendent and immanent at the same time. It is both architectural and personal. Mary emerges in this transition as a quasi-icon and if we wonder why only saints and apostles are mentioned in the song- and not angels too. Well, in this instance, Mary is the angel or at least the voice of an angel.

Francis is also there in the joy and music that surround Mary Poppins. He is there in the conversations with animals and particularly in the imagery conjured up in the song “Feed the Birds” which links the two themes- the stewardship of nature and at the same time, helping the poor.

Money is significant in the plot. Tuppence is used 4 times, first to feed the birds, then to invest in the bank, the foundation of capitalism and the Imperial vision George Banks has already given us at the start of the film, then it is redemptive when the children give their father the tuppence (the widow’s mite) and finally the tuppence is given to Mr Dawes as an apparent rejection of capitalism (Mark 12:17- render unto Caesar). The tuppence emerges again, of course, in “Mary Poppins Returns” as an improbable bit of economic magic, and a gentle dig at the parable of the talents.

When Winnifred joins the family again, and ties her banner to the kite, she is not really rejecting one life and taking up another. She is combining the two, and might even be anticipating liberation theology. This vacillation also proves to be the case with her husband too. His attempted rejection of mammon in the bank is thwarted by the death of old man Dawes and an opening for a new partner in the bank.

Mary leaves by talking umbrella, but she does not simply ascend. Instead, she travels across a london landscape like the spirit of manifest destiny spreading a little progress as she goes. The angel in the famous painting by John Gast was trailing an electricity cable- and no doubt Mary Poppins is leaving us a brighter form of technicolour.

“Don’t stay away too long” calls Bert. During production, Hitchcock was already using her technology to film key scenes in The Birds.

 

 

Ding Dong- where has the Ding gone?

Here I am in Dilijan, looking out over the mountains of Armenia! It reminds me alot of Albania and, indeed, I came across a map today which seems to confuse the two places precisely: here it is-

IMG_0442.JPG

The Dong with the Luminous Nose

In Lear’s poem, “the Dong with the Luminous nose”, I realise there is an interesting omission. Lear must have intended, in some way, a play on the doorbell-sound “ding dong” so the natural consort of the Dong must then by rights be the “Ding”.

Sadly, the Dong has other interests and pursues a Jumbly girl.

Lear by TIM 3

There is more to this though, because Kant would go on with expressions like “Ding an sich” the thing in itself, so Dong has a much deeper meaning in the Germanic/english world. Kant would talk about the thing in itself as opposed to its actual appearance, “Erscheinungen,” what we see with our senses, something Plato would no doubt regard with suspicion. Lear’s Dong has clearly lost its “Ding an sich” and the light on his augmented nose simply illuminates the physical world and fails to get to the nitty-gritty, the thing in itself, whether this be the Jumbly girl he seeks or the missing Ding he does not know he has lost. The Dong therefore, confused by his senses is doomed to wander forever, weeping into the night.

Lear by tim 4

Spoonerism?

For luminous nose, read “numinous lose” or numinous loss- where the numinous is the spiritual- so, the Dong has lost his soul. He cannot see beyond the end of his own nose. that is a theme that reappears in the original 1964 “Mary Poppins” and leads up to Disney’s beloved song, “Feed the Birds”.

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-09-09-04

Jane: An outing with father?

Mary Poppins: Yes.

Michael: I don’t believe it!

Jane: He’s never taken us on an outing before.

Michael: He’s never taken us anywhere!

Jane, Mary Poppins: However did you manage it?

Mary Poppins: Manage what?

Jane: You must have put the idea in his head somehow.

Mary Poppins: What an impertinent thing to say! Me, putting ideas into people’s heads? Really!

Jane: Where’s he taking us?

Mary Poppins: To the bank.

Jane: Oh Michael, the city! We’ll see all the sights and father can point them out to us!

Mary Poppins: Well, most things he can. Sometimes a person we love, through no fault of their own, can’t see past the end of his nose.

masha and the bear

masha and the bear.jpg

This was the first subject I dealt with for HTV’s news programme hosted by Irada Zeynalova just before Christmas. The interview was fairly full with questions about the impact of Russian animation in a global market. The particular controversy, however, was a result of an article in the TIMES, prompted by a number of academics-  Professor Anthony Glees, of the University of Buckingham, an intelligence expert, had said: “Masha is feisty, even rather nasty, but also plucky. She punches above her slight weight.” He was, in turn, quoting a slightly obscure paper by an academic in Tallinn University’s Communication School  claiming that the bear symbolised Russia and was designed, according to the Daily Mail, to “place a positive image of the country in children’s minds.” A Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, reported this in November 2018 but Professor Priit Hobemagi had actually written his paper nearly a year earlier. I do not quite understand why it took so long to come into print at all.

Speculation elsewhere that this story is really about anxiety in the Ukraine was missing from the report on HTV and reports in the Daily Mail and the Times.

The programme is deliciously designed and the soviet details are precise – that is partly where the humour lies- the cap that Masha wears here has a blue band= the colour of the border guards.

I gave a detailed breakdown of the development of Russian animation and made reference to some current projects including the amazing Hoffmanidea and further work by Yuri Norstein who animated the Hedgehog in the fog. tWhat I said was dubbed into Russian though I could not be sure that what I was saying was actually what was being spoken and the studio would not let me have access to the original tapes. Nevertheless, the dubbing seemed to be in line with the general points I raised in the interview.

tim interviewed about MASHA and the BEAR.jpg