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.

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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.

 

 

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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-

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

Mary Mary quite contrary

Quite apart from the fact that she is first seen floating around on a cloud, the imagery of Mary Poppins is loaded with intense Christian symbolism. I was awoken last night by the sudden thought that “Feed the Birds” is fundamentally religious and the centre of the film itself. It is a metaphor of hope and love and she is still on the steps of St Paul’s as Jack speeds past in the opening song of “Mary Poppins Returns”. Richard Sherman says “He [Walt Disney] loved that song and knew it was the heartbeat of the whole movie”. He adds that it was “deeply spiritual.”

It is a song set around the Cathedral of St Paul’s with reference to the “Saints and Apostles” as well as references to charity/agape/caritas. But the image of the bird is loaded with more significance than twitter: the bird is not only a symbol of peace in a troubled world, it is the Holy spirit, the paraclete or comforter who remains with us after the ascension.

To check the significance of the “feed the birds” scene, I listened to the score again today- the composers open the film with the tune and it is this tune that underscores the sunset reflection before the children, Bert and Mary descend from their vision of London. It is played also as Tomlinson walks towards the bank to be sacked. It is the thoughtful heart of “Mary Poppins”.

Here’s a quick summary of the main religious features of Poppins.

1) She is a Virgin Mary figure, equipped even with the same name. The imagery of “white witch” which Travers provides is all but excised by Disney.

2) Her divine arrival (and later ascension) by umbrella on the East wind (matthew 24:27), her simple costume and nun-like demeanor; her poverty (she carries her life in a carpet bag that is apparently empty); her magic acts which are there to reassure the children that their belief in her is worthy. (like miracles); she consorts with the working class (chimney sweeps); she is led by her heart rather than by considerations of money.

3) She is victimised by the father who accuses her without reason (like Judas or the High Priest if she represents Christ, but simply recalling the gossipers who worried about her speedy pregnancy and questioned the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.) She turns dirt into hope and takes the Children from the fireplace/chimney/hell? upwards to a vision of London- “the whole world at your feet.” There is even a moment of communion over spoons of magical medicine (a few years’ later, the Scaffold did a song about “medicinal compound- most efficacious in every way”).

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4) She is not the prophet or the saviour- she points instead to others- in this case to the bird woman (Jane Darwell) who is surrounded by a nimbus on the steps of st pauls; but positive changes come over the whole household (beginning with the cook and maid)

5) She takes the children (and Bert) into an enriched vision of the world- an iconic landscape. A window into heaven, first in a chalk pavement picture and later in seeing reality transformed as the sun sets over the chimneys of London. Certainly enough for some serious thoughts about the theology of the icon as presented by St John of Damascus! When the children emerge from both ecstatic visions, they have a tendency to shake hands indiscriminately and use nonsense words – is this a reference to glossalalia?

Most importantly, the birds’ song recall the birds and lillies of Matthew 6:24-34

Pictures inspired by MARY POPPINS RETURNS

maxresdefault-e1537202370488Here are some sketches from watching the trailer of Mary Poppins returns along with two youtube links-

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Julie Walters plays Ellen

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Mary Poppins provides some specific parenting advice- that a smooth house is based on order, that mavericks need a system which can be broken with some care- Mary Poppins is essentially two people- the disciplinarian and the mischievous fairy- when there is a clash she simply refuses to explain or denies that anything odd has ever happened. “Or I’ll call a policeman”. It is harder to pull off as an average mortal, but all children need both the boundaries and the experience of breaking those boundaries. I think it also helps if children have a wider circle of trustworthy adults they can consult, especially when things go wrong. The family sadly does not have all the answers all the time.

There is a similar wealth of good advice in Mrs Doubtfire.

 

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I love the “Step in Time” tribute in the trailers and also the 2d animation sequence.

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here is a picture of Mary Poppins’ arrival:

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Some thoughts about Disney

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NOTES:

Animation started, in a way, with the invention of Faraday’s Wheel in the 19th Century: from this came the zoetrope (1834) – the spinning wheel with slots, through which one looks to see a galloping horse or a man on a trapeze. Whilst still, the wheel shows only single images, yet when in motion the pictures pasted inside the wheel flow into one moving scene. This concept was taken (to great effect) to the camera upon its invention – Muybridge was the first, setting up a line of cameras each with their individual tripwires. Upon walking across his tripwires, each camera would photograph that split-second of his walk – when these pictures are all placed in series, a walking scene has been created or a person’s walk minutely examined. This concept was played with in true artistic fashion by George Méliès, the creator of various silent films featured in  Hugo in 1890 – by fiddling with the sequence, Méliès could make a character disappear and re-appear ten steps away, creating the illusion of magic and demonstrating a primitive form of animation. As such, animation is as focused on timing as it is on drawing.

However, it was McCay, from across the pond, who introduced the portrayal of emotion through animation: the task of the animator is to portray characteristics in a purely visual sense, and McCay’s Gertie the Trained Dinosaur was one of the first to achieve this characterisation showing a drawing that seemed to be thinking as well as moving. The animator, drawing in 2D, must think in 3D – it is here Wilson introduces the concept of the hyper-cube. When we think of 2D, we think of the square; 3D the cube, and 4D is the melding of two cubes into one amalgamation and another dimension. In a way, the animator must switch between different dimensions, and the example given was one of punching: though the animator draws the effect in 2D, the punch is thought of in circles or arcs due to the punch’s path of motion.

It is with these foundations laid down that we come to Walt Disney who introduced believability and genuine emotion into animation with feature films. Budget was a big deal for Disney, as shown by their first production of Alice, which was a mix of live-action (cheaper) and animation (more expensive). In today’s film, there are 24 frames per second, and to reduce the cost and time of animation Disney decided to reduce the drawings to 12 per second. The iconic character of Mickey Mouse was introduced first in Plane Crazy, a silent movie. It is here Wilson claims that the design of Mickey was taken from Ub Iwerks not Disney. Continuing on to the famous Steamboat Willie, Disney tied a musical soundtrack directly the animation – the same formula for Fantasia. With the intersection of music and motion one can look at tap dancing. Fred Astaire was notorious for dancing off-beat, only to occasionally switch onto the beat to great effect. Disney tended to do the visual image on the beat (less exciting, and called “mickey mousing”), using music as both characterisation and aesthetic. There is also the fact that every action in Disney has a corresponding sound: the pulling of Clarabelle the Cow’s tail resulted in a musical ‘moo’. Today, lip-syncing in Disney is often relaxed, as the animators keep the lines of the lips and face vague – both the economise and allow easier dubbing into other languages.

There is, of course, the question of Mickey’s gloves – they held a practical reason (during black and white films, if an object was black Mickey’s hand would disappear upon holding it) but they also link to Mickey’s function as a public figure. It is with this that one could claim Mickey a problematic figure – his gloves and mannerisms mimic the characteristics of the minstrels, last seen in the 70s BBC; minstrels would wear white gloves and often tap dance and sing for entertainment. It was a staple of American Vaudeville entertainment. This characteristic is the only one that Disney cannot sanitise today, as the white gloves are iconic to the character. In other areas, however, there is (and always has been) ongoing sanitisation – potentially offensive sections of Fantasia, for instance,  have been quietly redrawn to remove the offending sections, though not the crows in Dumbo. Films like Song of the south have all but disappeared from the Disney canon. As a business, family entertainment is the goal of Disney- and this explains both the sanitisation and the fact that the character of Mickey has changed from the troublemaker in Steamboat Willie to the wholesome soul in modern day films. This was the goal as it (along with another factor) would guarantee Disney success and money. The first way was shown by Snow White: it was the first film to release a soundtrack and related merchandise. The second method is one of morality: most animation that Disney creates holds a didactic function – the films tell stories that reward good behaviour and punish the bad, though Disney claimed he was not in the business of “preaching a message”. There are 5 Disney virtues: the first is kindness (such as Cinderella’s kindness to the animals), the second is perseverance (the prince in Cinderella, for example). The third is faith, with its obvious connotations of religion – the only overtly religious piece of Disney, (overlooking Christian imagery at the end of Fantasia) is Hunchback of Notre Dame but this pushes kindness combined with faith, and if Disney is interested in Belief, it is belief itself- and not a belief in a specific person or thing. Belief in self is allied to belief in a higher power. The final one is family: Aristocats and 101 Dalmatians, for instance, display the ethos that the meaning of family can still be extended, and is not just about blood relatives. There is, moreover, a heavy Protestant work ethic that is present in Disney films, and the most recent Frozen emphasises the dimension of not trusting appearances, first glimpsed in Gaston in Beauty and the Beast but maybe hinted at in the magical witches of both Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks who promote family values and patch together relationships that have gone wrong.

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The gospel according to walt.

So just to kick off, is there a reference to adam and eve in the fact that snow white eats a poisoned apple?

Is there a reference to Christ in the initials of Jiminy Cricket?

Jonah and the whale. (Pinocchio)

The Disney gospel is part of most chidren’s earliest teachings.

Young impressionable minds

The amount of time children spend in church or synagogues of temples is dwarfed by the amount of time children spend in front of Disney films.

“One of the most significant shaping forces in the 20th Century.”

“A sacred destination of the first trip to the movies.”

Calvinist paradigm of hard work- rewarded with upward solical mobility/ walt’s rise to prosperity

Disney boycotted by the Washington DC Traditional values Coalition in 1990s (“they’re not fair to the Christian message of life death and eternal life” Revd Clark Whitten of the Calvary Assembly church in Orlando. “they have a gospel- it’s to make money”)

Humanism: when Disneyland opened in Anaheim in 1954 Time magazine called Disney “the poet of the new American Humanism” and says the common symbol of humanity in the struggle against the forces of evil is Mickey Mouse”

It’s not what you believe that is important, but the fact of believing itself is important.

Disney is the perfect example of the protestant work ethic divorced from religious moorings.

Disney choice of magic over religion

VALUES: Good triumphs over evil a consistent set of moral values throughout the movies. Disney personal values and commercial goals

Optimism as a creed (pinoccho)

Miracles (Pinocchio as Jesus: the puppet comes to life and resurrected as boy,)

WALT: didn’t want to single out any single religion . But always designed as a “message” He tells reporter: “we like to have a point of view in our stories not an obvious moral but a worthwhile theme” in 1962: Children are people and they should have to reach to learn about things, to understand things just as adults have to reach if they are to grow in mental statue. Life is composed of lights and shadows and we have to be untruthful, insincere aand saccharine if we are to pretenbd there were no shadows. Most things are good and they are the strongest things; but there are evil things too and you are not doing a child a favour by trying to shield him from reality. The important thing is to teach a child that good can always triumph over evil and that is what our pictures attempt to do.”

Sam Goldwyn: Pictures are for entertainment- messages should be sent by western union.

FAITH: Faith in something greater than self? Combined with faith in self

Wish fulfillment

Magic allows you to see a better life and apply the vision to real life.

An agent of transformation. The ordinary becomes extraordinary

The little mermaid: challenge of intermarriage

The lion king:the hindu circle of life

MECCA: Disneyland: a place of pilgrimage (parents reconnecting with their childhood) a cartoon fantasy mecca?

RACISM: Racist representation esp in DUMBO and fantasia (censored in Fantasia but not in Dumbo) song of the south and the three caballeros

DEUS EX MACHINA: No obvious judeo-christian iconography but Greek magic: universal device from ancient greece

Censorship: note the general anxiety about racism: song of the south, dumbo fantasia- cleaning up of Aladdin’s anti-muslim jokes and the toning down of homophobia  (see the beginning of Der Fuhrer’s face) to the extent that the remake of Beauty and the beast contains a genuine gay subplot.

SNOW WHITE:

The akedah: snow white dispatched to be killed in the forest. Sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham

The huntsman returns with the heart of a boar. (Abraham sacrifices a ram)

Whistle while you work: the work ethic during the great depression

The dwarfs are also hard workees, singing while the work.\snow white- just like an angel. See Rhapsody in Blue in Fantasia 2000

Cleanliness- next to godliness?

There was a sequence where Snow white teaches the dwarves how to pray- abandoned. But snow white prays- she asks for blessings on the seven little men who have been so kind to me and please make grumpy like me” next day when grumpy gets a kiss, she says” why grumpy you DO care”

Escapist and androcentric.

 PINOCCHIO- fate not god steps in when things get bad: the blue fairy

As reward to Gepetto for bringing happiness to others

But the outcome will be entirely up to you. (Good works)

Jiminy cricket became an alternative exclamation to Jesus Christ in the US.

He is the still small voice.

The blue fairy as the Virgin mary?

Her appearance in the film is like the appearance of Mary at Fatima and La Salette BLUE and WHITE!

It’ll take a mira le to get out of here (says Jiminy in Stromboli’s caravan, then the blue fairy arrives. (A lie keeps growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face

Jiminy Cricket defines temptation as The wrong things that seem right at the time.

They like him he’s a success. Gosh. Maybe I was wrong. I guess he won’t need me anymore. What does an actor need with a conscience?”

“Give a bad boy enough rope and hell soon make a jackass of himself.”

The essence of the Disney religion is not theology but morality: prove yourself brave truthful and unselfish and someday you will be a real boy. Resurrection. Awake Pinocchio awake!

NB: difference between snow white and Pinocchio is that Pinocchio is active in his salvation and snow white is entirely passive.

FANTASIA: Dancing toadstools- racist presentation of chinese figures probably intended to be amiable not malevolent. It is still a brilliant piece of animation

The sorcerer’s apprentice: work-shy mickey gets his comeuppance. (work ethic)

The image has been taken by Disney and turned mickey into a high priest of magic in the Disney kingdom. (Disney’s mecca)

Ave maria; the most explicit reference to religion until hunchback of notre dame

The text is an odd interperattion of the latin: the prince of peace your arms embrace while hosts ofdarkness fade and cover, Oh save us mother full of grace in life, and in our dying hour ave maria.

DUMBO: Mother love

Note the workers putting up te circus sing while they work: they “slave until we’re almost dead”

In the parade, dumbo slips and a boy laughs at him. The boy ALSO has improbably big ears.

BAMBI: man in the forest song at the beginning: “love is a song that never ends”

Carefree childhood and dependence on mother is finished with the greatest tear-jerker in the history of cinema:

Your mother cannot be with you anymore. Earlier they had been told of “Man in the forest”now it seems there is a man shooting out of season. Two shots and the second one is fatal.

It is man.. he is here again. There man be many this time. We must go deep into the forest. Hurry. Follow me”

An unspoilt eden is destroyed by man.

Cinderella: if you keep on believing, the dream you wish for will come true.

Cinderella has friends- birds mice etc.. her kindness in helping small rodents explains why the animals are so keen to help her wit housework

Elsa in FROZEN, BEDKNOBS and POPPINS- all autonomous witches, (perhaps it’s a witch. Don’t be sily witches have brooms) and spinsters. establishing world order rather than destroying it. Actually both Poppins and Eglantine are outsiders reestablish family values. And the sisters in Frozen are estranged …

A magical nanny and a reluctant nanny

 

(above: Milt Kahl images from Mary Poppins)

Religious iconography in Mary poppins;

 1)   mary poppins is Mary the mother of jesus, practically perfect. The immaculate conception. Above all other women etc.

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2)   2) a spoonful of sugar: the Franciscan nod: Mary talks to the birds (feed the birds song with encircling chorus of doves)

3)   3) George banks gives tuppence to the bank chairman- render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s- capitalist banker to family man/ charity… the widow’s mite

4)   Alternative view:  a scurrilous interpretation

nanny shows up and changes a married man’s life but has to leave because she is pregnant. And no, she doesn’t change “the family” since the wife and kids are still the mindless dimwits at the end of the movie that they were in the beginning. And how do we know that Mary is pregnant? Because of the way she hold hers hands folded over her stomach [at the top of the staircase] when Mr. Banks finally emerges from the basement with the mended kite. So, while most of us think that Mary is misty eyed over Jane & Michael as she stands on the doorstep, the truth is: she is affected by having to say goodbye to Mr. Banks.

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Other religious imagery in Disney:

Fantasia ending (ave maria triumphs over Chernabog. But it is nature that is triumphant as also in the end of Fantasia 2000)

Bambi and the Lion King– the role of the father figure, in the Lion king is actually a voice from the dead.

Hunchback

Self sacrifice as a form of redemption: – Baloo, the great dane in lady and the tramp, King Triton in The little mermaid, the beast in Beauty and the beast, and Pinocchio

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