Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Having missed Brothers Grimm the first time...

...I finally saw it this morning on cable TV. I say "cable TV," but I don't mean "cable TV." The apartment complex has free internet and free Direct TV - satellite TV. We get the basic "premium channels": HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime. One of them had Brothers Grimm on this morning. It is largely the creation of Terry Gilliam of Python fame...and it's a fucked up mess.

It is essentially three stories put into a blender: a dark horror/thriller about two brothers trying to save a village from an undead queen, a period comedy about a roving band of con men, and a period drama about a German village's resistance to French rule during the Napoleonic era. It's a's a's an action's a horror movie.  Yeah...that's not a promising start.

I can barely discern Gilliam's probable intent. He wanted to explore rationality in confrontation with the inexplicable. The brothers Grimm and the French start at the same place, the rejection of myth and superstition. First the brothers are forced to accept the reality of the inexplicable, then the more recalcitrant French commander is forced to acknowledge its existence...but that doesn't happen. The first part happens, but Gilliam, being an American turned Brit, engages in frankly hateful stereotypes about the French and the Enlightenment. He then eliminates the French general in an action sequence, when instead, he should have transformed him into an ally of the Grimms. I personally despise him for his anti-French stereotypes. Maybe in becoming a Brit, Gilliam, like many immigrants, has become more stereotypically British than the British. Not making excuses for the man, it's repugnant. This is especially true because Gilliam is supposedly far left in his thinking. Is he so out of touch that he has not noticed the core values of the Enlightenment under attack both in Britain and America? For the last fifteen years at least, since the 1990s, right-wing Christians and others have bombarded our culture with what can only be called medieval lunacy. Vast numbers of satanist child molesters that don't really exist, or natural disasters caused by an angry god, or ordinary astronomical events seen as portents of dire events.

Anyway, back to the movie. It's a disaster. The movie hops from one story to another until everything is thrown into chaos. Who the fuck cares how it ends?

So, how to fix it. It's simple. Instead of making the French general into a tyrannical stereotype, you make him into a follower of the Enlightenment, hard from the long years on campaign, first in the Revolutionary armies, then under Napoleon. He has no torture chamber. He threatens the brothers Grimm with prison, not death.

Both the Grimms and the general come at the horror of the undead queen from the same place, a firm belief in rationality. But rationalists, as the Grimms reveal and as the general states when he becomes their ally, accept reality, no matter how weird reality might be. They use their rationality to defeat the undead queen through the classic tools of rationality: gather evidence, derive conclusions based on their evidence, and act on their conclusions.

All of this in an action/horror movie, with little sprinkles of humor at the beginning and at the end. The humor slowly fades away to reveal the horror they are to confront, only returning at the end.

In other words, pick one story and tell it. Here's a shock, Gilliam could have told this same story without the French general or the Italian gunsel. He only needed the brothers Grimm to get his story told.

Simplification sometimes means cutting out extraneous characters and plot lines. Sometimes it means adding characters and plots. I know, confusing. Start with the central characters. Let them tell the story to you. Simple. This was the story of the brothers Grimm...and only the brothers Grimm.

I ought to note that the real brothers Grimm were dedicated academics and folklorists, very respectable, talented scholars. They managed to preserve a great deal of the myth and folklore of the Middle Ages. We should honor them for that.

R. P. Bird: Professional writer since 1989. Author of the IN THE REALM OF THE GODS series and the SUZIE crime novels. Crazy, but highly reliable. Can fix about anything.