Sunday, December 23, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Movies 2012 - Day 23: A Little Ballet

I'm currently sitting in the guest room of my sister's new home...it is a generous sized and comfortable room that I am only using because my sister has asked my mother to move out of it for a few days this Christmas so that there would be room in the house for my father and I.  Mom has been living here for a few months now as she waits for her new condo to be finished and so for all intents and purposes, this has become her home.  So you can imagine the enthusiasm with which she met this idea.  I can sympathize, and in fact I will be spending the afternoon with her to help her not feel so left out this Christmas, but I wish she and my sister were getting along better this Christmas.  I'm not saying either of them is being a huge witch or anything like that, but there have been more than a few choice words between them over the subject and really the situation is very simple: My sister wanted some quality time with my father (with whom relations are always strained when mom is around due to their divorce back in 1989) because she has not seen him EVERYDAY for the past few months and it is Christmas...that's her side.  Mom is feeling under appreciated and unloved and feels as though she is not allowed to be part of Christmas this year (never mind that she is going to be here Christmas Eve and Day) because she has been asked to stay in a hotel to make room for time and space in the house...that's mom's side.  If they weren't so alike, I think this would be less like two bulls butting heads and more like a friendly compromise.  At any rate, I hope one of them apologizes to the other by Christmas.  This was a little off topic, but it was on my mind so I figured I'd vent a bit.  I suppose this comes with the territory this Christmas, being the first one since we were kids that both of my parents attended simultaneously.  There was bound to be tension.  So I try to escape into fonder memories of Christmas, which is where I found today's film.  I've written about it before, but now that it is on MOD (Movie on Demand) DVD I figured it was the perfect time to mention it again.  It is a fairy tale and a fully-mounted ballet that is still one of the best film versions (in my humble opinion) of the ballet ever put to film.  I give you, Nutcracker: The Motion Picture.

The story begins in the large and ominous looking workshop of Herr Drosselmeyer, the godfather of the story's protagonist...Clara.  He sits thinking at his desk until he gets an idea.  As the familiar strains of Tchaikovsky's music swirls to life, he creates a magnificent toy castle that is inhabited by many motorized characters.  He falls asleep next to it and the castle opens, revealing the inner dreams of Clara.  It would appear that Drosselmeyer's work has been to send a nightmare to Clara, punishing her for not wanting to be close to him.  In the dream she imagines a fight with her brother culminating in a rat bite that transforms her.  Suddenly the dream leaps to a different setting, that of her family's Christmas Eve party.  It appears to be a facsimile of the one she is about to attend (as I assume this nightmare was given to her in the early hours of Christmas Eve) and Clara is amazed to recieve the motorized castle as a present.  However, the toy she loves best is actually a wooden nutcracker that falls from the Christmas tree.  Later, when everyone else is asleep, Clara comes into the great hall to dance about with her nutcracker and this is where she sees the mice.  It seems the Mouse King (a three headed beast) has infiltrated the room and all of his minions are stealing the presents.  The Mouse King also has magical powers and he makes Clara shrink to his size.  Suddenly, the nutcracker comes to life to defend her.  As they both defeat the Mouse King, Clara magically becomes an adult and the nutcracker becomes a handsome prince who takes her on a marvelous adventure.

This production was very much a filmed version of a stage production which was produced by the Pacific Northwest Ballet of Seattle, Washington in 1983 and was so popular that it was decided that the production would make an entertaining movie. This version differs greatly from other versions as it omits the Sugar Plum Fairy (who has an entire dance written for her) and The Kingdom of Sweets and replaces them instead with a harem run by a sultan who resembles Uncle Drosselmeyer greatly. Also notable was that the production's sets and costumes were designed by Maurice Sendak (author and illustrator of "Where the Wild Things Are") and its staging stays much truer to E.T.A. Hoffman's original fairy tale (which was much darker and ominous). Also of note was that the production was staged with two Claras. One who represented Clara as an actual child, and another who was meant to be 'Dream Clara' and would dance and be a part of Clara's dream world. Clara also seems to share a strange love/fear relationship with Drosselmeyer which adds another aspect of depth to the proceedings, especially when the Drosselmeyer sultan shows a desire to compete with the Nutcracker Prince for Clara's affections and nearly causes their demise at the end of the film as they freefall away from each other...causing Clara to awaken in her bed as the curtain falls. It is a sumptuous and lively production and will always be one of my favorites to see every year.  You can stream it on Netflix or buy the disc from Amazon...it makes a wonderful antidote to the bland 90s film by George Balanchine.


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