“Once upon a time, in a far off kingdom…,”
Things were moving along just fine until they removed my favorite song.
I mean, I understand that with the necessities of condensing two full acts of musical theater into a single movie, some stuff was going to have to be dropped along the way. I’d braced myself for this harsh reality, and to tell you the truth, most of the songs that were cut were just too repetitive for general audiences.
Most of the cuts hindered neither the action of the story nor development of the characters. Except, that is, for that one critical number, which was pivotal to the plot.
And, my favorite…,
I should explain.
If you haven’t already guessed, I am speaking of the new theatrical version of Sondheim’s ‘Into the Woods’, and specifically a song titled ‘No More’ which, sadly, didn’t make it into this version.
I liked the movie, far more than I expected to, but the song they took out…,
…about a son, deeply disappointed in his father, and terrified of becoming him, and finding a way, at the last, to face his fears and mistakes in a world that seems to be crashing down around him…,
It’s not the best song in the show (‘Lament’), or the funniest (‘Agony’), or the most powerful (‘Last Midnight’), but it has always been the one I find myself waiting for.
And to find it missing, with only a few strains of lingering melody to back some rushed dialogue, was very disappointing.
We disappoint, we disappear, we die, but we don’t.
They disappoint in turn, I fear, forgive, though, they won’t.
And yet, that is the way of fairytales: they change with the telling, with the means in which we tell them, and with the intended audience.
In 1812, the Brothers Grimm released their first collection of stories. Napoleon was on the move in Europe, Louisiana became the 18th state, Charles Dickens was a newborn, and a second war was erupting between the United States and the United Kingdom. We think of these events as being far removed from us in time, but they are really quite recent. The fables, so carefully collected and catalogued by the Brothers Grimm, had likely passed down through generations reaching further back then we can possibly know. However new they may have been to many audiences of the time, these stories were old beyond measure when America was in its infancy.
The fairytales of our childhood bedtime were told and retold and memorized and changed along the way, as each storyteller added little details and embellishments, to make the story come alive for the listeners. The Brothers Grimm, collected many of them in the early 1800’s and almost immediately began adding their own embellishments, adding details and descriptions and more often than not, softening the tone of the tales, to better appeal to ‘more sophisticated’ urban audiences.
It is easy to complain about the changes wrought upon these old stories by the Disney studios, while ignoring the fact that the stories had been gentrified and dumbed down long before Walt and Co. laid their hands upon them.
It’s one of the reason I enjoy ‘Into the Woods’ so much. Sondheim taps into much earlier versions of the stories then most people are familiar with. Cinderella is not visited by her Fairy Godmother, but instead discovers a tree possessed by her dead mothers spirit. Her stepsisters mutilate their own feet to fit into the golden slipper, and are discovered by the telltale stain oozing from the blood soaked shoe.
Not, I suppose, the sort of material Mommy and Daddy are likely to share with their precious little bundles come bedtime. Assuming, that is, parents even engage in the art of storytelling anymore – rather than just letting the kids conk out in front of the latest DVD release.
I have been told over and over again, throughout the years, than an oral tradition is weak because the story changes over time dependent upon the needs of the storyteller. Whereas, if you put something in a book and take pains to make sure it never changes, then you have something that you can trust.
I would argue exactly the opposite. An oral tradition is a living tradition. The stories stay alive, to grow and spread their messages whenever and wherever they are needed. While a canon of stories, set in stone, demands that society adapt to it, holding itself back to force the stories into relevance.
No, the problem is not that the stories keep changing, it’s just that we’ve turned over the responsibility for telling them to people who are interested only in finding appeal with the widest possible audience.
We disappoint, we leave a mess, we die, but we don’t.
We disappoint in turn, I guess. Forget, though, we won’t.
Sometimes, I am disappointed with what the hollywood folks do to my favorite stories, and sometimes, I think the changes are brilliant.
The thing that I have to remind myself of, is that the stories don’t die. These tales have survived a million changes over hundreds (thousands?) of years, and they keep right on going. Because they are, in many ways, living things, and like all life, they will evolve over time. But only if WE tell them.
There is no definitive edition.
There can’t be.
Because when that happens, the story really does die.