By Armond White
Why should we be watching commercials director Rupert Sanders’ film Snow White and the Huntsman when Romain Gavras’ No Church in the Wild music video for Kanye West begs our attention? Whatever unrest Kanye artfully evokes with Gavras’ references to insurrection and political strife is truer to the temper of modern living than this over-extravagant CGI fairytale.
Updating the Snow White legend into a vampire-zombie-cyber-goth fashion show results from commercial calculation more than any credible feeling for the ideas of innocence, selflessness, hope, beauty (and their opposites) that the Snow White story used to instruct. Charlize Theron struts her usual psychotic anger as Ravenna, a vengeful queen lusting for eternal youth and power while Kristen Stewart as Snow White again anguishes over her obligation and destiny. A Monster and Twilight mash-up for no purpose. SWATH may trigger reflex pretensions about feminism and narcissism (including Chris Hemsworth‘s stolid Hunstman) but at the same time it is uprooted from the basic needs of storytelling and deep emotional identification.
So many jumbled motifs occur in Sander’s SWATH that it resembles the promiscuity of music videos that ransack our cultural heritage out of art directors and costume designers‘ mad zeal. SWATH plunders the recent melting, morphing history of F/X–everything from that damnable The Lord of the Rings trilogy to Avatar yet never achieves the exotic originality of such magnificent Chinese fantasies as Chen Kaige’s The Promise, or Zhang Yimou’s Hero and Curse of the Golden Flower that evoke authentic cultural memory.
Romain Gavras, son of political filmmaker Costa Gavras, supplies similar cultural evocation for Kanye West–political consciousness as a form of style, music video as quasi-political internet communique. No Church in the Wild’s only message concerns the amoral panic that SWATH disregards. Kanye West’s current artistic project uses imagination to create new myths; his innovations constantly provoke (though not always successfully as in the visually striking yet metabolically abrasive Niggas in Paris music video), But No Church in the Wild pinpoints the loveless circumstances of modern living that SWATH placates with meaningless fantasizing. Kanye uses the history of cinematic agit-prop to recall its absence/ignorance in today’s media but SWATH exploits fairytale mythology without the philological intelligence found in Neil Jordan’s In the Company of Wolves.
Although the idea of Ravenna’s vainglorious mirror as a gigantic upright cymbal [cq] is pretty good, the half-hour that Theron’s glowering is offscreen allows SWATH’s best moments, the dwarfs played by reliable British character actors at their eccentric best: Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane–a dream team. Little else matches the fantasy quintessence that Walt Disney’s animators found for the 1938 Snow White–that glass coffin simplification was a perfect Surrealist abstraction. By the time SWATH pillages Joan of Arc imagery for Snow White‘s triumph then goes inert, the melty-morphy junkpile makes it unignorable that our cultural memory is in tatters
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