An American Tail

Boy, did this one dredge up a lot of thoughts in me. A LOT.

an-american-tail-images-8a228e09-bf20-4417-83ec-ad2dc7f4984

I hadn’t seen this film, in full, since I was a child. I know it always affected me strongly back in the day, even if it wasn’t my favorite of Bluth’s (that honor still probably belongs to Secret of NIMH), but I honestly can’t imagine a more affecting — or upsetting — time to be seeing it again than our current climate. And frankly, as the child of an immigrant (albeit a voluntary one) who got into trouble at school due to discomfort with the entire concept of being forced to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, my own relationship to — and discomfort with — America and patriotism has always been… complicated.

an-american-tail-images-8cb763ac-86b4-4658-ae49-216d17201b3

It’s just… it’s so goddamn hopeful about America, it was painful to take in now. It’s a film about the plight of refugees so earnest and blatantly (and deservedly) sympathetic that I honestly can’t imagine it being made today. In one scene, Fievel is literally caged by the cats, and watching that as American border agents are caging living children was almost too much to bear. I found myself thinking back on Art Spiegelman’s masterpiece MAUS more than once — a parallel it’s tough not to draw (and apparently inspired some litigation at the time of the film’s release), given the presence of evil cats killing mice; in this case, the only difference, really, is that the cats aren’t literal Nazis — the mice are still (Russian) Jews. They arrive at the port immigration authority, and their family names are changed; they’re then confronted by opportunistic vultures lying in wait, taking advantage of the poor and desperate new arrivals wherever they can, to put them to work in America’s longest, most successful grift: cheap labor off the backs of its most hopeful dreamers. The set palette, between Russia and America, it’s worth noting (and I’m sure is no accident) does not change; New York is just as grimy, dangerous, crowded, and threatened by fire and death as the homeland they left.

Don Bluth is a filmmaker I’ve always had a complex relationship with. The films of his I love, I love deeply. (Hell, I even have a soft spot for the duds; Rock-a-Doodle is like a drug-addled fever dream from an Elvis fanatic on acid, but that didn’t keep me from watching it more than once, back in the day. Thumbelina is a mess, but it’s so beautiful to look at, I was charmed by it anyway.) I believe I saw NIMH first, at about age 4 or 5, and it blatantly traumatized me, I know — it gave me recurring, vivid, horrific nightmares — and yet I returned to it again and again.

77f87d8c70c42e036112ac287d4ff02d--anastasia-movie-princess-anastasia

Animation is an art form I have always adored and revered, mostly due to my deepest childhood dream of being an animator. I discovered I lacked the discipline as an artist to ever achieve such a thing long ago, but animated films still hold a power over me that no other genre of film does, and I love film. In a way, it could be argued they’re film, as a storytelling medium, in its purest form. There are visuals and scenes in animated films that never fail to move me to tears, and have influenced me in so many unconscious ways. I’m fairly sure I’ve been dyeing my hair red for nearly half my life now mostly because I was more obsessed by Ariel than any other fictional character during my formative years; seeing this film again, I can’t help but wonder whether I ultimately picked out a blue newsboy cap recently because it’s the color Fievel wore.

amulet-glowing

Bluth’s films include a darkness that no other animator really dared explore for audiences including such young children. He isn’t the greatest animator of my time, in my book — I would personally give that honor to Miyazaki — but when he succeeded, he produced the stuff of unmistakable brilliance. The widow Brisby holding literal fire in her hands, upon finding her real self and true courage in order to save her children, marked me as a young girl; Littlefoot’s mother’s death — and the entire theme of inescapable death in All Dogs Go to Heaven — articulated the inevitable end of life to me at my most impressionable in a more profound way than any other fictional tales I can recall. Hell, even Anastasia — handicapped though it may be by Bluth’s growing over-reliance on awkward Rotoscoping in his animation — is irresistible to me; I will belt the fuck out of “Journey to the Past” and feel like I could do just about anything while doing it (and part of me always wanted to steal Anya’s newsboy cap-wearing, cropped-reddish hairstyle, too).

secretnimh

Bluth’s violence is direct in a deeply un-Disney way, and I often wonder how much he pushed himself toward that darkness after walking out of those studios (taking half of Disney’s animation staff with him, arguably the greatest coup he ever achieved). There is visible, stark blood in them, which you will find in almost no other works by his contemporaries. There are knives, daggers, swords, needles glinting in the dark, stabbing into lab rats, bones of cannibalized characters litter the ground; the terrors and pain he animates look real. (The huge robotic mouse they build to scare off the cats onto the ship? Holy shit, I had somehow forgotten how terrifying it is.)

hqdefault

Bluth’s nightmares are the stuff of genuine nightmares, honest to god hellscapes — when they literally go through actual hell in All Dogs Go to Heaven (apparently a tamer version of the original cut, if you can even imagine what it might have otherwise been; I never dared to), it will fuck a child up. The water that washes Fievel off the boat to America, that floods the old New York streets and sewers is not blue; it’s dark and dirty and appears bottomless; it really does look like something you would drown in.

d0de93ae95f01d29f87f8b5c5dc96db4

This applies to the grief in them as well: Disney films are full of missing (typically presumed dead) mothers; The Land Before Time has you witness the mother’s actual death. And all of this, within animation, is as unique as it is visionary. Bluth did many things, not all of them great, but he certainly never shied away from confronting the children in his audience with true fear, darkness, or sadness.

libertyamericantail

“Ah, America. What a place!” Fuck me, but this line made me want to cry (and it repeats later!). The most painterly, loving frames in the entire film appear in its closing, when the camera pans slowly, reverently around the freshly built Statue of Liberty, still resplendent in all her original, pre-oxodized copper glory, shining like a true beacon in the sunrise: “Isn’t she beautiful?” She was. She still is — even as a brave black woman, an immigrant herself from the Congo, scaled her feet just a week ago, in protest of our government literally stealing children from their parents and abandoning them in cages — even as the American dream continues to rot at its very core. This film’s title is no accident; there is no story more American than that of the immigrant and the refugee.

I’m nearly 32 years old, and Don Bluth can still fuck me the hell up. LACMA is running a full series of his works all month long. I’ll watch them all, and they’re all going to fuck me up.

Advertisements

<

2000px-Notation_musicale_crescendo.svg

What a choice for the daily prompt word this turned out to be; yesterday’s was “finite,” but that felt both too on-the-nose and too depressing to touch at the time. Right now, there is certainly a crescendo of noise crashing onto me: the noise of seemingly relentless, unfortunate change.Β It is slowly but surely growing too loud around me to hear much else.

I could detail more specifically why the past nine months have been such a difficult slog, but it would not be compelling reading, nor would it be particularly helpful; I already know what the reasons are. I tend to use writing as a cathartic and therapeutic exercise, at best, and so rehashing realities I have already faced feels tired and confined. This general excising of feeling, though, I do need; the poison has to come out somehow, usually by bleeding it out of oneself; it is painful, ugly, messy, and has to happen.

Given the latest batch of bad — unsurprising, but still bad — news that arrived today, I finally realized why this year, on the whole, has felt like such a struggle to merely survive: it started on a high note, and has gone almost entirely downward ever since, in spite of my best efforts to counter it wherever I can. My overall mental health has been much better, and I’ve adopted better habits relating to my health and habits, generally. As it continues to take over, with no turnaround in sight, I’ve attempted to make better use of my ever-expanding alone time. At the time, I took the positive beginning in January — which feels so long ago, now — as a sign that I had a good wave on which to start, and would allow it to buoy me forward, keeping myself more open to the good, and the positive. Thus far, however, all this has seemed to do is put me in a less prepared position for the bad that followed on its heels, as though I’ve been stupidly keeping my back to the waves out in the ocean of all that has hit me, and all that will follow; that continues to roll in like a tide with no turning.

My birthday is approaching in a couple of weeks, but I don’t care. I don’t do much to celebrate as a general rule as it is, but by this point I might have at least already tried to plan something for it, as in the past few years, but this year: no. I just do not care. Recognizing more clearly, today, that just about everything I came into this year either believing as somehow solid or secure, that I hoped for or wanted, or was looking forward to — both big and small — has slid away, if not disappeared entirely. The likely impending loss of my last remaining close family from easily reachable proximity is sort of just the icing on the cake. I wasn’t even surprised to read it; I just felt sad, and alone, and lost.

On the plus side, if I even can believe in such a thing for the time being: I have little, if nothing much, left to lose, at this point. So, if nothing else, there aren’t likely to be many more nasty surprises lurking around any more corners as the year drags on; it’s just more moving forward in the dark, toward nothing in particular. If it is a tunnel, which is a rather optimistic concept in itself, it’s become too long of one to see any light on the other side. That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no way out on the other side, but even a pinprick of light at the moment would be welcome. Fall is coming, and the late part of the year is generally my favorite, but also brings with it difficulties of its own, mostly tied to memory, and as the days grow darker, I don’t have much faith in that black space opening for something brighter to break through. Maybe all I am able to do for now is continue to survive, and sustain some hope that things will look less bleak sometime in the future. Anything more specific than that only feels foolish from here.

I am young, and life is (generally, perhaps hopefully) long, but from the perspective of now, things look bleak, and I am so tired.

 

[To be deleted, I’m sure.]

 

via Daily Prompt: Crescendo

Invocation

tumblr_o0ffnl71hk1u797bdo10_500

There are many things in my life I feel I can admit to no one, but one of those I tend to hide more deeply than most is my horrible tendency to wish. I wish for so many things, even as I wish for them knowing I will never have them. Maybe writing about it now will help me learn to squelch it beneath my heel and walk away from it, give up on it, leave it behind me. Sunday nights always seem to bring out the melancholy in me, so now is as good a time as any.

This is something that tends to start when you are young, and reading stories that unabashedly encourage it. I always harbored a deep skepticism of the fruition of wishes in such stories, even when I was young; I might have enjoyed reading them, but I did not believe in them. Wishes only came true when magic was involved, and magic wasn’t real. This only would really have been apparent to anyone who might have read the silly stories I wrote myself, as a young girl, because of the manner in which I was quietly visible through them. Like most children, I wrote obvious avatars of myself, though always vastly improved ones: I wrote about prettier, stronger, more feminine, braver, more happily-destined girls. They would often have my long blonde hair, they would wear my favorite colors, they would have pets with the same names as mine, but they would have lovely faces unlike mine, grace where I had none, resourcefulness and spontaneity in place of my stillness, my silence. They would run away from home to become someone I never would: someone you would want to read a story about.

I was the kind of little girl who wrote romantic endings to those other girls’ stories, for which you could, still, always, blame the wishing. I wrote them into adventures I would never have, love stories I knew I would never live. I wrote about brave, sweet boys falling in love with them, because I knew there would be no love story in the world outside pure fiction to ever include the real me. (In my first year of high school, a favorite art project was re-illustrating the original version of Snow White, which is, unsurprisingly, much more brutal than the Disney version. Three attempted murders, rather than just the one, and the Evil Queen wants rather bloody certainty that the prettier girl is dead.)Β In this world, boys and men would see other girls and women and hold their image in their mind as something to be remembered or admired; they would ask for their time and company, crave their attention, give them flowers, show them they were worth noticing. All my life I have stood separate from experiences like those, until I came to know how invisible I was. I knew even when I was young that I would grow up and grow old alone, with my naturally down-turned mouth and frightening eyes. I resented that I was brought up to hope for better or more, that I even wanted companionship or affection from others, that I couldn’t keep it in stories alone and safely away from me, that I couldn’t keep to my very separate self and not be left wanting, when I knew I would never get any of it. Some days I could slap myself across the face for all of it. So much fruitless, hopeless energy, all gone to waste.

Hope is a dangerous thing in a lot of ways. In its best form of power, it can break people through dark and unforgiving circumstances, giving them strength. In its worst, it can just hollow you out inside, with nothing to take its place. Wishing is a word that makes it sound more whimsical, and far less treacherous, than it is. Wishing can hurt you, wishing can destroy you; it can wrap its deceptive arms around you and turn you into the evil witch who hides in the dungeon, the cave. (Cut her heart out! Put it in a box! Maybe then she will finally be as empty as me.) She gets the best songs, but in the end she always dies. Wishing belongs in fairy tales, even the grim ones, when dropping a penny into a well and pouring a song into it can actually produce something in return. In real life, only shadows and echoes bounce back; everything else is just swallowed up in the dark.