Friday, May 30, 2014

THE BUSINESS OF SAVING MR. BANKS and How It Surprised This Skeptic


(Since this is now available at home, I thought I'd share)

I really had no intention of seeing Saving Mr. Banks, but at the urging of a certain angel faced 8-year-old who is my frequent movie companion, I found myself spending the latter part of Saturday afternoon doing just that. He is a wise one, that one.

 The film is about the author of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers, as she ventures away from her home in London and heads to Hollywood to finally (possibly) allow Walt Disney to make a movie of her work. There has been chatter in anticipation of the film's release that P. L. Travers is dealt with in the screenplay as overly harsh, while Walt Disney is treated with with white-animated gloves. Honestly, I think that is a bunch of hooey from a cadre of critics who strive to say something salacious so that, upon wide release, their commentary will be poised to go viral via association. Don't fall for it. Mrs. Travers is portrayed through writing (screenplay: Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith) and acting (Emma Thompson) in a manner that is not usually allowed onscreen in modern cinema. She is persnickety, sometimes to the point of rudeness. She is not warm and fuzzy, and barely even polite. She is demanding and controlling, and willing to go to the mat to protect her story and its characters. She is also complicated and stoically emotional and far more layered than any female character, all without any of her lady parts on display, has been drawn in so long that I can't even recall a similar instance off the top of my head. If you are a woman in Hollywood, she already sounds like a hero, no? The movie dances between the 1960s when Mrs. Travers came to the Disney studios after being courted by Walt Disney for 20 years, with his laser beam focus upon making her book, Mary Poppins (never Mary, always Mary Poppins, she directs the Disney team), into the Disney movie-fied Mary Poppins, and the years long before, during Travers' time as a child in Australia. Giving nothing away, I will just share that she had a sad and bumpy childhood, marked by the imaginative and charismatic father who also happened to be an alcoholic who found challenge in keeping the bank jobs that must have bored him to tears...and drink. I'm not going to give away the nuances of the story. I am just going to tell you, go see it. It is smart and insightful, without hitting you square over the head with it all. I walked away with an appreciation for each of the characters as artists who, like a lot of us, had our childhood challenges and turned them into a creative life as an adult. The story here, that is what stays with me. And the tenacity of a woman who believed in her story, and her characters, and was willing to walk away before having them diced and sliced and served up with a side of BS. As a writer, I think that is a beautiful portrayal. Maybe it isn't what we are used to seeing. But that says more about what is wrong with the state of entertainment than it does the accurate portrayal of this talented writer. Walt Disney's track record of being rather sexist can be thoroughly rooted out in another production, another movie where he gets to be the main show. But this wasn't his story. It was about Mrs. Travers and her Mr. Banks, and that was the beauty of it, from beginning to end.

(For a taste of her sass and tenacity in action, here are some taped excerpts of the writing sessions that she demanded be taped so as to not be bamboozled by the Disney machine:

(The cast discussing  the film, Saving Mr. Banks.)

© 2014 Charise M. Studesville 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

She Taught the World the Song of All Caged Birds

            In the days after I was hurt in the field by school, my fear of the world around me became a quiet, but forceful rage. I was convinced that I might just explode from within, leaving my body split in half on the floor or sidewalk, depending upon where I happened to be when it occurred. I thought of this often, and how it would need to be cleaned up, and about who would be forced to do my final dirty work. It would be the human version of the snake sheddings I saw in the park across the street. This seemed all the more plausible because it had felt like I was split in two that day, and I was still bleeding “down there,” which might actually be the first sign of this whole body split in half snake shedding thing. I wasn’t sure.

One day after school, I could not focus to do the day’s homework. I had stuffed my face with three days’ worth of snacks, until I heaved over the toilet, puking out sweet release of everything except what refused to leave my body. I walked back to the living room and fell to the floor, crying and screaming. Finally. I somehow ended up on all fours, screaming into the floor, every cubic foot of air that resided in my 8-year-old little body. I screamed until my head hit the floor in exhaustion. And then I screamed some more. As I went to bring my head up, my nose scraped against the itchy carpeting. It hurt. And the hurt somehow also felt good, so I did it again. And then again and again. When this vomiting of rage was over, I laid their exhausted, nose already scabbing over from the rug burn that would remain. The first thing I saw when I finally pulled myself up, was the book my mother had told me I wasn’t old enough to read. I decided in that moment that I was now old enough. So I took the little forbidden paperback into my room. Since I’d vomited as proof, I was deemed sick enough for Grandma Betty days, and my book went with me. When Grandma saw the book I was reading, as she brought me my ginger ale and cinnamon toast, she looked a little surprised.

“Honey, where did you get that book?” she asked, trying to remain unfazed.

“From the bookshelf,” I answered, matter-of-factly.

“I’m not sure you are old enough to be reading that,” she said, still standing there.

“I am,” I answered, and looked up and smiled at her. “Thank you for my toast.”

“You are welcome, you cute little imp, you,” she said, as she walked back into the kitchen, laughing to herself.

Over those few days on her sofa, I read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings from cover to cover. When I got to the chapter where Maya Angelou is raped, it felt like someone had lifted a load of bricks from my chest. My mind spun. That is what happened to me, I thought. I am not the only girl. It was such a small realization. I am not the only girl. I am not the only girl. I am not the only girl. Without realizing it, I had tears running down my face.

“What’s wrong?” Grandma asked, now standing right in front of me. “Is your tumtum bothering you?”

“God doesn’t hate me,” I said, before breaking down, letting the book fall to the floor.

“Of course not, Sweetie,” she said, as she sat down next to me and pulled me in to her pillowy chest. “God loves you. And so does your old grandma.”

I cried in her arms for a long time. And she sat and allowed me to do so for as long as I needed.

“Is everything ok?” she finally asked.

I nodded yes, because it was all I could muster.

I wasn’t sure who this Maya Angelou lady was. I wasn’t even sure I understood the grown up meaning of this title, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. But I did know that she might have saved my life. Well, her and Grandma Betty. Cuz after that day, I didn’t feel as much like walking out in front of a car like I had planned to do when I went back to school, just to be taken away from the hurting. And I was thankful for that.