The last film I saw at the Belcourt Theatre was the 1981 John Boorman film Excalibur. I remember enjoying the film but thought the friendship between Arthur and Lancelot could have been explored in greater depth. Prior to that, I remember seeing Tora Tora Tora with my father in 1970. Sadly, the advent of cinema multiplexes made going to the Belcourt unnecessary, what with the variety of choices the multiplex can offer and the convenience that our society demands. The Belcourt simply got lost.
But that has changed! The Belcourt is now Nashville's film art house. It is the last of the Nashville neighborhood theaters to remain operational and offers Nashvillians a steady diet of independent, foreign and classic films. It also serves as an intimate concert and live theater venue. Last night, and all this past week, it has played host to Waking Sleeping Beauty.
Directed by Don Hahn and released March 26th of this year, Waking Sleeping Beauty was a film that I strongly wanted to see but didn't think a middle-market city like Nashville would attract. I am happy to be wrong about that. As the tag line states, 'From 1984 to 1994 a perfect storm of people and circumstances changed the face of animation forever." And this is true. It was refreshing to retrace the steps that gave us The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. It was a unique perspective on the personalities and the processes that produced the 2nd Golden Age of Disney Animation.
But I was also struck by the Let It Be quality of the film. In Let It Be, The Beatles allowed us to see the toll that their genius took on the process of creating some of the world's greatest music. They did not attempt to hide or to sugar coat their personas to the world; it was what it was and that is what came out in the film. Waking Sleeping Beauty does this same thing to the creative energies of those riding that perfect storm of animated innovation. Yes, we see the playful nature of art but we also see the harsh realities of business. After all, as much as we, the consumers of Disney like to focus primarily on the joy that Disney brings through the parks, the films and the merchandize, we also know that it is a business. And business takes human casualties. Daily. I appreciate that Hahn gives us not only the creative process and the energy behind it, but also the human struggle, both good and bad, that brought these masterpieces to the screen. He doesn't endeavor to show us how we hoped it would be, but how it really was.
One poignant moment in the film is the presentation of the death of Howard Ashman. I must admit that I did not follow his career. Yes, I knew of his importance to the music and his contributions to the telling of the stories, but when it came to the films, I was drawn more to the visual elements. The music was integral, but it was not what held my attention. I say this so that I can tell you how moving this short portion of the film was. The relating of his death and the death of Frank Wells did caused my eyes to leak for a moment.
My only regret is that Don Hahn did not come with the film. I would have enjoyed a time of discussion afterwards to get more of his insights and to learn some of what the film did not capture through the interviews and the times when the camera was not rolling.
The film is slated for DVD release on November 30th. But should you check your local listings and see that Waking Sleeping Beauty is showing near you, go see it. It is a documentary, yes, but it does deserve to be seen on the big screen. At least I think so.
The Belcourt and Waking Sleeping Beauty. It was nice to become reacquainted with some old friends.