Red Riding Hood Fights Back

Red Riding Hood with her father.

Red Riding Hood with her father.

In the East German (DEFA) 1962 fairy tale film Little Red Riding Hood (Rotkäppchen, dir. Götz Friedrich), we meet some of Red Riding Hood’s friends – and enemies. Her best pals are the ever-worried Rabbit and the clumsy and rather childish Bear. The Big Bad Wolf finds a partner in crime, Fox, both of whom are out to get Red Riding Hood and co.

3 friends: Red Riding Hood, Bear and Rabbit

3 friends: Red Riding Hood, Bear and Rabbit

As in the original story, Red Riding Hood must bring Grandmother a basket – no wine this time, but rather a healthy pail of milk, some bread, and the time-honored remedy for colds, a bit off snuff. While the three friends stray from the path and play around, Bear accidentally knocks over the pail of milk. No problem – Rabbit runs home to bring a new pail of milk, only to return and find Bear and Red Riding Hood leaving the path for the forest again. The wily Fox has tricked Bear to go in search of honey, while Red Riding Hood goes to pick mushrooms for Grandmother. Rabbit’s hand-wringing and begging earns him Red Riding Hood’s anger, telling him not to be a Hasenfuß (a scaredy cat; literally, a rabbit’s foot).

Red Riding Hood has chased away the evil Fox.

Red Riding Hood has chased away the evil Fox.

Predictably, it is a set-up: Fox and Wolf attack her, but they are no longer working together: Wolf hits Fox over the head with a stick and turns to snatch the girl, but Red Riding Hood has outsmarted him. She blows a handful of snuff in his face. He then sneezes so much that he must crawl away, with Red Riding Hood throwing stones after him. Fox has meanwhile finished off the rest of the basket’s goodies, but the exhausted Red Riding Hood is gleeful – she has outsmarted Wolf and does a little victory dance.

The jarring part of this scene is Red Riding Hood’s anger. She throws the stones not only to scare away Fox, but to hit him, that is, to hurt him. The fight has left her with dirt smeared on her face, her clothes disheveled, and a look of hatred that the camera captures in a close-up. What is the purpose of showing this new side of Red Riding Hood? She has defeated Fox, but the traditional fairy tale lesson is lost, since she once again wanders into the forest, allowing Wolf time to beat her to Grandmother’s. It is a turning point that is not really a turning point.

In a film that is otherwise careful to avoid outright violence (her hunter-father carries Wolf away to a place where he can do no more harm, his hunting rifle unused), Red Riding Hood’s reaction suggests a different kind of moral. Perhaps she will keep her promise to never stray from the path again, perhaps not. What is certain, though, is that the next time she encounters an evil-doer, she will know how to take care of herself.

 

A History of the Future that Never Was, but Should Have Been

interkosmos_posterThis past week I had the opportunity to watch the 2006 fake documentary Interkosmos, part of  Jim Finn’s “Communist Trilogy”. How could one not be taken with the idea of a GDR-sponsored cosmonaut program that got buried when the spaceships went missing? Even better, the female cosmonaut’s codename was “Seagull,” the same codename of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova. Tereshkova made it back to Earth and the USSR in 1963, but Interkosmos and its many allusions to the (lack of a) woman’s space program were uncomfortably close to being accurate. After being hailed by Khrushchev as his daughter and proof that socialism was the only system in which women and men had equality, Tereshkova lived to see the USSR’s women’s space program dismantled and her own role changed to being a spokesperson for the destined role of women as mothers and wives. The U.S. did not even bother competing with the Soviet Union on that space race metric.

Fake documentaries call into question the definition of a documentary, authenticity, fake, mocumentary…. the list grows. In the end, I saw Finn’s work as an extension of the German cabaret tradition, or perhaps the medieval court jester, in which the “fool” makes the rest of us laugh with his silliness. But the entire point of being a court jester is to undertake a balancing act of making the court (or the film audience) realize that the fool has told us an uncomfortable truth, without resulting in the death of the messenger. As we laughed at Finn’s imaginary “Seagull,” we also were lamenting her only possibility of resurrection – as a fictitious character on the Big Screen. Tereshkova, after all, had hoped to go to space once again, even as an elderly woman, but was never a serious candidate for any country’s space program. Therein lies one truth of Interkosmos: Seagull was as much a figure of the public imagination as was a film caricature.

Documenting Education

This semester I taught a grad student seminar called “Documenting Education” at the University of Vienna in the faculty of Philosophy and Education. I had planned on discussing the long-term documentary Die Kinder von Golzow (dir. Winfried Junge; later Barbara Junge and Winfried Junge, 1961-2007), about a school class in the German Democratic Republic. The department then asked that I teach the course in English, and I suddenly needed a new syllabus. I decided to keep the general theme of the course and expand it to ask questions about how media, and movies in particular, portrayed education (broadly conceived) and how people learn in a society. We read standard literature from how movies function pedagogically to whether advertisements on TV do anything but convince people to buy things to the issue of violence in video games and violence in society. We watched movies and clips from productions like The Blackboard Jungle (1955, dir. Richard Brooks), Lady Gaga music/commercial videos, and parts of Michael Apted’s Up-Series (1964-2012).

blackboard jungle movie poster

I had expected students to enjoy the mixture of media pedagogy theory with applying these ideas to films and other media of their choice, and that the use of visual material would help encourage them to read and write with confidence in a foreign language. I had not expected the intensity of our sessions, or the eloquent conversations they conducted on-line throughout the week, or that I would find myself so engrossed in reading their seminar papers that I lost track of time (birdsong is a good indication that the dawn has approached). What surprised me most was the variety of lessons that the students took from the class. Anthropomorphism in Disney films as an extension of Aesop’s fables, comparisons of teaching philosophies in films about the Vietnam War vs. about a school, the evolution of portrayals of lesbianism in the many versions of Mädchen in Uniform, including the 1931 Sagan/Froehlich and 1958 Radvanyi (starring Romy Schneider) versions and the play by Christa Winsloe that the films were based on, and so many more topics than I could have hoped for when I started the course. Every few years the combination of students and topic make for a dream team of a class, and this was one such semester. My only regret? That we did not document our own education during the course.