by Travolta Cooper
Mythology. Anyone who knows me as a filmmaker/theorist knows mythology is my thing. These are the stories that I am most attracted to. This is true of my first little documentary, “Founding Fathers: Sis Stafford Sands,” which was essentially about the mythology of Stafford Sands. This is also true of my last feature, “The Black Moses” (the title almost speaks for itself). Like “The Black Moses,” Steven Spielberg’s, “The BFG,” is also about a giant and B-F-G is an acronym for ‘Big Friendly Giant’. In my film, Dennis Haysbert (who’s actually very tall in reality) plays the mythological Black Moses, towering over the story. In The BFG, the mythological giant is played by Mark Rylance (who just won the Academy Award this year for Best Supporting Actor). It is an astonishing performance, and if there’s some justice, Mr. Rylance will be up for another Academy Award, only this time for Best Actor. Steven Spielberg is master storyteller and this is one of the very best films of the year. Mr. Spielberg represents the very best of Hollywood storytelling. In the last post we talked about Jodie Foster’s, “Money Monster,” which also comes out of Hollywood. That film began a talk and idea for a storytelling genre that could mark a film industry in The Caribbean – a Cariwood – so to speak. “The BFG,” picks up right where that conversation left off because in dealing with genre, you’re essentially dealing with myths, legends, archetypes and prototypes of story. When talking about the Caribbean, what are the stories that make up our existence? What are our “BFG’s?”
“The BFG,” comes from the imagination of Roald Dahl, a British novelist and a bit of a mythologist himself. His stories, like “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory,” “The Witches,” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (which are largely children’s stories), tap into the Anglo Saxon myth like no other. Most British children will say they were raised on the stories of Roald Dahl. In fact, Steven Spielberg, who in the press conference called England his “adopted home” says he read these stories, particularly, “The BFG,” to his own children (he has seven) as bedtime stories when they were growing up. “The BFG,” feels a lot like a bedtime story, actually – it is really about dreams. The dreams consuming us when were asleep or awake. If you know Disney (which is the parent company of this film), the cinema of Steven Spielberg, and the work of Roald Dahl, then there’s little doubt this is a match made in movie heaven. “The BFG,” will haunt your dreams (in a good way) and it just may even inspire you to dream. “The BFG,” tells the story of a young orphan girl named Sophie (played wonderfully by newcomer Ruby Barnhill) and the giant (Rylance) who introduces her to giant country. “The BFG,” while a giant himself, is nothing like the other inhabitants of giant country. Standing at 24ft tall, with enormous ears and a keen sense of smell, he is the smallest of the giants. Even more distinctive, he doesn’t eat children like the other giants, who are cannibals. As for myth, this is the classic hero’s journey narrative, and as for legends, the Giants represents the greatest of archetypes (much of which the movie plays with). There are even phrases we say in our everyday language like “giant of a man”, “the sleeping giant”, or “humble giant”. “The BFG,” also has a job in Giant Country – he catches and collects dreams. There’s no point in explaining what that means verbally. You should watch the film and see how it is explained visually, and wonderfully.
This is extraordinary and layered filmmaking. While I mentioned Dahl and Disney as a dream team to accompany Mr. Spielberg, who should not go unmentioned is the late Melissa Matheson (who died last November). The last time Ms. Matheson and Mr. Spielberg worked together was on a film called “E.T.” (a little film you might know about). Okay, not a little by no means. “E.T.,” is a giant of film – a myth – an absolute classic. Aside from being a great story, at the time, “E.T.,” was also seen as an advance in cinema storytelling with regard to technology. What we learned at the press conference today was that “The BFG,” was being gestated in Hollywood for sometime now (since the 90’s), but producer, legendary Hollywood producer Kathleen Kennedy (another member of the dream team) and Steven Spielberg, in particular, wanted to wait until the technology caught up to tell the story. In fact, it should also be mentioned that Mark Rylance’s performance is a motion capture one. It’s actually one of the very best I’ve seen next to Andy Serkis (the pioneer of the motion capture performance). Rylance wonderfully imbues his digital avatar with nuance and subtitles. So much so, that beside from the elephant size ears and large nose of the BFG, you can almost believe it’s Ryalnce in makeup. This motion capture stuff is getting very sophisticated. I remember asking some friends earlier this year if its time the Academy introduced “best virtual performance” in a film.
Now, back to the question asked about myths and legends in the Caribbean Region. What are our stories that could serve as a benchmark for “Cariwood” storytelling? I spoke to Caribbean Film Academy head and friend Romola Lucas, after the last article/essay written and she sent me a text saying this: “ For the Caribbean, the films I see are ‘dark stories.’ Stories exploring the parts of our lives that rarely get talked about – the anti fun-in-the-sun, rollicking good time, carnival fun the Caribbean is known for.” I think Romola is talking about the Pygmalion myth. I think. Ro (as I call her) also runs a company called Anansi Studios in which they distribute Caribbean Films online. I said to her, laughing, that I was surprised her answer wasn’t the Anansi myth. That’s Brer Anansi, who is one of the grandest of Caribbean folklore tales. Anansi is the trickster tale and that’s my vote for a genre/myth of Caribbean storytelling. Whatever the answer may be, it’s a conversation we all hope to continue over the next few days here at Cannes, where the Caribbean Story and myths (aside from a booth belonging to Dominican Republic on the Cannes pavilion) is largely absent from the greatest of all film Festivals.