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THE BLUE BIRD (1976)

"It's the Blue Bird! We went so far away, and he was here all the time...."





  Director:
 
George Cukor

  Starring: 
Elizabeth Taylor, Todd Lookinland, Patsy Kensit, Jane Fonda, George Cole, Cicely Tyson, Ava Gardner, Robert Morley, Will Geer, Mona Washbourne, Leonid Nevedomsky, Harry Andrews, Richard Pearson, Evgeny Shcherbakov, Valentina Ganibalova, Margarita Terekhova, Georgiy Vitsin, Nadezhda Pavlova, Pheona McLellan

  Screenplay: 
Alfred Hayes, Aleksai Kapler and Hugh Whitemore, based upon the play by Maurice Maeterlinck

Synopsis:  Tyltyl (Todd Lookinland) and Mytyl (Patsy Kensit), the children of a woodcutter and his wife, hurry home to their cottage. In their haste, they disobey their parents and take a shortcut across a rickety wooden bridge over a dangerous river. Barely stopping to wave at their neighbour, a young girl who is very ill, the children reach their home. Their Mother (Elizabeth Taylor) is angry at them for being so late, but even more so when the children admit to crossing the forbidden bridge. They are sent to bed without supper. Later, however, when the Woodcutter (Leonid Nevedomsky) pleads for them, Mother takes them some food – only to find them both sound asleep. During the night, the children are woken by a fireworks display. Creeping out of the cottage, they run through the woods to the outskirts of the town, where they look on wistfully as the wealthy people enjoy a fete, with music, dancing, and plenty to eat and drink. Back home, the children are going sadly back to bed when they are stopped by a sharp voice demanding to know where the Blue Bird is? The children stare in bewilderment at the Witch (Elizabeth Taylor), admitting that there is a bird, but adding that the witch cannot have it, as it is Tyltyl’s. The Witch, upon inspecting the creature, grumbles that in any case, it isn’t blue enough. She then tells the children that they must leave immediately to find the Blue Bird, which is wanted for a sick little girl. When they protest that they are supposed to be in bed, the Witch demands to know what they were doing outside, and is told of the party, and the cakes, and the beautiful houses. The Witch tells them that their own home is just as beautiful, only they can’t see; adding that they’re probably so blind, they think she is old and ugly. The children hesitate, embarrassed, and the Witch produces a hat decorated with a large diamond. She gives it to Tyltyl, explaining that if he puts it on and turns the diamond, the whole world will look different; that he will even be able to see into the very soul of things. Under the Witch’s instruction, Tyltyl puts on the hat and turns the diamond. Instantly, the Witch is transformed into a beautiful woman in a jewelled gown, who introduces herself as Light (Elizabeth Taylor), and adds that she is the power that can make men see “the radiance in reality”. Light points her wand at the fireplace. A single flame leaps out, and transform into the shape of a man: this is the soul of Fire (Evgeny Shcherbakov). Swiftly, the souls of Water (Valentina Ganibalova), Bread (Richard Pearson), Milk (Margarita Terekhova) and Sugar (Georgiy Vitsin) stand beside Fire. Next, the dog, Tylo (George Cole), and the cat, Tylette (Cicely Tyson), transform. Tylo exclaims delightedly that at last, he and Tyltyl will be able to talk. Tylette asks why the children are up so late, and upon hearing that they are to search for the Blue Bird, immediately protests that they must not, as it will be too dangerous. She is overruled by the rest of the party. A wave of Light’s wand later, the entire group finds itself in the woods, confronted by a number of paths. Light commands Tyltyl and Mytyl to choose one, which will lead to their Blue Adventure.... 

Comments:  As an illustration of the dictum that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, The Blue Bird is just about unparalleled. Intended as a symbol of detente, this first ever US-Soviet co-production had, rather, the effect of inspiring both sides of the conflict to raise their shutters again and resume their regularly scheduled Cold War.

While there is no end to ways in which a film production can go wrong, the fascinating thing about The Blue Bird is there never seems to have been a time, from the moment of its conception to its star- and diplomat-attended premiere in Washington D.C., when this particular production was not headed for disaster.

 

 

The project was the brain [sic.] child of the producer Edward Lewis, who in the late sixties made The Fixer in Hungary, and there conceived the revolutionary idea of shooting a film in the Soviet Union. It was years before any real negotiations got off the ground, but at length the Soviet authorities began to turn a receptive ear in his direction. (The fact that The Fixer is anti-Tsarist may have helped.) After prolonged manoeuvrings it was finally agreed that that there would be a joint US-Soviet motion picture production featuring mostly American stars and equipment but photographed in the Soviet Union and employing local technicians; a decision reached without any discussion taking place about what would be filmed.

A minor consideration, I suppose.

The after-the-event selection of Maurice Maeterlinck’s play rested jointly upon the desirability of something non-threatening and apolitical – preferably even “unreal” – as the basis for this first collaborative effort, and the enduring popularity of this particular children’s fantasy in the Soviet Union. What they didn’t stop to consider was the play’s equally enduring ability to resist adaptation to the screen. After an extremely early British version, which seems to be a lost film, The Blue Bird was next tackled by Maurice Tourneur in 1918; and while this film has since undergone some reassessment, and is often praised for its visuals, at the time of its release it was not a success. Nevertheless, the property was revived as a vehicle for Shirley Temple in 1940 – and gave Shirley her first resounding flop. There was also an animated version of the story, Sinyaya Ptitsa, made in Russia in 1970; and while it seems to be technically interesting for its use of shifting styles of animation, it too is generally considered a failure. (It also twists the material into an overt attack on capitalism.)

But fourth time’s the charm, right?

And so production of The Blue Bird got under way, featuring a cast that was part-American, part-English and part-Russian, and sporting a jarring mixture of accents, particularly amongst the members of the central family; based upon a screenplay composited from the efforts of one American writer and one Soviet writer, to the satisfaction of neither; with a compromised score likewise resulting from the warring styles of composers separated by more than their place of birth; with equipment some twenty years out of date; a cinematographer too embarrassed to admit he’d never shot in colour before and didn’t know how; and an English-speaking director (poor George Cukor) working with a Russian crew in the absence of a translator. And only in terms of the photography did sanity prevail, with Freddie Young being flown in from England to replace Jonas Gritsius. Eventually.

 

Yet ultimately, none of this is really why The Blue Bird is a failure. Plenty of films have survived a disastrous production history, although admittedly few have been asked to overcome quite as many hurdles as this one. The problem lies in the material itself, or more specifically in the manner in which it is presented. The play itself is of course heavily allegorical, with Maurice Maeterlinck’s philosophy (which isn’t for everyone) rendered in extremely broad strokes, which require careful handling if they’re not to topple over and crush the production that contains them.

Rather than treading lightly around this, The Blue Bird blows everything up, so that each embedded lesson becomes So!!!! Very!!!! Thuddingly!!! Obvious!!!! At the same time, the context of those lessons is removed. The point of The Blue Bird is that Tyltyl and Mytyl are a couple of quite nasty bits of work. Asked to do the kindness of giving their pet bird to the sick little girl next door, they flatly refuse, because why should they? They are scolded by their parents for their selfishness and their inability to recognise their blessings, but ignore this and continue to grumble about their poverty, expressing the belief that only rich people are truly happy. It is from this position that the children are sent on their quest for the Blue Bird of Happiness.

The script for The Blue Bird, however, removes nearly all of this. Tyltyl and Mytyl give no impression of being discontented with their lot, or unappreciative of their parents. We don’t even know that the girl next door is sick; she just looks vaguely depressed. (Nor it is evident, when the Witch shows up, who she’s talking about.) The children, sneaking out to watch the rich at play, are not particularly angry or even resentful about the gulf between them. They do shake their heads in mystification at the thought of never being hungry because there’s always plenty to eat, but on the whole they take it all rather well, enjoying the fireworks and the music, dancing a little, and playing at eating imaginary cakes. And when the Witch demands their bird, they offer it after only a little surprised resistance. Their quest, therefore, is entirely altruistic – or to put it another way, meaningless.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could actually have missed the point of The Blue Bird, but so it seems. Or maybe it just got lost in the Superpower Shuffle.

However, while many aspects of The Blue Bird are problematical, to my mind perhaps the biggest issue is the film’s settings. You can easily picture The Blue Bird on stage, with that intimate connection between production and audience, and with the whole as “make-believe”. You can also picture it set in a coherent fantasy world, à la The Wizard Of Oz. But here, the story zig-zags from real world to fantasy world and back again, and it just doesn’t work.

This may come as a disappointment to some, but the failure of this film really cannot be laid at the feet of its cast; its casting, yes, but not its cast, who did what they could with impossible material – and in, from all accounts, impossible conditions. The stunt-casting is distracting, granted, but in a film that has as little genuine entertainment value as The Blue Bird the presence of this raft of guest stars adds some much-needed pizazz. It certainly wouldnt be a better film for not having Liz Taylor appearing in four roles.

 

At the same time, like the opening up of the world of the film, this approach robs the production of any hope of sustaining a suspension of disbelief. It also tends to draw attention to the fact that most of the supporting cast (surely conceived in terms of pantomime) contribute nothing to the story, but instead spend its running-time just tagging along and looking exactly like what they are: people in unconvincing costumes wandering around in the woods. Particularly wasted are the three well-known ballet dancers who play Fire, Water and the Blue Bird, Evgeny Shcherbakov, Valentina Ganibalova and Nadezhda Pavlova, who are at least given a chance to dance, but who for the most part seem awkwardly out of place.

And in fact, awkwardly out of place is a pretty good summation of the whole feel of The Blue Bird: it’s just....off. I know that there are those who consider this a Great Bad Film, but I have to disagree. It’s not enjoyable enough. The experience of watching it is uncomfortable, and vaguely embarrassing.

However--- As tinkly theme music we’ll soon grow tired of plays, American-accented Tyltyl and his crisply British sister Mytyl run toward the simple cottage they share with their Americanised-British mother and their Russian father. (If you are going to watch this – brought to us recently on DVD by our good friends at the Russian Cinema Council, who also brought us Amphibian Man – I strongly recommend the version dubbed in Russian with English subtitles.) They are late, late enough to worry their mother, played by Elizabeth Taylor in the first of her four roles. Here (in what I imagine was conceived for shock value) she makes her first appearance wearing a style we might call Hollywoodised-traditional: a gigantic mob-cap, an apron, and a mesh shawl; while we watch her performing such homely tasks as cooking and darning.

She keeps breaking off her activities, though, to look worriedly out the window, but her children are still far away. Their steps bring them to a rickety wooden bridge that sways uninvitingly over a fast-running river. They hesitate – Mytyl is scared – but at last they dash across, through the woods, and past the cottage next to their own. They stop momentarily to wave at a girl about Tyltyl’s age, who waves back through the window.

Back home, Mother has reached the scared-enough-to-be-angry phase, and greets her errant children with scolding. Mytyl lets slip that they ignored Mother’s prohibition and crossed the bridge, which gets them packed off to bed on the spot. Their early sleep is disrupted by lights and explosions across the woods in the other direction, and after an inquiring look out of the window the two get dressed and sneak out of the cottage. A walk through the snowy woods takes them to where The Other Half Lives.

 

As enormous (and rather dangerous-looking) Catherine wheels spin, richly dressed men and woman stroll about or dance, showing little interest in the tables piled high with food and drink – except for some children who are busy stuffing themselves with cake. Tyltyl explains to a bewildered Mytyl that there are people in the world who aren’t always hungry. Tyltyl sighs, and remarks that they’d better go home, as they don’t belong there. Mytyl agrees, complaining about the cold, and they walk away.

We note, by the way, that while the children were running home earlier, the ground was dry and the weather was clear and sunny and, based on the children’s clothing, quite warm. The rich people must have ordered the snow specially.

Tyltyl and Mytyl are heading up bed when they are stopped by the Witch in her quest for the Blue Bird. A description of the rich people’s party follows, but when Tyltyl comments wistfully about how beautiful everything is over there, it brings on a lecture about how it’s just as beautiful here, if you know how to look, and culminates in the gift of the hat. Tyltyl’s first turn of the diamond transforms the Witch into Light....in which guise Liz remains for most of the film. Interestingly, in the play Light was just one more of the supporting cast, while the children were guided on their quest by “the Fairy Berylune”, who makes no appearance here.

Light follows up the Witch’s lecture with a homily about how beautiful everything in the cottage is, if only the children learn to look inside. Fire, Water, Bread, Milk and Sugar appear in rapid succession. Fire and Water dance, with the latter trying to avoid the former’s dangerous touch. The dog and cat, Tylo and Tylette, transform spontaneously. Tylo is overjoyed, as he is finally able to converse properly with TylTyl – “I bark and wag my tail, but you don’t really understand.”

And, yes, yes, suspension of disbelief and all that, but--- I do find Tylo one of the more unsettling things about The Blue Bird. Let me put it this way: imagine a young boy romping with his dog. Now imagine a young boy romping in just the same way with George Cole in a panto-suit (and a pretty shabby one, at that). It’s....disturbing.

(Aside from anything else, George Cole is no Fred Woodward.)

Tylette asks why the children are up, and upon being told that they’re about to set out on a quest for the Blue Bird, protests – adding hurriedly that it is too dangerous. No-one takes any notice, and a wave of Light’s wand sees everyone out in the woods, in daylight. (NB: no snow.) Light tells the children to choose a path, and when they do, stops the others from joining them, saying that the children must visit their grandparents on their own. She leads them down the chosen path and through “the Mists of Time”....

 

Meanwhile, Tylette takes advantage of their absence to try and turn the others against the children and their quest. Because she’s evil. Because she’s a cat. GET IT!?!? GET IT!!!!????

Do you think we could pleeeeeaaaaassssssse get over this particular stereotype? Hmm??

Mind you--- The odd thing is that although Tylette will spend the rest of the film siding with the children’s enemies and trying to sabotage their quest (quite unsuccessfully, it goes without saying), her motivations are not, in my opinion, without a certain validity. Here she argues that they – animals, elements, things – retain a measure of independence because Man does not know they have a soul. However, if the Blue Bird if found, it will give Man the ability to see all, including that – and they will be helpless.

Sugar and Bread are moved by this argument; Milk just looks blank; but Tylo objects that they cannot interfere; that they must obey Man. Tylette demands to know why, which provokes Tylo into an outburst of capering and a cry of, “There are no reasons. I love Man, and that’s enough! Hooray for Man!” And then, finding Tylette understandably unimpressed, he resorts to the simpler expedient of threatening her with violence if she interferes.

In the Mists, Light bids the children to go ahead on their own. They cannot see their way, however, so Tyltyl turns the diamond. Finally the Mists clear, and the children see a cottage, with a tree in front of it beneath which Grandma and Grandpa sit sleeping. They slowly emerge from their slumber, puzzled at first, then realise that it must mean that Tyltyl and Mytyl are thinking of them....

This scene represents one of The Blue Bird’s most overt bits of tampering. Grandma and Grandpa are, of course, “asleep” in a very profound sense; and in the play this scene takes place in a graveyard, where the children are greeted not with hugs and kisses, but scoldings for not visiting more often. The kicker (a touch that goes over like a lead balloon with modern audiences) is that the graveyard also contains a series of small graves that hold Tyltyl and Mytyl’s dead siblings; a moment echoed later in the story.

Be that as it may, here Grandma fills the children up with cabbage soup and darns their socks, exclaiming how good it feels to do some work again – which is the cue for both grandparents  to burst into the first of this film’s dubious musical numbers, this one a song about how very boring it is in Heaven:

 

Honestly, I’d sooner I was spending / At least some of my Eternity in mending / In raking / Patching / Thatching / Baking / Absolutely any old chore / But they won’t let us work here / Any more....

And the weirdness just keeps coming. Tyltyl spills soup on himself, which earns him a clip on the ear from Grandpa, at which he gives a beaming smile. “That’s just like the slaps you used to give me when you were alive!” Meanwhile, Mytyl has discovered that her grandparents’ blackbird has turned blue. They successfully beg for the creature, in spite of Grandpa’s head-shakings, and take their leave as the Mists close in. Immediately, the bird turns from blue to black, so they release it.

At this instant, out in the grasslands near the woods, Light sees the outline of a Blue Bird flying across the sky. The children turn up, and we get more singing, this time a cheerful little ditty about how little happiness there is in the world. And then the whole crowd dances off, still following the Blue Bird to their next stop: the cliff-top castle of Night who, being mother to Sleep and Death and the holder of Man’s secrets, is the film’s villain, or as close as it has to having one.

Outside, as the travellers gawp up at the castle, Tylette slips away to beat them inside. Yes, that’s right: the cat is in league with the bad guy, what a surprise! Of course, some of you might argue that an alliance between a cat and Night is perfectly natural, but to that I reply that I own am owned by share a house with a cat who likes a good solid ten hours sleep at night, and who tends to be very cranky in the morning if she doesn’t get them. I couldn’t tell you the number of conversations we’ve had that began with me saying, “Some nocturnal animal you are” and ended with the closing of an eyelid that was only half-open to start with. What she doesnt know about night would fill encyclopaedias.

The travellers move forward, but Light pulls back, explaining that she can’t go any further and that she’ll meet them there in the morning. She counsels the children not to let Night frighten them, and urges them to open every door in their search for the Blue Bird.

Tylette makes her way through the castle and into Night’s stronghold. (Enter Jane Fonda, looking rather snazzy in black.) Tylette warns Night of the quest, and she in turn bemoans Man’s determination to know all her secrets. As the leaders of the quest are only children, Tylette suggests giving them such a good scare, they’ll be too frightened to open all the doors. “Scare them, Madam Night! Terrify them! Use all the powers of darkness!”

 

We wish.

Well-primed by Light, Tyltyl demands Night’s keys, and begins to unlock the many doors around the castle. The first unleashes some very sad ghosts, who dance around for a while (literally) but are easily driven back into their cell. The second door holds back War, as represented by men in various uniforms, waving their weapons and shoving one another. These guys take rather more containing, and even Night helps to hold them back.

The third door, which Night warns Tyltyl away from in strenuous terms, turns out to contain---Blue Birds, dozens of them; so many, and so tame, that Tyltyl, Mytyl and Tylo are able to gather a small flock. They do not see the soul of the Blue Bird, who shakes her head sadly as she looks on.... 

By the time the three flee the castle, it is morning, and Light is back. They rush up with their Blue Birds, only for Light to point out that they’re dead. Very – definitely – dead. Fabulous. In-film, Light explains that they’re not real birds, they’re just a dream. Regardless, Mytyl (or quite possibly Patsy Kensit) strokes one of the poor wretched things and cries her eyes out.

I may join her.

And just to cheer everybody up, we get a voiceover song about how children’s hopes just have to die and happiness is fleeting and everything is basically futile and....

Kids’ films---don’t you love ‘em? Criminey. I think, if you’ll excuse me, that I’m going to put this film aside for a while and cheer myself up by watching a slasher movie. It would be less nihilistic. And have a lower body count.

Anyway, full minutes of mournful singing and sobbing children and dead birds later, the mob moves off. The children are apart from the others, drinking from a dubious-looking stream, when Tyltyl is called by name. He looks up to see a woman mounted on a white house, who is Luxury. (Enter Ava Gardner, looking rather overpowering in red.) Ignoring Mytyl altogether, the woman addresses herself to Tyltyl, promising him everything he can desire from all of his favourite foods to a horse of his own. Lured by this siren song, Tyltyl disregards Mytyl’s protest and approaches. He is lifted onto the woman’s horse by her groom, and the small party heads off.

 

This turn of events sends Mytyl running back to the others, crying out for Light. She describes the encounter, which has the effect of sending all the tag-alongs dashing off after Tyltyl, in the hope of finding something to eat; which is understandable in the case of Tylo and Tylette, but when it comes to, say, Bread, rather creepy.

Inside Luxury’s home is a literal three-ring circus, with clowns and acrobats---and performing bears, who are being forced to walk on their hind-legs, dragged around on leashes, and otherwise tormented. Luxury and Tyltyl laugh merrily at the sight. Tyltyl is introduced to a clown who, upon hearing of his mission, does magic tricks that produce first a blue egg and then a blue chicken.

Luxury doffs her red cloak and takes Tyltyl into the next room to meet her friends, who are laughing and eating and drinking and dancing and vaguely clutching at one other in that stilted way that’s meant to suggest licentious behaviour when film-makers don’t actually want to show any. Luxury introduces them to Tyltyl: among them are the Luxury Of Being Rich, the Luxury Of Loving Oneself, the Luxury Of Knowing Nothing, the Luxury Of Doing Nothing, and the Luxury Of Eating When You’re Not Hungry; although my personal favourite, the Luxury Of Watching A Film In Which Animals Are Not Mistreated, doesn’t seem to be present.

Luxury explains that all of them are very busy doing nothing, which is all there is to do. Tyltyl is taken aback by this, arguing that there are many other things: his Mother, for one, is always busy. Luxury smiles scornfully, and invites Tyltyl to dance. He, clearly, is dazzled by her, but soon has his tender little heart broken as Luxury is swept away from him by some of the other men, to dance, drink, and vaguely clutch, as Tyltyl looks on with a quivering lip.

Isnt he a little young for this sort of thing?

Meanwhile, the tag-alongs have arrived, and are dazzled by their surroundings; Light and Mytyl less so. Mytyl cautiously approaches Tyltyl, but their meeting is interrupted first by Fire and Water, who dance together (a routine ending in an embrace that causes them to disappear in a cloud of steam), and then by a summons to a banquet. And here, alas, even Mytyl is seduced into going over to the Dark Side, as she is confronted by....a tray of cream-cakes.

Fair enough.  

 

And in the end it is Tyltyl who rebels, gazing in horror as Tylo (who is drunk) and Mytyl (who we hope is not) dance on a table. Tylo signals revolution by refusing to obey Tyltyl’s command to get down. Tylette pulls Tyltyl back into the crowd, where he is swamped by Luxuries – who are, of course (appearance being your safest guide to moral character, as we all know), elderly, fat or ugly, or all three; and this is before Tyltyl turns the diamond, as he does now at Light’s prompting.

A gale blows through, sweeping the Luxuries away and making them all look slightly older, fatter or uglier than they already were. EEK!! Luxury herself, interestingly, is not changed (Ava wouldn’t have it?). She gazes imploringly at Tyltyl and stretches out a hand, but he manfully resists her advances, and the entire gathering is swept away.

Then it’s back to the woods, where we find a depressed Tyltyl and Mytyl on their own. A familiar figure comes strolling across the meadow towards them: this is Maternal Love (our fourth and final Liz), a version of their Mother all soft and pretty and affectionate from not having to live in poverty and do thankless, back-breaking labour day in and day out. The children admire her expensive clothes and fine hands. Maternal Love sighs and hopes the children will recognise her again when they get home, at which point they declare they don’t want to go home; an odd response to some fairly horrible experiences, I would have thought. Before they can debate the point, Maternal Love sees the Blue Bird flying off in the distance and sends the children off after it.

This chase leads them (accompanied by Tylo, who has shown up from nowhere) into a rather strange forest. Tylette, as usual, has gotten ahead of them, and is trying to rouse the Trees into action by telling them that “our” enemy is coming, and he is seeking the Blue Bird which the Trees keep hidden (?). She has barely finished her speech when the others show up. Tylette hurriedly explains that the Trees have agreed to help, but that Tyltyl has to revive them. He immediately turns the diamond, which allows the souls of the Trees to be seen. They stalk forward – and they are not happy.

Tyltyl is, after all, a Woodcutter’s son....

The Trees are led by Oak, who appears with the (a?) Blue Bird perched on his shoulder. The children rush forward, but Oak holds them off, saying that the Trees know that they are in search of “the great secret”, which if Man possesses it will only make everyone else’s servitude harder. Tyltyl protests that they only want the Blue Bird for the sick little girl (you remember her, right?).

 

Oak orders Tyltyl to be silent, at which Tylo takes offence. He rushes forward to attack Oak, although not in the way that a dog might attack a Tree, and which indeed the Trees seemed to anticipate when they reacted to Tylette’s news that a dog was coming by quaking and shedding their leaves.

Tyltyl scolds Tylo for his behaviour and strikes him with the hat; at which Tylo swings around delightedly and embraces him, explaining, “I must kiss you now that you’ve beaten me!”

Hmm. Perhaps a dog-owner would be able to explain that to me. Or a Russian, Or a Russian dog-owner.

(I suppose, by the way, that this is supposed to echo Tyltyl’s reaction to being hit by his grandfather.)

Tyltyl, however, seems almost as creeped out as I am, and turns a receptive ear to Tylette’s suggestion that he tie Tylo to a Tree with some ivy. As he is being bound, Tylo shouts that the Trees mean harm to Tyltyl. Oak shares a significant look with Tylette, and then the Blue Bird flies away, as the children cry out in dismay. Oak then makes a speech about the centuries of monstrous crimes committed by Man against the Trees – and those committed by the Woodcutter in particular – and the outraged arboreals start closing in on the frightened pair, crying, “Death! Death!”

As Tyltyl – rather than, oh, I don’t know, turning the diamond – tries to fight off the attackers with a knife (“Knife, axe, it’s all the same!” says Oak), Tylo manages to break free and rush to the children’s defence. In the ensuing scuffle, Tyltyl loses his hat.

The Trees are closing in again when Mytyl cries out for help, at which Light appears, looking furiously at Oak. Her way of helping is to say, “The diamond, Tyltyl!” Fortunately for the children, the Trees then just stand around while Tylo retrieves the hat and Tyltyl belatedly does the obvious. None of the Trees are changed, but their souls are banished back into their wooden containers.

So if I’m understanding this correctly, everything in the world exists purely for Man’s benefit and convenience, and anyone (or anything) that protests this situation or Man’s treatment of them is evil? That’s some philosophy you’ve got there, Maurice. Because, after all, if there’s one thing Man needs, it’s encouragement to be more selfish and destructive.

 

From the forest the children teleport into this film’s creepiest sequence, which is saying something. They end up in a huge white building, “the Kingdom Of The Future”, which is occupied by swarms of children – “children who are not born yet; all the children who ever will be born”. Mytyl cries, “Live children! Live children!”, which may or may not be a referenced to the excised graveyard scene; it certainly foreshadows this sequence’s denouement. Light explains that “all the different kinds of children” – who all look suspiciously Caucasian to these jaundiced eyes – are presided over by Time, who is responsible for making sure that they reach their mothers and fathers at the appropriate moment. 

Tyltyl and Mytyl talk to some of the children, learning that none of them leave empty-handed: they are all responsible for bringing something new into the world. One will bring happiness; another, more practical, will bring a cure for many ailments; and in an amusing moment (which might have been intentional, though I doubt it), we meet the toddler who will one day found, “The General Confederation of Planets”.

Girl:  “It will be the most grandiose confederation of the solar planets.”
Tyltyl
:  “You mean, one great empire?”
Boy
:  “Not an empire. An independent union. Harmonious and free.”

Ahem

Tyltyl and Mytyl are introduced to a few of the others, who have glorious futures in store such as “bringing joy to all mankind” and “conquering death”. Then they meet the other end of the spectrum: their own brother, due to be born on 13th June the following year (as they inform their startled Mother at the end of the film). What the children bring into the world is not always so desirable:

Tyltyl:  “Where’s your invention?”
Brother
:  “I haven’t got one. I’m bringing three illnesses instead. Scarlet fever, whooping cough and measles.”
Mytyl
:  “Three! And what then?”
Brother
:  “And then I shall leave you.”
Tyltyl
:  “It’s hardly worthwhile coming.”

Then Time shows up – Robert Morley in the traditional regalia, waving a scythe and an hourglass and herding the next batch of children into the transporter (or whatever they call it here). And then he gives us yet another cheerful ditty about how no-one has any control over their lives and everyone’s stuck with what they’re given:

 

There’s no point refusing / No picking, no choosing / You’re in the hands of Fate / No sooner, no later / I’m not your Creator / I’m just on the payroll of fate / And if it’s laughing or crying / There’s no argufying / We’re all in the hands of Fate....

This done, Time herds another batch into the transporter, waving away the pleas of the unhappy and reluctant. Suddenly, an animated Blue Bird swoops across the room, slipping into the transporter just before it closes. Tyltyl and Mytyl rush forward, to Time’s anger. He demands to know who they are. Light joins them and explains that she brought them there, to look for the Blue Bird. Time tells her that she had no right to do so and, as unmoved by her arguments as he was by those of the unborn children, he inverts his hourglass, which banishes all three back to Earth....and in fact to the children’s cottage.

Tyltyl protests that they can’t go home yet, because they haven’t found the Blue Bird; that all of his efforts to capture it failed – the birds escaped, or turned black, or died.

Hmm. Now, that sounds like the set-up for a punchline, or at least for some dubious philosophy. Light suggests that perhaps Tyltyl shouldn’t have tried to keep the Blue Bird in a cage. (Actually, the one that died on Mytyl wasn’t in a cage, but moving along....) We get a dismal little lecture here on how you have to accept that you can’t hold onto happiness; although, Light admits, she once did catch a Blue Bird, and oh-so-briefly hold it in her hand....

Inside, there’s more doom and gloom: the souls are being put back into their hosts. The misery of the moment is simultaneously broken and augmented, as Tylo and Tylette burst into the room in the middle of a fight. Light separates them, scolding Tylo, and tells them this is no time for fighting: they all have to “go back to silence”.

Tylo is horrified, and refuses, begging Tyltyl to let him stay. Well! – that’s not being very obedient, Tylo! Tyltyl has been unmoved through the departure of his companions, although Mytyl has been crying; but now the boy starts to cry, too. Tylo finally does lie down as told, assuring Tyltyl that he loves him – and transforms. Tylette then returns to her favourite sleeping spot and curls up. Mytyl asks her hurriedly if she loves her, to which the cat replies pointedly, “I love you both as much as you deserve.”

 

Light then shepherds the children upstairs and puts them to bed. Then she, too, has to leave, which brings on another crying fit from both of them. However, Light promises that she’ll never be far away. Tyltyl clutches at her hand and begs her not to go....and is still doing so when he wakes to find himself clutching the hand of his own cranky, rough-skinned, shabbily-dressed Mother. He and Mytyl try to tell her about their adventures, but she quickly grows impatient and starts scolding.

Yup. Everything’s back to normal. Well, not quite: suddenly the children notice how pretty their cottage is; how clean. They kiss their parents, who ignore them, and then run around greeting all their friends – the fire, the water, the bread, the sugar, the milk. Mother stares in bewilderment, but her surprise turns to outright shock when her children tell her about the little bundle of joy she’s expecting. Tyltyl then starts a conversation with Tylo, which is the cue for his Mother to demand to see his tongue and debate sending for a doctor. Tyltyl protests that he isn’t sick – he’s just happy.

And bingo, the pet bird suddenly becomes a lovely shade of blue.

The children shake their heads. “It’s the Blue Bird!” exclaims Tyltyl. “We went so far away, and he was here all the time!”

Yeah. In a cage.

Tyltyl and Mytyl immediately decide that they have to give the bird to the mysterious “sick little girl”. Mother (in a reaction not re-tooled to match the altered set-up of this version of the story) is first disbelieving, and then pleased and proud at their unselfishness. The two hurry to the cottage next door, where The Sick Little Girl is sitting outside. They offer her the Blue Bird. She takes it with a dawning smile, as the Girl’s mother and a dozen peasants who have appeared from nowhere stand around gazing in delight.

Tyltyl opens the cage and takes out the Blue Bird, giving it to The Sick Little Girl. Instantly, the bird slips through her fingers and flies away.

The End.

 

So---let me see if I’ve got this straight: happiness is fleeting, everything in life is basically futile, and instead of trying to explore the world and expand your horizons, you should just stay in your own backyard.

Hmm. I wonder if that was the moral of The Blue Bird when production of this film first got under way....or just by the time they’d finished it?

 


Office Redecorating
----posted 28/08/31