Sunday, April 3, 2016

Disney's zebra centaurs: the lost tapes

Here, after much searching, is a very brief but significant clip from the Pastoral Symphony segment of Disney's Fantasia. I wanted to see this because it features, if ever-so-briefly, two glorious zebra centaurettes who weren't erased from the final cut.

This voyage into cinematic racism in human/equine hybrids started with Sunflower, the little black girl who acted as a handmaiden/possible slave to the pastel-coloured centaurettes. Sunflower, who was half-donkey rather than half-horse, was edited out so thoroughly that she no longer appears in the DVD version of the movie at all, and even looks to have been photoshopped out of one scene.

That turned out to be wrong. The little black centaurette/donkey/possible slave who unrolled the red carpet for Bacchus/Dionysis and the gang was a character called Otika. It was nice of the animators to name her, but not so great when she almost instantly vanished from view.  Once she was photoshopped out, we were left with the bizarre phenomenon of the red carpet unrolling all by itself.

Better black magic than an admission of racist stereotyping. The solution seemed to be getting rid of the character altogether. But what of the zebra-ettes, who aren't even given names? They too act as servants: one of them fans the fat,drunken Bacchus, and the other keeps his wine glass sloshing over the top. Within ten seconds or so, both of them have quickly moved out of the frame.


I don't know what the rationale is here. These are grown women, obviously; but it is equally obvious they are black, perhaps even African, since their lower halves are not horse but zebra.

Were these exotic creatures serving Bacchus out of love, or because they were earning a salary? Disney was a known cheapskate who might just have kept his zebra hybrids on slave wages.

It's impossible to untangle this one because it's such a bizarre example of erasing something that is just too embarrassing to leave in. Having a sort of little black Sambo-ette/servant figure in the movie is inappropriate, but why is it OK to get rid of her completely? The magnificent Deviantart depictions of Sunflower are reclaiming her from obscurity, giving her her power back. And I'm all for that.

But Otika, her two-second film appearance now more rarefied than the unicorn or even the centaur, can take comfort in the fact that she is not the only actress whose performance has ended up on the cutting room floor.

What goes around

This started off as a tack-on for my last post on Sunflower, but then I realized that, even for this blog, which trades in twists and turns and irrelevancies, it was just too irrelevant to be there. 

But I have to deal with it, somehow. 

This is something of an update on another tack-on from my Bob Dylan post, Darkness at the Break of Noon. Yes, my former friend is dead. He is not asleep; he is dead. At the end of the Dylan post, I wondered what exactly had happened to him: his longtime partner, someone I have never connected with (they were, strangely, both named Paul), emailed me to say he'd had a stroke and was "not expected to survive the weekend". It was a mass email that went out to a couple dozen people, none of whom I knew.

Nothing came after that. I didn't feel comfortable answering the email, and I needed to know, so I had to do some detective work. I found out on the Facebook page for his former church (which he founded and made himself the head of) that he died on Easter Sunday.

Is he in the Afterlife, whatever that is? I feel him batting around me like a fly. It's a nuisance, is what it is. Not a good energy, if it IS him. Black magic - was there some black magic going on here? Nonsense, I know nothing about it, even though I took his class in traditional/aboriginal medicine many moons ago. That's how I learned about curses, poisoned darts, boiled toads and datura. So it's interesting that if - a big if - an impossible if - IF there were any black magic going on at all here, the source of it would actually be him.

What happened for me was anything but magic. His was a particularly fine-edged abuse: take an interest at first, be kind, be helpful, be supportive even, and then, for reasons impossible to ascertain, or for no reason at all - chwwwwwwt! (The sound of a guillotine blade making a lizardy little breeze). I only know that, having set himself up as an expert on certain things I was interested in, he said some hateful, hurtful, condescending, even contemptuous things about me and my beliefs. 

Yet everyone thought he was the most wonderful, big-hearted, kind - but here, I am not sure. He left that church at some point - "retired", but if I knew the man at all - knew the hole in the centre of his sureness - I think he left because he lost control of the whole thing. No one was falling in line any more. He had ceased to be the Little Prince, holding sway over his own little spiritualist fiefdom.

It was a long time ago I met him, I was a different person then, and I would never let anyone like that into my life now. I had enough of it growing up in my family of origin, thank you very much. (But then again: most of THEM are dead now, too. Funny how, in a strange sort of way, death solves everything.)

But it's unpleasant, the way things come back to me, disparaging things I put up with: having my own spiritualist experiences, which I was testing out because I wasn't sure what to make of them, dismissed as "oh I don't know, it's probably just some kind of fantasy", said in a bored sort of voice. Whereas he would go on, and on, and on about his own experiences, with the assumption that all of them were bona fide. Did anyone even need to question it?

The Gershwin thing hurt and angered me. I am the first to say it may well be 100% imagination, but my exploration at first seemed to be greeted with enthusiasm and even fascination. I started sending him things. I don't know when, exactly, the turning point came, but it's hard to hear that nasty little metallic "chwwwwwwt!" before you've even had breakfast.

No, this doesn't sound authentic at all. No, I could check with some of my friends who know something about this, but I know what they'd all say. Don't forget, Margaret, that you don't really have a grounding in this tradition and that I trained myself for many, many decades to blah blah blah. I don't see anything here that blah blah blah blah blah.

He did not have to say, "Oh yes, write a book about it, why don't you." But the sudden trap door opening under my feet reminded me of another vicious sadist, a man whom I later found out was virtually sociopathic in his cruelty to others. I actually found it out from a psychiatrist who had "inside knowledge" that I did not doubt. Later I found some blog posts from people who turned themselves inside-out apologizing for him because he was dead, but then went on to compare him to Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, with his lethal trap door. A direct quote from a dear friend of his (name changed to protect the innocent, namely me):

My good friend writer R. D. died last week. This is not an obituary. Nor is it a paean to him. He would have hated that. R. was not a perfect person. He was funny and kind but he frequently isolated himself and he cut off some friends like Sweeney Todd dispatching a client.

He was also deeply private. As he lay dying of a stroke at age 67, colleagues were arguing about the particulars of his life. Did he have one brother or two? Had his father been a school teacher or farmer? Did R. really play the cello and, if not, how did this small town Prairie boy develop such a profound knowledge of music?

I hope that, when my time comes, work colleagues don't stand around my deathbed trying to piece together my life, trying to determine if I had anyone in my life at all (which these rather chilling words imply). Obviously they were attempting to scrape up particulars for his obituary, having no one else to ask. I think this goes beyond being "deeply private". I wondered at first if someone had found him weeks later, as sometimes, sadly, happens with people who "frequently isolate themselves".

I also hope there are no comparisons in my obituary to Sweeney Todd, who slit people's throats in his barber chair, slid them down a trap door, had them ground up into meat and made them into pies that people then purchased and ate. 

(Sidebar: in the usual published tribute, someone at the Sun strongly implied he had been wasted in the backwater of Canada and should have been writing for somebody important, like the New Yorker. I'm trying to figure out who this says the most about: R. D., the commentator, the Vancouver Sun or the New Yorker.)

And a curious thought: both men died of sudden strokes. I don't want to go too far down the road of what that might mean symbolically. Neither of them were old: seventy-ish, if that. In fact, R. D. was maybe 67. First there is a person, then there is no person, then. . .
The last email I ever got from Paul I deleted unread. I already knew what was in it. I just pushed the whole thing away from me. Part of me wanted some kind of revenge - I admit it now! And yes, I admit that at that particular point, I had my mojo working.

What does that mean, exactly? What that means, and all it means, is that one holds up a mirror.

One holds up a mirror, and whatever bad vibes that person is emanating, they bounce right back at them and hit them in the face.

You don't have to do anything, not anything at all. That's the way it works.

That's why I opened this post with Celie's famous statement from The Color Purple. It's the scene in which she gets her power back. I got mine back a very long time ago, but it is nasty to be reminded that someone, anyone, can toy with it and do damage the way Paul did.

I can't sit here and say I'm glad he's dead, because surely he did have people who cared about him, and I wouldn't insult them. But I am glad that the nastiness in him, unacknowledged by anyone around him, is dead. I am glad his pomposity and intellectual bullying and constantly pulling rank on people to make himself feel better is dead. I am glad that peculiar form of sinking dismay will never happen to me again. 

I know I have learned from him, but not even remotely what he thought I would/"should" learn. From him I learned I can step around narcissists who seem to believe they have special knowledge, wield special power, and are thus innately entitled to tell you that your own beliefs are ill-informed and of no value.  From him, I learned what to avoid - what to ignore - and how to keep on walking.

But meanwhile. . . LET'S SING!

Seems a downright shame
Seems an awful waste
Such a nice, plump frame

Wot's his name has
Nor it can't be traced!

Business needs a lift
Debts to be erased
Think of it as thrift as a gift
If you get my drift, no?

Seems an awful waste
I mean, with the price of meat
What it is? When you get it
If you get it
Good, you got it

Take for instance, Mrs. Mooney and her pie shop
Business never better using only pussycats and toast
And a pussy's good for maybe six or seven at the most
And I'm sure they can't compare as far as taste

Mrs. Lovett, what a charming notion
Well, it does seem a waste
Eminently practical
And yet appropriate as always, it's an idea

Mrs. Lovett, how I've lived
Without you all these years, I'll never know
How delectable, also undetectable
Think about it

Lots of other gentlemen'll
Soon be comin' for a shave
Won't they?
Think of all them pies

How choice
How rare

For what's the sound of the world out there?
What, Mr. Todd?
What, Mr. Todd?
What is that sound?

Those crunching noises pervading the air
Yes, Mr. Todd, yes, Mr. Todd
Yes, all around
It's man devouring man, my dear
And then who are we to deny it in here?

These are desperate times
Mrs. Lovett and desperate measures are called for
Here we are, now, hot out of the oven
What is that?

It's priest, have a little priest
Is it really good? Sir, it's too good, at least
Then again, they don't commit sins of the flesh
So it's pretty fresh

Awful lot of fat only where it sat
Haven't you got poet, or something like that?
No, y'see, the trouble with poet is
'Ow do you know it's deceased? Try the priest

Not as hearty as bishop, perhaps
But then again
Not as bland as curate, either

And good for business too
Always leaves you wantin' more
Trouble is
We only get it on Sundays

Lawyer's rather nice
If it's for a price
Order something else, though to follow
Since no one should swallow it twice

Anything that's lean
Well then, if you're British and loyal
You might enjoy Royal Marine
Anyway, it's clean

Though of course it tastes of wherever it's been
Is that squire on the fire?
Mercy, no sir, look closer
You'll notice it's grocer

Looks thicker, more like vicar
No, it has to be grocer, it's green

The history of the world, my love
Save a lot of graves
Do a lot of relatives favors
Is those below serving those up above

Everybody shaves
So there should be plenty of flavors
How gratifying for once to know
That those above will serve those down below

Now let's see, here we've got tinker
Something pinker
Tailor? Paler, Butler? Subtler
Potter? Hotter, Locksmith?

Lovely bit of clerk
Maybe for a lark

Then again there's sweep
If you want it cheap
And you like it dark
Try the financier, peak of his career

That looks pretty rank
Well, he drank, it's a bank
Cashier, never really sold
Maybe it was old
Have you any Beadle?

Next week, so I'm told
Beadle isn't bad till you smell it and
Notice 'ow, well, it's been greased
Stick to priest

Now then, this might be a little bit stringy
But then of course it's fiddle player
No, this isn't fiddle player, it's piccolo player
'Ow can you tell? It's piping hot then blow on it first

The history of the world, my sweet
Oh, Mr. Todd, ooh, Mr. Todd
What does it tell?
Is who gets eaten, and who gets to eat

And, Mr. Todd, too, Mr. Todd
Who gets to sell
But fortunately, it's also clear
That, but everybody goes down well with beer

Since marine doesn't appeal to you
'Ow about rear admiral?
Too salty, I prefer general
With or without his privates? 'With' is extra

What is that? It's fop
Finest in the shop
And we have some shepherd's pie peppered
With actual shepherd on top

And I've just begun
Here's the politician, so oily
It's served with a doily
Have one, put it on a bun
Well, you never know if it's going to run

Try the friar
Fried, it's drier
No, the clergy is really
Too coarse and too mealy

Then actor, that's compacter
Yes, and always arrives overdone
I'll come again
When you have judge on the menu

Wait, true, we don't have judge yet
But we've got something you might fancy even better
What's that? Executioner

Have charity towards the world, my pet
Yes, yes, I know, my love
We'll take the customers that we can get
High-born and low, my love

We'll not discriminate great from small
No, we'll serve anyone
Meaning anyone
And to anyone at all

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