Wednesday, September 25, 2013

MOVIES: Into the Woods Pictures and Questions of Form and Style

I was going to save this post for a little later, but there are a whole slew of pictures from filming Into the Woods that have just come out on

Many are of Cinderella's wedding with Prince, Cinderella, Stepmother and a non-Lucy-Punch Stepsister action:

Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine & Company Film INTO THE WOODS Royal WeddingAnna Kendrick, Chris Pine & Company Film INTO THE WOODS Royal Wedding
Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine & Company Film INTO THE WOODS Royal Wedding

Cinderella's dress is beautiful!! And Chris Pine definitely looks charming, if maybe not sincere.

And then we get my beloved James Corden as the Baker and Emily Blunt as a preggers Baker's Wife:

First Look At INTO THE WOODS Movie Cast In Costume!
First Look At INTO THE WOODS Movie Cast In Costume!

This actually brings home something I was going to write about. I was jarred when I saw this tweet from Anna Kendrick a few weeks ago: "Voice lessons, horse riding lessons, corset fittings. It’s like I’m in finishing school except I’ll be back in sweats by Xmas #IntoTheWoods."

I saw "horse riding lessons" and the weight of Into the Woods as a movie really hit home. For me, much of the charm of Into the Woods is the style, the obviously fake cow that eats a shoe, the flat cut out trees that are layered, the strong conceit that we are watching a fairy tale story being told by a storyteller, the Narrator. The idea that Cinderella would be riding a real horse, through presumably a real forest was difficult to swallow.

It brings up the question: how much of what we love about Into the Woods is the content, and how much of it is the form? Can it translate to real trees and real horses and real cows, or will we loose a lot of what we loved about this complex story told in this deceptively simple and homespun environment? 

Along similar lines, I have noticed that they do not have a Narrator listed in the IMDB credits. They do have a Baker's Father, but no Narrator. This may mean they have not cast the role yet. It could mean that, like the film of Sweeney Todd, they chose to get rid of the highly theatrical narrative structure that made the play special. You could certainly tell the content of Into the Woods without the Narrator, all you would need to do is cut one joke. But you would loose the style. 

In addition, I feel that the style and the content are not mutually exclusive. The Narrator sets up your typical fairy tale with his narration, which makes it all the more astonishing when the characters decided to break out of their roles, when the story becomes all too real, when stories begin to have weight and truth that you never realized before: that "children will listen." If the story is told straight out, without the idea that you listening to someone tell you a familiar story, that you are entering into this "Once Upon a Time" world where you know all the comforting rhythms, we will lose much of the weight of Act II.

What do you think? Do the images so far, including the one below, represent what you loved about Into the Woods? I must admit, they made me excited. Here's hoping that we do not loose the style, or the movie is able to create a new style that serves the form and the story. 

First Set Photos From INTO THE WOODS! Rapunzel's Castle, The Woods & More
Rapunzel's Tower Under Construction


  1. I think your last sentence is very important: "... the movie is able to create a new style that serves the form and the story". The biggest flops in adaptions, be they book to movie or play to movie, are usually the ones that don't actually do much adapting- they take the old story and form and keep it exactly the same. Problem is, a new, different medium, this simply doesn't work. As wonderful as it is to see obviously fake cows and cut out trees in theater, they would loose their charm completely in a movie and just look plain strange. Theater is all about conveying an idea and concept though every means available. The costumes, scenery, music and character development all come together to bring forth one idea- in "Into the Woods" the idea being everything you said about storytelling and bringing a familiar story and then tearing it apart and showing that life isn't really like that.
    Movies have a whole different purpose- pure and simple entertainment. Movies have the ability to be extremely realistic and to show a much wider picture than we can ever get through a small, live stage where there are no special effects and much less is physically possible. So a movie would have to play to its strength and show us the wider picture of "Into the Woods" and tell the story in a way theater can't. Obviously most the meanings and concepts of "Into the Woods", which were meant to be presented through the theater medium, will be lost. The big challenge of the movie will be to manage to present the idea of "Into the Woods" using its own medium, or at least to bring the story to the crowds and hopefully make more people go to watch the play.
    Basically, I think it would be a big mistake for the movie to try and be a play by using actors in cow costumes and fake props and such. That would look pretty ridiculous on screen, out of the context of a stage. But hopefully the movie will be able to keep the feel and the charm of the play in its own special way, using the tools available to it.

  2. Oh absolutely! I agree with you 100%. I would never want them to desperately cling to the theater version verbatim, because it does not do service to the play or the movie. They are definitely two different mediums. However, I feel theatricality and style can be conveyed in movies; they don't have to be absolutely realistic. Take Chicago or the new Anna Karenina. They both used the movie medium to make strong stylistic choices that still conveyed theatricality without trying to make the movie into theater. I am curious that you seem to be saying that theater and movies don't have a similar purpose? I might be misreading it, but you seem to say that movies are purely for entertainment and not about conveying an idea and concept through every means available? I feel that that is the mission of a movie as well, though often, because movies have a larger budget than theaters and often they do not have to come up with creative solutions to a cow on stage that they tend towards realism and sometimes don't think outside the box stylistically.

    I feel that the Into the Woods movie can still present a story to us in a narrative framework with expected conventions that is then broken for the audience, and I believe they can do it in a compelling way. I hope they do not simply pander to the general public to and create a safe, noncommittal, straight forward version to get butts in seats at theaters to see the "real" version, because they have the capacity to make a great piece of art that is memorable in its own right.

    Fingers crossed that they keep the spirit of the play without being slavishly faithful to it to the detriment of the story they are trying to tell.

    Thanks for commenting! Please rebut if you wish!

  3. PS Your blog is awesome! Really smart analysis, and I will definitely be following!

  4. You're right, I think I might have gone to the extreme in trying to prove me point, and I completely take back what I said about "pure and simple entertainment". I think I meant more that perhaps because movies usually try to appeal to the masses more than theater does (because they're far more accessible), it means that sometimes they work harder on being entertaining rather than brining forth an idea. Of course there are plenty of movies that manage to present various ideas very well, but in the effort to make as much money as possible and to appeal to as many people as possible, many movies end up focusing more on the action/humor/visual effects rather than on trying to say something, as is the case in theater.

    Basically, what I'm trying to say is that movies sometimes sacrifice meaningful artistic choices in order to appeal more to the masses. So the 'Into the Woods' movie will probably manage to tell the story in an entertaining way and also get across some of the idea behind it. But I'm worried that with the lose of the narrator and the general storytelling feel that is much easier to create onstage in an already unrealistic enviroment, some of the original magic will be lost. I really really hope that "Into the Woods" will make an effort to make a point rather than just bring us entertaining action scenes and great visuals as lots of movies seem to be doing these past few years.

  5. P.S. Thanks! I really enjoy your blog as well :)

  6. Definitely. I think the Studio format pushes entertainment over artistic value. I hope that our concerns are unfounded and that they have found a way to take the style and meaning of the original story and translate it into a cinematic experience that holds true to what we love about the play. Fingers crossed!