Assorted identity crises

Culture | A facelift for Cinderella and other cultural buzz

Issue: "Beyond bread and circuses," Aug. 15, 1998

Cinderella without the pumpkin
Here's a storybook tale: Drew Barrymore as Cinderella in a revisionist film called Ever After (directed by Andy Tennant; 20th Century Fox; rated PG-13 for scenes of jeopardy). The fairy tale aspects are out and melodrama is in. And it's not as bad as it sounds. The story is set as one of the couple's descendants explains the "real story" behind the children's tale. This Cinderella (actually, named Danielle in this one) is a feisty young woman, toiling away trying to preserve her home as the wicked stepmother (Anjelica Houston) leeches away her father's estate. She reads Thomas More, wields a mean sword, and even saves the prince (a lackluster Dougray Scott ) from gypsies. This prince is also trapped in an engagement to a woman he doesn't know. And his parents play their royal parts well, but they are hardly passionate toward each other. "Divorce is for the English," the queen says. Meanwhile, Cinderella adores her prince, but also thinks he's an arrogant snob. "The trouble with being wealthy is that you have to live among the rich," she remarks. But all is destined to work out in the end. The story is familiar, but some things have been updated. The characters, like those in much recent Disney fare, are looking for their identities among people who don't understand them. The biggest concession to modernity is that while the glass slipper survives, the fairy godmother is nowhere to be found. Instead, Cinderella is bailed out by Leonardo da Vinci. His appearance is awkward, yet not as tacky as many historical crossovers. But the film wisely stays away from the deep end of its modernism. Our heroine is a tough cookie, but her attitudes come more from years of hard work and her father's memory than brassy rebelliousness. Nor is the story peppered up with unnecessary sexual overtones. The script has a good sense of humor, and Ever After never takes itself seriously. If only the recent rash of romantic chick flicks could laugh at themselves like this film. Ever After could have been ever horrible, but instead it's not bad. Trials of A CCM pioneer
Larry Norman helped build contemporary Christian music but has spent the last 20 years on the margins of the industry. Starting with the band People, then a series of solo albums like Upon This Rock and Only Visiting This Planet, his sharp wit, catchy sound, and virtuosic songwriting gave credibility to this infant genre. Think of him as a cross between Van Morrison and Hal Lindsey; in the late '60s and early '70s, this was a popular combination. Mr. Norman's career was faltering by the late '70s. His personal life had been wracked with divorce. Various conflicts with friends and colleagues made him a pariah in many industry circles. He moved to Europe and kept touring as his health began to fail. His cult following grew, and he churned out a long string of records that became instant rarities. Mr. Norman's core fans developed an intense loyalty and amazing zeal for collecting obscure albums. Now a pair of Normaniacs has issued a tribute to their hero with a mother lode of never-before-released tracks. Gathered Moments (Howling Dog Records, sold through distills unfinished songs, discarded album tracks, and live cuts into a fascinating portrait of this unusual man. Most of the tunes are acoustic, with just Mr. Norman, his guitar, and a piano. He has sound problems, improvises lyrics, and experiments with new material. The raw result is far more down to earth than most of today's commercialized Christian releases. Unlike the stars that followed, Mr. Norman has no qualms about mixing strong religious messages with a wide variety of topics. Today his theology may seem eccentric and his politics dated, but he was onto a good idea back then. (Good thing the political stuff was left off this CD.) Most of the time Mr. Norman sings about love, music, and the soon-coming apocalypse. A third of the time his songs reflect himself and his personal struggles. Behind all the lyrics about how "my name is on the rock but my name is on the roll" stands a man whose story could only be told by a Flannery O'Connor. Larry Norman is a case study of the trials and tribulations of a Christian artist.

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