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Fairytale: A True Story

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 10/30/99 17:02:19

"Fairy Tale - A True Story, is just that."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

In 1917, two girls from the English country town of Cottingley Glen, faked photographs of themselves with fairies. The fairies were only paper cutouts from a childrens book but when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, known for his interest in Spiritualism as well as his famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, declared the photos to be genuine, a rage for fairies spread through merry old England like wildfire.

Fairy Tale - A True Story takes its inspiration from fact and creates a beautiful and charming tale of fiction. Through the magic of cinema, all doubt as to whether fairies exist is laid to rest.

Elsie and Frances, who know all about fairies, go into the glen and take several photographs of themselves surrounded by fairies. The photos cause a sensation and attract the interest of no less than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini. The local paper is set on proving the photos a fake. The girls are pursued by a reporter who wants to uncover the truth of the photographs and because of him, something beautiful is trampled upon by the vulgar and incredulous and the magic of the fairies is threatened with extinction.

Thus begins the conflict between child and adult, faith and reason, the desire to believe versus the need for evidence.

Fairy Tale is gorgeous to look at. The lighting, costumes and accent pieces give this film an authentic, yet "time out of place" period feel. Even though the film efficiently employs advances in special effects, the setting draws much inspiration from the theatre of the pre-electric era and is a type of portrait of the backstage culture of British theatre since the Elizabethan period. Actors who were accustomed to leading the audience in a suspension of disbelief may not have believed literally in the world of the faerie but certainly were adepts of the practical applications of illusion. Showmanship is as important a theme in this film as is the desire to believe in the impossible. If there is one thing industrialization has done to western culture, it is to deplete its ability to accept the arational, in spite of being founded almost entirely on a supernatural religion.

And like any real Fairy Tale, the grotesque, the painful and the discomfort of real life are not glossed over like the modern tendency to put a sugar coating on everything we let children experience. This film is not a child's movie although children will probably like it because it respects their ability to deal with the world on their level rather than having everything mediated through the unreality filter of adult half-truths. Adults appear boorish in this film as unfeeling brutes incapable of seeing any of the mystery in a world of cities and factories and the rush towards progress and further industrialization. The pastoral values of country living in the transitional period of industrialization underlie the basic tension in the film and the use of children as protagonists help tug on the sensibilities buried deep in the unconscious of our culture.

Elise and Frances were not only representative of the universal childhood, but also the historical childhood of western culture before the adult age of industry, civil engineering and planned growth where everything is now a chart or a graph or a grid or an algorithm and there certainly isn't any room for fairies.

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