Monday, June 25, 2012

"I'm a raven."

I forgot to mention in my previous post one of my favorite things about Moonrise Kingdom, which was the liberal use of Benjamin Britten's works in the soundtrack. Movie nerds will recognize the theme from his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra as the Rondeau from Henry Purcell's Abdelazar, which was adapted (quite effectively, for solo violin) for a key scene in The Lesser Adaptation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

"I'm a raven."
The amateur production of Britten's Noye's Fludde, staged in a local church and replete with children dressed as animals, is, like the Khaki Scouts, its own kind of child-adult collusion in overenthusiasm. Suzy is a failed raven just as Sam is a failed Khaki Scout, failed on social grounds rather than out of incompetence. It is a "play" that is taken utterly seriously, especially by the grown-ups (like the one who demotes Suzy from her raven role). Play taken too seriously, or serious enterprises (like child care) rendered all too game-like (as when the best scout of all, Scoutmaster Ward, manages to lose first Sam, then the rest of the troop), continually threaten happiness. The only possible resistance is yet another system, an alternative game, a union between Sam's wilderness skills and Suzy's fantasy world, the game of their private Moonrise Kingdom.

Thus when all the other social systems of discipline converge, they do so at the church, in the midst of Noye's Fludde, in order to escape the actual flooding outside.

Britten is a serious, even difficult composer who has, when you think about it, written a great deal for children—both child audiences and child performers. He's especially known as a composer of liturgical music in a tradition famous for its boy choristers. I couldn't help noticing a movement from his Simple Symphony when it appeared in the film—a movement tellingly titled "Playful Pizzicato"—I'd played it as a child, after all. Using childish sounds—"playful" pizzicato (plucked strings), glockenspiels, high-pitched child voices, and at times almost comical bombast (including in the didactic Young Person's Guide)—Britten proffers Middle English texts and challenging harmonies. Thus, within the world of the film, his music marks the oscillations between "too easy" and "too hard" that marks every educational pursuit, every system for cultivating the self.

Anderson's own oeuvre, so often described in the terms of miniatures and toys (and including an animated adaptation of a children's book, Roald Dahl's 1970 Fantastic Mister Fox) aspires to similar comminglings. In Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson focalizes childhood as a site of real difficulty, one whose difficulties are not discontinuous with those of adulthood, and indeed, one whose difficulties are most adult when they reside in the domain of play.

Suzy lugs a suitcase of stolen library books through the wilderness, imaginative resources for building a private universe. Her fictions are bulwarks against the flood.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice work here.