La Belle or Le Clueless?

During my visit this past week I watched two movies.  The first was a rewatch of Clueless.  The second was new to me, the cult classic La Belle et Le Bete (Jean Cocteau’s French film of Beauty and the Beast).  Unexpectedly, I discovered that these two films-American and French, modern and black-and-white-have much in common!

List of Similarities between Clueless and La Belle et Le Bete (some spoilers may apply):

1) Both protagonists have lost their mothers.

2) Neither Cher nor Belle can bear to leave their fathers.

3) Smoke causes a great deal of shame in both stories, by marking Travis as running in inferior circles and humiliating the beast for his beastly eating habits.

4) Makeovers are absolutely essential! (Tai, Cher’s soul, Belle’s clothing transformation, the Beast’s change…)

5) Both heroines put up with a man who’s constantly in their home and with their family, even though there’s no real family tie. (WHY is Avenant always there???  He doesn’t need to marry Belle to enjoy any money her father gets, he’ll be there enjoying whatever they’ve got anyhow.)

6) The role of lighting plays a huge part in dealing with the opposite sex. (Cher’s lighting plan, arms with torches…)

7) Both girls take it upon themselves to rehabilitate a social pariah. (Cher with Tai and Belle with the Beast, of course.)

8) Neither Cher nor Belle has any difficulty getting blunt and contemptuous with suitors. (“Clean yourself up!” “As if!”-Now, imagine those being used interchangeably with Cher ordering the greasy high school boys to ‘clean up, already!’ and Belle answering the Beast with ‘As if!’)

9) Neither are at all responsible when it comes to the practical things in life. (Cher’s driving, Belle’s failure to keep track of the key or to return on time.)

10) When they feel guilty, they both play sick. (Cher saying she’s physically unwell because her masseuse said she had a lot of tension after the encounter with Elton.  Belle lying in bed claiming illness from worry over her father while wearing a freaking crown-and-veil combo!)

The more I think about it the more this version of Beauty and the Beast seems like Emma-where the person you end up with is that one who’s been around, getting under your skin for ages.  Only the more modern tale made the male’s righteousness idealistic instead of arrogant or creepy.  (Can we talk about how absurd it is to hug someone to your chest by pulling an arrow across them?  I know I can’t, I can only stare agog.  Avenant is totally the Elton of the fairy tale universe.)  The other major difference is, of course, the posing.  The French classic takes posing literally and extremely seriously.  The Austen modernization interprets it more loosely as projecting a certain lifestyle over yourself.  So much else seems the same-a magic mirror would probably work exactly the same as the phone connection between Cher and Dionne.  Amber dressing in the same clothes as Cher effects her just the way Belle’s sister reacted to seeing herself reflected as a monkey.  Cher’s computerized clothing system and moving closet is akin to being dressed by invisible hands-though thankfully Cher has nothing as creepy as Belle’s moving blankets.  Belle’s feeling of power that the beast drinks from her hands, in spite of how clearly the event pales compared to his wild-animal instincts, is akin to Cher’s entitlement when she calls Josh to rescue her after being abandoned by Elton.  She assumes he will come when she calls, even though he has no real motivation.  Josh’s interest in the law and therefore Cher’s circle due to his own parents’ disinterest in him could arguably be akin to the Beast getting pushed into magic due to his parents’ angering of the spirits.  Now, if only I can figure out how this connection can explain the flying at the end of La Belle and Le Bete…

Belle is “a strange girl.”  On the other hand, Emma/Cher actually end up with their brother-types, instead of just getting stuck with someone in their body (though I’m sure the symbolism there means more in its lesson to girls about who the best man to end up with is).  In any event, it all ends with a big kiss frightfully soon after the switch from brother-type to suitor is made.    In really frilly clothes.  Because the girl will “get used to” the man telling her how to think and act, whether he’s a beast, prince, or college kid.  Because clearly, the man must know what is best for the woman.  Perhaps because he has the power of movement: Josh can drive.  The beast had all sorts of transportation devices.  That must be why he can fly at the end!  To show that in spite of losing his magical objects, he still has the power to move, to make his way in the world.  That is why he’s still acceptable-even if he’s a bit too familiar, Belle won’t be stuck in the same place again.  (Avenant offering to take Belle away didn’t work because he had no magic/power to back it up.  The man had no driver’s license!)

Well…smoke my statues’ faces and send myself flowers and chocolates: I know why the ex-beast can fly!  Now…why did the father seem more upset about riding through fog than the fact that he just lost his entire fortune?

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