Eric Kohn reviews “Little Red Riding Hood”
“DVD: Little Red Riding Hood and Other Stories”
By ERIC KOHN, The New York Press
Published: June 4, 2009
No American filmmaker has expressed the same degree of fascination with the adult themes of fairy tales as David Kaplan. But he deserves the niche. It begs noting that Kaplan staked his claim in this field long before completing his first feature, “Year of the Fish,” in 2007. That movie, a contemporary rotoscoped version of Cinderella set in New York’s Chinatown, offers only one glimpse of Kaplan’s revisionist oeuvre. His landmark short, “Little Red Riding Hood,” recently hit DVD with insightful commentary from the director and a glimpse at his other morbid fables.
Starring a 16-year-old Christina Ricci, “Little Red Riding Hood” tackles the standard girl-grandma-wolf plot with gloriously evocative black-and-white photography and a provocative infusion of sexual deviance. More akin to Jean Cocteau’s haunting “Beauty and the Beast” than any Disney variation, Kaplan’s treatment of the story toys with the artistic language of silent cinema, particularly German Expressionism. Ricci’s seductive gaze puts the depraved wolf (Timour Bourtasenkov) in his place, but not before he forces her through a viscerally unnerving coming-of-age experience in which she unknowingly eats the flesh of her dead grandmother. Quentin Crisp narrates with the eerie rasp of Vincent Price, while Kaplan’s decision to sample Claude Debussy’s “L’apres-midi d’un faun” on the soundtrack provides the aura of something ancient and wonderful, despite the subversiveness.
The other shorts and special features help create a fuller understanding of Kaplan’s obsession with the fairy tale universe. “Little Suck-a-Thumb,” a Cronenbergian account of youth castration fears in explicit detail, was made as a color-synch project during Kaplan’s film school years (“Clean, Shaven” director Lodge Kerrigan worked as an assistant director). Perhaps by accident of design – if we’re to believe Kaplan’s humble director’s commentary – the 10-minute piece comes close to the masterpiece level of “Little Red Riding Hood.” The other short, titled “The Frog King,” is “an interesting failure,” by Kaplan’s own admission. In its newly reedited form, however, the movie does make a neat prelude to the other films. On separate commentary tracks, folklore scholar Jack Zipes helps flesh ouot the meanings behind Kaplan’s craft, while the director’s own observations lead to the enticing perception of his mentality as Tim Burton by way of semiotic film theory. Kaplan reveals that his Hansel and Gretel screenplay remains unproduced; this new collection should help explain why it deserves a better fate.