Thursday, August 4, 2011

How I Got This Way: Anastasia

A few weeks ago, I went on a date with a dude who told me, with a candor that was both disgusted and ill-restrained, that hanging out in cemeteries for fun and reflection is really weird. I don’t appreciate being told outright that I’m strange, especially by a potential gentleman caller. There are a lot more things I am other than strange. Strikingly beautiful, for one. Astoundingly intelligent, for another. But despite how secure a person I am, it was startling to be thrust into a moment that was reminiscent of high school, where being slightly different is different enough for comment. In the end, the experience was a good thing: first and most importantly, I realized I can never consider dating anyone who doesn’t think ice cubes made from coffee is the best idea ever. Second, I began in earnest to consider the things in my life that have contributed to my enjoying cemeteries, crying during Disney movies, and once being told by Dan Hofstadter that I take art too seriously. Ultimately, these are the kinds of experiences I think more people should have. I can’t see any downsides to being this emotional and passionate about history, art, and people, and I don’t regret any of the things in my life that have made me this way. So I’m going to capitalize on my oddities and experience by serially writing about particularly incidents, media, and people that made me this way.

To assure you that I am in fact a serious writer, the first thing I wanted to write about was how my father taking me to military cemeteries as a child taught me to grieve for the dead, no matter how long they’ve been dead. Naively, I assumed this could be knocked out in a night the way everything else I write is. Not so. The second best thing I’ve got on this list that can be completed in under two hours is the effect of the film Anastasia on my childhood education. I’m not kidding.

(This is the best version I could find on Youtube. Fittingly, it's in Russian.)

For those of you who have never seen it, Anastasia is an astoundingly historically-inaccurate version of the Russian Revolution, in which Rasputin has sold his soul to the devil for a fleet of evil green minions, and the princess Anastasia survives but gets amnesia after hitting her head on a train track. That said, the music is great and Meg Ryan’s very flat American way of saying “do svidaniya” is kind of charming, as is most everything about Meg Ryan pre-cosmetic surgery. After Anastasia has been released from the orphanage and decides to head to St. Petersburg instead of the fish factory where she has a job, she’s told to find the singularly-named Dmitri (like that would really help her in the real life USSR) if she wants an exit visa to Paris. Dmitri just so happens to be living in the old palace. So she goes to find Dmitri at the palace where she used to live (ssh) and it is the most haunting scene I’ve ever watched in an animated film. Those first moments when she pulls the boards off the palace doors; the moment she walks up the red carpeted-stairs; when she blows the dust off the cob-webbed silver plate and then SEES HER AND HER FATHER DANCING IN THE REFLECTION = chills. However, the most tingle-inducing moment is when she’s begun to sing the seminal song, Once Upon a December, and as she hits the chorus and stares out at the ballroom, all the portraits lining the walls EXHALE DUST AND ALL THESE DANCING GHOSTS POP OUT. So Anastasia dances with the ghostly figures, AND THEN WITH HER SISTERS AND FATHER. If you haven’t seen this as a child, I can’t quite describe the wonder it imparts on active imaginations, followed closely by disappointment as Dmitri calls out to chase her away and all the ghosts (and her awesome dress) disappear.

This scene is probably the most responsible event in my personal history for my interests in memory, historical sites, and the phenomenon of “historicity”, or that magical feeling people get about old stuff and old places. It taught me that when you interact with old things, you develop a relationship with them and the memories associated with them; the people that touched them before you did are ingrained in their history and consequently, you become part of the same dance sequence as the ghosts themselves. Life, man. LIFE. Seriously though, even though Anastasia is interacting with her own personal history, I don’t see much difference between that and interacting with history that’s thousands of years old. When it comes down to it, all history is our history; we have no idea how one small action in a place far away from our own may have affected the fact that we exist right now. Being able to excavate, curate, and see objects that are hundreds or thousands of years old is the same to me as an amnesiac orphan blowing dust off a silver plate that she maybe ate off of as a child. If you have kids, I encourage you to let them watch this movie. Their slight fear during the part where the evil minions take over the train will be worth the magical feeling they’ll get watching Anastasia interacting with her own history, totally unaware that it is her history.

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