Thursday, March 22, 2012

Little Memories - On Cukor's Little Women, Film Studies, D.W. Griffith and Canine Companionship

When I was twelve or thirteen, I watched Cukor’s Little Women for the first time on Turner Classic Movies. I vividly recall sitting cross-legged in front of the 19” tube TV my mom bought me for my birthday with my then one or two year old miniature Dachshund, Libby. I don’t remember my exact thoughts or feelings about the movie, except that I loved it dearly, but it must have moved me tremendously because I marched down to the local library and checked out Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel shortly after.

About a month ago, I revisited the film for the first time in over a decade and it opened up a flood of memories and ideas for me. I never realized it before, but watching Cukor’s version of the film inspired my initial inklings in film studies by simply helping me connect one film to another. I watched his movie, which made me want to read the book and seek out the 1949 and 1994 film adaptations. Alas, I didn’t do anything worthwhile with these comparisons, other than perhaps writing a book report or two, and my brief love of All-Things-Alcott obviously fell to the wayside. I don’t want to try and make this memory more than what it seems, but it’s funny to think that I almost forgot about such an important film in my cinephile life.

Over the years, I’ve come to love the work of George Cukor and Katharine Hepburn and will happily watch any ol’ thing they conjured up during their respective careers. Little Women was an early film for both of them (or early-ish for Cukor) and marked the second of their ten wonderful collaborations. Revisiting the flick last month made me appreciate Cukor’s aesthetic appreciation of D.W. Griffith. Each film version of the book stays true to the warmth and strength of the homestead in Alcott’s novel, but Cukor’s quiet, almost blissful representation of the March domain is almost straight out of a Griffith film, kittens and all.

Cukor's whole movie just reeks of Griffith. While watching the other day, I kept expecting Lillian Gish to dash across the room with Katharine Hepburn. Was genuinely surprised when it didn't happen. I would kill to see an adaptation of the book directed by Griffith. Perhaps he would have, too:

It’s hard for me to say this in 2012, but Griffith’s techniques and preferences must have still been fresh in the minds of filmmakers since his last film, The Struggle, was only released two years prior to Little Women. I only wish more filmmakers would so lovingly borrow from Griffith.

This will sound absolutely ludicrous to non-pet owners, but revisiting Little Women also shed light on another facet of my relationship with Libby. I believe I watched this movie on February 10th, 2012, which was a week before she severely injured herself falling down our flight of stairs. Following the film, I took her for our nightly walk and thought about how similar she and I are to Jo and Beth in Little Women. Libby, like Beth in the novel and films, has always been kind of sickly and accident prone. When she was a wee pup, she contracted parvovirus and it stunted her growth. She weighs five lbs, has a kinked tail and one tooth to her name. She’s also had a lung infection and a few bad, painful spills in her fifteen years of life, but you’d honestly be hardpressed to find a happier, peppier Dachshund than my Libby Alaina.

Few people understand how attached we are to one another. She has been my best friend and confidante since I was eleven years old and I love her like my own child. She’s playful, demanding and simply lives for a few good scratches on the side of her head. I’ll never forget the utter hopelessness I felt when she contracted parvo and I had to wait at home and do nothing but hope and pray for her to get better, just like Jo does with Beth in Little Women. The sisters have a special bond that goes beyond traditional sibling friendship. They are seemingly unalike because Jo is so outwardly strong and boisterous and Beth is so quiet and demure, but they’re actually both brave, fierce women. Beth inspires Jo to write, dream, be kind and, through her death, displays the true courage and honesty Jo needs to push forward with her writing. Libby has done this for me, too, minus the dying, of course.

I thought about all of these things when Libby hurt herself last month. She could barely walk and yelped loudly whenever I tried to pick her up. She wasn’t even interested in playing with her favorite toys, Marcello the penguin and Moe Skunk. It was just like she had parvo again. I imagined myself saying goodbye and thanking her for everything she had done - - the writing she helped me with, constantly standing by my side, all the times she snuggled up to my neck when I cried, the oodles of movies we watched together and the many years of happiness she brought to my life. Though she was in pain, she braved the situation like a champ and tried her best to reassure me despite her horrible injury, just like Beth would have with Jo. 

Thankfully, as I’m writing this, she’s flinging her skunk toy around and trying in vain to tear it apart with her one tooth. It took a few weeks, but she’s now in top form and ready to take on the rest of her life. She always bounces back stronger than ever. Perhaps she's more like Jo than I thought. 


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